Coming from a small Maine town, I know that getting a new preacher can cause an upheaval that can really shake things up. Some people get so upset they up and quit the church go off and form a new one.

A few years ago in my hometown they got a new minister down at the church. His name was the Rev. Charles (“Call me Chuck”) Sylvester, a descendant of old Huguenot stock, fresh out of the seminary and newly ordained. Like most new ministers, he wanted to tear up the Pentecostal pea-patch, so to speak, and light a fire of righteousness under our town’s complacent congregants.

As sometimes happens with any crusader, Rev. Chuck got off to a bad start with several church members when he tried to get the smokers in the church to quit their “filthy habit.”

One smoker he went after with all the irreproachable zeal of a non-smoking man of the cloth was Esther Farnsworth, as stubborn a Down Easter as you’ll ever run into. She was in her 80s and had been smoking a pipe and chewing snuff for as long as anyone could remember.

Rev. Chuck went to visit her one day and after a few pleasantries, he couldn’t help but remark that he had never seen Esther when she wasn’t smoking one of her smelly pipes or chewing her awful snuff. Didn’t she know it was bad for her health?

Esther didn’t mind being preached to on Sunday about scripture. She didn’t even mind being preached to about sins she couldn’t commit anymore even if she had a mind to. But Esther decided she wasn’t about to sit there in her own her sunny parlor and let this youngster preach to her against one of the few genuine pleasures she had left in life.

“Listen, Reverend,” she said, “I’ll be 86 on Oct. 14, and I’ve been smoking and chewing every day since my early 20s. I defy you or anyone else to prove to me that it wasn’t all that fine pipe smoke that’s preserved me this long.”

Seeing that Ester was getting a tad upset and not wanting to argue the point – but not the least deterred – Rev. Chuck came about and tried another tack.

“At your advanced age, Esther,” Rev. Chuck said, cautiously,”you must spend a lot of time thinking of the hereafter. Do you think for one minute that St. Peter is going to let you through the Pearly Gates if he detects the strong odor of tobacco on your breath?”

By now Esther had just about had it. She took her pipe out of her mouth, looked quizzically at the good reverend and said, “Reverend, I thought it was for want of a breath that folks like me ended up before the Pearly Gates in the first place!”

Rev. Chuck didn’t limit himself to improving the physical health of his church members. He also wanted to improve the looks of the church. Soon after he arrived, he went to the chairman of the Board of Deacons, Thurland Grant, and asked if at the next deacon’s meeting, Thurland would ask about buying a new chandelier for the church. Although not keen on the idea, Thurland told Rev. Chuck that he would ask the other deacons about it.

The morning after the meeting, Rev. Chuck went to see Thurland to ask how the meeting went.

“I raised the question of buying a chandelier like you asked me to do, Reverend, but the idea was soundly rejected for what I thought were three pretty sound reasons.

“First, none of us could spell ‘chandelier,’ so we’d have trouble writing out the order. Second, there’s probably no one in the church who could play the thing if we did get one. And, third, we felt that before we wasted church money on a chandelier, we all felt we should look into getting some new lights.”

John McDonald is the author of five books on Maine, including “John McDonald’s Maine Trivia: A User’s Guide to Useless Information.” Contact him at [email protected]


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