The parson was strolling down the sidewalk of a country town that had been restored to a turn-of-the-twentieth-century village. The transformation was apparently a success, All the businesses within the restoration area seemed to be thriving.
As the parson peered into the window of a store that was now a combination antique and sandwich shop he noticed a familiar figure inside. Heather Swathmoor, newly graduated from seminary and about to be ordained and appointed to her first parish, was sitting at a table with a Ruben sandwich and a book before her. The parson envied her and the anticipation that must be hers with this appointment. His mind wandered back to the really old days, when pastors of Heather's age were usually told they were being sent to “a wonderful opportunity.” The parson headed to the door.
Approaching Heather, he greeted, “Well, hello, Reverend Swathmoor.”
“Oh, Parson,” exclaimed Heather as she rose and hugged the parson. “How good to see you. Please sit down. What are you doing here?”
The parson took the table opposite Heather. “So, I hear you're getting a church.” The parson was aware of Heather's appointment, and he was aware of the church to which she was about to become pastor.
“I am; I'm so excited. I'll be there in three weeks. It's called Gregory's Chapel. It's in the Southeastern district. It's a country church. I know it has problems,” she continued, “but the district superintendent said there was a possibility I could make a name for myself there.”
The parson smiled. He indicated to the server who'd approached he only wanted a decaf coffee. “It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.”
“Well, that's the way I'm going to approach it,” she said. “I've done a lot of research to prepare going. The church was founded in 1842. It saw some real growth when the railroad came through the area just before the Civil War. For a while the town was really growing. It was a kind of hub of the cotton trade in that area. Around the 1950s they had their largest membership, but in the late 70s the membership stopped growing.”
The parson sipped the decaf and studied Heather as she talked. He tried to remember if he'd been this expectant when he headed out for his first church.
“The tragedy is, Parson, they have been losing about ten to fifteen percent of their membership every year for the last five or six years. I know it has to be disheartening to them. So I'm going to set a goal for myself to increase the current membership by fifteen percent next year. I think with hard work I can do.” it.”
Heather finally turned to her Ruben. The parson continued to study her. Placing her sandwich on her plate she took her napkin and wiped a smear of Thousand Island dressing from her lips.
“So, what do you think, Parson. It's possible to do that; don't you think?”
The parson leaned over the table and said softly to her, “Heather, let me make a sugges.tion to you. If you slow the decline to five percent, that will be a victory. And then you can move to other goals from there.”
Heather stared at him a moment. She finished the sandwich as she watched him. “Slow the decline and then work on increasing the membership.”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” the parson smiled.