When my husband and I began seeing each other and I started venturing west for the occasional weekend, Sunday morning meant Checkrow Community Church. We married and it became our church, as it's been for (now) four generations of Spanglers.
It was my first experience as a member of a country church. My first look at how a community can be shaped by its worship, and what a country pastor can mean to that community. How he can influence them.
Al Somers came to Checkrow in the fall of 2000. He grew up in Michigan, pastored in Colorado and California, where he and his wife, Judy, raised their family. In coming to Checkrow, they moved from inner-city San Bernardino, California, to not-inner-city Avon, Illinois. Let's just pause for a moment and take that in.
Pastor Al loved Jesus, his family and Ford cars, pretty much in that order, I think. He loved a good non-churchy church event, and started up things like a summer car show and Sunday evening ice cream. He had an incredible sense of humor and we reciprocated. Like during pastor appreciation month, we couldn't just give him a gift card to a restaurant. We had to concoct a slide show about people sneaking food from the fellowship hall kitchen – complete with a photo I took of him looking in the fridge, under the guise of a "food story." I will never forget him pointing his finger at me and laughing from the pulpit: "A story for Prairie Farmer?!" I still can't believe he fell for it; I'd been put up to it and if he'd asked even one question, I would've cracked like an egg.
Al had cancer, even when they first came to Illinois. By 2008, He had two forms of cancer, and his death in September that year rocked our community. Al was an idea man; as his condition got worse, he commented, "I've still got 40 years' worth of ideas." And influence.
Because here's the thing I've come to know about the country pastors of the world: they're leading churches full of farmers and other people who work in rural communities. They're marrying and burying, they're counseling and guiding.
Long before Pastor Al came to Checkrow, Rodney Ruberg was its pastor. Rodney arrived in 1941 and he and his wife, Evelyn, pastored there until 1955. Rodney was the country pastor of old: working for a couple farmers during the week, preaching on Sundays, always working in the community. So much so that by the time I arrived in the area, Rodney was nearly a legend in his own time. He'd married and buried so many in this area, and he'd counseled even more. He'd sat with farming brothers as they dissolved their partnerships. When he died, they buried him with his duct-taped-together-Bible in his hands. He was respected. He influenced.
And while Al Somers would certainly get a laugh out of me calling him an agriculturalist, he – like every other country pastor – certainly is an agriculturalist who influences.
Agriculturalists Who Influence: The Series
- Day 1: Introduction
- Day 2: Jim Evans
- Day 3: Becky Doyle
- Day 4: David and Nancy Erickson
- Day 5: Katie Pinke
- Day 6: Joe Hampton
- Day 7: Noreen Frye
- Day 8: Carolyn Olson
- Day 9: John and Kendra Smiley
- Day 10: Colleen Callahan
- Day 11: Neil and Debbie Fearn
- Day 12: Martin Barbre
- Day 13: Pam Smith
- Day 14: Jim Esworthy
- Day 15: Erin Ehnle
- Day 16: Al Somers