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Grandmothers, Mothers, and Wives

It was in my first congregation that I learned the influence of women in the church, especially grandmothers.

As Christmas approached that first year of my teaching ministry, I decided to do something with my junior high kids that was "hands on," like they had taught us in college. I wanted them to apply their work with fractions, and so I asked each student to bring their favorite Christmas treat recipe. But we weren't going to make a whole batch of whatever it was—cookies, fudge, snack mix, caramel corn, etc.

“We're going to make our own treats for our Christmas party, but you will have to cut your recipe, make only half, a third, a fourth, whatever. And you will have to do the math and adjust the recipe accordingly. We'll take a morning, walk down to the church and use the kitchen to make our treats.” (Our school didn't have a kitchen.) “Then we will bring your treats back here to our classroom and store them until the last day of school before Christmas break.”

The room mothers had asked me about what treats I'd like them to bring, but I told them that I had everything covered. And on the day of the party, the moms looked at the array of food we had and asked, “Mr. Strohacker, did your wife make all of this?”

“No," I said, "Your children made all of these goodies.”

“But how? We mean, where did you do the baking? Did you take all of them next door?” Diane and I lived in the teacherage next door.

“Nope, we walked down and used the church kitchen.”

Silence. “You mean....THE LADIES' AID KITCHEN?”

“Well, yeah, I guess. I mean, I just thought it was the church kitchen. We used the church kitchen in the school I attended in Chicago quite often.”

The moms took me aside and quietly explained that St. John didn't have a “church kitchen"— just “THE LADIES' AID KITCHEN.”

“But back in the fall, the Men's League used that kitchen to prepare their annual sausage and sauerkraut supper,” I countered.

“Yes, but they paid the Ladies' Aid a fee.”

“C'mon, what do you mean a fee?”

“The Ladies' Aid pays for propane in that big tank alongside the church, and the ladies have the meter read before and after that supper and charge the men for the fuel they use.”

“But all the proceeds from the meal go to missions, and all the guys in the Men's League are the husbands and sons of the Ladies' League members!”

It didn't matter; that's the way it was. Except for me. The kids from my class weren't the husbands and sons of the Ladies' League—they were their grandchildren. And these grandchildren, for the most part, had gone to their grandmothers for those favorite Christmas recipes. My junior high classes made treats in THE LADIES' LEAGUE KITCHEN many times during my eight years in that place, but never once did any of the ladies ever complain or chastise me for using their kitchen.

As that year went on, our pastor took a call, and we were in the middle of a renovation of the church sanctuary in preparation for our 100th anniversary. The project was so well received that the money came in before various projects were finished. We started to have more money in the bank than what was needed to complete the work, and additional projects were added, like carpeting. With the addition of carpeting, the ladies of the Ladies’ Aid started letting their husbands and sons know that they did not want dust and dirt from our gravel parking lot tracked over the new carpeting, so cementing the parking lot was also added.

However, as the time approached for the carpeting to be installed, the question came up regarding color. Most of the ladies favored red, while a majority of the men who attended voters meetings thought that was “too Catholic” and insisted on green. We probably had about 25 men who regularly attended voters’ meetings. At a Church Council meeting one night, the question about resolving this issue was brought up to our vacancy pastor, a seasoned veteran. “Just take a vote," he told them, “and see what the majority of members favor.”

Silence. Again. This rural congregation didn't have women voters in 1975, and the Church Council was shocked that this rather conservative pastor would suggest such a thing. “Pastor, how can you suggest...women voters?”

“We do it all the time at my church,” he told them. “Now, our constitution, like yours, does not allow for women voters, but we often take ‘straw polls’ on Sunday mornings.” The men wanted to know how this worked. “Simple. One of the Sundays I'm here preaching, I'll just announce that we'd like everyone to stay seated after the closing hymn so we can take a ‘straw poll’ regarding the color of the new church carpeting. Red, raise your hand. Green, raise your hand. Count the votes. Takes about 2 minutes.”

The chairman of the congregation had one final question: “Pastor, what if the ‘straw poll’ on Sunday morning is overwhelmingly for red carpeting, and the men at the voters meeting that afternoon still feel strongly that the color should be green?”

“Well, the two dozen men at the voters’ meeting can certainly do whatever they think is right, but if it was me, and all of your mothers, widowed mothers, and wives wanted red carpeting... well, I'd vote for red that afternoon. Of course, you can do whatever you want....”

Chuck Strohacker retired at the end of the 2014–2015 school year after serving 40 years in the Michigan District, 37 of those years as a principal. He and his wife, Diane, live in retirement in St. Joseph, Mich.

Photo © iStock/Kladyk