By Kevin Slimp
When thinking back to childhood memories, people have a tendency to remember summer as a restful, peaceful time of life. In my hometown of Lennox Valley, summer was anything but restful as June of 1998 neared its end.
May and June were brimming with drama worthy of front-page mention in The Lennox Valley Hometown News. Just when it looked like life had gotten as bizarre as it could get, something even wackier would take center stage of Valley attention.
Just a year earlier, life in our quaint community was downright placid compared to the curious drama played out in front of us seemingly every day this summer. Sure, Raymond Cooper had sparked a mistrust of local politicians in his rantings concerning the Federal Reserve System, but by June of ‘98 momentum had built to the point that those flames seemed intent on overtaking the good folks of the Valley and driving Cooper directly into the mayor’s chair.
And while life at the Baptist and Catholic churches remained relatively unscathed, the same couldn’t be said about the town Lutherans and Methodists. Who would have guessed, just a year earlier, when word that the famous TV evangelist Todd Cecil would be visiting Lennox Valley sometime in 1998, that Cecil’s visit would be wiped off the front page and nearly forgotten as a result of an announcement by the district superintendent that the good Methodists of Lennox Valley would be the recipients of the town’s first female pastor?
Many Methodists secretly pined for the “good life” they had enjoyed, listening to Pastor Vickers pronounce his benediction, almost always with a quote from his favorite book (besides the Bible, of course), “Celebrity Quotes.” No one in the congregation was aware that the pastor’s parting words each week were actually quotes from famous celebrities. Most just thought their shepherd had a gift usually reserved for poets and composers of ballads.
Some were as simple as, “And whichsoever way thou goest, may fortune follow,” taken directly from “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” by Jules Verne.
Other times, like when he borrowed a line written in 1954 by J.R.R. Tolkien, they were a bit more poetic: “Farewell, and may the blessing of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you. May the stars shine upon your faces.””
Then, there were the benedictions that caused congregants to wonder if the good reverend had possibly stopped by the Hoffbrau for a Miller Lite, a habit generally frowned upon by many small town Methodists, while preparing for the next day’s service.
For example, he would sometimes use lines from popular songs of the 1960s: “As you part from this place, whisper words of wisdom.” Then, instead of “Amen,” he dismissed the congregation with, “Let it be.””
The first time I remember hearing townsfolk whisper that it might be time for Pastor Vickers to consider retirement was after his most memorable benediction, in late 1997, “May the force be with you,” to which they instinctively responded, “And also with you.””
There were some who appreciated the summer drama of 1998. Maxine Miller’s column in Hometown News, “Rumor Has It,” had never been more popular. Between spinning tales about Sarah Hyden-Smith’s marital status, battles between Vera Pinrod, president of the Lennox Valley Auburn Hat Society, and Father O’Reilly, or guessing at the amount of money spent by Sherilyn Bordewyck on purchases from QVC, Maxine was thrilled with the crescendo that seemed to be building in Lennox Valley in June of ‘98.
Was my hometown bizarre? Sometimes. Was it boring? Never. And as June ended, one citizen of the Valley was deep in contemplation. Because this decision could determine if he would be the next mayor of our town.