With strands of black and gray hair combed obediently over the curve of his head, my pastor saw the world and his place in it clearly through wire-rimmed glasses, a fixture on his nose. Even now, I cannot imagine he took many sideways glances. He always seemed to focus on the road right ahead, straight and narrow. Strangely, though I revered him, he did seem accessible to me. Whenever I approached him, his right hand sprang out to greet me with a firm, hearty handshake. Brother Martin Kraybill’s lips seemed constantly curled in a smile, though they seldom showed his teeth. At church, his Bible remained clutched under his arm, close to his chest and zippered up, except in the pulpit, where his frequent quotations inscribed biblical texts on my young mind.
I can still hear Brother Kraybill quoting John 13:17 after we observed the ordinance of Communion: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” His open face brightened at the word “happy,” blessing the whole congregation, from the women’s to the men’s side, a middle aisle separating them.
His plain coat was a sheath of black, the stand-up collar accentuating the buttoned-up shirt underneath that sometimes featured a little gold bead in the middle like a tiny, timid cufflink. The only place on his body that appeared soft was where suspenders and a belt held his black-and-white wardrobe in place over his belly.
. . . , as I open The History of Bossler Mennonite Church, published in 2011, . . . , I can see Brother Martin dressed like this with his wife, Suie, posing in front of the church, apparently holding hands. He referred to Suie as his companion — not wife, not partner — his companion. Looking back, I never sensed anything hypocritical in his demeanor or in his life. Like the description of Chaucer’s parson in the Canterbury Tales, “I’m sure/You could not find a minister more pure/He was a Christian both in deed and thought/He lived himself the Golden Rule he taught.”
Mennonite ministers were bi-vocational in those days because the Church thought its pastors should not receive a salary. “They should work like everybody else,” some members thought, dismissing preacher’s duties as not work. Thus, he was a farm seed and fertilizer salesman, along with pastoral duties preparing sermons and visiting his flock. He did not have the soft hands of many clergymen.
~ excerpt from Mennonite Daughter, The Story of a Plain Girl, chapter 29, “Prayer Veiling Goes Missing”
Do you know?
The story continues with an embarrassing exposure. I feel the humiliation to this day.
Writer’s Tip: Photos are helpful in writing detailed description in memoir or fiction.
Did you know Brother Martin and Suie Kraybill?
Is there a kind person — a religious figure or someone else — you revered in your early life?