The local parson, you know, the guy that does the "marryin' and buryin'" in your neck of the woods. But, that occupation involves so much more than those two activities. He is the shepherd of the sheep, and even though his flock may be small, he tends them with love and care.
Well, it just so happens that I grew up in the home of a small town parson. I have many fond memories of life in a parson's home. My siblings and I never felt like the "fishbowl" family, though we knew that people were expecting more of us, just because we were the preacher's kids. We loved each and every congregation of which we were privileged to be a part.
Being the parson has some distinct perks. Of course, there is the parsonage: appropriately named to house the parson and his family. I believe that this is one of the few occupations where the employer also provides the housing for the employed. And provide, they do: whether a trailer parked out in the middle of a forest, or the "Old Manse" connected to the actual church building and readily accessible to the church members, or the old fire-trap that sat next to the church. I have lived in many such parsonages. My dad became an expert at making an old house look really nice with paint and wallpaper. The church congregation always made sure the house was in order when the new parson arrived. They would stock the pantry with cans of food to help welcome the family. I can remember a particular can of bamboo shoots that stayed in the pantry for the duration of our tenure, and we kindly left it for the next parson and his family. The church always felt like the parsonage belonged to them (and rightly so) and we always asked permission before making any changes on the house, or requested help when something needed repaired.
Because the congregations that we were privileged to minister to were small, the members became like family to us. I can name off the top of my head several sets of "adopted grandparents" who endeared themselves to our family and helped us to look forward to every Sunday. Whether it was being taken out to eat almost every Sunday, or sneaking us candy and cookies behind our mom's back during church, they made themselves a part of our lives. Of course, with any family, you get to know one another very well. When one person is missing, there is a hole. You are not just a face in the crowd in this congregation, but an integral part of the service. When one member is hurting, we all hurt along with them. We are a family of brothers and sisters.
And along with the family atmosphere, there can also be squabbles. Churches are steeped in their traditions, and when a new pastor comes along and wants to change something, there is often opposition. At one point in my dad's ministry, he was called a "young whippersnapper" by one of the board members, no doubt because he suggested something new. I can also remember a particular church secretary who would lock up the chalkboard chalk in the safe after Sunday School so we youngsters couldn't draw after church. There were aunts and uncles, and cousins, not really related to us, but closer than family could ever be.
The country parson can become an important part in the lives of those in the community. He is often the first one you call in case of emergency, and he even makes house calls. I recall in particular two elderly, widowed sisters who lived together in one small town. I was about 5 at the time, and I can remember being amazed when we would visit "Fran and Margaret" as they affectionately were called. Their house was immaculate, there were doilies pinned to the couch arms and backs. They wore gloves and hats to church on Sunday. They had the most amazing tulips I have ever seen. One memory that I have of them was a phone call that came in the middle of the night. A drunk had driven his car into their front parlor. The pastor was the only one they knew to call and so he went right over to comfort and help calm them. It was a major upset to their calm life, but the pastor was there in time of need. There is no doubt in my mind that they are in heaven now, pinning doilies to the couches and tending tulip beds.
The parson is also a member of the community in other areas as well. We have a picture of my dad placing the star on top of the community Christmas tree. We were part of many community functions and stood up for our little town in whatever ways we could. My dad was also a volunteer fire-fighter. However, this was back in the days when there were no cell phones or pagers. The only way to get the attention of the fire fighters was to ring the siren and they would come running. I recall one Sunday morning, right in the middle of a sermon, the fire siren went off. As many men stood to leave, my dad quipped, "I guess I'll have to miss this one." He still had to finish fighting that fire ...............but you'll get that in a small town.