The good folks of Lennox Valley: Lady preacher’s visit upstaged by election

Lennox ValleyBy Kevin Slimp

It had been almost three months since the members of Lennox Valley Methodist Church learned their pastor, Rev. Glynn Vickers, was being moved in June of 1998. And it had been four weeks since that fateful moment on May 4 when Diane Curtis, chair of the Methodist Church Pastor/Parish Committee, received the call from the Springfield district superintendent to inform her that Sarah Hyden-Smith was being appointed as the new minister in Lennox Valley.

It’s funny how something can seem so important at one moment, then be almost forgotten the next. That’s kind of how it was with the news of Rev. Hyden-Smith. When word first broke out that Lennox Valley was about to get its first clergywoman, the news was so hot that Iris Long published The Hometown News a day early, something that hadn’t been done since August 16, 1977, when news broke Elvis Presley had died.

During my growing-up years, I was often reminded there is one thing that trumps just about everything else in small towns: Politics. And the good folks of Lennox Valley had just been surprised by the biggest political announcement since Helen Walker decided to run against her husband, Mayor Jay Walker, in his bid for reelection in November 1976.

Just four days earlier, on June 2, during the Tuesday edition of his daily radio program, “Renderings With Raymond,” the audience was divided between shocked and delighted to hear Raymond Cooper announce his willingness to acquiesce to the will of his listeners and run against Silver Tongue Dick Bland in the upcoming November election. Suddenly, news of a new woman minister took a back seat to the sizzling political announcement.

Just the same, Diane Curtis had arranged a meeting of the Pastor/Parish Committee at 4:30 that Saturday afternoon. Originally, word of the meeting was the talk of the town as Methodists and others who weren’t even members of the committee called Diane to ask if they could attend.

Some had heard stories of a female Pentecostal minister in the 1930s who came through town as part of a Holy Ghost Revival. The evangelist, it was told, dressed in a police uniform, sat in the saddle of a police motorcycle and blew the siren over and over. Next, old-timers like to reminisce, she drove the motorcycle, with its deafening roar, across the access ramp to the pulpit, slammed on the brakes, then raised a white-gloved hand to shout “Stop! You’re speeding to Hell!”

Sixty years had passed since the “Holy Roller Traffic Cop” came through town, and the idea of an honest-to-goodness woman pastor living right here in Lennox Valley was more than many folks could imagine.

So it was that Sarah Hyden-Smith, innocently enough, pulled into a parking space at the Methodist Church, expecting cake, punch and a lovely meeting with her new flock, probably around a Sunday School class table. Diane Curtis, who had been watching out the window of the fellowship hall, rushed out to greet Sarah to her new church. Diane seemed friendly enough to the new pastor, albeit a bit nervous.

Expecting the usual six or seven members who normally make up a Pastor/Parish Committee, Hyden-Smith was quite surprised to walk into a room with more than 60 folks seated in four rows across the fellowship hall.

Following a brief introduction by Diane Curtis, Sarah told the group she was thrilled to be appointed to Lennox Valley and asked the eerily silent congregants if they had any questions or thoughts they would like to share.

Looking back, I’m not sure why anyone was surprised when Elbert Lee Jones raised his hand and asked, “What’s your stand on the Federal Reserve System?”

Leaning back in his chair, near the end of the third row, Raymond Cooper grinned an almost evil grin as he sat, quite pleased with himself.

Learn more about the Good Folks of Lennox Valley at lennoxvalley.com.

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