Pipe

When an elders wife created a stir by witnessing a new, young minister smoking a pipe, the elders had to act.

It was a situation the church elders were going to have to deal with, not that they really wanted to. Well, at least most of them didn’t. They were all men, and only one of them was pushing the others to act. His wife had created a hum in the small congregation of the church when she reported she had witnessed the new minster of the church smoking a pipe.

It was against the rules for a minister to use tobacco in any form, just as it was to use alcohol. Rules were made to be followed, they were probably even written down someplace. Rules were like the pillars of a building. Some people speculated if one was allowed to be broken, the others might crumble.

Two of the elders, Roy and Gordon, were in favor of not doing anything. They pointed out most of the men in the congregation smoked and it might be time to allow a minister to do the same. Their voices usually carried the day when a decision had to be made on an issue. But not this time. There was that one elder who still said action must be taken, or the hum in the congregation would grow louder.

The issue simmered and the elders had a few meetings to discuss what could be done. Roy recalled they mainly discussed the crops, weather, and anything but the pipe smoking minister. Those were two of the same subjects the regulars expounded on when they sat on the prognosticators bench at Gordon’s service station. The stall was on in hope the issue would just go away. But the youthful man of God was still enjoying his pipe and the hum had increased in volume.

Roy knew well the lady who had her finger on the volume switch. She and he were both members of the local euchre club that included many members of the UB congregation. The two were friends but they had experienced more than one confrontation over a hand of cards. The card club was so successful the UBers had even enticed a few Methodists to join.

Roy recalled it became evident there would be no peace until the elders took action. In his words the complaining church member had a “bee in her bonnet” and it would buzz until she got her way. To quiet the hum in the congregation and restore order in the church, the elders told the young minister to put his pipe to rest. When the parson unexpectedly refused to do this, the elders were once again faced with a situation.

When news of the refusal got out, the bee in the bonnet turned into a swarm. The elders were pressed to take action. They held a meeting and all but one agreed the minister could not be allowed to defy the request to give up his pipe. That one dissenting vote was Roy’s. He informed the others he would leave the church before he would relieve a minister for smoking a pipe. The young minister resigned and Roy left the church, but just for a few weeks.

It was a time when there were lots of rules and they were expected to be followed. But ideas considered to be radical by many people in that era were creeping into consideration. There were whispers that it might be all right to begin to let married women teach school.

Speculation on that undoubtedly created a louder hum than a minister smoking a pipe.

Donald Richter’s column appears every other week in the Commercial-News. He is a member of the Vermilion County Museum Board.

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