One summer Sunday morning, I was sitting with a group of elderly ladies prior to worship. We were chatting about the heat, the taste of fresh peaches from the farmer’s market, and other summer topics, when I looked at my watch. It was time to get ready to lead in worship so I stood to make my departure. I heard a sickening rip. A nail on the chair had torn a four-inch hole in the back of my skirt. Fifteen minutes until worship and it was not a “robe” day, so what was I going to do? I felt panicked. I must have looked that way because one of the women said, “Go to the Sunday School supply closet and get some masking tape. I’ll fix your dress.” Thankfully I was wearing a slip so my modesty was preserved as I procured the tape and stood patiently while three women taped the hole shut from inside the skirt. They did a great job because after worship not one person commented on my torn dress. This was one of the first lessons I learned from the church ladies. A torn skirt can be repaired temporarily with masking tape.

This same group of elderly, and mostly widowed, ladies, would invite me to visit them. As both a new minister and young woman in my twenties, I was nervous about visiting women who I thought were more sophisticated and wise than I. With anxiety, I made the calls and set up the visits. It was worth every minute. While I sat with these women, they told me about the church’s history through their stories of “when my kids were in the preschool” and “when we had my husband’s funeral.” They shared gracious words about church staff that had come before me and thoughtful insights about how the church’s ministries continue even though church staff may come and go. While sitting on their sofas, I learned that presence is invaluable. There is no substitute for simply being there and hearing the stories of the church members. They will tell you who they are, if you’ll listen.

While dining at the table of a teacher who had taught Sunday School for over forty years ,I learned this lesson: “Start on Monday,” she said. I was preparing a teacher training session for the new Sunday School year and had asked her, “What one piece of advice would you give to teachers?” She told me that every Monday she read the Bible passage for the week and the teacher’s guide. She went on to say, “Then whatever comes up during the rest of the week, I know that I am started on my lesson and I can adapt my schedule for preparation.” Being one of the wisest pieces of advice I’d heard, I adopted her practice for writing sermons, teaching Sunday school, and even writing blogs. I am fifteen years into starting on Monday and I am thankful for all the times I have been well on my way to having my sermon, teaching plan, or blog prepared when the unexpected happened at the end of the week. You can’t plan for children who spike a fever on Friday or for people who walk into your office “just to talk”. But you can start on Monday to be prepared for next Sunday.

Three lessons shared by senior women who were all over seventy years of age. And this is just the start of what I could tell you. If you are ever near Columbia, SC, give me a call and you can sit on my sofa and I’ll tell you what to do if two families argue and fight during the church meal before the funeral. And don’t worry about my Sunday School lesson, I started on Monday.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, mother of two amazing daughters, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.