On a recent Sunday, my wife and I had one of life’s truly unique experiences.
A pastor friend of mine, Jim Crawford, has been inviting me to come and preach to his congregation for a number of years now, but with my own responsibilities at my church on Sundays, plus my military obligations, I found it difficult to surrender a Sunday from my congregation in Ripon. I’ve been retired from the military for three years, so that obstacle is removed. Then we hired a youth minister about six months back who is able to fill the pulpit for me on those occasions when I’m out of town. Thus, I have recently been available to accept the invitation to preach at Jim’s church.
Jim and I go back a lot of years having first met in 1966 at Azusa Pacific College (now a university). He is also retired from the Air Force Reserve, so we have a lot in common. Knowing Jim as I do, and his wife Diana, I was really looking forward to the experience. Now, please understand. I’ve preached the Gospel in a lot of places over the years, and on every continent, except Antarctica. Many of these opportunities were very unique, like the time I was in Australia. After my sermon one evening, a diminutive older lady came up to me and said in a thick Aussie tongue, “I just love your accent!” I smiled and said, “Madam, I do not have an accent. You have an accent!” She laughed out loud as though I had just told a joke. Then there was the time I was in Tokyo, Japan and was invited to preach to a Korean congregation. I found this to be humorous! There I was preaching in English, pausing after every sentence or two to allow a Japanese Christian to translate my English into Korean for the congregation. Basically, this turns a twenty minute sermon into a forty minute sermon.
So on this recent Sunday we were off to preach at the Free Methodist Church in the town of Iowa Hill, California. Referring to Iowa Hill as a town is a stretch. It’s barely a wide spot on a very small road in Placer County. For those of you familiar with gold mining, you recognize the word “placer.” (“Pla” as in plaque, and “cer” as in sir) What is a placer? It is “a deposit of river sand or gravel containing particles of gold or another valuable mineral.” A year ago this week Iowa Hill received its first telephone landline signal, even though the telephone has been around for 135 years! “It’s a big deal,” said Kathy Morgan, 72 years old, and one of the stalwarts of the church in Iowa Hill. The town of roughly 200 residents still has no electricity. The hum of generators can be heard, along with the use of solar panels and batteries providing much needed electric power. Kathy said most folks don’t want direct electric power because “electricity would just bring more people.” That’s Iowa Hill!
The town is a little less than three thousand foot elevation, some 58 miles northeast of Sacramento on the way to Reno, Nevada. It was founded in 1853 by two gold miners, not surprisingly, from the state of Iowa. During its height of activity in the mid-1850s, the town was mining $100,000 per week! It has been described as being “bound on the west by Iowa Hill Divide and on the east by Indian Creek, northeast of First Sugarloaf and 1.5 miles southwest of Monona Flat.” Once you leave the freeway, it’s a 13 mile drive back into the hills, twisting and winding its way, often on a road that is barely passable for one car. Sheer drop-offs fall hundreds of feet to the North Fork of the American River, forcing drivers to keep their eyes fixed on the road! The scenery is beautiful, and breath-taking – literally!
There is no church building in Iowa Hill, so they use a multi-use building which was primarily used as a school house. Unfortunately, the school has been shut down because there are no students. Kathy Morgan was the teacher, which provided a small income for her. Many of the folks in Iowa Hill simply want to be free from the rat-race of urban life. Some residents are retired, others have settled there simply wanting to be left alone. Living in a tent year-round is not unusual for some, snow and all.
The service was set to begin at 10:30, but Jim had informed me that we would begin when everyone arrived, which was closer to 10:45. All told, there were 20 of us which included a dog. After Jim introduced me, I launched into my sermon, enjoying a free-for-all, give-and-take style with these folks who were quick to ask questions in the midst of the message. I loved it! Anyway, I’m cruising along, fully engaged in the message. I had noticed that the dog, a beagle, had climbed into its owners lap and had fallen asleep just in front of me. I’m used to folks falling asleep when I preach, so I figured, “Why not a dog?” At a telling moment, I paused for effect before making my next statement. In the silence of that moment, the dog, deep in slumber, startled us all with a loud snore. Everyone cracked up, including me! The dog continued in his reverie undeterred by the outburst of laughter. I managed to conclude the sermon, whereupon we all sat together to enjoy a potluck lunch. What a great time!
I may never get back to Iowa Hill, but I can assure you that I will never forget the time we had with these wonderful folks – and the snoring beagle!