Saturday, October 29, 2011

Shepherds and their Sheep, Part 2 of 2

This second post in our pastoral series comes from another of Atchison County's beloved Shepherds: Pastor Rusty Smith. Rusty is the kind of person and leader we like to celebrate around here. His demeanor (and his commentary, as you'll see below) demonstrates the fact that he always looks for the Good. We are thankful for him, his family, and all others in our county who share their unique, challenging, and critical calling. Thank you for all you do!!!

Serving God in Atchison County is a blessing I have fun friendships, a dear church family, awesome colleagues in ministry, kind neighbors and schools filled with community servants who provide my children with a quality education. I am grateful that my family and I are able to love and be loved here. Since coming to pastor in Tarkio and Westboro nearly five years ago, I have said a statement time and again: “for such a small community, there sure are a lot of people.” What I mean by saying that is it seems I am always meeting people I have not met before. I also recognize there are those in my midst whom I find myself knowing by sight but not by name. I have noticed when local people wave at me, greet me, smile at me, or even simply acknowledge me, it does not necessarily indicate they know me. It is simply a manner and grace interwoven in the fabric of our community. I am always humored by the reaction Carla and I get when we share this relational hospitality in some other communities. Most people love and welcome it. Some are surprised by it…and, well, a few times I feared we had triggered some gang violence…it is still worth sharing.

Too often I hear our community defined by what it is not, or by what it used to be. The greatness of our past is honored best when it leads to the greatness of our today and to the hope of our tomorrows. It is the heart of my hope that the character and strengths of our community can be recognized more and more. If we look around and grab hold of the greatness of our midst, we will be the better for it. I know that such forward-thinking is envisioned by the two founders of this blog, and many others all around us. Being a pastor in our community gives me the opportunity to encourage others to learn from and cherish one’s past. For our past made us who we are today, to make the most of today as a gift from God, and to hope for the best that is yet to come! That is my hope for our community as well.

Striving to make the most of it,
Pastor Rusty Smith

Tarkio AND Westboro United Methodist Church

Friday, October 21, 2011

Shepherds and their Sheep: Part 1 of 2

October is pastoral appreciation month. At my church, its a month long celebration. As we have expressed gratitude for our special pastor this month, I've thought often about the unique role a pastor plays in a small town.  Counselor, social worker, spiritual guide, friend, adopted parent or grandparent, advocate, sports fan, volunteer chaplain, coffee drinker.....the list goes on and on. We have pastors in our community that have served their congregation for generations, attending births, deaths and marriages over the span of their parishoners' lives. And we have had those that have spent just a few years in service to our churches and yet they have left a lasting impression on the church and community.

Over the next few weeks, we thank the pastors that have served in the most specialized of fields, the small town. Whether you are a believer or not a believer, I think we can all agree that pastors of small towns serve in what I suspect is a pretty challenging role and SUCCEED in modeling a true heart of service. Thank you!

Thank you to Rachel Lancey, Pastor of Tarkio's Presbyterian Church for her special contribution this month to the blog and her greater contribution to our community.

          My friends warned me.  “Small towns don’t do women pastors,” they told me.  “They will not welcome you,” they said.  They were scared for my life.  Of course, I found this ironic since many of them lived in places that showed up on the list of the most violent places to live.  But, still, they warned me.  I have to say, they got to me just a little bit.

            “Don’t go to a small town,” they warned.  “It will be too hard there.”  They were worried.  They had heard the horror stories.  Of course, I have heard them, too.  The young pastor moves to the small town and suddenly the fishbowl is brought out.  There were stories where people just wandered in and out of the pastor’s home without knocking or caring, even, if the pastor was dressed.  These, in case you do not get to hear the stories I hear, are tame compared to some of the others.  On top of all that, throw into the mix the idea that I was going to this small rural town as a single, young, female pastor. 
            I truly expected the worst.  I grew up in a small town.  I expected the snide remarks and the sideways glances.  I expected that people would watch my every move and things like social boundaries would be hard to instill and maintain.  But, when a pastor is called (as we say) to a ministry, they go.  There is no questioning (okay... well... there are some questions, but God always wins in the end), you just go. 
            What I did not expect... was the love.  Even from those who are open about the fact that they do not approve of a woman minister, there is something there.  I truly believe that I can call up any of the people I have met since moving to this small community and ask for just about anything and I would get it.  I believe that the hearts of this community are larger than life.  Sure, there are still a few small-town stereotypes that are very much a part of living in Tarkio.  But, nothing compares to the experience of walking through the grocery store and being able to talk to people in every aisle.  Nothing beats walking down Main Street and waving at the passers-by.
            Not everyone in Tarkio likes the fact that I am a pastor.  Most of those who do not like this woman pastor being in town think they are hiding it fairly well.  Some are not trying to hide it at all.  But, generally, people are respectful anyway.  This, I believe, is the difference between life in the city and life in the small town. 
In the city, people do not care who you are if you do something with which they do not agree.  In the city, people get into your face and sometimes things can get ugly.  In Tarkio, people look first at the person.  In Tarkio, I have found that even those who believe and think completely different than I do are still able to see me for who I am.  In Tarkio, we find commonalities first and learn to disagree politely. 
            I am not naive.  I know that the sideways glances and some of the remarks are still out there.  I have heard a few and I have seen the looks.  But, this town supported me during a very rough first year when I faced a challenge much deeper than whether or not someone agreed with my theology.  People reached out to me and hugged me in a way that I never expected. 
            I may always be the “new girl”.  I may always be the “woman pastor”.  Even with all of that, I have found a home here.  I have found a family here.  The best part of serving a wonderful congregation in the middle of rural America is that I can love these people for everything they are and for everything God created each of us to be.  And I know that this community really cares about each other.  It is the greatest blessing we have.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Customer Service, Summa Pharmacy Style

My favorite magazine has an annual essay contest, and this year’s question is, “When did you first understand the meaning of love?” I haven’t arrived at the precise answer to that question yet – too many examples. But if you were to ask me a simpler question, like when I first understood the meaning of customer service, that I could answer: Summa Pharmacy, Tarkio, Missouri.

Customer service is almost a buzzword these days, and the companies who most frequently banter it about are often those who practice it the least. Most small businesses – especially most small TOWN businesses – survive chiefly because of their superior customer service. But nobody calls it that around here. I don’t recall anyone at Summa Pharmacy reading a book or attending a seminar on “Improving Your Customer Service.” And yet, by the ripe old age of 15, by spending my teenage Saturdays and available after school hours at Summa’s, these are the tacit rules I knew to be important:

  • Call everyone by name. (Yes, in small towns, this is a relatively simple task. But it’s a big deal.)
  • Smile, be nice, say hi, look people in the eye. (So simple, and yet, so uncommon, especially in big box stores.)
  • Ask how the customer is doing. (Then listen to the answer.)
  • Underpromise and overdeliver. (Might be one of those silly clich├ęd sayings created by a guy in a suit in 1973, but as far as I’m concerned, Doug created it and it’s brilliant. )
  • Treat everyone the same. (Cranky, kind, fancy, unkempt - doesn’t matter.)
  • When a mistake is made, fix it. (Customers might not always be right, but if it’s within your power to make things better for them, do it.)
  • Order and stock what your people want and need. (Special order what you don’t.)
  • Let your neighbors up the block come watch your TV, and play quarters with them when you have time. (This has nothing to do with customer service, just something I remember as being highly entertaining and neighborly.)

Every time a bright-eyed, friendly high school kid helps me out with my groceries or looks me in the eye and makes conversation in the check-out line, I remember everything Summa’s taught me, and I’m so glad to see that those lessons are still being passed on in local businesses today.

In a business sense, Summa’s taught me that in small towns, every single customer matters. If there aren’t alternatives in your town or county, there are certainly alternatives in bigger communities nearby. In Atchison County, your store matters simply because you exist, but it is successful when you treat customers with kindness and respect, offer them what they need, and let high school classes paint your windows during Homecoming.

I was a painfully shy kid; truly, if it wasn’t for Summa’s, I might never have learned to talk to people. And despite the kindness and love I was shown in my home, many of the lessons I learned at Summa’s were the ones that taught me how to treat people in my life as an adult. My genetics and general awesomeness (and humility) are from my folks – but without the influence of Doug Summa and the lovely ladies who worked there, I wouldn’t be who or where I am today.

So thank you, Douglas, first of all, your willingness to hire a shy teenager in the first place. But, more importantly, thank you for training her (and others) to treat the public with kindess, respect, friendliness, humor and professionalism. You taught me more in the first 30 minutes in your store than any silly seminar ever could.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Harvest in Atchison County

For those of you who aren't fortunate enough to live where you get to see this every day, or for those of you (like me) who can't gawk enough at combines, Megan McAdams let us share her pictures for this little tour of harvest in Atchison County...

All kinds of lovely. Who doesn't want to bear witness to this every fall?

These guys spend serious amounts of time taking care of business. And the combine fellas don't do it alone. Somebody drives the grain truck. Somebody helps move the operation from field to field. Somebody (who really loves them) delivers food.

Early in the season, in years like this one, it's only a little dusty.

Emptying so they can hit the road, er, the field again.

Remember that dust at the beginning? Soon, it's a lovely memory.

Back, and forth. Back, and forth. Methodically reaping what was sown last spring.

Oh, the dust. Excellent for sunsets. Unfortunate for keeping your vehicle clean. Oh well. It's harvest. Dust on your ride is how you know you're even a tiny part of the event.

I haven't been in a combine since I was small enough to press my little self up against the glass and watch the corn be eaten up below me, but even for me,
[forgive me, exhausted farm families, for waxing poetic for a moment] there's something almost spiritual about this time of year. Something about living among these fields where farmers toil, sun up to sundown, and oftentimes beyond. Where hours, days, weeks of tending and planting and praying and fixing and sweating all culminate in this beautiful pattern of accomplishment.

Plus, there are there big beefy awesome machines everywhere you look that should have their own Transformers movie!

HAPPY HARVEST everyone. Farm families - God Bless You and keep you safe this season!