Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Family Of God In Lincoln County, Nevada

Don’t get me wrong. I love Las Vegas. The sheer surrealism of living here amazes me every day. But sometimes it is just too much. Saturday things had been frenzied in a good way with our booth at the Pure Aloha Festival and Convention preparation going on at the same time. Then there was a barrage of the kind of incoming criticism that just goes with the turf of my curious (double entendre) vocation. But God provides. Saturday afternoon, Linda and I headed out for Pioche. But not so fast there kid. We took the I-15, little knowing it had been narrowed to a single lane for road construction. Trapped. It took forever before we could escape the jam. When we did, we had escaped onto the Las Vegas Strip. Arrrrgh! It was a tortuous odyssey wending our way to the I-95. But eventually we made it. We were sprung!

Then it was a lovely drive through the autumn afternoon up the 93, through my beloved Pahranagat Valley, through the Joshua Tree forest, along the pastures, to Pioche, once the wildest town in the Wild Wild West.

Dinner at the Silver Café. Then up the hill to Christ Church where Nick had unlocked the lower level and turned on the heat for us to spend the night in the bedroom they keep ready for itinerant preachers and roving prophets. The dog Fichu was beside himself. The steeply sloping back yard of Christ Church is his favorite place on God’s green earth. He did miss the cats that used to live across the street but they had moved on. There we spent a quiet evening, me reading A. N. Wilson’s eloquent biography of the Puritan heretic Milton.

Morning brought biscuits and sausage gravy at the Silver Café. A rangy young working man was making sweeping generalizations about the evils of socialism while an older working man was responding with a nuanced analysis of the pros and cons of the President’s Jobs Bill.

Back to Church for an early morning vestry meeting. They handled their business expeditiously and informally. As the Treasurer put it “We don’t know Robert.” His rules of order did not impede the good Christian folk of Pioche from getting on with the mission.

They had a challenge. The church musician Louie was missing. That is not unusual. He sometimes goes on walk about. To accommodate his wandering ways, they are buying one of those nifty machines that play hymns to support congregational singing, but it isn’t here yet. So they called Norma to drive a few hours down from Ely to provide the musical accompaniment on a xylophone. It was excellent. The gathered assembly of about 20 people sang right along.

The road from the 93 down to Pioche is an adopted highway, adopted by Christ Church, as a sign conspicuously announces. Civic responsibility, the Church engaged with society, the Christ light shining in a mountain village. After seeing the sign, Linda and I scanned the roadside for litter intending to stop and pick up any scrap we might find. But Deacon Kathy Hiatt and the laity of Christ Church had beaten us to it. The road was pristine.

At the vestry meeting we learned that this little congregation recently gave money to Episcopal Relief and Development to help the tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri. They support a missionary family in Chile. A thank you poster on their wall marks a donation they had made to UNICEF. They voluntarily give money above and beyond their diocesan assessment to support Ministry Development throughout our diocese.

Christ Church was founded by the first missionary bishop of Nevada, Ozzie Whittaker, who celebrated the first Pioche Holy Eucharist in a saloon, using the bar for an altar. This congregation was nourished for many years by Deaconess-in-Charge Jenny Hesmark whose biography is now being written by Karen Wilkes of St. Christopher’s, Boulder City. Christ Church was the star of Bishop Wes Frensdorff’s Total Ministry innovations in the 70s. Then they were shaped in the faith by the devoted ministry of their priest, the Rev. Jean Orr. Jean was called to priesthood by this congregation in 1975 – that’s right several years before women’s ordination was allowed in the Episcopal Church. Jean served until she was past 90. It was my privilege just last week at St. Catherine’s, Reno to confirm Jean’s grand-niece, Sophia Bedel.

When things get rough, it’s good to find the family of God to take one in and boost one’s hope.

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