Our Common Life…A Love Letter to Small Places

One year ago, if you had told me that my immediate future involved serving a small congregation in a town of six thousand, I might have laughed.  I’m from the suburbs, and up to that point, the closest experience I had to small-town living was the place where my tiny liberal arts college is located.  I didn’t know much about small towns, but I knew enough to realize that most of them don’t contain two bistros and three coffee shops.  In fact, as I sorted through church profiles I remember asking a colleague of mine whether he could picture me in a small town.  You know—sort of the way you ask someone else whether this outfit works on you.  No, he said, shaking his head, just as incredulous as I was.  Well.  We were both wrong.  I now live and serve in a small place.  And I don’t just like it.  I love it.

It doesn’t hurt that I live in a picturesque region—the same counties that inspired Grant Wood in the 1930s to paint rolling hills and farmers with pitchforks.  And it doesn’t hurt that I am blessed to serve a healthy, vibrant congregation.  But there is something special about small places.  And I’m learning that slowly, but surely.  For one, ministry looks different in small places.  When I lived in bigger places, I would see congregation members mainly at worship and meetings.  Now that I live in a small place, I see my congregation everywhere: not only in worship and meetings, but also the grocery store, and the high school football game, and the local Mexican restaurant.  I see them—and they see me—not just in our good church clothes, but in most of the other where to buy clomid online clothes and roles we wear in our small place.

Which also means the Gospel looks different here.  A divorce within the congregation pressures sisters and brothers in Christ to choose sides.  A lousy business deal, a health crisis, a split within the school board—such events reverberate loudly in a small place.  But the same is true with the good: if you want to know generosity, live in a small place.  I’ve witnessed more acts of generosity in the last ten months than I have in ten years.  And like everything else, in a small place the Gospel is distilled.  What does it mean to forgive?  Ask the person who has served on three committees with someone who betrayed her trust fifteen years ago.  What does it mean to love those on the margins?  Ask the man who treated a mentally ill church member to a professional football game in Chicago.  It’s true.  There’s nowhere to hide in a small place.  But there are plenty of places to be found.

In the past year, I’ve thought a lot about this scene from John.  Jesus is gathering his disciples together, in clumps of one or two.  And when Philip tries to recruit Nathanael, the latter utters this precious line: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip doesn’t try to defend or explain.  He just says, “Come and see.”  I’d like to think I was less arrogant than Nathanael about the life I live now, but I understand his incredulity.  I never thought I would write a love letter to a small place.  But to my surprise, I just did.

Stephanie Haskins
Iowa Conference Board of Director and Pastor of Maquoketa UCC

4 comments on “Our Common Life…A Love Letter to Small Places

  1. Steve Jewett on said:

    Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you so much for your post; “Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore”. Welcome to Iowa, one of the “square states” in fly over country.
    I have had the honor of being the pastor of smaller congregations in the Northwestern Association of the Iowa Conference for more that twenty five years and have, for the most part, felt the need of the congregational members to be spiritually fed. I have learned that if you “put the cookies on the bottom shelf”, so that all have access, then your ministry will be successful, no matter the numbers.

    God’s Blessing to you and your ministry,

    Steve Jewett, Pastor
    New Horizons United Church of Christ, Akron

  2. Jan Tungesvick on said:

    Nice comments about your experience as a now “small town girl” and your transition to the kind of life one leads as a leader in a small church in a small town. I have wondered about you and Jeannette and where your careers have taken you. I grew up in a small town and now enjoy life in the city and especially at Plymouth. There are many opportunities for growth in both settings as I am sure you are discovering. Prayers for you in your new endeavors. Jan

  3. Lindsey Braun on said:

    Thanks for this lovely letter to a small place. Bearing witness to the ways people can be found is such good news!

  4. jane willan on said:

    Stephanie, I love this. I am often struggling with the “smallness” of Iowa communities; your statement “there’s nowhere to hide in a small place….but there are plenty of places to be found” captures the truth of my own love affair with these small places. Thank you for your words and your ministry.

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