Making our home in Iroquois, Illinois, during my final year of graduate school provided a challenge to Jan and me and to the people of that rural village. Jan was pregnant with our second child and in charge of three year old Alicia without a support system other than the new friends we were making. I was serving a temporary appointment as a “student pastor” of the only church in town. They had broken away from a yoke arrangement with a church ten miles away. They were getting used to having their own pastor, but one who had no more time to give them than their previous “shared” pastor. In addition I was working on a doctoral project which turned our life together into research on how they responded to historical critical approaches to the scripture and how they were coming to grips with the social and political changes in the world around them. (That was the year that the U. S. involvement in Vietnam came to a formal end with a negotiated settlement. Racial politics and sexual roles were in widespread transition.) I traveled back and forth to Chicago every week to keep up with my doctoral work. We packed a lot into that year. Somehow both they and we survived it.
While we had lived in Chicago, Jan had studied with a fine vocal coach, Elsa Charleston, and regained the wonderful voice she had developed in high school and her first year of college, before she traded her vocal performance major for a Christian education major. In Iroquois she was on her own. Almost every day she crossed the street from the little house they had rented for us to the church, and used the piano to practice. She did the vocal exercises she had learned to do, and she worked on songs that stretched her abilities. The exercises included the “Tarzan yells” that Elsa had incorporated to increase Jan’s volume, support, and range.
One fine fall afternoon, two of the church members were in the yard taking care of the mowing and shrub trimming when they heard a sound that they had never heard before. Henry Easter stopped his lawnmower, and Tom the barber stopped his electric hedge trimmer and listened. It was coming from inside the church! They checked with each other as the sound continued, and they decided that they would have to investigate. They entered the building cautiously and stood in amazement at the back of the meeting room. They were listening to Jan’s practicing. Finally she glimpsed them standing in the back.
“Do you need something?” she asked.
“We thought we were hearing a siren,” Henry answered.
They obviously didn’t know what to think, not only about Jan’s practicing, but about our presence in their community. When the year came to an end, I received my degree, Nathan was born, and our interim appointment to serve that congregation ended also. Many shed tears at our leaving. Were they tears of sadness, or joy, or both? I’m not sure.