AN ACCIDENTAL PREACHER, IN AN ACCIDENTAL TOWN
I have totally retired now, no more preaching, pastoral prayers, writing, blog posts, etc. I have told only five people directly about that, and if any of them stumbles across this, they might well say, “But you promised not to do this anymore!” Well, this is only for some poor master’s degree student who does an internet search for material while working on a thesis about country preachers back in the olden days. I know, “Why would any respecting scholar pick such a topic?” Well, because all the good topics are already taken. I’m glad you’re reading it, but it may mean you have to enroll in a history grad program.
On Sunday mornings, I think back to my first churches, when I was a 19 year old sophomore at IU, first preaching at Chrisney, Crossroads, and Bloomfield, 100 miles south of Bloomington, in Spencer County, in the fall of 1956. It was a surprise appointment. I had gone, at Aunt Nora’s insistence, to see Dallas Browning, the Evansville District Superintendent, to tell him I was thinking about maybe, perhaps, some day being a preacher. He said, “Good, you can start this Sunday.” [I have written about this more extensively in The Strange Calling, but history grad students might not have access to either of the extant copies.]
It was to be a temporary appointment, only three months, until Ellis P. Hukill, Jr graduated from Asbury Seminary in January and was appointed there fulltime. Dr. Browning said, “It will be good experience for you.” There were all sorts of problems and hitches in this scenario, but, like everything else in my life, I just assumed they were all my problems to solve.
First, I did not have a car. Fortunately, my brother-in-law’s 1947 Oldsmobile was up on blocks in our barnyard because the navy had sent him and my sister to Antigua. So I arranged to buy it from him for $50. I had saved that from my summer’s work at the Potter and Brumfield factory in Princeton. My father was blind, but he could make anything run, even an Olds on concrete blocks, so I had a car.
I can’t remember what I made as the weekend preacher at those three little churches, but it wasn’t nearly enough to cover the oil bill on that Olds, so a few months later I bought a 1951 Chevy. That kept me going through the rest of college.
In December, I was transferred to the Solsberry Charge, another three churches, because it was only 16 to 30 miles from Bloomington. Chrisney was to be over in January anyway, but Dr. Browning was gracious enough to protest “losing” me and proclaimed that Bloomington District Superintendent F.T. Johnson had “stolen” me.
This is where disappointment comes in this story, because the only reason I have told you all this is to explain the name of Koleen, one of the two other churches on the Solsberry Circuit, along with Mineral. All three of the churches were in Greene County, Mineral and Koleen being just east of Bloomfield, the county seat, not the one on the Chrisney Circuit.
When they had enough folks that they could have a post office, they had to have a name for their settlement. Because they were Irish immigrants, they told the Postmaster General, or whoever took care of such things, that their village name was Colleen. It must have been folks of French or German extraction working that branch of government, for when mail started coming, it was to Koleen. And that was the way it remained.
Accidental name. Many years later, an accidental preacher. But the folks in the Koleen church were unreasonably kind to their young and inexperienced preacher. They supported me without taking me too seriously. That was no accident, but intentional Christian mercy.
John Robert McFarland