I guess we find
ourselves at a considerable loss, not being able to dig out some of
our records of our experiences in
Staunton. We are going
to have to depend on our memories, and at this stage in life, we’re
not altogether sure how reliable that is!!!
Roy Kiser and I sat
beside each other in quite a number of classes at EMC, and we
learned to know each other pretty well. A month or so before
Easter, 1959, when I was a sophomore,
Roy asked Evelyn and me to consider coming to
Staunton to help out
over Easter break, when the EMC students would travel home for the
holidays. We had been dating since the previous summer, and Evelyn
was a senior at EMHS. After giving the request serious
consideration, we agreed to the proposal. I think it was a
commitment for two weekends. But before that time was passed, Roy
came back to say, that it wouldn’t be long until the summer
vacation, and would we just continue coming to cover over that time
as well. So we agreed.
At that point in
time the church was meeting in the storefront on
beside the tracks. Usually, at about the same point in the worship
service each Sunday a fairly long train would go by, making enough
noise to bring everything to a halt for some minutes.
There was a
significant number of YPCA students coming from EMC—usually three or
more carloads. The driver of each vehicle would drop his load of
students at the storefront, then go to an agreed upon part of the
city to pick up persons and bring them in. So the EMC students who
waited at the meeting place had at least half an hour of free time
before the service would begin. Afterwards, it was the same period
of time until the drivers would return for lunch together. What
usually happened was, that these times became times of singing,
learning new songs, and learning to know each other better.
It was not unusual
for a bit of tomfoolery to surface from time to time! For example:
everyone knew J. Mark Brubaker was into the natural sciences. For
whatever reason, one Sunday someone dared him to swallow a live
spider. He took the dare—to everyone’s amazement! He swallowed the
spider and lived! I think for a short time he may have had some
second thoughts about what he had done. But he needs to speak for
The focus in the
early days seemed to be to reach lower classes of people for Jesus.
Many of them were on welfare. But they would come to church if a
way was provided for them. We remember one older woman, who lived
by herself and had a questionable reputation. It could be that her
shack was not connected to
system. At any rate, we were of the opinion that she did not take
enough baths! For it was always obvious when she was present. One
didn’t even need to look. You could smell her even from the other
side of the room!
We well remember a
Mr. Maybush, whose family was large enough to totally fill up a car
(before the days of seatbelts!). He had an excellent voice, and
occasionally would sing a solo during the service. One Sunday he
began singing, but it soon became evident that he had it pitched too
high. As he approached the really high notes, and he couldn’t go
any higher, he dropped an octave without hesitating, and continued
until he got to the lower notes where he couldn’t go any lower. At
that point he jumped up an octave and finished the verse. He did
the same for all five verses, making his switches down an octave and
up an octave in perfect pitch and at the exact same spots each time
through. He didn’t even seem to realize that he was making those
switches. But Evelyn and I were greatly amused and unable to hide
it! It wasn’t that he had done anything wrong. It was just that it
was so unusual, and it didn’t seem to phase him at all!
Quite a number of
YPCA students had their initial experience of preaching in the
Staunton church. Many students also taught
Sunday School, led in worship, oversaw activities for the youth. On
Sunday afternoon the students also divided into groups to visit
homes in the community, to give a witness to prisoners, hold
Hospital, and in other settings. There
was an evangelistic zeal that demonstrated itself in many ways.
There was a regular Sunday evening service, as well as a Wednesday
evening prayer meeting, and a Saturday evening youth activity. The
YPCA provided a Rambler station wagon for some of the students.
Several others drove their own vehicles without remuneration,
probably putting at least 60 miles for the Sunday services and
witness alone! That was also before the days of scholarships!
conscription, at some point during my college experience I had to
register and verify annually that I was in college. That qualified
me for a student deferment. As graduation approached, and Evelyn
and I were anticipating marriage, I became very aware that I would
need to perform some sort of service to satisfy Uncle Sam. We
looked at a number of options, and did some research, but then the
Staunton church asked me
to become assistant pastor along with Roy Kiser, knowing that I
could also get a deferment for that. So after serious
consideration we accepted. We were married about a month after I
graduated. The Sunday after we returned from our honeymoon, I was
installed as assistant pastor. That lasted less than a year, when
Roy accepted a call to pastor
Church. So without fanfare, I became the
first resident pastor of Staunton Mennonite.
Before Roy and
Charlene left, negotiations were made to purchase the church
Third Street from a Baptist church that had
outgrown the facilities. The Virginia Mennonite Mission Board, as
VMM was known then, assisted in the purchase.
There were several
EMC students who were so committed to the
Staunton effort that they got summer
jobs in the city and helped with the ongoing efforts of Sunday
School. Elton Nussbaum, Lois Weaver, Ron
Moyer, and Naomi Kolb are several that come to mind.
Three students who
committed themselves to the church long-term were Glenn and Kathy
Zendt and Peggy Halterman, who married Nelson Blosser. They have
obviously been long-term blessings to the church over the years
since their coming.
There were others
who came to participate from other Mennonite churches. Oliver and
Frieda Weaver, Danny and Frances Weaver, Herman and Thelma Wilfong,
Glenn and Lois Blosser, Nelson Driver, A. D. and Joyce Strickland,
J. Ward and Mary McNeal Trissel, George and Grace Weaver and
numerous others that don’t come to mind just now.
who helped in the work at
Staunton went on to
become church leaders, pastors, and missionaries. It would be
impossible for me to name them all. But persons like Roger and Flo
Richer, Ed and Edie Bontrager, Paul Zehr, Milton Zehr, Ron and Joyce
Moyer, Elton and Frieda Nussbaum, Paul Wenger, Jr., Jim Burkholder,
Bob and Anna Nolt, Jim and Charlene Duncan. I am sure there are
Danny and Frances,
I don’t know what you plan to do with the above, but if you have any
questions, feel free to ask. If you want to edit, or use bits and
pieces to write up something else, you are welcome to do so. I
really don’t think this should stand alone. Some of you who have
been there over the years should add to (and subtract from) what I
have written. Maybe this can simply add to the broader story that
is being written.
If I get an
inspiration, I might try to sit down again and write some more. But
these are the remembrances that come to mind at the moment. Evelyn
has added some suggestions, which I have incorporated.
Blessings as you
work toward this special anniversary! We are looking forward to
Paul (& Evelyn)