Illustrated Interview: ‘Just a Humble Servant of the Lord’

Published: 7/8/2017 10:40:09 PM
Modified: 7/8/2017 10:40:09 PM

 

Cornish — The Rev. Dale Louise Nicholas grew up in upstate New York, in a town of 50,000 or so called Binghamton. In the summers, she joined mission teams traveling to the Adirondacks to work with rural congregations.

That’s where she grew to love small churches. Thirty years ago, Nicholas, now 71, came to Cornish (population 1,600 or so) to become the first woman minister of the United Church of Cornish. “The Lord,” she said, “led me to this church.”

Several years ago the church, built in 1891, needed a new steeple. Originally thought to be a $10,000 job — a big stretch for an aging congregation whose membership has dropped into the teens — the number jumped to $60,000 after workers removed the old steeple and discovered extensive rot. It took roughly three years — and lots of church suppers and pie sales — to raise the money to make the repairs.

“We are so thankful for the community support that we received during our steeple fund era,” Nicholas said. “It means a lot me be valued in our community.”

Nicholas took time recently to answer a few questions about her work with the United Church of Cornish — which involves ministering to the lawn as well as the congregation — the challenge of changing times, and her favorite place in the Upper Valley, other than her church. (Questions and answers have been lightly edited.)

 

What’s your take on being the first woman minister at the United Church of Cornish? Is that distinction meaningful to you?

 

It has been a real honor to be the first woman minister in the history of the United Church of Cornish. I have been there now for 30 years. This has been meaningful to me as the role of women has changed over the years. But Christ is still the head of the church and he is a man. So I am just a humble servant of the Lord.

 

In what ways has the role of minister changed for you during your time in Cornish, and it what ways is it the same?

 

My role has not changed that much in the 30 years I have been here. I preach, I do weddings, funerals, baptisms, baby dedications, etc. It has changed in that we do not have a youth group right now. We are an aging congregation.

 

What is your favorite part of your job?

 

The favorite part of my job is preaching. That is when I get an opportunity to help people in their spiritual lives.

 

Is there any part of your job that people find surprising, things they didn’t realize were your responsibility as a minister? Is there anything that you’ve found surprising?

 

Folks are surprised that a rural pastor does just about anything that needs doing, from cleaning the church to winding the clocks to shoveling snow and mowing the lawn. What I found surprising was that so much takes place other than on Sundays

What’s it like to work in a building from the 1800s?

 

It’s hard sometimes, with the constraints that an older building has. Yet it has some wonderful charms to it as well.

 

What was your first thought when you learned that your church needed a new steeple?

 

Oh no. How will we ever be able to pay for it?

 

And when you learned that new steeple was going to cost not $10,000 but $60,000?

 

Again, how in the world will we ever get the monies to pay for it?

 

Many established church congregations have grown smaller and older, while at the same time some newer churches with younger members have come on the scene. What do you think might be driving that shift?

 

Towns are aging. Young people seem to want to be entertained at church instead of being involved as the older folks.

 

What’s your pitch to young people as to why they should get involved in the church?

 

Because it is the only place where you can get spiritual help for the living of these days.

 

Do you spend much time thinking about the future of your church? How do you imagine the United Church of Cornish 30 years from now, in the year 2047?

 

I believe we will still be here because Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church. I do hope that many more younger people will find the church an important part of their lives.

 

Do you have a favorite passage in the Bible? A favorite hymn? What is it about them that speaks to you?

 

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” The scripture tells me not to rely on myself but God and things will work out all right. The hymn How Great Thou Art speaks to me about the greatness of God and that nothing is impossible with him. In the 30 years I have been in Cornish, I can tell you that is true.

 

Do you have a “special place” in the Upper Valley, somewhere outside your church, where you enjoy visiting and spending time?

 

Singing Hills in Plainfield (the 135-acre Christian camp and conference center established in 1972). It is a beautiful spot and gives me a chance to get away, although it is just up the road from my house.

 

Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series of illustrated interviews. Suggestions for future interview subjects are welcome at sbraley@vnews.com.




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