My pastoral life began the summer of 1945 at Spirit Baptist Church. Given my ignorance and poverty, Spirit was a dumb decision; but I wouldn’t trade the few weeks there for all the gold in Alaska.
My Spirit adventures began the first week of June. A 200 mile drive across U.S. 2 lay ahead of us. My 1931 Chevy door pulled a rag-tag trailer loaded with baggage for me, Elsie, our toddler Sally, and two volunteer VBS teachers. We drove out of St. Paul early Saturday, aiming to preach at Spirit Baptist Sunday morning. Three flat tires and two overnights later, we reached Spirit, dead broke; a condition that persisted all summer.
The VBS teachers went off to assignment in Prentice and Ogema, and Elsie and I settled into our summer abode: the church kitchen and classroom converted into a bedroom. My first glimpse of country life church began. I have relived the adventures over and over. The congregation gave me far more than I gave. In late summer, the congregation asked me to continue with them through Christmas, commuting from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul.
Spirit stories have found their way into many of my writings, stories like The Deer Shining, a night with terrifying potential. The Green Lantern Episode, when dear Tillie declared I had all but ruined the church. Sunday potlucks, the clank of horseshoes; fishing trips to the river with the Antone Nelsons; Pearson Lake crappies in a purloined boat with shovel paddle; the tragic tractor roll that took the life of the Blomberg patriarch from Ogema.
I guess I preached acceptably. I spent time with church kids. We were treated to farm-home dinner feasts. I collected my $25 weekly stipend in coins and bills meted out from the treasurer’s cigar-box bank. Times with church guys while the ladies did their thing. Snippets of memory from those days keep returning.
At summer’s end, church friend helped our family back to St. Paul—the trailer was long gone—and my weekend commute began.
That uncorks another set of adventures. It soon became evident the Chevy wasn’t up to the 400-mile round trip, so I turned to the Soo Line steam train—12 bucks round trip, clergy rate. I reached Prentice after midnight and found the Chevy waiting in an auto repair garage near the depot. That worked fine until the freeze-up.
One weekend reality set in. I got off the train to be greeted by one lonely street light two blocks away. I wore a suit, overcoat, hat and no gloves. The Chevy starter only grunted in protest. By moonlight, I scrounged an old oil pan and stack of oily rags. By some miracle, I had book matches. Setting the rags afire, I shoved the pan under the engine and watched flames lick up around the engine. I tried the starter again, and there arose the sweetest sound this side of heaven. I dove off for Spirit, leaving the oil pan ablaze. That night, the radiator froze.
For the remaining weeks, kind church folks ferried me back and forth from Prentice. The Antone Nelsons provided a bed in their warm home. The Sunday after Christmas, I said goodbye to Spirit, leaving the Chevy buried in snow next to the church. A thoughtful soul gave me ten bucks for it.
On October 19 through 21, Spirit Baptist celebrates 125 years of ministry. The congregation has touched thousands in their corner of rural Wisconsin and around the world through its sons and daughters. I send greetings, and deep gratitude for enduring and launching me on the path of ministry that continues today.
Old Grandpa Lloyd