I’ve always been a fan of southwestern U.S. history. The so-called Lincoln County War has been of interest to me for some time now. It took place in Lincoln County, N.M., and had to do with different cattle barons and bankers and lawmen. The feud resulted in the death of a young hoodlum named Billy the Kid in the small town of Fort Sumner. He was gunned down one evening in a dark room by Sheriff Pat Garrett of Lincoln County. Interesting to study if you wish to look it up.
I bring this up because of the title of this column. I have dubbed it the Candelabra War and it took place in the First Baptist Church in our small town. I was a small child at the time and the easiest way to explain what happened is to convey the crux of the Sunday dinner conversations that went back and forth between my parents.
I first was made aware of trouble when the folks began to discuss, with some consternation, that two elderly ladies in our church were having some disagreement about the set of candelabras that adorned the top of our baptistry. The baptistry was set in the wall in the front and center of our sanctuary and the top was about the size of a sheet of plywood and for all I know it was just that, a sheet of plywood. It was adorned with our churches big Bible and two candelabras.
When the Sunday School dismissal bell sounded, the class that seemed to have most of the elderly women of our church would file from their classroom and be seated in the pews just outside the door of their room.
On this first Sunday of the war Blanche had set the candelabras even with the back of the Bible, one on either side. They were straight with the world.
Sunday 2: Suzanne came to Sunday School and on the way in, stopped over and pulled the candelabras forward and slanted them both toward the Bible.
Sunday 3: Blanche came out of Sunday School and pushed the candle holders back and straightened them out knowing full well she had foiled Suzanne. It was obviously too late to do anything else before church started.
Sunday 4: Suzanne came out of Sunday School and as the organist played the prelude, pulled the candles forward and turned them just so. I’m sure the same logic applied here as was used last Sunday.
Sunday 5: Blanche pushed the tapers back and straightened them out before Sunday School.
The same day: Suzanne went up again during the prelude and pulled them forward and turned them again. By all appearances, she got the best of Blanche again.
The same day: New rules of engagement are obviously being written on the fly because after the prelude, the opening prayer, and during the last verse of the first hymn, Blanche marched up, pushed the candelabras back and straightened them out. Suzanne rose from here seat, shuffled to the aisle, turned toward the door, threw her head back and went home.
Truthfully, I’m unable to declare the winner here and even though there is definitely a lesson to be learned, I’m not sure what it is. I don’t think any corrective action was attempted because the Deacons and the minister were all men and well, you know … something was probably mumbled about ‘choosing your hill to die on’ wisely.
As of late, the trend in larger churches is toward big media centers that immerse the senses in sights and sounds and are meant to aide worship and in some cases, provide entertainment. Small congregations across farm and ranch country are usually left out of these improvements because of the hefty price tag for the equipment. The Candelabra War proved the “entertainment” part has, and always will be, available to small congregations.