By Nora Cleland, special contributor
Vinland United Methodist Church has been privileged to have 106-year-old Martha Smith as an active member since her first years in the early 1900s.
|Most Sunday mornings, the Vinland UMC’s congregation includes 106-year-old Martha Smith and her 4-year-old great-great niece, Katherine. (photo by Elizabeth Hemphill)|
“I taught nursery through junior high and became the Methodist church’s children’s superintendent,” Smith said. “I have memories of people, now deceased, who used to greet me as ‘their Sunday-school teacher’ and frequently recalled their fond memories of Sunday-school class sessions.”
Other older members of Vinland UMC remember that, in her youth, Smith taught a class of elementary-school students in a small room in the church’s belfry. Some of the little boys would become restless and wanted to run up and down the stairs, so Smith would sit on the top step with her legs extended across the stairway to keep them corralled.
“I taught the same class of youngsters for years until they grew to be taller than I am.” said Smith, who is 5’2” tall. “Then, I decided it was time to let someone else teach that class.”
From early adulthood, she was active in the Methodist women’s group, presenting programs, devotionals and helping with mission projects. One member recalled that when she first began to attend the Vinland church in 1973, she remembered Smith coming to the women’s meetings.
“As the meeting started, Smith would reach in her bag and bring out a light bulb, next a sock,” the member said. “Then, she slipped the bulb into the sock and started mending the sock. I always thought she was doing two things at once, filling her soul with the lesson and keeping her husband and son in socks.”
Smith’s interest in missions began early in her life, and by the 1940s, she was presenting a Mission Minute weekly during the church services. Her presentations, always short but to the point, were taken from the prayer calendar and from Methodist literature.
Her friend, Darlene Hart, who has helped Smith clean her house for nearly 30 years, said, “Planning for Mission Minute – she would sit with her feet on the bed and lean back against the head board. She was surrounded by magazines, “Response,” etc., to work up the current Mission Minute. She would write it out on a small piece of paper, so it would fit in her purse. She wrote in small letters. If she ran out of room, she would write sideways or on the back to finish her thought. Some of the messages were longer than others, but she did a good job.”
Smith continued doing the Mission Minute every Sunday until she was well past 102 years old, when she asked to be relieved of the duty because of poor eye sight and hearing.
The church membership wanted to continue the Mission Minute but renamed it “Smith’s Mission Minute.” Every Sunday, a church member presents Smith’s Mission Minute.
Attending church is not easy for Smith these days. She said that, as Christians, we should attend church. She still comes to church, maybe not every Sunday, but, when she gets up early enough to get dressed and eat a little breakfast, she comes to church. That means she has to get out of bed by 5 or 6 a.m.
However, she still enjoys church. It has been noted that when the congregation sings the Doxology, she holds her head up and looks skyward, as if she is singing to God.
Nora Cleland is a member of Vinland UMC.