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"For the past five years, I haven't taken a salary, because there's not enough money to afford me," Charlotte adds. "I'm entitled to half of what comes in according to the bylaws, but I donate it back to the church. It's a service for God, and I'm so thankful we've been able to keep the doors open, but it's hard."
Charlotte pauses and laughs, but this time the diversion fails, and she can't avoid tears.
"I guess they call it burnout," she says between muffled sobs. "My youngest son gets discouraged, and he says, 'I don't know why you don't just close it down. Nobody wants to help you. Get out of it instead of wasting all your time and energy there.' Well, it's not a waste. I just have to remember I'm not doing it for me. I'm doing this for God."
The Mains are in high spirits for their December 14 service, which attracts two seldom-seen congregants. "I haven't come here in quite a while," says Marion, an Olathe resident. "But I've well-wished them every time I think of them. This little church is important. It's going to be OK."
Perhaps inspired by the turnout -- the largest in more than a month -- Charlotte shines during the day's messages, giving the job-seeking Sean an especially vigorous version of "get off the fence" and stunning a new congregant by correctly conjuring his grandmother's rather unusual name. She saves the best advice for Marion, who earlier expressed frustration at the rude treatment she has received as a Salvation Army bell ringer.
"Redbud wants to play," Charlotte says, envisioning Marion's spirit guide. "There are lots of joy angels dancing to the [Salvation Army] bells, and Redbud wants to be close [to the donation bowl] because it's red." She giggles giddily throughout this transmission.
However, Charlotte also has stern words for Marion. "Bless 'em, don't blast 'em," she says of the pesky passersby. "And never just hi 'em and bye 'em."
At the end of the service, Charlotte announces a Christmas Eve meditation; an after-Christmas celebration on Sunday, December 28, that will involve "snacks and treats"; and the New Year's Eve burning bowl ceremony, during which the Mains coat a giant wok in liquid detergent (for pragmatic, not mystical reasons -- it helps with the cleaning process), ask congregants to list on a piece of paper everything they'd like released from their lives (health problems, negative thoughts) and encourage them to ignite the paper, sending the requests into the ether. "Making an announcement to this room isn't going to carry very far," she notes dryly.
"We know the spirits are here with us, and they're learning," Charlotte says. "We wish that we could teach so many more, but they have to come."