From August 1996 to August 2004 I pastored my first church in a rural Kansas community of about 250 people. Besides the church, Partridge had a tiny post office, a K-8 grade school, 93 houses, a small building that was split between the City Hall and the public library, Ruth’s café and in wheat country, the all important grain elevator.
The café had five or six old kitchen tables pushed together in several groups. You ate family style, sitting where there was an available chair. Many of the farmers ate lunch there every day and on Friday, fried chicken day, you were lucky to find a seat. The ladies in the church told me that some years before we moved there, Ruth’s husband was hospitalized for six weeks. She spent every day with him as he lay dying and the church women ran the café, saving the couple’s only income.
Our eight years in Partridge taught me a lot about being a pastor and about living in a close community. Within 15 minutes after we drove up in our rented moving van, there were over a dozen people who greeted us with smiles and hugs, unloaded our moving van in less than an hour and served up thick ham sandwiches and potato salad for everybody.
In that first year I soon found myself in the thick of things. That fall, by the third or fourth basketball game at the grade school, I had already gained a reputation, even among the Amish and Mennonites who lived in the area. One of the boys from church pointed up to where I sat in the bleachers. He loudly proclaimed, “That crazy lady who yells so loud is my pastor.”
When election time rolled around, one of my church ladies talked me into joining her as a poll worker. Voting was held in the library that wasn’t a lot bigger than the parsonage living room. There were three of us clerks and the reason they needed me was they had to have at least one Democrat and I was it. In fact, my husband and I were two of the few Democrats in the county.
I enjoyed that first election, especially meeting people who lived out of town but within the precinct. More than a few drove up on their tractors. One of them was a man in his early forties. He signed in, writing his name very slowly and in large letters. When he took his ballot to the voting booth, one of my coworkers whispered, “that’s Bob Johnson’s son Billy and he’s a little slow.”
There weren’t any voting machines. Billy took a long time, reading each measure, and marking the paper ballot with his pencil. When he finished he pushed his ballot through the slot in the ballot box and handed me his pencil and thanked me. I took the pencil and said, “Oh, no, Mr. Johnson, thank you.” He smiled then and ducked his head, tipped his old straw hat, and left.
Last week I couldn’t stop the tears while I watched a violent mob attack our country’s capitol. So far six people have died. Seeking comfort, I sat down at the piano and opened an old book of music. The first page I read was the final verse of a song, “There's a song in the dust of a country road, on the wind it comes to call. And it sings in the farms and the factory towns and where you'd think there'd be no song at all.”
The title of the song is “America, America…the Dream Goes On.” I remember Billy Johnson and the people of Kansas who were so good to us and more than anything I hope those words are true.