A community puts aside differences to come together
By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today
For this country pastor, March doesn’t just mean that Lent is in full swing. It also means Town Meeting Day is here.
A Vermont tradition since 1762, held on the second Tuesday of the month, Town Meeting Day is where residents in sleepy hamlets and frozen-in-time villages throw on their boots and trudge through the mud (or sometimes a foot or more of snow) to get to schools or village offices to speak for or against proposed policies, budgets, prospective town clerks and supervisors, and then to vote.
I’ve always been intrigued with Town Meeting Day. Why call it a “meeting” when really no one is there to have deep discussions? Just like church parking lot conversations, meetings have already taken place inside musty general stores and, of course, in the most popular gathering place — the rural post office. Still, Vermonters will discuss, debate, disagree and hopefully cast votes that will benefit the many who are struggling in the Green Mountain state.
While running errands and out on pastoral calls, I see the “Vote for…” signs hanging from dilapidated porches or stuck into the ground near mailboxes. Many of these signs are written in marker on poster board and stapled to a wooden stick. These are simple signs, yet not so simple issues. Vermont, like many places in our country, is struggling with families moving out because of the lack of jobs, the inability to get high-speed internet that prevents businesses from moving in, farms closures and the rampant use of opioids. And don’t even get me going on the state of our churches. I’ve never held onto the promise of resurrection so tightly as I do now as a rural pastor. Those who idealize country living for its simplicity fail to see it is anything but simple. There was one recent Town Meeting Day that proved just that.
The vote was about merging rural schools into larger districts to save money and resources. Those for the merger cited that rural schools couldn’t continue as is with the number of children and funding shrinking. Those against the merger supported the tax increases that would keep the current school system in place. I would like to tell you that there was a resolution, but sadly, the school debate has seen no clear winners or losers. The issue is complex and ongoing.
Still, as the sun went down on that particular Town Meeting Day, I was thinking about the vote that was asking us to change, and how scary that change can be. But no matter how unsettling, doesn’t change give us a chance to see how God can take our dashed dreams, failed attempts and deflated hope and make something wonderful out of it all? Can we see beyond winners and losers and focus on bringing people together in way that moves everyone forward?
When I moonlighted as a reporter at a local paper, I interviewed a woman in one of Vermont’s hamlets that had been dotted with “No to school merger” signs. She was planning a “pie for breakfast” event the weekend after Town Meeting Day. After asking her the important question of what flavor of pies would be served, I asked why she was doing this. Her answer was “to bring the community back together.”
“We are still to be a neighbor to one another, and what better way to remember that than to gather over homemade pies for breakfast?” she said.
Without realizing it, she was capturing the hope and redemption that I witness in the breaking of the Eucharist bread. When I say the words that this is Christ’s body given for you — take, eat, remember — I’m inviting us to remember how Jesus came to show us a better way, a different way forward, a way of loving even when disagreements arise.
While it wasn’t a loaf of bread, I couldn’t stop thinking how Vermonters would be doing something very holy when breaking into the flaky pie crusts with their forks. For in the breaking of the pie crusts, they were in fact inviting the spirit of unity to fill the room. And, I believe, the Spirit of God was with them in a powerful and healing way that Saturday morning.
It’s March, and for this country pastor that means Town Meeting Day is here. Votes might get contentious as change can be hard, but fear not. God’s steadfast love changes not. Lenten journeys lead to the Good Friday cross, but death is not the last word. New life abounds. The empty tomb proves it. Rejoice. There is pie for breakfast waiting for us to dig into!
Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today.
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Categories: Presbyterians Today
Tags: change, hope, Lent, redemption
Tags: change, country, country pastor, donna frischknecht, donna frischknecht jackson, frischknecht jackson, meeting, pastor, pie, pie crusts, pie for breakfast, rural, rural schools, schools, see, signs, together, town, town meeting, vote
Ministries: Presbyterians Today