P is for praying for rain (ABC Wednesday)

$5,000 in 1885 is worth over $122,000 today

praying for rainWith the climate operating as it has of late, people have been praying for rain. Or praying for the stoppage of rain. As the cliche goes, “be careful what you wish for.” We’ve seen in the United States in recent years devastating floods after that same region had experienced fires caused in part by severe drought.

Here’s a story originally from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, then in The Book of Lists by David Wallechinsky, his father Irving Wallace and sister Amy Wallace. It should surprise almost no one who knows me that I own – present tense – the first two volumes of that quirky series. Here’s the interesting case of the farmer who sued the local minister because he had prayed for rain.

It was the 1880s, and upstate New York was in a drought. In the tiny town of Phelps, Ontario County, in the Finger Lakes region, Presbyterian minister Duncan McLeod requested that the resident to cease whatever they were doing at noon one Saturday in August to start praying for rain.

“That afternoon, it did rain, a lot. About two inches fell, washing out a bridge. Unfortunately, the rain was accompanied by lightning, and a barn belonging to farmer Phineas Dodd was struck and burned to the ground. As it happens, Dodd was the only local who refused to take part in the collective prayer, leading others to whisper that his barn loss was divine retribution.

“When Dodd heard that the minister was taking credit for the rain, he sued him for $5,000 to cover his property damage.” $5,000 in 1885 is worth over $122,000 today.

“That put the minister in a bind: Were the prayers responsible for the storm or not? Fortunately for him, it never came to that: His lawyer convinced the judge that the minister and his followers had prayed only for rain, not for the lightning, and the lightning was supplied by — who else? — God.”

Even we Presbyterians need a good attorney from time to time.

For ABC Wednesday

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