Church “leanings” in this country — sometimes described by the laity as “preacher fights” — are nothing new.

My Uncle Mort claims they’ve been around since the Civil War, maybe longer.

He adds that when religious fires start to simmer, jot-and-tittle experts waving fans re-start the flames…

In Europe, though, they’ve got some heavy-duty church “leaning” going on — literally — and one of ‘em makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look might near straight arrow. It is in an obscure German village, where 9,000 souls usually go about their daily tasks without seeing a tourist. When they do, said tourist is gazing cock-eyed at what could become a major league tourist draw.

“Yep, that church tower really is THAT crooked,” the local might say, in German, of course, perhaps adding “it’s always been that way…”

The village is called Bad Frankenhausen; the tower is atop the Church of our Beloved Ladies by the Mountain.

Wow! How many trees would it take for sign posts?

Kids with markers can’t resist graffiti urges to scrawl “Bad Ladies…”

I digress. Truth to tell, I’m a bit light-headed from relentless Christmas shopping for grandchildren. (Could be that I’m a victim of breathing too much lead paint; some of the toy stores didn’t even offer gas masks.)

Back, now, to Bad Frankenhausen. The tower, 184 feet tall, perches on a hillside. It is now leaning eastward by 1-2 inches each year. Perhaps we should add that it was constructed in 1382. The leaning has been going on for a few centuries, and engineers now figure the tip of the tower is 2.4 inches closer to the eastern horizon each year. So far, owners of the neat rows of homes 75 feet below aren’t making much of a fuss, but don’t tell me they don’t notice shadows arriving a bit earlier each day…

A measuring tape a couple of years back was more than telling. The tower tip now is 14 feet from where it was when constructed in 1382.

In comparative terms, that’s six inches more drop than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Aha! Locals are dreaming of dollar marks.

Now, maybe the map-makers will use an asterisk to denote the village in the remote corner of eastern Germany. It’s a whole bunch of letters, I know, but there could be an asterisk explanation at the bottom…

Local leaders fear that the tower could topple within the next decade, or whenever a breeze draws a second breath.

They want to straighten the tower, but not too much. They don’t want to “get straighter” than Pisa.

They’ll try to mount a media campaign about their crooked church steeple that’s 625 years old. (Never mind that there’s another village 270 miles away in Suurhusen with a 15th century church tower that is the “crookedest” on the planet. It has a 5.17 degree tilt, compared to 4.4 for Bad Frankenhausen.)

It’s not that they haven’t made serious efforts to fix the Bad Frankenhausen tower.

In 1759, a fire burned the steeple, so they replaced it with one that was “crooked” in the other direction, hoping to make it look straighter. In 1911, they tried propping it up with giant poles. In 1935, giant iron belts around the structure gave some relief…

Now, they’ve budgeted $1.5 million dollars — just a small bucket of Euros at today’s exchange rate — to partially “fix” the tower. They plan a “lift and push” procedure with anchors and cables, a procedure that may be required every decade or so.

Closed in 1984 because of safety concerns, the tower is scheduled to re-open next year. Timing will coincide with the listing in the Guinness Book of World Records that the “ultimate crookedness” for church towers is in Suurhusen.

“Maybe so,” Bad Frankenhausen citizens may admit, but their tower is a century older and more than twice as tall…

This is NOT to say that the figurative “church leanings” in this country don’t warrant observation. Why, some of them lean lower than limbo dancers.

They are often in obscure communities, too.

And some of the goings-on are the “best show in town,” even if there’s no admission charge and the Guinness people don’t see fit to “write it up” for their record books…

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.