The United Methodical Church for the Preservation of the True Definition of Bluegrass Music is located in an out of the way, off the beaten track, small town near Weaverville, California. The name of the town is Monroe Town Junction (its Sister City is Lake Wobegon, Minnesota). This town is so small that it’s not even on a map, way off the grid.
The town itself is beautiful, with a plethora of large shade trees, no traffic to speak of, and a stream running right down the middle of town. There are three bridges, one cafe, one general store (where bluegrass jams are held every Saturday afternoon, with dogs allowed), one small post office, a number of other small business that are needed to run a town, and one church. The population is 473. There is no air pollution, no airplanes flying overhead, no ninja motorcycles, and you can drink right from the stream running through town without any gastrointestinal worries. It’s a unique town.
The aforementioned church is also unique. It is in the shape of an F-5 mandolin. It was built in 1970 by a carpenter who is distantly related to Bill Monroe, the “Father of Bluegrass Music.” The church has two baptismal-into-bluegrass tanks, which take the shape of the mandolin F-holes. The F-5 scroll is the area for the choir. The pulpit is located at what would be the 15th fret, and the strategically placed congregational benches make up the main body of the mandolin. There was no dissension by the church members (whose former place of worship was a metal quonset hut donated by a former U.S. Marine colonel) because the builder of the current mandolin shaped church put up all the money and donated all the labor. No church offering was required for the building to be created, which pleased the congregation immensely.
Besides the Saturday afternoon jam at the general store there’s not a whole lot to do, so around half of the town folk attend church on Sundays. Five of these individuals are members of the California Bluegrass Association, and they embrace the association’s mission of promoting Bluegrass, Old Time, and Gospel music. Yes, they embrace it, but they bear-hug the Gospel part. As you might suspect, bluegrass gospel music is a big part of the worship service (and well received by the congregation). Seventy five percent of the church members play either a guitar, mandolin, or banjo. There are two acoustic bass players, one dobro player, and four fiddle players (one left-handed). Like many other churches, this one supports and hosts varied groups with various needs from the local area.
The church has a paper handout “Bulletin” to keep the congregation informed of what has happened, is happening, and what is scheduled to happen. The church secretary doesn’t produce the bulletin (she’s too busy learning the fiddle), and doesn’t send out any e-mails because none of the members has a computer. In fact most people in this town don’t even have cell phones. It’s their firm belief that computers, cell phones, and all non essential electrical devices produce by-products that are the real cause of global warming (they think it’s a corporate, government backed cover-up). I told you this was a unique town. But back to the church bulletin.
During the last ten years the congregation has just be scanning the bulletin. They would look only at the headline in bold print, and then go on to the next headline, usually not reading the details. They weren’t that interested in it, because it wasn’t that interesting. Oh there were some interesting things happening, but the ninety-nine year old lady who was writing the bulletin just was not as creative as she used to be. Fifty years ago she was doing great and the congregation relished getting there hands (and eyes) on the church bulletin, just for the creativity of the writing itself. But that was then, and this is, well, you know. But “Our Good Lady of the Bulletin” (as she was called) is now retiring from her writing duties, and the task has been passed on to another person.
Pastor Argue, the current leader of the two hundred person flock, pleaded and pleaded, but he could only persuade one person to take on the task. The person who accepted the volunteer job, Sarah Tonin, told the pastor up front that she was no whiz in English. “I barely got through it in high school,” she admitted to him. But what choice did the pastor have? He thought about taking on the job himself (he was more of a doer that a delegator), but he knew for sure if he did it would interfere with his fishing routine. So he said to her, “You’ve got the job.” Sara was not so sure of herself regarding producing the thing, but she was sure of one thing. If she volunteered to do this, the title would have to be changed to, “Saint Sarah’s New Church Bulletin.” Sarah didn’t consider herself to be a saint, but she thought it might be a way to get the congregation to read more than they did in past bulletins. She wanted to put her own personal mark on it, to let everyone know that a different person was in charge. She fully realized that this is a power and control issue regarding herself, but what the heck, isn’t that what most people want anyway? So, Sarah faced the task head-on, and with unbridled enthusiasm produced her first bulletin. Here’s how her first offering came out.
Saint Sarah’s New Church Bulletin – September 18, 2011
–Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.
–Remember and help the many who are sick of our community. Smile at someone who is hard to love, and say “hell” to someone who doesn’t care much about you.
–Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.
–This morning’s song will be sung by Mr. Al Falfa, “I Will Not Pass This Way Again,” which will give pleasure to the congregation.
–For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery available.
–Next Wednesday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.
–The assistant pastor will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, “Break Forth Into Joy.”
–Bill Jenkins and Ima Goin were married on October 1st in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.
–At the evening service tonight the sermon topic will be “What Is Hell?” Come early and listen to the ALL BANJO BAND practice.
Now after Sara’s first bulletin came out you can just imagine the ruckus that ensued. After that she was counseled and even tutored by a member of the Church, who just happens to be a guest Welcome Columnist for the California Bluegrass Association’s website. It was a noble effort on the part of the tutor, and Sara’s second bulletin made it into the hands and eyes of those in attendance who read the following.
Saint Sarah’s New Church Bulletin – September 25, 2011
–Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members, and to the deterioration of some older ones.
–Scouts are saving aluminum cans, bottles and other items to be recycled. Proceeds will be used to cripple children.
–Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
–The church will host an evening of fine dining, super entertainment, and gracious hostility.
–Potluck supper next Sunday at 6:00 PM – Prayer and medication to follow.
–The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
–This evening at 8 PM there will be a hymn singing in the park across from the Church. Bring a blanket and come prepared to sin.
–The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.
–The Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
–Weight Watchers continue to meet at 7 PM on Mondays. Please use the large double doors at the side entrance of the church.
As you can tell, the second bulletin also needed work, and more tutoring occurred, to no avail. The pastor could not get a replacement for Sara to produce the church bulletin (besides, he didn’t want to hurt her feelings). She was, after all, irreplaceable. Why? Because no one, absolutely no one would step up and try their hand at it. There was, however, a positive outcome.
The result was that folks attending this unique church didn’t just scan the bulletins anymore. They read every word methodically, with a keen detective-type eye. In fact, the congregation was more motivated to attend church for the reading of the bulletin than for the sermon ( luckily that escaped the pastor’s knowledge). Not only that, when people who had never before attended the church heard about Sarah’s Bulletin, new attendance soared!