It took only eight minutes for Claire Lapella to get right to the point with her visiting pastor — and soon-to-be friend — Sarah Hyden-Smith. It just happened to be Sarah’s first official call on a visitor since preaching her first sermon at Lennox Valley Methodist Church nine days earlier. Heeding the advice of her predecessor, Sarah was attempting to make personal visits to newcomers to the church within a few days after they attended.
It was obvious Claire and Sarah felt comfortable with each other from the beginning. As she thumbed through the Bible on Claire’s coffee table, Sarah shared her bizarre encounter with Beatrice Justice just before leaving the church.
"What’s Exodus 2:22?" asked Claire after her new friend told her what she was looking for.
"It’s a verse in the second book of the Old Testament," Sarah answered. "Exodus is the story of Moses leading his people out of centuries of bondage into a new promised land."
"And that’s all she said?" asked Claire, as puzzled as Sarah. "Exodus 2:22?"
"That’s it," Sarah almost whispered as she read the Scripture silently to herself. "Beatrice asked me how I was getting along in my new hometown. After I told her I was beginning to get used to where things are, she responded with ‘Exodus 2:22,’ then turned and walked away."
"Well, what’s it say?" Claire asked. She was on the edge of her seat.
Sarah read the words aloud slowly, with a bit of a puzzled look on her face, "And he said, ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land.’"
After a moment’s pause, Claire took the lead. "How do you feel about killing animals at church?"
"Do you mean animal sacrifice, like they did in Old Testament days?" Sarah asked.
"No," Claire responded. "I mean like shooting turkeys every year at the Baptist church."
Sarah couldn’t comprehend what her new friend was saying to her. Eventually, however, she put the puzzle pieces into place.
Claire was upset about the upcoming men’s breakfast and turkey shoot at First Baptist Church. When she first learned about the annual event, Claire wasn’t sure if she was more upset about grown men trampling the church grounds shooting fowl or the idea that women weren’t invited. After a couple of months of intense contemplation, she decided she was more upset about the turkeys.
Although Sarah had been assigned to serve the Methodist church in Lennox Valley, she hadn’t always lived in a small town. Actually, she was more of a big-city girl. She explained to Claire that her mother was one of the early women ministers in the Methodist church, and now, 30 years later, here was her daughter, pastor of Lennox Valley Methodist Church.
Sarah had moved around a lot, normal for a "PK" (preacher’s kid), but had spent most of her teen years in a large city where her mother served as an associate pastor. So, she explained, her understanding of turkey shoots was minimal.
This was 1998, and it wasn’t as easy to get information as it is today. Computers weren’t plentiful in the Valley, and even if they were, Claire wouldn’t know how to look up such a thing.
Sarah assured Claire that she would look into details concerning the turkey shoot, still four months away, and let her know what she found. She was, she told her new friend, quite sure that no one would be running around the church grounds looking for turkeys to shoot.
"That just doesn’t seem right," Sarah confided, "even for Baptists."
Sarah suggested the two meet for lunch at the Hoffbrau on Friday. It was near the church and Claire was familiar with it, even though she hadn’t eaten out very often since moving to the Valley months earlier.
"I’m off to visit Caroline Tittle," Sarah said as she stood up from the sofa. "Do you know her?"
"No," Claire answered in a soft tone. "I don’t really know much of anyone."
Walking toward Claire’s front door, Sarah paused for a moment before turning to face her new friend.
"Well, now you do."
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.