When I was assigned to my first church in 1965 I learned that Miss Mae McCamley, in her late 80s, was one who took charge with about everyone and everything in the congregation. Two of my predecessors warned me about her.
The grand dame let me know rather soon that the women’s committee will be meeting monthly in our parsonage next door to the church. She often opened and read her mail during the meetings and would fall asleep after a while and snore loudly. No one had the nerve to disturb her.
She was a star within our annual conference. She remained single and drove a 1925 model-A truck in her young years and made numerous trips carrying bricks to help build her church.
Within a month I made a big mistake when I left her name off the list of the oldest members celebrating the 75th anniversary of the church. She had broken her neck and was in rehabilitation. I got a call right away by a member who said “You made a huge gaffe and Miss Mae will want to see you right NOW, good luck!”
I rushed to the rehab site and peeked into her room.
“You will stay out in the hall, Willard, until the therapist is through with me!”
“Yes, Mam.” Why did I leave the aircraft industry job?
“OK, Willard, come in and sit down. Did you know what you did to me?”
She smiled and said “You’re doing well as our pastor so don’t mess up. I guess you know about my commitment to my church and how crucial it is but it’s just a building. I am concerned about what we Methodists do within our community nearby but I am more anxious about our ministries that go beyond our neighborhood and on to the country and the world.
When I was assigned to my third church, Clarence Newell, the chair of the finance committee and a longtime member, reminded me of Miss McCamley. I was attempted to be reassigned. He came at me on my first day. This was his welcoming gesture:
“OK, Pastor, you must know that you are responsible to help us pay our apportionments yearly and on time. We are starting to drop in attendance and funding and your job is to pounce on the congregation whenever you can to keep us afloat!”
I whined and replied “Will you also do some pouncing?”
“Not as much as you will be.”
He was a lot like the pushy royal at my first church.
He stated “We like having you here but”…there is always a ‘but’ when it comes to getting instructions on how to pastor a church.
He continued “…but, I’ll be on your back when our apportionments are due at the end of the year. And you know why. That’s the funds that we commit to our ministries beyond our local church, and that’s why I became a Methodist.”
My hunch is those who have been Methodists for 60 or 70 years in our pews, realize more than others, that our weakened churches are having to sell off their properties and some may know the funds will wind up in conferences that are likely not able to buy expensive lands for new starts.
Before they die, we ought to comfort those apportionment lovers by making sure a portion of the sell-off funds make it to ministries that go beyond local church assets.
I continue to be in awe of Miss Mae and Clarence with their determination to keep us on what John Wesley had in mind.
“The great end of life is not knowledge but action.”
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1877