“Pastor, I have a bone to pick with you.”
“Oh, good morning, Hilda. What’s on your mind?” Pastor Walter Mitty sat at his desk in the Poplar Park Community Church office. He was used to Hilda Hoffenstaffen’s criticism and felt proud of himself that he hadn’t gotten hooked by the church matriarch’s lack of tact.
“Is it true that you’re going to let Troy play that god awful drum set at the Christmas Eve service?”
Pastor Mitty took a deep breath. Hilda had found a nerve. “Well, yes, Hilda. In fact I’m the one who asked him to play.”
“Now, Pastor,” Hilda paused for effect. “Christmas Eve is a time for tradition. Why can’t our young people play their rock music in the social hall during the youth club meetings? I was against having drums in the sanctuary to begin with, but I went along with it. But a drum on Christmas Eve is going too far.”
Pastor Walt hoped Hilda didn’t hear him take a deep breath and sigh before explaining his decision. “Well Hilda, to be honest, I prefer traditional music on Christmas Eve, too. But these contemporary praise songs are really popular now days, and that kind of music brings in young people.”
“So us old timers don’t matter anymore. Is that it?”
Mitty sighed again. He knew Hilda was feeling desperate when she tried to lay a guilt trip on him.
“You know that’s not true, Hilda. Why, Eric Anderson is still going to sing “I Am So Glad on Christmas Eve” in Norwegian while we have the candlelight service, and three of the carols are going to be accompanied by the organ.”
“Well, I can see that I’m not getting anywhere with this conversation,” huffed Hilda. “I guess I just have to accept that it’s not my church anymore.”
Pastor Walt tried to patiently explain his decision to this woman he really did care about, but when the conversation ended five minutes later, he felt like he had failed. It was a part of the job he didn’t like. When he came to Poplar Park 15 years ago, he knew that changes would have to be made. The community was becoming more diverse, and younger people were not coming to church. If the congregation really wanted to be a community church, it would have to let go of some of its “whiteness” and tradition.
The problem was that some of the old timers always felt like they were losing things that were precious to them. Getting old had enough losses, and folks like Hilda looked to the church for stability in the midst of change. Mitty felt he was doing the right thing in bringing change to his little church, but he felt bad about the pain it caused some of his members.
Feeling too upset to concentrate on the newsletter article he had been writing, Pastor Walt decided to have lunch back at his house. The three block walk in the cold air would do him good.
As he entered the front door and hung his jacket on the coat tree, he heard the answering machine beeping. “Walt, this is Herman. I hate to tell you this in a message, but I wanted to let you know as early as possible. Sue and I decided to spend Christmas with her family, and that means we won’t be getting together like we usually do. Walt, I feel bad about this, but Sue has gone along with our tradition for a lot of years now, and I just thought it was the right thing to do. Hope you understand. Call me.”
Mitty’s heart sank into his stomach. Being with Herman and Sue and the kids on Christmas Day in Manitowoc was something he looked forward to all fall.
Feeling too upset to eat lunch, Mitty decided to go back outside and walk. As he climbed down the front steps, he spotted his neighbor coming out of the side door of his house. “Hey, Michael. What’s up?”
“Going for a walk, Walt. I got depressed thinking about spending the holidays alone so I decided some exercise might be therapeutic.”
The two neighbors walked and talked about Hanukah and Christmas, about latkes and Christmas cookies. The exercise did take the edge off what they were feeling. So did the friendship they shared.
“Would you look at that?!” said Michael as he pointed to a six foot high inflatable Homer Simpson in a Santa Clause suit flanked by eight wire reindeer cloaked in blinking Italian lights.
“That’s the Miller place, isn’t it?” Mitty asked.
“Now it is,” replied his neighbor, “but years ago, it used to be the Regenstern house. In fact, years ago it used to be on the other side of town.”
“Really? What happened?”
“Well,” Michael began, “it used to be where the expressway is right now. Caused quite a commotion. The Regensterns didn’t want to move, and a lot of the people in Poplar Park got behind them. Didn’t do much good, of course. The state offered to move the house to where it is now and give the family a couple thousand dollars for their trouble.”
“Funny, it seemed like such a big deal 50 years ago. Now, of course, no one would know what to do without the expressway.”
By the time Pastor Mitty got back to the office life was beginning to look a little more hopeful.
As he was taking the mail out of the box, Mitty began to smile. He knew what he was going to do that evening. He was going to bake some Christmas cookies, them to Hilda on Sunday. He felt surer than ever about Troy playing the drums on Christmas Eve, but he wanted to let Hilda know that he really did feel her pain.