Congregational life presents a broad range of conflicts and dilemmas in which theological and ecclesial issues are entwined with the complex drama of human relations. Such challenges are also moments in which Christian witness can be clarified. This fictional narrative, which is followed by an analysis, is the third in a series.

A rural church was Madeline Doyle’s first pastorate. During her first year there, she learned much about the rhythms of farming. She watched her parishioners prepare the ground and plant the seeds in the spring, tend the crops through the summer and then look toward the harvest in the fall. She felt that she had come to understand a lot about life that she had never noticed as a girl and as a young woman who lived in the city. Learning to fit into small-town life was something she viewed as an important task, and Madeline had made sure to demonstrate her eagerness to learn the ways of her parishioners and her neighbors.

From the start she had attended the meetings of the Ministerial Alliance, which was organized in her county seat town—though organized was probably too strong a word for it. It primarily consisted of meeting with other ministers for coffee and pie at a local diner once a month to catch up on news and coordinate a few townwide projects.