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Religion and Public Life


The Pew Charitable Trust hopes to show us the religious landscape of the U.S. They call it the “Religion and Public Life Project.” I follow their feed in social media because a visit to the Pew website could divert me for days: it’s likely to reveal more about spiritual Agincourt than I can comfortably process.

The religious spectrum in Agincourt and vicinity stretches from ultraviolet to infrared. All the old mainline denominations of Christian practice are accounted for, if not necessarily thriving. Services range from “Smokey Mary” calisthenics to speaking in tongues. Quakers speak when the Spirit moves. Anglican are sprinkled, while Baptists (of the ABC or northern variety, thank you very much) do the American crawl through an Olympic-sized font. Christian Science has been present since 1900; so was Judaism. More recent arrivals include the LDS and Islam (more of the latter). In some corner of the county, some folks may be handling snakes. An unadvertised exorcism may have been performed. There is even a periodic gathering of unbelievers, The Why, who meet in a disused railroad water tower in the alley behind Hradek’s Shoe Repair.

When I eventually move to Agincourt—retirement there is a seductive notion—I”ll be inclined to attend a service or two at Asbury United Methodist. Rev Candice Varenhorst, the minister there, is a throwback to the Social Gospel Christianity of a hundred years ago, or more, and her sermons are (I’m reliably told by my friend Howard) attuned to succor rather than salvation; to here-and-now over there-and-after. Tabor tells me she spoke last week of letter-writing, a nearly lost art, and the value that slow, deliberate and purpose-driven communication can have for those weary of tweets, YouTube clips and fifteen-second soundbites.


Candy Varenhorst performed the first same-gender marriage in Fennimore county only a few months after the Iowa Supreme Court struck down legislative prohibitions. It happened one weeknight in a back booth at The Periodic Table; Howard phoned me right afterward. So Rev Varenhorst already sounds like my sort of cleric.

In June—while folks are summering at Sturm und Drang and likely to miss her sermons—Rev Varenhorst is doing a series on the origins and evolution of Christianity: a family tree of the faith to help the congregation understand the lunacies of our time. I’m anxious to learn what she has to say about the Gnostics, the closest I get to religion these days.

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