Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Opinions on Ministry from Avonlea

We are reading through Anne of Green Gables as a family after dinner some evenings, and I am finding some unique and hilarious insights into opinions of those who enter Christian ministry within the pages. Mrs Rachel Lynde, ever ready with a word on many subjects, has had several things to say. Anne's take - on Mrs Lynde's opinions and the matters themselves - is at times wise beyond her years.

For those who are not familiar with the Anne books, Marilla and Matthew are Anne's adoptive parents; Mr and Mrs Allan are the newly wed, newly arrived to Avonlea, minister and his wife.

"We met the new minister and his wife coming from the station. For all I was feeling so bad about Mr Phillips going away I couldn't help taking a little interest in a new minister, could I? His wife is very pretty. Not exactly regally lovely, of course, - it wouldn't do, I suppose, for a minister to have a regally lovely wife, because it might set a bad example. Mrs Lynde says the minister's wife over at Newbridge set a very bad example because she dresses so fashionably. Our new minister's wife was dressed in blue muslin with lovely puffed sleeves and a hat trimmed with roses. Jane Andrews said she thought puffed sleeves were too worldly for a minister's wife, but I didn't make any such uncharitable remark, Marilla, because I know what it is to long for puffed sleeves. Besides, she's only been a minister's wife for a little while, so one should make allowances, shouldn't they?"

Old Mr Bentley, the minister whom Anne had found lacking in imagination, had been pastor of Avonlea for eighteen years. He was a widower when he came, and a widower he remained, despite the fact that gossip regularly married him to this, that, or the other one, every year of his sojourn. In the preceding February he had resigned his charge and departed amid the regrets of his people, most of whom had the affection born of long intercourse for their good old minister in spite of his short-comings as an orator. Since then the Avonlea church had enjoyed a variety of religious dissipation in listening to the many and various candidates and 'supplies' who came Sunday after Sunday to preach on trial. These stood or fell by the judgement of the fathers and mothers in Israel; but a certain small, red-headed girl who sat meekly in the corner of the old Cuthbert pew also had her opinions about them and discussed the same in full with Matthew, Marilla always declining from principle to criticize ministers in any shape or form.
"I don't think Mr Smith would have done, Matthew," was Anne's final summing up. "Mrs Lynde says his delivery was so poor, but I think his worst fault was just like Mr Bentley's - he had no imagination. And Mr Terry had too much; he let it run away with him just as I did mine in the matter of the Haunted Wood. Besides, Mrs Lynde says his theology wasn't sound. Mr Gresham was a very good man and a very religious man, but he told too many funny stories and made the people laugh too much; he was undignified, and you must have some dignity about a minister, mustn't you, Matthew? I thought Mr Marshall was decidedly attractive; but Mrs Lynde says he isn't married or even engaged, because she made special inquiries about him, and she says it would never do to have a young unmarried minister in Avonlea, because he might marry in the congregation, and that would make trouble. Mrs Lynde is a very far-seeing woman, isn't she, Matthew? I'm very glad they've called Mr Allan. I liked him because his sermon was interesting and he prayed as if he meant it and not just as if he did it because he was in the habit of it. Mrs Lynde says he isn't perfect, but she says she supposes we couldn't expect a perfect minister for seven hundred and fifty dollars a year, and anyhow his theology is sound because she questioned him thoroughly on all the points of doctrine. And she knows his wife's people and they are most respectable and the women are all good housekeepers. Mrs Lynde says that sound doctrine in the man and good housekeeping in the woman make an ideal combination for a minister's family."

"I'm not half so skinny as I was when I came here, but I have no dimples yet. If I had perhaps I could influence people for good. Mrs Allan said we ought always try to influence other people for good. She talked so nice about everything. I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs Allan's isn't, and I'd like to be a Christian if I could be one like her. I wouldn't want to be one like Mr Superintendent Bell."
"It's very naughty of you to speak so about Mr Bell," said Marilla severely. "Mr Bell is a real good man."
"Oh, of course he's good," agreed Anne, "but he doesn't seem to get any comfort out of it. If I could be good I'd dance and sing all day because I was glad of it. I suppose Mrs Allan is too old to dance and sing and of course it wouldn't be dignified in a minister's wife. But I can just feel she's glad she's a Christian and that she'd be one even if she could get to heaven without it."

"I hope I shall be a little like Mrs Allan when I grow up. Do you think there is any prospect of it, Marilla?"
"I shouldn't say there was a great deal," was Marilla's encouraging answer. "I'm sure Mrs Allan was never such a silly, forgetful little girl as you are."
"No; but she wasn't always so good as she is now either," said Anne seriously. "She told me so herself - that is, she said she was a dreadful mischief when she was a girl and was always getting into scrapes. I felt so encouraged when I heard that. Is it very wicked of me, Marilla, to feel encouraged when I hear that other people have been bad and mischievous? Mrs Lynde says it is. Mrs Lynde says she always feels shocked when she hears of anyone ever having been naughty, no matter how small they were. Mrs Lynde says she once heard a minister confess that when he was a boy he stole a strawberry tart out of his aunt's pantry and she never had any respect for that minister again. Now I wouldn't have felt that way. I'd have thought that is was real noble of him to confess it, and I'd have thought what an encouraging thing it would be for small boys nowadays who do naughty things and are sorry for them to know that perhaps they may grow up to be ministers in spite of it."

I'm posting this under "Church History".


Mrs. Edwards said...

This brought a smile to my face! Thanks for sharing.

Meredith said...

So, no more puffed sleeves, singing, dancing or strawberry tarts - at least strawberry tarts stolen from one's aunt's pantry!

Did you deliberate over what to wear the first time you were sighted by your new congregation? :-)

Sharon said...

I did deliberate over what to wear, Meredith, definitely. I even went so far as to ask my husband which top he thought was more modest to wear, and a skirt was a foregone conclusion... which says a lot since I normally just wear whatever is next clean on the rack.

Our first visit with the congregation was an ordinary Sunday meeting, just checking it out before Jeff put in his application, although as you are aware, we did know several people from the congregation already. We really only spoke to the elders, one of the Sunday School teachers and the couple who were on welcoming at the door, though. We were trying to keep a low profile.

The biggest thing we did to help us make a good first impression was to leave all four kids with another family, who took them to our previous (then present) church. I wasn't quite sure how well any church could handle four under-sixes dropped into their Sunday School program without warning. And we knew that we wouldn't be able to have an informative discussion with anybody with all four of them there afterward, either. Of course, we couldn't hide them forever...

What about you, Meredith?

~ Sharon

Meredith said...

I'm still laughing about the puffed sleeves!!

Yes, I thought long and hard about my choice of clothing on the first visit...and yes, it was a skirt. Of course. And in fact, apart from a couple of EXTREMELY cold winter mornings, I have worn a skirt most Sundays since we moved here. And in fact, wearing skirts has crept back into my mid-week wardrobe more and more too.

The first time we met the group who interviewed my husband (he had already met them but this was our first meeting that included me) we met at the rectory. I drove. They met us we arrived and came to my side of the car first. I got out of the car. Should I shake hands or would that be too forthright? How could I be met first but stand back in order to let my husband be greeted first?

That was the first minute! And so it went on. But the story had a happy ending.

It's a funny thing to be watched in this way - although God prepared me for this life in my time teaching in two very small country towns where I was very much in the proverbial goldfish bowl - but I have to say that for the most part I think being under scrutiny is a good thing. It is a tangible reminder to live a (God pleasing) life that bears up to that scrutiny.

But I guess there is a line and sometimes that line is crossed...as perhaps is illustrated by the dear characters in the Anne books.

Puffed sleeves. Tut tut.