You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access

My Neighbor and My Preacher

‎Rev. Donald Hatch came with the merger, so with  my three year old egocentricity I had with the church building, I assumed he was my special preacher. His sermons are the ones I remember. Not a small man at all, he wore the black somber robes on Sunday, but I was never afraid of him, yet I did respect him. On weekdays, which I saw him a lot because he did work next door, he generally donned suits. His relaxing shirts were plaid- Rick Warren style before Rick cut teeth. ‎

‎ Rev. Hatch and his family were young, which made them more interesting to me. They had one son who died before they came, Samuel. Matthew, a rowdy boy with a mass of brown ringlets, was two years younger than I. He and I tumbled a lot, especially during the building of that new church. Anne came a few years later, black curls on a pretty face with black eyes. Sharon, a little older than my niece Debbie, had golden curls, and brown eyes. I loved these kids. I loved this family. They finally moved from the South Street manse downtown to next door in the older manse. The South Street manse, a Cape Code, proved too small for this growing family. Much bigger rooms next door and more of them. Their porch had a swing and we piled on it and sang and swang most of the summer evenings. Oh, what glorious times! ‎

‎ In a sermon about set backs, Rev. Hatch told this story about how he met Gail, his humorous wife. He had rheumatic fever before his senior year of college, and all plans seemed to fall through. He wouldn’t get into seminary as anticipated, needing to repeat his senior year. He felt down. I think his girlfriend gave up on him, too. On the first day of the new school year, he glimpsed this amazing freshman walking in the hall with arm load of books and soon got to know Gail Sears. ‎

‎ Rev. Hatch displayed a sense of humor, too. They took a summer trip on the Dixie Queen. He proudly told the congregation that in a game to guess occupations, the other passengers put forth that he was a bartender. Years later, at a funeral, the priest compared a bartender to a priest, taking confessions. I’m sure they both could tell a person a great many stories. ‎

‎ When I did my first and only solo (so low, you couldn’t hear it-groan), I glanced down to see Rev. Hatch smiling up at me. I felt a little better. I had a weak voice, never venturing to sing alone again. I did sing with three other girls in the summer-“Wonderful Words of Life.” I don’t recall any of us furthering our singing career. ‎

‎ I was never bored in church. I loved the rituals and felt God in them. Even in the summer when the windows had to be opened, with no breeze, I listened to Rev. Hatch’s sermons. ‎

‎ One June day, after he and Gail came back from Hawaii for their 15th wedding anniversary, they were cleaning up to go to New York state to get the children at her parents. Gail showered as Rev. Hatch rested in an easy chair in the bedroom. When she returned to the room, he had had a heart attack, dead in the chair. He was only 40. June 22, 1975. ‎

‎ The church numbed with shock. How could that fun loving man be dead? ‎

‎ I believe my ministry to widows and orphans began that summer and fall. Matthew would enter seventh grade. I, a mature ninth grader, would keep an eye out for him. I visited Gail often while she still lived in the manse. One time as I came in, she looked up at me from the desk with red eyes, “Mollie, Don always did the check book. I have to learn this. Make sure you know how to balance a check book.” ‎

‎ This along with some other factors probably played into my independence, making my way to be a Navy wife, post Navy, a  wife of a man who worked seven days a week and now works six hours away. Every little experience builds on who we become. I also imitated Gail’s spunk, in a time when women were expected to be housewives and mothers, especially preacher’s wives. ‎

‎ In the Presbyterian church, we have interim pastors as the church searches for a new shepherd. I believe at the time, we had to wait at least a year. With such an unprepared departure of a young man, this was necessary. A time for healing and waiting is always needed.‎

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Coming of Age