by Whitney Wilkinson
To say my ministry at my wee kirk in the North Carolina Sandhills began in a Mason jar is oddly accurate.
When I ponder my most joyful moments of these past four and a half years as solo pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church, that humble emblem of small-town Southern culture keeps floating to the surface of my memory. My ministry in this Mayberry-esque town of 250 began with a Mason jar, but not an empty one. That Mason jar was filled to the brim with fragrant homemade vegetable soup and hand-delivered to my house by Juanita, neighbor and church member, who also happens to be our resident prophet keeping us on the path of justice. Can God’s grace be contained? Probably not. But a Mason jar full of homemade soup made lovingly just for you comes awfully close.
That humble Mason jar has made many other appearances — often as the perfect glass for sipping sweet tea and sharing hilarious and heartbreaking stories of our lives with one another. During the season of Lent, I wanted to weave prayer more concretely into the life of our church. Guided by a dear friend and creative colleague, Karen Jackson, I decided upon a prayer loom. Two men gifted in the spiritual art of working with their hands built us a beautiful loom. We placed it in the front of the sanctuary, and I cut countless tiny strips of purple paper upon which folks could write their prayers and come forward and weave them into the loom during worship.
I had the paper slips. I had the miniscule golf-sized pencils. But, what to put them in? I don’t believe the Spirit is constrained to the identity of Southern (or American, for that matter), but she was that day. Because what would I discover but perfectly petite Mason jars in which to place those prayer tools in each pew? During worship those seven weeks, there was a holy sound that filled our sanctuary. It was the sound of Mason jars clanking as prayers were bravely scribbled and woven together before God and one another. Those prayers were later transformed into Easter art hanging in the front of our sanctuary, reminding us that the prayers of the faithful swirl around us each time we worship together.
The challenges of life in a rural, small church certainly exist — most notably fatigue among the faithful who must serve in many roles to keep our church vibrant and active and in facing aging and death on a fairly regular basis. Nowhere is the beautiful affirmation of A Brief Statement of Faith, “In life and in death we belong to God,” more poignant or relevant than the rural church. We know what it is to grieve that things are not what they once were. We know what it is to send our beloved friends on to the life to come. But, because of this, we also know the value of each moment — that it doesn’t take a strategic plan to sit down with Mason jars of sweet tea and get to know your neighbors. Life is fleeting, life is changeable, but life in small-town Cameron is also as sweet as that Mason jar tea and as nourishing as that Mason jar soup.
The Mason jar isn’t flashy or expensive. It’s no high-end container. But you can see through it, and what you see is what you get. There’s no pretension, no airs or arrogance. So it is with my wee kirk. We are who we are. We’re not perfect, and we’re not trying to be anyone else. But we are trying to feed our community and the world with a taste of God’s grace in our particular way. What could be more delicious than that?
Whitney Wilkinson is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) serving Cameron Presbyterian Church. She finds joy in mason jars, peacemaking, cooking, dancing and her dog.