Tag Archives: Hancock NH

What You Can Learn From A Good Crook

We all negotiate at our own level. Some do it in the halls of power; for me the venue is the hall of the Church Vestry. The Vestry is a brick building built in the 1830s as a school and winter worship space. It’s a warm, homey place where our congregation and the wider community still gather for any number of activities. This month, the second floor was in heavy, messy use as the staging area for our Journey to Bethlehem, a town-wide, outdoor Christmas pageant.

Negotiations occur when something of value is at stake and the coveted object in this case was temporary custody of a shepherd’s crook. In our pageant, the plum role—if you’re a kid who likes animals– is to be a shepherd. My neighbor Kin walks her sheep down the hill and if you’re a shepherd, you get to spend the afternoon with Luna, Odie, WoolieWoolie, Cheerio, and Rosie. The other perk of being a shepherd is that you get access to the firepit in the shepherd’s encampment on the Meetinghouse lawn, a welcome bit of comfort on a cold December afternoon in New Hampshire.

What you may not get is one of “the good crooks.” There are three, maybe four of these special crooks and we always have more shepherds than that. I don’t know when they were made, but somewhere in the foggy recesses of Hancock pageant history, someone gave some steel tubing an exaggerated bend and made not exactly authentic, but really fine crooks for our young shepherds.

img_7503You can see from this photo (Charlie warming up with a bowl soup in the Vestry, but not letting his crook out of sight) that it would have been better if we had remembered to get new hockey tape and re-wrap the crooks, but that was a detail that got away from us this year. The tape grew more and more ragged as our after-school rehearsals went on, with new claim tags being affixed and removed and re-affixed as the shepherds vied for possession. My job was to mediate some of those negotiations. First choice of the faux animal skins from the costume box appeased one and another was persuaded with the logic that you couldn’t hold a crook AND be in charge of the animal crackers that the kids get to feed the sheep.

A shepherd’s crook has two ends. A curved end to pull the sheep back from danger and a straight end to prod them along in the right direction. As the year winds down and we begin to think about what 2017 holds in store, I’m going to keep that crook in mind. Chances are I’ll need a little protection, a little pulling back from some of my stupider ideas; but also a push, a little prodding to get on with one or two of the better ones. Stop and go. Good living requires both. Fortunately we don’t have to figure it out alone. There’s always that big shepherd and a full cast of assistant ones ready to help.

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Welcoming the Dark and Celebrating Christmas Despite the Ruins

They got it right the second time. When they rolled it onto logs and moved our Meetinghouse back in 1851, some thirty-odd years after it had been built, they sited it perfectly. No matter what time of day, the light in this space is gorgeous. Inviting as glows on the Vestry side in the morning and equally enchanting as it takes leave over Norway Pond at the end of the day.

img_1999Of course, our forbearers didn’t move the Meetinghouse to enhance our aesthetic pleasure. They were practical men trying to correct their own poor planning. They wanted to bring the buildings along Main Street into alignment and make Hancock look like a proper town. I doubt the prophet Isaiah was their inspiration, but here in the New Hampshire wilderness, they were making straight the highway (Isaiah 40.3).

Still, it soothes the spirit to sit in this spare, minimally adorned space as darkness falls on these shortening days. Today the sun will set at 4:14 pm. Too early, we all complain. This year, I am trying to be pro-active about welcoming the dark. I’m finding it helps to queue up the Mary Chapin Carpenter song Come Darkness, Come Light. It’s a little trick I’m playing on myself. If I’m the one who invokes the darkness and invites it to come, then maybe my sense of hospitality will kick in. This winter I am trying not to recoil from the darkness, but to treat it as a guest to be welcomed.

I get a little help with this on Mondays during Advent. Last year, a group of us began to gather in the Meetinghouse as darkness fell and we doing it again this year. We like pausing together for a few minutes—setting aside our double-sided to-do lists, shutting off our phones, and reflecting on a topic that is somehow related to this season of hopeful expectation. I offer a little talk, play a piece of music, and sometimes do a little show-and-tell. This past Monday, I brought along a poster of Albrecht Altdorfer’s nativity, painted in the 1500’s. It’s an unusual rendering–one that shows Mary, Joseph, and Jesus hunkering down in the ruins of an old house. The canvas gives much more space to the architecture than to the Holy Family. It depicts a building in ruins–all rubble and falling brick, vegetation taking over what’s left of the roof, timbers and beams ripe for salvage.

albrecht_altdorfer_-_nativityI brought the Altdorfer nativity because it is referred to several times in a little book I’ve been reading–The Christmas Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Those of us in our 50s and 60s who grew up in mainline Protestant churches were reared on Bonhoeffer-fortified sermons. I don’t think he is cited as frequently anymore and there were several at our gathering this week who hadn’t heard of him or couldn’t quite place the 20th century theologian/pastor/Nazi-resister. I hope that’s not a sign that he is starting to fade out of popular consciousness. His witness is too important to lose. I’m always encouraged when I run into places where his memory seems alive and well—the NH coffee bar that bears his name or a rendition of the morning prayer he wrote while in Tegel prison, featuring the Nashville-based singer-songwriter Molly Parden.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for nearly two years before he was hanged by the Nazis in 1943, just months before the end of World War II. Advent was an especially poignant time for him when he was in prison; but even in his cell, he put up an Advent krantz (wreath), hummed the season’s hymns, and got through that lonely time by imaging how his friends and family were observing Advent back home. In a letter to his parents he wrote:

Although I am not at all clear about whether, or how, letters get to you, I want to write on this afternoon of Advent Sunday: Remember the Altdorfer Christmas scene, in which the Holy Family is depicted with the manger amidst the ruins of a broken down house—how could he, four hundred years ago, against all traditions of his time, show the scene like that? It is really contemporary. We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us…I think of you as you now sit together with the children and with all of the Advent decorations—as in earlier years you did with us. We must do all this, even more intensively because we do not know how much longer we have.

Bonhoeffer reminds us that courage is embedded in the smallest of acts—acts like keeping Advent and celebrating Christmas despite whatever may be in ruins in our own lives and times.

Spending Their Apron Money Well

I bought some vintage apron patterns at the yard sale we had in the Vestry last month. It’s not that I really plan to make any of these aprons. It was a pure nostalgia buy. My mother kept an apron drawer in her kitchen and she had a similar assortment of pretty, but largely useless aprons. Aprons that didn’t cover up the places you were most likely to spill or splatter on. Aprons that worked best as domestic costuming.

I have been thinking about aprons this week, because while looking for materials for an upcoming event we are hosting with the Hancock Historical Society and the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, I came across the minutes of the Ladies Sewing Circle from 1900-1913.

I’m a sucker for beautiful penmanship and find old minutes oddly compelling. What I learned is that the ladies of the Hancock Church made and sold aprons. Lots of aprons. A typical sale might bring in $45.00. Run that figure through an inflation calculator and in today’s currency that works out to be over a thousand dollars in apron proceeds. We may see that as a quaint accomplishment, but these were women who weren’t allowed to vote yet, women who had access only to whispered methods of contraception, and women who lived in a town with a population of about 600 . They must have have been marketing geniuses to raise that kind of money. Exclusively from aprons. Before Etsy.

But what got to me was not the apron entrepreneurs’ bottom line, but how they chose to spend some of the proceeds.

Minutes from March 20, 1913

Maybe you can make it out in the photo. If not, this is what it says:

Special committee reported the purchase of four dozen oranges and one dozen lemons for cases of sickness in town.

You’ve got to love a group of women who decide that what their town needs is a shared stash of lemons and oranges. What binds me to these women across the years is not apron patterns or hours spent in the same brick Vestry or a penchant for Vitamin C. What we share is a faith and a Gospel that makes it our obligation to do what we can for those who are without. In 1913, that meant stitching for citrus. Ladies, I’d say you spent your apron money well.

Instagram’s Grandmother

Hancock Meetinghouse and Horsesheds from the Norway Plains Cemetery

One of the perks of my job is that I get to hear people talk about their families. Over time, you get to follow life as it is unfolding not just for your own parishioners, but also the people they care about. You hear a lot of stories about grandchildren.

One person who always had good grandchildren stories was . I’m thinking about Betty today on what would have been her 87th birthday. When I visited with Betty, she frequently would talk about her grandchildren. I saw pictures of their vacations on the Cape, drawings they made, presents they sent her. Sometimes she would mention a project that her grandson Kevin was working on at school.

As it turns out, Kevin’s “project” was Instagram. Yep, that Kevin (maybe you saw him in a commercial aired during the Superbowl?) and that Instagram . Let’s just call it an entrepreneurial fairy tale—invent something really cool, sell it for a ton of money, and do it while you are still in your twenties.

If you aren’t sure what Instagram is, it’s an application for iPhones and now Androids, where you can take a picture with your phone and then instantly try out a whole range of filters that will transform the look and feel of your photo. Even mediocre photos can be made to look pretty darned good. Then the application makes it easy to send, post and share your photos right from your phone.

Part of the charm of Instagram is that it uses a square format—just like an old Polaroid photo. And that’s where Instagram hooked me—even before I knew of the connection to Betty and her grandson.

Hancock Meetinghouse Steeple

Call me a member of the Polaroid Generation. My father loved his Polaroid camera and I still remember the smell of those little pink sponges of fixer he used to keep in his pocket. Both of my children were born in Norwich, Connecticut where one of the favorite sons (right up there along with Benedict Arnold) was Edwin H. Land, inventor of the Polaroid process. I admit I was a little sad when I drove by the old Polaroid building on Rte. 128 outside of Boston a few weeks ago and saw that it was being demolished.

All of which is to say that, going way back, I have a soft spot for all things Polaroid. I am grateful to Betty’s grandson for putting that retro-look, square photo format back in my hands.

Some people do amazing things with Instagram and have elevated it to a real art form. I just use it for fun with lesser results.  But in honor of Betty’s birthday, I’m posting are a few Instagrams of a place she loved, a place she served, and a place where she is remembered with deep fondness.

Hancock Church Vestry from the Bandstand

No, I Am Not the Vicar of Dibley (But She Could Be My Cousin)

Last week someone stopped to help me carry yard sale donations from my car into the Vestry.  As we moved the bird-feeders and muffin tins and embroidery books, he asked “Hey, have you ever seen that program The Vicar of Dibley? This kind of reminds me of that.”

You would be surprised how often that comes up in this PBS-loving community. And the answer is yes.  I was a big Vicar of Dibley fan when it was on the air. I once even ordered the VHS boxed set to give as an ordination present.  Given my profession, what’s not to love about a British comedy about the arrival of the first female vicar in a small English village?

There are some parallels between my world and the Vicar of Dibley’s. Geraldine and I both have bangs. We both love the churches we serve and worry about their finances. When we are alone, we both speak to God with a bluntness that borders on irreverence.

But the Vicar of Dibley is younger and funnier than I am and gets more marriage proposals. She is a chocoholic, whereas for me it’s all about licorice. And while my Church Council is a dedicated and entertaining crew, its members are nowhere near as eccentric as those in Dibley.

But there’s a little of Dibley in Hancock, I think. My work as the minister here is sometimes wildly unpredictable, and yet has certain comforting rhythms–times and purposes for every season under heaven. And not a week goes by when I don’t meet someone or hear something that restores my faith in the ordinary, faith in the wonders and surprises that keep surfacing, even out of our foibles and false starts.