The village of Dewey Springs is nestled somewhere between never mind and you’re lost. There’s a small cluster of buildings clad in aged wood and peeling paint. The center of activity in Dew, as the locals call the village, rotates between the old church, Brother’s Hardware, and Bell’s Diner.
On Sunday’s the church building boasts three services as three separate congregations time-share the building. There’s the Baptist, the Congregational folks, and a group of Jesus People. I’m sure you could tell them apart if a group photo of all of them existed. The straight-laced Baptist, the business casual Congregational, and the blue jean clad Jesus People would be easy to separate out.
Where folks hang out the rest of the week depends on the time of day. Early morning and lunchtime folks gravitate towards Bell’s Diner and their “World Famous Biscuits and Gravy.” There’s a good reason for Bell’s claim. It seems that one day some tourists from Germany got lost, ate at Bell’s, and sent a letter proclaiming the wonders of her biscuits and gravy. The letter is proudly framed and hung by the cash register for everyone to see.
That leaves Brother’s Hardware which is the focal point of the area the rest of the time. There are two mysteries concerning Brother’s, both found in the name. No one knows or remembers why it is called Brother’s. Hank Paulson has run the place for nearly forty years and is an only child. And it’s really more of a general store than what most folks call a hardware store. Brother’s has hardware, groceries, a post office, animal feed, and other “got to have right now” things.
Nothing much ever changes in Dewey Springs. Sure, the seasons come and go. But even when Christmas time rolls around there’s little to mark its approach. Bell puts up a little greenery and places a candle in the window. Brother’s adds a few Christmas items to the shelves. Each of the congregations put up their own Nativity scene around the old church. Folks do their own thing without much care for anyone else. But that’s about to change.
One Saturday morning, a few days before Christmas, a stranger walked into town up the road from Blue Eye. The morning was brisk and bright with just a dusting of snow on the ground. Her raven hair was long and straight. The set of her brown eyes, the stride of her hiking boots, even her denim jeans and jacket all screamed purpose. Yet she carried nothing else, no backpack, daypack, or those funny little pouches folks call fanny packs.
She beelined it to Bell’s and took a stool at the counter. “How much for an order of Biscuits and gravy with some coffee?” She was overheard to say. “That much?” she replied to Bell. “Well, just some coffee then.”
“Where you headed to?” Bell asked as she sat down the steaming cup.
“This here is Dewey Springs right?” the stranger asked.
“Sure is,” Bell nodded.
“Then I’m not headed anywhere but here,” the stranger said between sips of coffee.
“Do you have folks here? Bell asked.
The stranger paused, “Well kind of, but not really. They’re more like distant brothers and sisters.” There was silence in the diner as the regulars tried to work that out.
“Well welcome to Dew either way,” Bell said. “What’s your name? Maybe we can help find your folks.”
“You can call me Tiffany,” the stranger replied.
There was one of those awkward pauses as Bell and the rest of the diner listened for Tiffany to reveal her family name, but she offered none. “And your folks are?” Bell trailed.
“They don’t know me, but I’ll know them,” Tiffany replied as she finished her coffee and laid the right amount of money on the counter.
For the rest of the day, Tiffany wandered around Dewey Springs. She took her time strolling the aisles of Brother’s Hardware which made Hank nervous. She was seen looking over each of the nativities in the churchyard. For hours she sat on Dewey’s Rock and studied the valley below. The town buzzed with wonder at who she was and why she was there.
At dusk, she entered the church while the Baptist choir rehearsed for the next day’s service. The inside of the old building was warm and inviting. The worn benches spoke of years of service, the overhead electric lights provided just the right amount of soft glow. Tiffany found a spot in the back row and soaked in the choir’s rendition of O Holy Night.
As the choir folks were leaving an older gentleman approached the stranger. “You must be Tiffany, I’m Pastor Martin.”
Tiffany rose, “thank you for your service,” she said as she shook the old pastor’s hand.
“I was never in the…Oh you mean this,” Pastor Martin said tapping his Bible. Tiffany smiled and nodded. “Well, you’re welcome,” he replied with a chuckle.
“Pastor,” Tiffany began, “Would you mind if I stayed here tonight?”
“Well, if you have no place to stay you’re welcome at the parsonage. We have a guest room.”
“Thank you for your kindness, but if it is ok I’d rather stay here. These old walls speak volumes to me. I can’t think of a better place to be.” Tiffany replied.
“Suit yourself,” the Pastor replied. “Here are the lights, over there is the restroom. There’s a kitchen in the basement if you’re inclined to make coffee in the morning. Just be sure you’re up by 8:30 that’s when the congregational folks show up, we have a go at 10:00 and the Jesus People start up at 1:00. If I recall right they have a potluck at noon tomorrow if you’re so inclined.
Sunday afternoon the gossip wires were buzzing across Dewey Springs and down into the valley. Tiffany stayed for all three of the services. Folks near her were amazed at her clear and pure singing and that she seemed to know all the words and melodies from the different congregations. Even the somewhat obscure modern tunes the Jesus People worship band offered.
What folks didn’t see was her quiet invitation for each of the Pastors to meet her that evening on Dewey’s Rock. Neither did any of the Pastor’s share this odd request from the raven-haired stranger with anyone else.
In the cool dark of the night hundreds of dots of lights blinked up from the valley while the stranger and the three pastor’s gathered.
“Someone’s been praying,” Tiffany began.
“Well I hope so,” quipped Dr. Strong of the Congregational church.
Tiffany giggled, “Let me be more specific. Someone’s been praying for Dewey Springs and for you, for each of you.”
“How would you know that?” Pastor Steve of the Jesus People wondered aloud.
Tiffany continued, “Look in the valley, how many lights to do see? Each one represents a household of what two, three, five, more?”
“Sounds about right,” Pastor Martin confirmed.
“Over there, that one, right now a teenager is depressed about school. And that one,” Tiffany pointed out a light on the opposite side of the valley, “A widow is lonely, forgotten, and without hope. Those are just a few of the folks down there falling between the cracks because you three are racing each other.”
“No way!” exclaimed Pastor Steve. While Dr. Strong grimaced and Pastor Martin groaned. “How do you know all of this!” Pastor Steve challenged.
“Sorry,” Tiffany said. “I got ahead of myself. It’s just that I see the wounds down there and the hope bottled up over there,” she said pointing at the church building. “Dr. Strong, how many were at your service this morning?”
“Pastor Martin, what about your service?” Tiffany asked.
“We don’t count,” He replied which earned him a silent stare from the others. “OK, about 28.”
“I don’t get it. So we know how many come to a service. What does that matter?’ Pastor Martin asked.
“That’s the problem, it’s not how many come but how many don’t, can’t, or won’t,” Tiffany replied.
“So what do we do about it?” Dr. Strong asked. “We all do some kind of outreach. Pastor Martin’s folks have a food pantry, Pastor Steve’s crew often does give away garage sales, and we run regular encounter groups for different needs.”
“And all of that is very good, but it can be more,” Tiffany replied.
“More what?” Pastor Steve asked.
“More of everything. By competing with each other you are limiting yourself. What would happen if all three congregations supported each other’s work? How many more could the food pantry feed? How much more could the clothing drive do? How many more could get the help and support they need to overcome their grief, addiction, or marriage problems? How many more could discover the hope you’ve found in Christ? If you worked together how much more could you do instead of what you’re doing now?” Tiffany concluded.
The three pastors silently considered Tiffany’s observation while the lights twinkled in the valley.
“In fact, let’s do something tomorrow night,” Tiffany suggested.
“Christmas Eve?” Dr. Strong asked.
“I know it’s short notice and some folks will have family around, but sure. I’ll take care of it. Just invite everyone to come at 5:30. Tell folks I’m involved and the grapevine will take care of the rest. Oh, and ask everyone to bring something. Say exactly that, ‘bring something’.”
The impromptu Christmas eve service was the talk of Bell’s the next morning. No one was quite sure what to make of it which stirred even more talk and curiosity. Folks talked even more as they watched Tiffany walk around the church speaking to no one in particular and waving her arms like she was putting up decorations.
Around 5:30 folks began arriving. Tiffany put some to work sorting the various things people brought with them. On the east side, a pile of food grew as folks brought items from their pantry. Folks also brought Christmas decorations which were collected and quickly placed inside and outside the church. Someone even brought a Christmas tree and placed it just inside the door of the church.
Tiffany put Pastor Martin in charge of getting the right folks together and dressed for the Christmas story. Pastor Steve gathered a band and choir from those willing. At 5:50 she chased everyone out of the building. A few minutes later she signaled for the church bell to ring three times. Right at 6:00, standing outside the church doors, she began singing “Joy to the World” which all heard and were drawn to.
At the close of the first verse she opened the doors to the church and invited all inside. The old church hadn’t seen a crowd that large since the day it opened.
With a nod from Tiffany, Pastor Steve kicked off a rousing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Over the next 20 minutes, the band and choir worked its way through several of the classic carols. When the final notes of Away in the Manger faded into silence Tiffany stood. From the back of the church, a lone violin began playing Silent Night.
Without a script or Bible Tiffany announced, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” Folks of all ages acted out the parts as Tiffany told the story of Christ’s birth. Even Hank played a part, although reluctantly, as the Bethlehem inn-keeper.
As shepherds young and old knelt at the front something wonderful happened. Tiffany recited “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Tiffany seemed to grow as the words tumbled out, some folks would later say she seemed to glow as she recited the angelic lines with closed eyes and uplifted face.
Then when Tiffany announced, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men.”. Well, it seemed to folks like the walls themselves reverberated with the voices of all the worshipers they had heard over their long years. A moment later and all returned as it was.
Tiffany continued the story and wove in the tale of the wise men. Earlier in the evening, she insisted that each of the pastors play the parts of the wise men. Down the aisle they came with flowing robes and brightly wrapped presents representing the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. As Tiffany spoke the last words of the Christmas story the pastors turned and locked arms. The lights faded and candles lit as the choir sang O Holy Night.
No one saw her leave. Their minds and hearts were all turned elsewhere. Nor did Tiffany ever return. But on the Christmas tree just inside the door they found an angel perched on the very top where none had been before. The three pastors looked at the tree topper and silently wondered if they had just entertained an angel without realizing it.
Folks have a hard time describing the changes in that old town nestled between never mind and you’re lost. The old-timers gathered at Bell’s Diner and Brother’s Hardware know it. The folks in the valley feel it. And each Christmas-eve a tree-topping angel sees it as folks gather in the old church to celebrate and share God’s greatest gift.