Packing our bags for the long drive, I was certain we had everything we needed. Making sure the children were tucked in nice and warm, we started our journey from the sub-zero temperatures of South Dakota and headed for the southern part of Kansas. It was the week before Christmas and we wondered whether we would soon be moving.
The drive down went without a hitch and we arrived in a tiny little town that was located way out in the middle of Kansas wheat fields. It was flat with nothing of interest between us and Wichita which was about an hour drive to the north.
The town itself had a population of less than 2000. After driving around the entire town, my wife and I were convinced that the number on the sign must have included all the stray dogs, cats, and chickens we saw running around.
Pulling in at the only motel in town, I gave my details to the owner who gave us a warm welcome and stated that if there was ANYTHING we might need to just let her know.
Taking the key to our room, we were the only people staying there for the night, so we expected that it would be quiet.
Unpacking, we prepared for the next morning and my interview process. You see, the purpose for my driving to the middle of nowhere Kansas was to candidate for my first pastorate. It was Saturday night, and I was still not certain that I was prepared.
I was meticulous about the notes I had written and studied for two morning church sessions and one on the Sunday evening. I had also meticulously prepared my answers for all the questions that I thought the church and the pulpit committee might or might not ask me. My notes were ready, my Bible was ready, and the only thing I needed to do was make sure my clothes were ready.
Laying out the clothes for our children for the next morning, I was also meticulous in making sure that my shoes were shined again, that I had my shirt ironed, my suit had been freshly dry-cleaned before coming down, and that I had the perfect power tie to go with — —
What?? Oh no!!!
There was no way this could be happening. We looked high and we looked low. We checked, rechecked, and then rechecked again every part of our vehicle, but to no avail.
I felt like I was going to be committing a cardinal sin. Here I was over 500 miles away from home on a Saturday night, preparing for a nerve-wracking day of interviewing and preaching, with no stores any around that were open at almost 9pm, the problem was –
I had NO tie.
What preacher or pastor stands up to deliver a message in the mid-1990’s without being properly attired?
I would have settled for a string tie, or a cowboy tie, a bowtie, or even a wider fat tie, but I really wanted the nice power tie that I had ready to make the trip. However, my power tie was still resting on our bed back home in South Dakota.
Needless to say, I was embarrassed, but I remembered what the elderly lady at the front desk had told me.
Walking from our room to the motel lobby, I told her my embarrassing predicament. She informed me that her husband had passed away a few years ago and that she had only just a week or so ago finally cleared out all of his clothes including the dozens of ties he owned.
I would have been happy with just one of them.
Not to be unhelpful, she said, “Wait a minute, I know somebody who might be able to help.”
Picking up the phone, she dialed a number.
“Hey, this is Martha down at the hotel. I have a gentleman here who has a slight problem. He has no tie for service tomorrow when he comes to preach at YOUR church!”
Are you kidding me? 2000 people in town and the one person she calls for help was actually one of the church deacons and the head of the pulpit committee for the very church I will be at in the morning.
I was mortified!
Deciding to put my best foot forward, I agree to have the man come over to our hotel room and bring me a selection of ties.
A few minutes later, a deep throated roar split the air. My boys run to the window and look out to find a short, heavy set man with a graying beard dressed all in leather and wearing a Santa hat. He was riding a 1936 Harley Davidson complete with Christmas lights that twinkled as much as his eyes did for the Christmas season.
My wife and boys found the scene quite funny, and I was just trying to figure out what we had gotten ourselves into. The head of the pulpit committee didn’t look like he had ever worn a tie. In fact, my boys were fairly certain that Santa was real after all and he lived in southern Kansas.
The man laughed and tried to put me at ease as he handed me a selection of ties. With a quick round of greetings, he said, “These are the only ones I have, so you can take your pick. See you in the morning.”
With that he was gone and I thought I had just witnessed a rather quaint Kansas version of “The Night Before Christmas.”
Looking down at the ties in my hands, I was appalled. The selection of six brightly colored ties looked like they had come from the very bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of a barrel at Goodwill that time had forgotten from the 1970s. You know the ones that could have passed for a bib or apron.
However, Saint Nick on his Harley Davidson had also handed me a box that contained a nice brown striped tie. With no other option before me, I decided that it would have to be the one that put me front and center before the congregation of the country church. If they don’t like me because of having no tie, then we would simply go back to South Dakota.
We arrived to the church early the next morning and I sat on the front row trying to keep anybody from seeing the tie I was wearing. Thankfully, the head of the pulpit committee and his wife make a late appearance and showed up right before service started. My intention was to make a quick dart up to the platform and hope that nobody noticed my tie did not quite match the rest of my attire.
Standing to start the service, I moved quickly to the platform and turned to face the small congregation whereupon the deacon and his wife start chuckling, then laughing out loud, and the wife starts snorting. She is turning red as she tries in vain to keep from disrupting the service.
Feeling like a failure, I decided to start the service by admitting my error from the night before. Relaying the entire story, I knew my face was red with embarrassment. There was no way this church would be voting to call a new pastor who could not even remember to bring a tie. This was despite the fact that nobody else was wearing a tie.
Summing up my story, I concluded, “So, that is what brings us here today and why this is probably the first and only time I have ever worn a tie that can do this!”
Reaching down, I grabbed right below the knot and with a small twist, the tie stood straight out — like a board.
Because that is what it was.
Actually, it was made of several pieces of board from different trees. They had been glued together and placed on a strip of leather with a Velcro strip around the top that allowed the wearer to keep it in place around his neck. The tie I had chosen from the box was actually a gag gift that the deacon had stored in his closet for years.
The deacon and his wife were beside themselves and so was the rest of the congregation. It broke the ice and I don’t think any of those present would ever forget the day the new pastor wore a wood tie to church.
As for the outcome of what would be a new career change for me, the church decided to vote that next Wednesday on whether they would extend an invitation to call as pastor the man with a tie for every occasion.