Fox stole attention from minister

Published 1:46 am Saturday, October 5, 2013

It has been years since I’ve traveled the rural road in Coffee County where my husband once served the Liberty Methodist Church. I am sure the land where it was located no longer shows signs of its existence. Some years after we left Liberty for another appointment, it was moved to another church property where the members converted the building to a fellowship hall.

These days when I see a fox on television or a photo of one in a book, Liberty Church always comes to mind. The pulpit stood in front of two tall windows, affording the small congregation a view of the changing seasons. I always noticed the appearance of the gentle green of spring when yonder in the meadow to the right a pear tree blazed with new foliage, broke into white billowy blooms a little later, and dropped its fruit in the weeks to come. Spring gave way to the lush green of summer, and soon the orange and yellows of fall were evident. Next came the harsh brown of mid-winter.

One gorgeous fall morning as my husband was preaching, he suddenly lost the attention of his congregation. We in the congregation must have all spotted a red fox at the same time. It was sprinting across a field laid bare by the fall harvest. The woodland creature wore a faded, tattered coat, battered by either age or a hard lifestyle. For a few fleeting moments, everyone except my husband (whose back was to the windows) gazed spellbound watching the fox disappear into some bushes on the far side of the meadow.

Some speculated that the fox might even have a den under the dilapidated church building, but, of course, nobody knew for sure. We were told the church had been built in the 1800s. The numbers attending had continued to dwindle as the years passed. Young folks moved away. Many of the faithful fell ill and could no longer attend. Others went to live with relatives or to a nursing home. Some passed away.

Even by the time my husband stepped into the pulpit the first time, only a few faithful were left. Several of the men took turns coming early on cold Sunday mornings to light one of the space heaters. The congregation sat on rough, hand-hewn pews arranged in three rows facing the pulpit. In the eves of the church, bees buzzed continuously and dropped by fistfuls on the windows, sometimes blending their humming with our voices as we sang hymns.

There was also a population of wasps that floated into the church. Occasionally one landed in a crack between the wide floorboards. There it rested a few seconds, basking in the sun, then lifted itself, rejuvenated, and flew out a window.

I wonder if the gnarled oak trees still exist on the former church ground. And what about the fox? Is there a den hidden close by? Are that scruffy fox‘s descendents around, racing across the meadow?