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The Thinning Veil


Here we are, starting another book, serialized online partly for your amusement, and partly to provide myself with the discipline to make sure that I’m writing on a regular schedule and actually getting things done. That this is the third such book feels somewhat incredible as prior to adapting this method I’d rarely made it past chapter ten over many abandoned attempts. I’ve considered going back and resurrecting some of those books, but I find I’m not nearly as interested in them now as I was when I first wrote them, and I would have to completely re-work them for them to even be marginally readable. We’re in a different place, a different mindset, and it shows.

That being said, there are some changes in the way I am approaching this book, partly for my own convenience and partly because I think they make for a better reading experience. I am also aware that writing in the midst of a pandemic that not only affects how we, as a society, behave but how we think and read, requires some modifications in how I approach telling the story.

One significant alteration is in how this story is presented. I am using a slightly larger type this time to help guard against eye strain. I am also increasing the distance between lines for the same purpose. As we all have stayed home and are reading more, our eyes grow tired more easily. Hopefully, this makes for a more pleasant online reading experience.

Formatting gets a makeover in this book as well. One of the things I noticed half-way through Pastors’ Conference, 1972 was that limiting the format to two chapters of approximately 3,000 words each sometimes forced me to compromise the story. That’s going to mean a lot more work in the re-write that hasn’t started yet. I want to avoid that with this book. So, my intent is to arrange chapters within the logical flow of the story. That means some weeks there may be only one chapter. Other weeks, there could be four chapters of varying sizes. 

At the head of each week’s entry will be a set of bookmarks with the chapter titles and, possibly, specific chapter sections. Clicking on those bookmarks will take one directly to that section. My hope is that by adding this feature, we remove the feeling that one must read the entire selection in one setting. This should make it easier to return on different days throughout the week and easily pick up at or near where one left off without having to do all that scrolling.

Readers will also, hopefully, see more interstitial requests for funding. Some of these will be through the “Donate Now” buttons placed between chapters. Others will be direct ads for Old Man Talking merch, which should be working but no one ever looks at, which I find disappointing. The reasons for doing this are multiple. First, like many, our income has been diminished by the need to quarantine. We need your support to help pay the small but continuing costs of this website. Second, there is an ethical argument to be made regarding taking advantage of one’s creative work without providing compensation. This is a draft, so asking a normal retail price isn’t appropriate. Slipping us a couple of bucks every few weeks, however, indicates your appreciation for our effort. Think of it as a form of tipping.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is recognizing that this is a different genre than our previous books and one needs to be in a somewhat different mindset when reading. This book unapologetically falls into the realm of fantasy; think C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien without the genius or, perhaps, the length. Whether or not this book could be the first of a series depends as much on whether you enjoy reading it as well as whether I enjoy writing it, so I make no commitments to that end. However,  I do want to be thorough in creating this new universe so that it, at least, feels plausible to the degree that such topics can ever be considered plausible. 

In creating this story, it is necessary to write a new canon regarding magical creatures. Through considerable amounts of research as to the varying types and qualities of those commonly, and often mistakenly, referred to as fae, we have found a number of situations that are untenable for this story. I won’t bore you with all of them, but let’s get past some major points.

First, nothing about this story is set in Europe during the dark or middle ages. There is no stilted formal language among any of the characters unless it is appropriate to a specific occasion. While influenced by the past, our characters are wholly modern and the world we create for them is contemporary, having evolved from all the stories of the 18th and 19th centuries with which we are already familiar.

Second, as our story takes place in North America, the descriptions, names, and appearances of our characters reflect the influence of the indigenous peoples who populated this continent some 13,000 years ago. Their rich folklore and their method of storytelling are woven into the fabric of our story. Where North American-derived characters meet European, Asian, and/or African-derived characters, my hope is that we illuminate the depth of each culture, representing the differences that exist in each region’s indigenous tales.

Third, and perhaps as important as anything else I might say here, is the warning that I have no intention of making this tale “cute” or in any other way palpable for children. This is a book that addresses life among mature creatures whose lives are filled with hundreds if not thousands of years of experience. Characters do not have cute names. The creatures whose lives we explore are not Disney-fied, and neither is the universe in which they live. There is no more sparkle and glitter in their world than there is in your own; perhaps less. Serious topics are raised and their resolution follows their own rules of conduct on such matters. 

I raise these issues here, before you begin reading, in the hope that readers do not bring into this story any preconceived ideas that these characters must have traits similar to or behave in a manner consistent with any other fantasy one might have read. This is a different universe with different creatures and their own set of rules. Those sources influencing my writing do so only in terms of the quality and thoroughness of the worlds they constructed. This is not Tolkien. 

Telling of this story comes with some trepidation. The world I am about to show you is probably not going to match up with anyone’s childhood fantasies. As much as people love the anthropomorphized white lion of C.S. Lewis and the elven creatures of Tolkien, our story introduces us to a different world, the ancestors of those fabled creatures. Their traits have changed—they had to in order to survive. Fans of a particular creature tend to dislike such changes to the way they’ve traditionally viewed them. I may well be making enemies for myself.

Biting off more than should be chewed is a character flaw I have difficulty leaving behind and this may yet prove to be another example of that failure. Only the writing will tell whether this is an act of inspiration or insanity. Our hope is that you will go with us on this journey, letting me know when a matter becomes too clouded or unfathomable as well as the elements that one might find exciting. I’m leaving the comments open at the end of each entry. Feel free to use them.

Let us, together, take a big breathe and jump into this story, right after this announcement from our sponsor.

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The Thinning Veil

The story I’m about to tell you is one of fantasy born on the wings of legend and steeped in the myth of the world’s native peoples. Their ways remain unknown and misunderstood by those who only see the result of their actions. 

To call them people of any kind is insulting to their ancient origins. To call them creatures is to diminish their gifts and magical talents. Humans of the First World named them differently with geographic relationships and understanding. The fae came from across Europe. Asian peoples told of Shin and the Mogwai. Yaksha haunts Hindu and Buddhist tales. Peris are known throughout Persia. Alux and Chaneques linger in Mexico. Aziza came to North America with humans from Africa. Together, they and others still exist and today we pull back the cover of their lives and their shared existence for without them humanity would most surely have killed itself off many centuries ago.

Yet, were it not for humans they would not have been brought together in the form or conditions in which they now exist. None ever knew of the other in the way they do now. Each lived in their own place, attached to and caring for the existence of nature and humans living in their native lands. There was a kinship between magical beings and the living, breathing souls around them. With greater global migration, both voluntary and involuntary, they found themselves thrown together, sometimes in matters of mutual aid and at other times in defense of their own traditions. As they gathered in what humans now call North America, they became known collectively as Niwa’Diyo—small good ones (pronounced nee-wah dee-yō). 

Living in their world has not always been peaceful and even now to make such a claim would be naive. That is not to say that their world has more perils than our own. Here, perhaps more than in the realm of humanity, there are forces of good and forces of evil and plenty are those whose thoughts and actions might be swayed by either. One dare not assume, on the unlikely chance of encountering a Niwa’Diyo, which direction their moral compass might swing as that determination is rarely absolute and change according to the conditions of the encounter.

Among the Niwa’Diyo remain traces of the beings told about in the stories and legends of old. They, too, know the stories and the truths that lie behind the legends. They each have an appreciation for and deep knowledge of their ancestry, their culture, and their heritage. Such knowledge and recognition does not make them exactly like their ancestors, or at times, remotely similar to the beings known in books humans have written. Like humans, they have evolved, adapting not only to the changes of the natural earth but also the exposure to and inter-mingling of magical souls from other lands on other continents. Not that they interbred in the same way that humans have, but as various souls have been friendly in their co-existence they have shared powers and physical traits that would make them unrecognizable to those whose stories have already been told.

Therefore, dear reader, put away your assumptions and the presumption of knowledge you might have taken from the literary lore of days in the past. We are no longer in those realms, not among those peoples. We write now of their descendants, those who are the children of survivors from those often terrible and tragic events These are the souls that inhabit a modern world, have a contemporary language, and a view of all the earth, not limited by race or geography but experienced travelers all with refined magic that is more precise in its outcome and less guesswork in its methods.

At the same time, we must now understand that the souls living around us today are less aware of human presence than they have ever been. The fine mist that once existed between our two worlds is more of a wall. Few are those who have knowledge of how to enter or exit. Fewer still are those who dare to wander back and forth. They care not for what humans have become. They consider us to be a race of fools and imbeciles that have lost our relationship to the natural world and too stupid to know what we are missing.

The language they speak is not one any living human would recognize. Once, when the mist was thin and magical souls traversed among humans, they communicated quite freely, but as humans became more developed and began to question the existence of magic, they slowly forgot the magical languages. Today, even if there were a human who still recognized the old languages, and there hasn’t been such a soul for many generations, they would not likely recognize what the Niwa’Diyo now speaks. As the languages of humans have evolved, so, too, has the languages of other realms, gradually blending and mixing until they have achieved a universal tongue recognized by all manner of Niwa’Diyo regardless of their ancestry or origin.

Accordingly, when one reads their dialogue in the following pages, it is an interpretation of that language provided by no one less than Apa’ii herself, for which we are most grateful. Being a magical translation rendered by royalty, we can be certain of its authenticity and accuracy. We need not question whether what is written is what was said, for every word on every page as been checked and confirmed by the Queen. To question this text, therefore, is to question the Queen who does not take such challenges lightly. She can be fierce when she considers her integrity insulted.

One should also note at this point that all of the souls in this magical realm, regardless of their ancestral origins, are largely immortal, which sets up some rather unique conflicts. For example, as depressed as Apa’ii’s chief scout into the human world, Bockwimen, may get, he can never truly kill himself. Hence, he has never thought to do so. Similarly, no matter how angry the oppositional agitator Bogmenak might become with Apa’ii and her administration, he never plots to kill her on the grounds that doing so only results in a waste of resources. Mind you, he has frequently made attempts to usurp her power, and more than a few times he has come close to succeeding. Murder or assassination, however, is not thought and does not exist in the Niwa’Diyo vocabulary, at least not insomuch as it might be targeted toward each other.

Be aware, more than a few Niwa’Diyo have the thoughts, the powers, and the means to remove the lives of humans from their bodies. Again, many years have passed since such onerous activities were legal or common among the magical community. Few would even consider those procedures once common among Sirens and such to hold the slightest amount of personal fulfillment. Human elements, whether their blood or bones or spirits, no longer have the life-sustaining power that they once held for magical souls. In fact, one could argue that they barely hold enough power to sustain a human for the brevity of their lifetime.

Magical life is consumed with the fulfillment of responsibilities to the planet and the powers of the universe. 

Those who possess magic know they are not alone. Many are those who still recall the once frequent visits from those who live among what we know as stars. Among those interstellar guests, it is those born of magic that are the true and rightful inhabitants of the earth. Humans that once seemed to hold promise too quickly squandered and misuse what had been given to them. Their constant wars and seeming inability to learn from their errors eventually drove those star souls away, having determined them to be a race unworthy of further development.

By the beginning of what humans count as their twenty-first century, Apa’ii and her kind were so far removed from any meaningful interaction with the humans that the humans considered their legends to be tales of fiction and young magical souls considered humans to be the monsters of elder stories designed to teach them care and compassion. Only Bockwimen and his troop of carefully trained scouts dared to venture beyond the deep mist. They know how to stay invisible and out of the way. They know to avoid the manner in which humans carelessly use electricity and observe with caution the technological progress that allowed humans to feel that they were achieving forward momentum even as the power of their collective conscience continued to wane, especially in the regions where humans had first appeared.

Scouts follow strict results that Bockwimen enforces with a heavy hand. Scouts must not consume anything of human construct. Scouts must remain fully invisible while within the human realm. Scouts must avoid any interaction with humans save to protect from one of them accidentally crossing through the mist. While scouts must be fluent in the human languages, they are not allowed to speak them at any volume that might be picked up by human ears or their electronic listening devices. Bringing human objects back through the mist is prohibited.

Only Bockwimen makes reports to Apa’ii and her court. No other scouts are allowed to speak of what they see or hear. Neither does Apa’ii allow her court ministers to speak openly of the report. The purity of the magical realm is to be maintained at all costs. At least, that was the case up until the events recounted in this book. 

Magical souls live everywhere. They must, given that they outnumber humans by several billion owing to their near-immortality. Each magical species has its own unique method of reproduction, though they have become more common and unified as the Niwa’Diyo has blurred the lines between similar species. Regardless of the species, though, the moment a new magical soul breathes its first breath sends ripples of excitement through the entire universe. Even Queen Apa’ii herself feels a rush of pleasure with each new life. In a similar fashion, they all know when a magical soul is removed from them. Joy and sorrow are communal emotions that none of them can fully escape. Because of this, there has always been a closeness among magic souls, an emotional connection, unlike anything humans have the ability to comprehend.

Battles and wars between species, common in ancient times and unheard of now, exacted a heavy toll on all magic souls as they all felt each one that fell on the battlefield. If anything, that unbreakable link they share is largely responsible for the peace that has existed between them for over 200 human years.

While the Niwa’Diyo is ubiquitous across the planet, they still tend to gather in those places where magic itself is the strongest. For the most part, these tend to be places where nature has been allowed to go largely untouched. Even humans can feel magic in these places. Of course, they don’t recognize it as magic; some refer to the places as spiritual or peaceful, occasionally pristine. What humans cannot realize is that not only are they feeling magic but also the peaceful souls of all the hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of Niwa’Diyo who live there. 

In days past, these magic centers were often places of healing for humans. Kind magic souls were happy to help those wounded. What Niwa’Diyo soon discovered was that humans, even the kind and gentle ones, inevitably brought violence and hate to the magic places. No, the humans didn’t mean to introduce their faults to these revered places, but the species seems unable to escape them. As a result, more and more, with no small amount of sorrow and discussion, the magic places were walled off from humans. Not physical walls, of course, but the invisible and impermeable kind that allows humans to see the beauty without feeling the full effect of the magic. Sure, humans say they feel something special in these places, but that is from within their own nature. There is no human still living who has experienced the full magic right in front of them.

One of the things important to realize is that magical souls don’t have “skin” in the same way as humans. That is because all magic comes from the earth in one way or another, causing those who are made of magic to be composed fully of those elements used in their creation. Some, for example, are made of pure stone, others of metal, some of various minerals, and a few composed wholly of precious stones. Most, however, like Apa’ii, are made of a mixture of elements. Apa’ii herself has a beautifully carved core of white oak around which bark forms a light covering, with strands of hair that have the texture of willow leaves. When light hits the wood just right, Apa’ii seems to glow and her hair flutters capriciously even in the slightest breeze. Were she to ever choose to make herself visible to humans they would have no doubt succumbed to her great beauty and done anything she might ask. Apa’ii fears that even she might not be able to resist the evil side of such power, though, and keeps herself hidden from humanity’s safety.

Niwa’Diyo tends to look at humans as inferior beings. As a group, they still remember when humans first emerged on the face of the planet. Some climbed up out of the canyons, others emerged from the mud, while still others descended from high mountain lakes. Early humans were welcome. Being born of the earth, they were naturally in tune with all living things. While they were easily deceived and often tricked by both animals and magical souls, they learned lessons as they went, growing in their knowledge of natural life and learning how best to use earth’s resources to meet their needs.

Over time, though, humans began to grow cocky and conceited. They started considering themselves the masters of all things, the dominant species on the planet, expecting subservience from all manner of plant, animal, and magical being. Obviously, every other soul was offended, especially the animals, whose natural instinct remains to fight back. Animals proved to be no match for human weapons, though. Magical souls saw no choice but to step in and use magic to hide those who were being over-hunted. Humans thought they were wiping out entire species when, in reality, those in danger were being hidden; some underground and others using invisibility charms.

That method worked for a while but such magic requires great amounts of strength and endurance on the part of those casting the spell. Each time a magical soul would slip and let an animal be seen, thousands would be killed by poachers who were always waiting at the ready. Finally, the magic ones had little choice but to permanently move many of the most endangered animals into sacred magic spaces where no humans can ever find them.

Niwa’Diyoh don’t live in homes the way humans do or even caves or burrows as do the animals. Granted, they do have their preferred spaces, places they frequent that are convenient to their normal paths of travel. Still, magical souls prefer to rest among the material from which they were born, in the woods, among the grassland, in the flowers, along the beaches, in the rocks of the mountains, along snowbanks, and floating among the clouds. Because of their connection to nature, many magical souls are forever transient, moving with the seasons so that they can easily find their favorite places to rest. 

Only the souls of the wood, such as Apa’ii, are reasonably stationary. Woodland souls are hearty by design and during cold winter months need only to sleep deeper into the grain to stay comfortable. 

Souls of the rock don’t necessarily have any requisition for travel as the changing of seasons affects them least of all. Yet, travel they do because it is easy for them and they enjoy visiting with their like kind from other regions. Sometimes, stone souls make problems for human scientists as they leave behind sediment and stone markers that are not native to that region. Geologists often try to find excuses for why humans might have transported the rock from one place to another but one can be quite certain that all such theories are composed of pure fiction.

Neither do Niwa’Diyo recognize family in the same manner as do humans. Being mostly beings of great age (as humans count years) and given that their manner of procreative is quite different and often more complicated than that of humans, there is no inherent parental relationship among them. They do understand the concept of parentage among humans, but magic souls are born through a magical process that may involve both magical souls and wild animals or flowers or insects. This is why some Niwa’Diyoh hide easily among humans simply by changing into whatever form of animal or plant that is part of them. Such magic also explains why most animals can see or are at least aware of the presence of magic when humans haven’t a clue.

While it is true that most Niwa’Diyo are at least tolerant of humans, in fact, the greater majority of them pay humans no mind at all and are completely oblivious to their presence. There remains the vile fact that the magic realm, too, has its rogues and frights. Most all of them stay well out of sight of humans. Their experience in ancient days taught them that humans are prone to kill that which they fear, especially when one’s presence is intimidating. Within the magic community, however, they are openly malicious, especially when provoked or imposed to aide by some agreement forced upon them without consideration.

Apa’ii is cunningly careful to either invite them to any negotiations, which they always decline, or otherwise exempt them if such a decree does not need to address them in the first place. There are others, though, regional governors who at times exceed their authority or do not take sufficient care in their crafting of decrees and, resultingly, anger the dark-minded souls. This is most often the cause for malicious mayhem and dark-minded souls revel in the opportunity to create chaos and lay waste to the communities that have been established.

Among such brooding souls, there can be no peace. Their restless nature pushes them toward aggression. Many were, in fact, born from the lava pools of molten rock that lie deep beneath the earth’s surface. Others were created in great storms that once shook the earth and shaped entire continents. Destruction and chaos are their reason for existing and if they go too long without being given sufficient cause for disruption then they manufacture a reason simply to give them an excuse to run amuck.

Because the grim ones are predictable in their need for slaughter and ruin, Apa’ii must constantly be aware of the messages she gets from the trees and the animals that live underground. More often than not, the fibrous network the trees use for sharing nutrition and information starts humming at a low, almost-inaudible frequency the moment the vile ones begin preparing to instigate any kind of attack. As that humming increases, the trees are able to tell Apa’ii which demons of the earth are upset and where they plan to attack. By using this information to keep the evil ones in check, Apa’ii has saved humanity from even knowing the monsters exist. For most humans, such creatures are the things of fairy tales and horror movies. Only among the magic realm is the reality of the evil ones known personally.

Life for the Niwa’Diyo is complex and full. Responsibilities are taken seriously but so, also, is recreation and the development of their personal magic skills. As with any dimension of existence, it is the upsets and failures that make for a good story, and here, behind the veil, there are many stories all happening under our noses without us ever having a clue they exist.

Reading time: 23 min
We All Need A Vacation

Look at this! No story this week! We’ll start a new fantasy novel on July 5, but today, we get to do something different and since there are actually links in this article, we should remind you that bold italic words and phrases are links to whatever we’re referencing. Don’t be afraid to click on them. Thank you for reading!

I need a break. So do you. We’re half-way through this year and I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t feeling, at the very least, significant amounts of mental and emotional fatigue. Since the first of the year, we’ve had to deal with the following:

  1. Impeachment of the US President
  2. Political upheaval in Russia
  3. Locust invasion in Eastern Africa
  4. Coronavirus (renamed COVID-19) spreads around the world
  5. Philippine volcano eruptions
  6. Australia wildfires
  7. 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey (41 dead)
  8. Avalanche in Kashmir (100+ dead)
  9. Flooding in Indonesia (100+ dead)
  10. Kobe Bryant
  11. UK Brexit finalized
  12. Quarantine, unemployment, business failures
  13. Puerto Rico Earthquakes (2,455 since Dec. 22)
  14. Midland, Michigan, Dam Breach
  15. Nashville and other spring tornadoes (74 deaths so far)
  16. Continuing Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
  17. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
  18. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis at US Southern Border
  19. Cyclone Amphan
  20. Continuing Rohingya Refugee Crisis
  21. New Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  22. Black Lives Matter protests
  23. Voter Suppression in US primary elections
  24. Threat of 23 million Americans losing health insurance
  25. US Army soldier conspiring against his own unit

All that has happened and there are plenty of signs that there is still more to come. While we’ve all been consumed with watching COVID-19 numbers going up, down, and back up again, Syrian civil war grows stronger and more violent. The US-China trade war has taken another nasty turn and looks to get worse. All of Latin America looks set for massive political upheaval that could result in a higher number of refugees fleeing those countries.

If you missed several of those news stories, you’re forgiven. The tidal wave of information on a daily basis has been more severe than I can remember and in the middle of that, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, has been furloughing and outright firing huge portions of their newsrooms, all but eliminating any form of investigative journalism. We have no idea what’s being swept under the rug because journalists who would normally catch such things have been sidelined.

We have every right to be outraged. We need to be outraged. But outrage requires massive amounts of energy and collectively we’ve expended so much energy over the past three-and-a-half years that it feels as though we haven’t any left. One would be foolish to believe that nothing new is going to happen for the rest of the year. Hurricane season is just starting and we’ve already seen a higher-than-usual number of tropical depressions develop. The Saharan Winds, which happens annually, typically affecting a few places along the Gulf of Mexico, has fully engulfed the Caribbean and seems positioned to spread over much of the Eastern US by this weekend, making it the worst dust storm in decades. So, what happens when something unthinkable happens in August or September? Where will we find the energy to voice our anger, sadness, and despair in October and November?

I can’t, and won’t speak for you, but I need a break and I’m guessing most people are in the same boat. Not just a weekend away or a quiet night in a hotel, which I’ve been taking on occasion, but a full-on, turn-the-phone-off, no-WiFi-service-here, there-is-no-media vacation. Think of it as a long, hot shower for the soul, a chance to cleanse the mind of all the diseased information we’ve been consuming the past six months. I have reached a point where I can’t even scroll through Facebook any longer than a couple of minutes. Instead, I retreat in the evenings to highly-filtered mindless feeds that contain inspiring photography, cute babies and other animals, and short but smile-inducing videos. That’s all my brain can handle after the perpetual alerts coming in about someone who died, a major corporation closing, latest COVID-19 numbers, and another racist symbol coming down.

The problem I’m facing, however, is that there’s nowhere safe to go. I woke up Thursday morning to the news that the US set a new national record for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a day. Over 36,000 new cases were recorded, breaking a record set on April 25. And while a lower percentage of those are likely to die than was possible back in April, the fact remains that there are still no peer-reviewed studies determining the long-term consequences of just having the virus. Among the biggest suspects observed so far are brain damage, long-term cardiac damage,  and mental health issues such as PTSD. While it will take scientists years to accurately track and sort out the data, the one thing of which we can be sure is that one doesn’t have to die from the virus to have their entire life irreparably altered by it, and to date, no one is tracking those numbers at all. 

I checked one of the online services to see what it would cost me to sneak away to a beach I’ve always enjoyed. While it’s not completely isolated by any means, the beach would be a change of scenery that would allow me to, hopefully, clear my head a bit, listen to the sound of the waves as they break, and maybe enjoy a rum-flavored drink or two. Immediately, right at the top of the search results, was a warning: “Your destination has enacted travel advisories and other regulations around COVID-19.” Lovely. I checked and, sure enough, the beach is closed, as are most of the restaurants and all of the clubs in the region. Then, to make matters worse, the day after checking that information, a news headline pops up showing a severe increase in COVID-19 cases in that area.

Check someplace else, right? We’re a country literally surrounded by beaches. But no matter where you check, Pacific, Gulf, Atlantic, they’re all experiencing surges in virus cases, and even if businesses are currently open, there’s no guarantee the whole thing might not shut down tomorrow. None of the places that stand to serve me well are safe. 

That’s not to say there aren’t pockets here and there that are relatively germ- and incident-free. Amarillo, TX looks fairly safe, if one likes high crime rates, high temperatures, and cars half-buried in the desert. Even though they currently show one of the lowest rates of virus infection in the country, though, much of what passes as entertainment in the outlaw city is either closed or severely limited in operation.

Most of the state of Montana has gone disease-free to this point as well. That might be due to the fact that prairie grass doesn’t spread the virus. If one wants that stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience, Montana might be a reasonable place to escape. Don’t everyone go at once, though, and stay away from camping at state parks—the CDC has issued a warning about that, too.

There are still a few beaches that show little sign of being affected by the virus. Coos Bay, Oregon reports zero new cases in the past two weeks, making it a rarity. While I’m not big into salmon fishing or rocky beaches (I really prefer sand), the local waterfalls and other sites could be sufficient compensation to provide the break I need. Getting there, however, still requires going through a major city’s airport, which could be enough to negate the whole deal. Oh, and there’s the fact that wildfire season started in that region this past week. I’m not feeling comfortable taking the risk this year.

Look around hard enough, and there are, perhaps, a handful of places in the country one might consider reasonably safe, but every last one of them has drawbacks that make me hesitant. I won’t go someplace too conservative because I don’t need that kind of hate in my life. There’s no point in going someplace that’s still largely in lockdown mode and, let’s be honest, most of the country should be in at least partial lockdown. There’s also little benefit, for me, of going to a town that’s so small the only other out-of-town guest is an air pump salesman from Hoboken. If I’m turning off all media, which I want to do, I need something to intersperse with the stack of books I’m reading. 

The sad truth is that there is no good and safe place for a vacation this year. COVID-19 has ruined that. Were I younger and at less risk, like Kat, then I might go ahead and venture out somewhere with appropriate levels of caution. I’m not. I have to watch where I go, what risks I take, and wear a mask anywhere I’m likely to come into contact with people. Millions of other people are in the exact same situation.

So, I’ll sit here, and you’ll sit there, quietly going crazy, hoping that we don’t cause our families any lasting trauma as we descend into the depths of mental fatigue and decay. At least I know I’m not alone. 

Oh, there aren’t enough mental facilities to hold us all when we collectively slip right on over the edge. That’s a cheery thought, isn’t it? Maybe, if enough of us go insane at the same time, no one will notice.

Reading time: 8 min
Pastors' Conference 1972

This is it. This is where our book ends. I want to thank you for sticking with us over the first half of this year. We’ll be back with a very different story on the first Sunday in July.

Chapter 49

Chapter 49

Tom found her less than two minutes before Glynn arrived. Claire was unconscious, huddled with her suitcase at the inset of the front steps to the high school, which provided minimal but critical protection from the snow. Tom unlocked the school door and the two men took Claire inside. Glynn removed his parka while Tom ran to the office and called Hub then called Linda. Getting her to the hospital in Arvel was going to be treacherous but it was the only choice if they were to save her. 

Hardly a word passed between the two men beyond what was absolutely necessary. Anger glared in Tom’s eyes as hot as guilt coldly contracted Glynn’s. When Hub arrived the men helped him put the teenager on the cot, covered her with warm blankets, and put her in the ambulance. Hub insisted that Glynn ride up front with him while Tom rode in the back with his daughter. While both men had been focused on Claire, Hub could see that neither of them had been fit to be out in the weather, either. All three would need medical care.

News of Claire nearly freezing to death made its way around town quickly. Word that Sunday services were canceled did not. As phone calls intended to notify members about the church were hijacked by concern and anger over Claire, it wasn’t long before the Sunday services were forgotten completely. As a result, come 10:00 there were five elderly women standing at the front door of the church wondering why they couldn’t get in. Rose could see them from the front window of the funeral home and had them come there to wait until she could arrange rides home for them. 

Hub was, for the time being, stuck at the hospital in Arvel due to the sheriff in Ridell County declaring the roads too unsafe for even an ambulance. Rose called Buck who, in turn, called Horace, who, thinking additional backup might be good, called Alan. More than an hour passed before the three deacons made it to the funeral home.

Alan was furious when he arrived. “Why didn’t anyone call these ladies and tell them there were no services today?” he shouted at Buck as he stomped up the ramp to the funeral home. 

“The chain was started,” Buck shot back firmly. “Obviously, you knew. Horace knew. Most of the church members knew. Somewhere, someone failed to continue the calling. There’s no way to know who it was, so let’s just get these women home and be done with it.”

“Had the preacher called off the services when I told him to, this wouldn’t have happened. There would have been plenty of time to get the word out,” Alan insisted, pushing his point. “The problem here is that the preacher doesn’t listen.”

“You mean he doesn’t listen to you,” Horace said sternly. “I told him to wait. I thought we’d be able to get some blades out on the street and I thought the county would have salt trucks out. Had those things happened, Claire would have made it home safely and we could have had church this morning. It’s the county’s fault as much as it is anyone’s.”

Alan clenched his fist and got in Horace’s face. “That’s horse pucky and you know it. When was the last time anyone’s seen county salt trucks on Adelberg streets? 15, 20 years at least! He was a fool if he listened to you and you were a bigger fool for suggesting it.”

“Glynn’s not been here long enough to know that the county ignores us,” Buck said, stepping between Horace and Alan. “And as pastor, he has an obligation to consider what’s best for the church as a whole. He’ll be as upset as anyone that the word didn’t get around.”

“By the way, where is he?” Horace asked. “I kinda figured he’d be the first one Rose would have called.”

Buck shoved his hands in his pockets to protect them from the numbness he was beginning to feel. “The hospital kept both him and Tom,” he said. “Neither of them needed to be out in the snow any more than Claire did. It’s a wonder they’re not all three dead.”

“That’s what ignorance and stubbornness will get you,” Alan said. “They’re all three book smart and think they know everything. We see where that got them.”

The three men delivered each of the ladies to their homes, being careful to walk them to the door so that they wouldn’t slip on the ice. Traveling anywhere, even short distances, seemed to take forever. While the snow had stopped falling during the night, the wind had taken over and blown the snow into massive drifts that blocked the road in some places and left the slick ice bare in others. Once the men had finished their deliveries, they each crept home with every intention of staying there no matter who asked for help. Being on the roads at this point was suicide.

Glynn had asked the hospital call Marve when they admitted him. She wasn’t surprised by the phone call. She also knew that they would have to keep him until the roads cleared up. If Hub couldn’t make it back there was no way she was going to risk making the trip. Instead, she sat by the telephone in the kitchen, answering one call after another. Everyone was angry and Marve understood but had no answers for anyone. 

Marve was confused when Roger, Clement, and Bill had all called in succession to ask if Glynn had seen the morning newspaper. She might have understood had their paper been delivered, but roads were so bad that even paper delivery had been canceled in Adelberg, though it had managed to arrive everywhere else. Instead, she told them what had happened with Claire and that Glynn was back in the hospital. “I don’t know if the cold caused the MS to flare up or if they’re treating a serious case of stupidity,” Marve told Roger. “It’s probably best that he’s there where he’s only getting limited information. I think everyone in town is upset with him right now.”

Each of the three preachers had a different response. Clement tried to be comforting and asked if Marve needed anything. Roger was more pragmatic. “These things happen and the bad news seems to come in waves. I’m sure we can work through this.” Bill showed a broader concern. “I’m worried for him, Marve, and I’m worried for our association. Nothing feels right this morning.”

Marve found Bill’s response curious but chose to not press for details. It was obvious something was up in the association and at this point, she really didn’t care what it was. She had enough to worry about with Glynn being back in the hospital and the focus of everyone’s anger. She thanked Bill for his concern and went hung up so she could answer the next call from yet another furious church member.

Glynn laid back in the hospital bed and tried to be thankful for the relative peace and quiet. The nurses had assured him that Claire was going to be okay, despite some frostbite and the severe cold essentially burning the inside of her lungs. What they didn’t tell him was that Tom now had full-fledged pneumonia and was on a ventilator. Had he known, Glynn likely would have tried walking down there and making peace with Claire’s father. Whether the omission was accidental or on purpose would forever be a point of speculation. As it was, he was lying there practicing the breathing techniques he had been given when Bill walked into the room with a newspaper tucked under his arm.

“Please tell me I’m not the only reason you’re here,” Glynn said as he sat up and shook the other pastor’s hand. “There’s no way the roads have started melting already.”

Bill shook his head and smiled. “Are you kidding? The old folks in my church are what keeps this hospital in the black. I always have a reason to be here. I talked to your wife earlier, though, and she told me they were keeping you until this mess clears up. I thought you could use some company.”

“Your wife got tired of having you underfoot, huh?” Glynn teased.

“Well, yeah, I’ve been pretty animated this morning, I’m afraid,” Bill said. “This landed on my front porch before I had my first cup of coffee. Roger said he’d called you yesterday when he found out.” He tossed the front section of the newspaper at Glynn whose jaw dropped when he saw the headline.


If Roger had spoken with the newspaper’s reporter, he had not succeeded in getting them to hold back on any of the details of the accident. The article, which completely occupied all the space above the fold, blamed Larry for almost everything short of driving the pickup that had hit him. The sheriff was waiting to arrest him. The district attorney was promising to prosecute the most severe charges he could. And there, in the middle of everything, was a damning quote from Roger that read, “If Rev. Winston has indeed done anything wrong, he will surely know the wrath of God.” 

Glynn put the newspaper down and looked at Bill. “Did he really say that?”

Bill nodded, his arms crossed in front of him, his expression stern. “He insists that the paper took him out of context, that he said that in the middle of a larger statement that they omitted. That’s irrelevant now. This is what every person in both counties woke up to this morning. It’s a good thing all the churches were closed or we might have had a riot on our hands. I’ve already run into a couple of Larry’s church members here in the hallway. They’re ready to lynch him.”

Glynn sat up a little more. “Crap, I hadn’t thought … He’s still here in the hospital, isn’t he?”

“He’s in intensive care,” Bill said, “and if God has any desire to show him mercy, he’ll just call him on home. There are police staked out just outside the unit, ready to arrest him the moment he’s conscious. The hospital has asked his wife to stay home to avoid there being any difficult scenes.”

Glynn looked at the newspaper again, shaking his head as he re-read the article. “What about the kid’s parents? This doesn’t say anything about their response.”

Bill pulled up a chair and sat down. “They’ve lawyered up and aren’t speaking to anyone. Roger tried to contact them to offer to pay for the funeral but they wouldn’t take his call. I can’t say I blame them. I know you weren’t here, but there was an Assembly of God pastor a few years back who was accused of raping a girl in his church. Their denomination got him out of town before charges could be filed, no idea whatever happened to him. There were a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of anger over that situation and this has brought all that back up with even more intensity. I’ve had a couple of church members ask if we’re all depraved sex freaks. If church members are thinking that, I’m not sure I want to know what those outside the church are saying.”

The two pastors sat there in silence as Glynn read the article again. While the reporter expertly guided his words to avoid making any deliberate and possibly slanderous charges, there was little doubt left in the reader’s mind that Larry Winston was a deplorable person who hid behind the cover of being a pastor while drinking heavily and doing unspeakable things to boys. That a truck had slammed into his car, killing the boy and severely injuring him was treated as an afterthought. The truck driver’s name wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. There was no police statement saying he’d been arrested. 

Neither of the men had any sense of how much time had passed when Dr. Guinn appeared in the doorway of Glynn’s room. “Brother Waterbury, I thought you’d want to know, Horace Lyles was just admitted a few minutes ago. For the moment it looks as though he’s had a heart attack brought on by being out in the cold. We’re doing the best for him we can but it’s too soon to make any more of a diagnosis.”

Glynn sighed and put his hands over his face. He felt dizzy but didn’t want to lie down. “Thanks for letting me know. Is his daughter here with him?”

The administrator shook his head. “It was a sheriff’s deputy that brought him over. He said the road was too slick for anyone to follow. I guess it took several minutes for him to get out to the farm after they got the call, and then over an hour to get him here to the hospital. In that respect, Mr. Lyles is lucky to be with us at all.”

“Let me know when he’s in recovery and awake. I’ll try to make it down there to see him,” Glynn said as though this were routine and he could hop up any time he wanted and leave the room.

“Hold on there,” Alton said sternly, walking over and putting his hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “I’ve seen your chart. You’re lucky I don’t have you in a hospital gown. If your oxygen levels aren’t better at the next check, I’m hooking you up to a bottle and probably an IV. I’m keeping Dr. Dornboss in the loop, of course, but for the duration of this ice, we’re pretty much limited to the staff immediately available. I’d appreciate it if you’d not give them more to do.” He smiled as he spoke, trying to mask the seriousness of Glynn’s condition by keeping the tone light. He turned and motioned for Bill to follow him into the hallway, closing the door behind them.

“Can you stay here and make sure he doesn’t leave his room?” Alton asked Bill. “We’ve got three of his church members here already and two other people from Adelberg he doesn’t know about. This isn’t the time for him to be playing pastor. The cold hurt him a lot more than he knows. I don’t really have any justification for hooking him up to anything yet, though. I need him to stay put, keep his blood pressure down. If you could help with that it would be much appreciated.”
Bill agreed to stay and used a telephone in the lobby to call his wife before returning to Glynn’s room. “Looks like they’re not letting anyone leave now,” Bill said as he returned to the chair next to the bed. “Hope you don’t mind being stuck with me for company.”

“Well, you’re not the prettiest guest I could hope for, but since my wife is stuck at home I guess you’ll have to do,” Glynn teased. The two pastors chatted casually for a while and eventually, Hub made his way down to the room, pulled up a chair, and joined the conversation. Hub’s stories did a lot to lighten the mood and kept both pastors laughing.

Marve called to check on her husband and everyone else around 3:00. She didn’t tell him that she talked with Claire before talking with him. The girl’s throat was still raw and her voice hoarse but she had managed to tell Marve she was sorry for over-reacting and causing so much trouble. Marve had done her best to console the girl, telling her that at any other time leaving would have been the right thing to do. Neither did Marve tell him that she’d talked with Dr. Guinn and knew that the odds for either Horace or Tom surviving the night were slim. By the time she talked to Glynn, she knew she needed to paint a picture that glossed over the severity of the entire situation.

“Don’t worry about anything here,” she told him. “With everything that’s happened, no one else is going anywhere. The county superintendent has already closed schools for tomorrow. The radio is saying it’s supposed to be a little warmer tomorrow and that maybe that will melt the ice a bit.”

“How bad were the phone calls this morning?” Glynn asked, knowing that few of his church members were likely to have withheld their opinions.

“You’re going to have some explaining to do, for sure,” Marve warned. “Even your own children want to know why Daddy made Claire cry. You’d best start practicing your humility now. Be glad that news about that Larry Winston guy is distracting everyone.”

Glynn gulped hard. He had assumed no one in Adelberg had seen the newspaper. “So, you know about that?”

“Yeah, it’s been on the radio all day. Alan’s making a lot of noise, saying he wishes he’d killed him at the annual meeting and not many people are disagreeing with him. He’s also suggesting that there needs to be a board or committee to oversee pastors, but you know Alan, he likes talking big.” Marve stopped, wondering if she’d said too much. The last thing she wanted to do was get Glynn more upset than he already was. She carefully brought the conversation to a close, told Glynn she loved him, and hung up hoping that things wouldn’t get any worse while knowing instinctively that they would.

As the afternoon ceded into darkness, the hospital stayed busy. From inside Glynn’s room, the sound of multiple alarms and code alerts made it clear that the small staff was being pushed to their limit. There was no shift change. The same staff that had been on duty when Glynn arrived the night before was still working. The reality was that they needed at least three more doctors and a dozen more nurses. Dr. Guinn knew better than to issue that order, though. Every emergency case they had received that day was tied to the weather in some form. Calling in additional help, risking the lives of doctors and nurses he needed, was out of the question. 

Eventually, a nursing assistant came through handing out trays of food. “Since no one can leave, everyone gets to eat,” she said, apologizing for the lack of selection. She looked weary, her smile forced, half-hearted at best. Everyone needed a break but there seemed to be no break coming. A nurse came and checked Glynn’s vital signs. She then left for a few minutes only to return and hook him up to oxygen, start an IV, and a heart rate monitor, forcing him to lie back in the bed and limit his talking. 

As the hour grew late, Bill figured out that the chair he was in reclined. An orderly brought in a similar chair for Hub along with some blankets. The men felt guilty for relaxing when the staff was getting by on 30-minute naps between emergencies. When Bill asked if there was anything they could do to help, Dr. Guinn had sent back the message that staying out of the halls and keeping Glynn calm was sufficient.

All night long, bells dinged, alarms sounded, code alerts were announced. With each one came the sound of nurses and doctors running back and forth along the hallway. As the night progressed, there was one death, then another, and just before dawn, a third. 

When a nurse checked Glynn’s vital signs the next morning, she took him off the oxygen and IV. An orderly brought them coffee, scrambled eggs, and dry toast. Bill jokingly remarked that this was the worst camp he’d ever attended. Eventually, Bill and Hub both left the room, Hub to check on his ambulance, Bill, ostensibly, to stretch his legs and make some phone calls. 

No one but Glynn was in the room when the door seemed to open by itself. There sat Claire, unescorted, in a wheelchair, her hands and feet still bandaged from the frostbite. She rolled the chair as close to Glynn’s bed as she could. 

He could see that the girl had been crying. He sat up in bed and reached over to take her hand. “I’m so sorry, Claire,” he started.

“My Daddy died last night and they didn’t even tell me,” the girl said in a rough whisper. “I didn’t get to say goodbye. No one got to tell him that he was loved. Mom can’t even get here. And it’s all my fault.”

Glynn got out of bed and knelt beside the wheelchair. “No, Claire, it’s not your fault. If you need someone to blame, blame me. I shouldn’t have talked to you like that. I should have stopped you from leaving.”

Claire shook her head as more tears streamed down her face. She tried to speak but no sound was coming out of her frost-burned throat. 

“I’m so very sorry, Claire,” Glynn said, choking on the lump in his own throat. 

A nurse walked into the room at that moment, interrupting the conversation. “There you are, young lady. You had half the staff panicked because no one saw you leave your room. Come on, let’s go back now. You can talk with Rev. Waterbury later.” 

Claire bowed her head and sobbed hard, giving into all the grief inside her as the nurse pushed her out of the pastor’s room. Glynn wanted to chase after them, wanted to continue apologizing. If anything, the whole matter was his fault.

“Get your backside back up in that bed,” Dr. Guinn said sternly as he suddenly appeared in the doorway. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you earlier. It’s been a rough night. Rev. Winston passed around 11:00 and that was a mess to deal with. Then, Mr. Lyles died around 2:00. It took so long for him to get to us, there really wasn’t anything we could do to repair the damage. Mr. Huddleston passed just before 6:00 and before you and Claire both go off on some guilt trip, he almost certainly had pneumonia at least a day, maybe two before. His lungs were weak from smoking. Even if he hadn’t been out in the cold I doubt we could have saved him.”

The report was a lie, one of those doctors would tell to ease the pain from an unexpected death. The administrator understood the signs of depression and knew that the truth, that yes, Tom had pneumonia from being out in the ice and snow on Friday but would have recovered, could send either Claire or Glynn spiraling into a tomb of self-doubt from which they might not recover. The death certificate would have listed the same cause of death either way. 

“I know you’re anxious to get up and be the great pastor who comforts everyone,” Alton said as he helped Glynn back into bed, “but not today. And if you’re not careful, you won’t be able to help anyone at all. A lot of people live a long time with MS, but you’ve got to respect it and not push or it will kill you.”

Glynn dropped his head back on the pillow, consumed by a grief and darkness he had never known. Questions filled his mind. Where was God? Why was this happening now, right before Christmas? How was he supposed to handle not just one but two funerals of men who were critically important to the community? What was he supposed to say to Claire and Linda? What was he supposed to say to anyone?

There were no answers coming. He prayed, and prayed, and pleaded with God, but all he got for his efforts was the steady beep of the heart monitor.

Our story continues below this break

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Chapter 50

Chapter 50

Winter funerals are mercifully short. Even packed gymnasiums are still drafty. No one stands around to exchange memories of the deceased. Graveside services are as brief as possible. In almost every instance there is a dominating but unspoken sense of “let’s just hurry up and get this over.” Bereaved families mourn more internally, less expressive, and with greater inward contemplation. 

Glynn managed to preach both funerals without any physical incident, though everyone was certainly watching to see whether the pastor would hold up under the strain. Horace’s service was on Thursday afternoon in the church, every bit as packed as Joanne’s had been a few months earlier. His daughters, sitting on the front row, cried just enough to be respectful but they had already decided between them to put the farm up for sale after the holidays and let Adelberg become a memory in their still-young lives. 

Tom’s service was held in the school gymnasium on Friday. School was canceled for the day and educators from across the region were in attendance. There were some, sitting at the top of the bleachers as far removed from actual mourners as possible, who anxiously watched to see if the preacher would crack, rubbing their hands together not so much to keep warm but in gleeful anticipation that he, too, might become a victim of the grim reaper’s scythe. 

Claire was still in a wheelchair and would be for a couple of weeks as multiple treatments were needed to repair her lungs and throat. Linda hung tightly to Marve as both women still held that it was their own husband’s thoughtlessness, not the other’s, that had brought them to these circumstances. Together, they sat in the cold metal folding chairs placed on the gymnasium floor, realizing that it was the fault-filled nature of humanity that complicated their perspective of the day. Words rushed past their ears without being heard or having any meaning. They left the gym, sad for the necessity of the event, thankful that it was over, hopeful that they would now be allowed to mourn in peace.

Glynn preached short sermons the next two Sundays to a half-empty sanctuary. Not everyone stayed away for the same reason. Some feared a cold rain might turn to ice and bring a repeat of the same deadly conditions. There was also a handful of elderly church members for whom venturing out on cold weather was simply not an option. Among the others, however, lied a blanket of resentment, anger, and mistrust that would never go away. Watching the difficulty with which Linda pushed Claire’s wheelchair into the sanctuary and the manner in which the device partially blocked the center aisle was, in many minds, symbolic of the effects of carelessness. That the pastor’s condition was frail seemed to many to be a just consequence for his part in all that had happened, however small it might have truly been.

In between Sundays, there were many conversations, some hushed, others shouted. In the monthly deacon’s meeting, Alan was not hesitant to charge Glynn with gross negligence and pushed for a vote of no confidence at the next business meeting.

“You’re full of cold dishwater if you think I’m going to let that happen,” Buck charged. “We need to unify this church right now, not split it further apart!”

“Then let the church unify around justice for Tom and Horace and Claire,” Alan pushed back. “Don’t you realize what we’ve lost here? Seat cushions aren’t going to soften the blow to this church’s ability to trust and follow this pastor. He has exhibited a severe lack of judgment and I’m not convinced, nor are many other church members, that he is capable of leading us forward!”

Buck stood and leaned over into Alan’s face as close as he dared, putting a hand on Alan’s shoulder in case he should think of taking a swing. “If anyone other than you is thinking such derogatory and sinful thoughts it’s because you put them in their head, Alan Mayes. We keep finding ourselves on opposite sides of this barbed-wire fence because you are an aggressively power-hungry big mouth who gets off on telling other people what you want them to think. It’s not going to work this time, Alan. I’m standing up to you right now and I will continue to do so. You’re wrong, what you’re doing is sinful, and if there’s anyone who has exhibited a severe lack of judgment here it’s you!”

Alan attempted to stand but with Buck’s hand on one shoulder and Roger Sutherland holding the other, he quickly realized he was overpowered and angrily pushed them both away from him. He was about to fling a bucket of insults at both men when Marcus spoke up from across the room.

“I’ve been in this church longer than either of you,” the elder deacon said quietly, “and I can tell you right now that the greatest damage that has ever been done to this church has been because of this group right here, the deacons, the men who are supposed to be the spiritual foundation of this church, getting into fights and not once thinking of what’s best for the church or considering what God might have intended. I don’t know what you three think we’re supposed to be doing right now, but I can promise you that yelling at each other isn’t going to accomplish a dad-burned thing.”

Buck sat back down in his chair and Roger moved his chair slightly away from Alan’s. Glynn, who had been sitting quietly in his office chair letting the deacons control the meeting, was wishing that he could be completely invisible or, preferably, not present at all. 

Marcus continued. “Look, nothing we say or do is going to change a cotton-pickin’ thing that happened. Yes, mistakes were made by multiple people but the consequences of those mistakes were sufficiently severe that any further action does nothing more than make a bad situation worse. It seems to me that if we can’t stand behind our pastor right now as a united body then we really have no church at all. We’re just playing.”

After several more minutes of tense conversation, the group finally decided to issue a statement of support for Glynn that would be read at the conclusion of the next Sunday’s service. Buck was tasked with typing it up and the other three would sign it before the service. When Glynn finally sat forward in his chair to say something, the men were startled, having all but forgotten that the preacher was still in the room.

The reaction from the church to the deacon’s statement was pallid, though, and did little to sway general opinions in the town. No longer able to take casual walks around to chat with everyone, Glynn felt distanced from his congregation which made his assessment of their response more negative than it needed to be. As the community saw less of the pastor, they less frequently considered him as someone to seek out and their opinions tended to remain negative. 

Cautioned even more about attending potentially emotional events such as associational meetings, Clement would instead drive over and visit with Glynn, letting him know what was happening and trying to pull the pastor’s opinions out of him. Response to Larry’s Winston’s death had been muted. Roger had let everyone know that this was not the time to be speaking ill of their late colleague even if the circumstances did appear damning. Larry had died without any opportunity to defend himself. The whole situation would be allowed to pass quietly away and never spoken of again.

Clement found it interesting that on the same weekend, a pastor down in the Southwestern part of the state, a James Swathmore, had been driving on rain-slickened roads late that night and apparently skidded off the road, down an embankment, and ended upside down in a creek. No one seemed to know whether it was the accident or the cold or the water that had killed the pastor of First Baptist, Latimore. This was just one of those tragic things that had happened. Most of the pastors in the state didn’t find out until after the funeral.

“It’s that time of year when everyone’s swapping churches,” Clement told him. “No one’s really paying attention to anything else going on in the convention. Dr. Hobbs resigned at First, Oklahoma City, but Gene Garrison seems already positioned to take that spot. Jackie Draper’s leaving First Southern, Down City for someplace down in Texas, one of the Dallas suburbs that’s growing really fast. I’m thinking about putting my name in for that one. I think I’ve had about all the closed-mindedness I can handle. What about you? You going to stick it out here?”

Glynn shook his head. “I’ve not even thought about it, really. Until the MS settles down and I know what life is going to be like I don’t think I can consider doing anything different. I’m damaged goods.”

Calvin called a couple of times to check on Glynn’s progress. The calls seemed more formal and obligatory than they had been, though. There were no offers for any kind of additional assistance beyond the assurance that the hospital bill was handled by the convention.  Even Calvin’s seasonal “Merry Christmas” sounded hollow. 

Frances and Marve managed to cobble together a children’s Christmas pageant for the Christmas Eve service. The decision had been made to forego Sunday school that morning and start the service at 10:30, allowing it to be a bit longer yet not slip over much past the noon hour. Richard had the meager choir prepare a couple of seasonal songs that would be presented in a most ear-cringing manner. The sanctuary was decorated with plastic poinsettias and strands of holly that were dusty from having set in a box in a storeroom since the previous Christmas. Brown paper bags were filled with nuts, fruit, and hard ribbon candy to hand out after the service.

Glynn stood in front of the bathroom mirror that morning, attempting to shave while Marve and the children scurried around him. Lita was looking desperately for her white shoes, proclaiming that an angel could only wear white, referring to her role in the Christmas pageant. Hayden was roaming around the house practicing bleating like a sheep. Marve regularly reached around her husband to retrieve something from the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. The accidental bumps and shoves were enough that Glynn was thankful he wasn’t trying to shave with a straight razor. 

“I’m told Christmas is the biggest Sunday of the year,” Marve said as she dried her hands on a towel. “Think it will hold up?”

“There are children in a pageant, right? We may not set any records, but we’ll do okay,” Glynn said. “The kids are the draw this morning, not me. By the time we get to the sermon, half the congregation will be ready to leave. I’ll keep it short, don’t worry.”

Even with the service not starting until 10:30, the Waterbury’s needed to be there by 9:00. There were still decorations to set up, stage props tp get ready, and costumes to fit as children slowly trickled into the fellowship hall. Everyone seemed jovial with Merry Christmases on their lips. 

Claire was out of her wheelchair now, walking carefully in special shoes that helped balance her weight. Two fingers on her left hand were still bandaged but that didn’t stop her from jumping in to help put little ones in costumes. Her voice was still hoarse and raspy, something the doctors assured her would go away over time. She had decided she didn’t mind so much, though, as it made teachers less likely to call on her in class.

The pageant went as small-town pageants do. Some of the “sheep” were mooing. Some of the “cows” were neighing. Of the “host” of angels, only two were singing, Lita being the loudest, proud that she knew all the words to all the songs. “Baby Jesus,” who was nearly two years old, hopped down from “Mary’s” lap when he spied his mother sitting in the congregation. Many pictures were taken. Most of the spoken lines were butchered. No one really cared. Their kids were in the pageant. That was enough.

The pulpit had been moved to provide room for the pageant, so Glynn was a bit nervous about not having anything to hold onto or lean against as he began his sermon. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ had been read twice already, so he skipped any additional scripture reading and jumped straight into his homily.

“Merry Christmas,” he started.

“Merry Christmas,” the congregation replied.

Glynn looked out over the packed congregation, seeing many faces for the first time, almost everyone smiling as though everything was completely normal. “Isn’t it wonderful how practically everyone loves a newborn baby? We love that smell of powder and baby oil. We love the innocence they project. We love the potential they bring for doing something great. Babies are a symbol of the newness of life, a chance for humanity to try again, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get it right this time.

“But as we all know, babies don’t stay small and cute forever. They grow up, they develop minds and opinions and wills of their own and as Mary looked down into the wrinkly, reddish-brown skin of the miracle to which she’d given birth, she cherished those simple moments of his childhood. There, in that stable, Mary became Christ’s first disciple. Looking down into that precious face, she believed as only a mother can believe. She knew her child would change the world.

“From that very moment of his birth, however, that child, that little baby, was a challenge to authority. Herod knew it and slaughtered thousands of baby boys in an attempt to silence the message Jesus brought to the world. Even when Mary and Joseph brought their family back from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth because bringing a message that saves the world is not always popular. 

“Jesus, however, didn’t come to be popular. The birth of Jesus Christ represents, more than anything, a new chance for the people of this earth to start over. They had messed up the system of religious laws so badly, they had created such an amazing tangle of nonsense, that God had to either destroy them or forgive them and through the birth of Jesus, he offered us forgiveness.

“We like the sound of that, don’t we? Forgiveness? We are all happy to embrace God’s willingness to wipe our slate clean, let us stand before him pure and blameless. But Jesus didn’t package that forgiveness in a box with pretty ribbons and a cool tag that said, ‘To Glynn, From your favorite Savior.’ The salvation that Jesus offers came packaged in a baby who grew to become a young man who caused a lot of trouble. 

“Jesus was only twelve, still in many ways a child, when he sat in the temple and challenged the religious leaders. Right then, they knew this boy was going to be trouble. As he grew older and began to draw an entourage of rough men and women of questionable reputations, the forgiveness, and healing, and unconditional love Jesus offered became a threat to the religious community.
“Who knew that love and forgiveness could be so controversial?” Glynn paused and looked at Claire as he continued. “Still, today, we’re struggling to figure out the fullness of Christ’s message because it doesn’t always fit comfortably with the structures that we’ve built in our worship of him. We’re just now figuring out that Jesus was all about equal rights. He was practicing and preaching equal rights long before there was a proposed amendment, long before there were feminist magazine articles, and long before there was a civil rights movement. 

“We’ve gone so far in trying to make the story of Jesus fit our own narrative that we’ve eliminated the fact that the twelve disciples we so frequently refer to was a mixed bag of ethnicities whose attachment to Judaism was sometimes more a matter of business than belief. And we’ve all but omitted the role of women in Jesus’ ministry because that doesn’t play well with our concept of patriarchal dominance. 

“In his birth declaration of peace on earth, Jesus brought trouble and conflict to the status quo. The life of that little baby whose birth we celebrate was not comfortable, was not conformative, and often challenged authority. Imagine the brazen audacity of someone who stood up and said, ‘You have to listen to me because my Daddy gave me all authority in heaven and earth and He told me to do this and my Daddy is bigger and better than your Daddy.’ Can you perhaps see why that didn’t go over so well? 

“We come to church this morning enjoying the festivities of the holiday spirit. We enjoy watching the children and we like this simple, rural picture of Christ that we’ve created. We see a baby born in a barn and it feels like he’s one of us. 

“But if we fully embrace the baby in the manger, we have to equally embrace the adult he became and that means we have to embrace the possibility that the way we’ve always thought about God and about the Bible might not be correct. The Rabbis, Sadducees, and Pharisees that Jesus challenged represented thousands of years of study, and there he sat telling them that they were getting it all wrong. If we’re going to embrace the baby in the manger, we have to accept the likelihood that Jesus would tell us the same thing. We’re getting it all wrong.

“Fortunately, for us, there is forgiveness and this baby brings us salvation and a chance to look at the new year with the hope that maybe we’ll do better this time. Maybe we won’t be so quick to judge. Maybe we’ll listen when a teenager challenges our spiritual world view. Maybe we’ll see that sometimes, peace is a revolution.”

Glynn looked out across the congregation and could see that only a handful were still paying attention. Among those, Claire was smiling her biggest smile, Buck was nodding his head in agreement, and Alan Mayes sat on the back row, his arms folded in front of him, an unseasonal scowl on his face. 

The pastor knew that he had not created a smooth path forward for himself. He was painfully well aware of the physical stress and trouble that would come with standing behind what he had just preached. 

As they drove out to Buck and Frances’ house for dinner, the kids in the back seat comparing and trading the contents of their goody bags, Marve reached over and took Glynn’s hand. “That was quite a package you delivered this morning,” she said softly. 

“Merry Christmas,” he said, smiling.

Pastors' Conference 1972

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Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 47

Chapter 47

For the next two weeks, Oklahoma City was the focus of conversation for almost everyone in Adelberg. While Glynn was undergoing sometimes painful and stressful tests, the town occupied itself with attempting to diagnose his illness on their own with polio being the leading favorite. That the BGCO continued to send its top people to fill Glynn’s pulpit, with Assistant Executive-Secretary Lyle Bastion driving up one week and the convention’s Director of Evangelism, James Turner, the next, was barely a matter of concern for anyone who lived in the small town or attended its otherwise-insignificant Baptist church.

Every other pastor in the association noticed, though, and it was a topic of conversation at the pastors’ conferences in both counties. Predictably, it was a different set of concerns voice in each meeting. 

“There are pastors in Ridell County that honestly, fervently, believe that the state convention is going to swoop in and take control of their churches,” Roger told the group assembled at Emmanuel Church in Washataug. “Theirs was one of seven resolutions submitted to the resolutions committee at the convention addressing either the broader topic of heresy and disassociating with those churches, or Adelberg and the two Grace churches here specifically. That the resolutions committee saw to not bring any of those resolutions to the floor is something they see as a sign that either the convention doesn’t care or has already been consumed by its own heresy. Larry Winston is talking about pulling his church out of the convention altogether.”

“Let them go,” Carl said rather grumpily. “What bothers me is the way the folks in the Baptist Building are playing favorites. I called up there and asked Calvin to send someone to cover for me while I went home for my parent’s 50th anniversary and you know who they sent? Some wet-behind-the-ears string bean of a fellow who’s never pastored a church in his life and came in with some strange idea about splitting up the sermon, putting part of it right after the first hymn, and by the time I got back my congregation was as angry as a bunch of hornets. I’m supposed to be gone again after Christmas but I guess I’ll find someone myself.”

“That raises another question,” Roger said, jumping into the conversation to keep Carl’s melancholy from spreading to the rest of the group. “How many of you are doing both services on the 24th? Most of the Ridell churches are only having a morning service.”

A quick poll of the pastors present showed that, for the most part, they too were only holding Sunday morning services on Christmas Eve. Clement was the only one doing anything different. 

“We’re trying something unusual,” the host pastor said. “Since Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday doesn’t happen very often, we’re opting to have just a brief, chapel-like service in the morning for those who insisted, then we’ll have a fuller, extended service starting at 4:00 in the afternoon. The kids’ pageant will start, which pretty much guarantees a packed house, then the youth will do a couple of songs, then we’ll have a candle-lit service starting about the time it gets really dark.”

“That sounds interesting,” Roger said. “I may have to drive over for that.”

Bill’s chair squeaked across the linoleum floor as he leaned back in feined boredom. “I tried talking with my deacons about doing a candle-lit service. They said it sounded too catholic, as if any of them have ever set foot in a Catholic church in their lives.”

One of the newer pastors to the association, Phillip Winetraub, pastor of Washataug’s Olivet church, spoke up. “It is a narrow line, attempting to preserve the faith and message we have as Southern Baptists and still not be so closed-minded that we don’t appear cult-like in our actions. I keep telling my church we need to be more creative in our thinking to draw more people, but every idea that comes up is either too catholic, or too Church of Christ, or too Espicopalian, or something. And I’m with Carl on getting any help from the Baptist Building. I call down there and either get passed around from one person to the next or ignored completely. I’d love just a fraction of the attention Glynn’s getting. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but the rest of us could use some, too.”
“Call Oklahoma City and tell them we’ve all come down with a case of the Bafflement,” Bill said, intentionally injecting some humor into the conversation to keep the conversation from enough tension to ignite any level of anger that might be lurking.

“I’m going down there tomorrow,” Roger said. “I’m checking on Glynn and Marve, seeing as how they won’t be home for Thanksgiving. The medical center isn’t too far from downtown. I might swing by and put a bug in a few ears about them being more generous with their time.”

Clement chuckled as he leaned back in his chair, his posture matching Bill’s. “Good luck with that. If your church’s name doesn’t start with ‘First,’ you’re automatically second tier. I’ve been fighting that battle since I got here. They’ll come up for some big whoop they’re doing over at First church, then when we try to do something similar, they’re suddenly out of resources. That’s why I think the association is so important. We need to not look to Oklahoma City for all our answers and find the support we have, or should have, in each other.”

Roger smiled, glad that Clement had turned the group’s disappointment into an endorsement for the association. While it didn’t take the base issue off the table, it focused attention on the need for them to work together rather than trying to do everything on their own.

Thanksgiving felt as though it was coming early. November 1972 had five Thursdays, which meant that celebrating on the fourth Thursday, as was dictated, had the odd perception it was happening in the middle of the month rather than at the end. Tom and Linda had promised Marve they would bring the kids down to the medical center to see them, but as an early ice storm brought less-than-safe driving conditions to Oklahoma roads, those plans had to be canceled, leaving Marve and Glynn alone in a nearly-empty hospital for the holiday.

Once again, Glynn was feeling better. He could get up and walk around the room, hold conversations for a couple of hours at a time, and not seem to be ill at all. Eventually, though, the energy would leave him, his legs would go weak, he’d begin to feel dizzy, and he’d have to spend the next several hours in bed.

Late Wednesday evening, after nearly everyone except the night-shift nurses had gone home, Dr. Alamin Teller, a specialist in autoimmune diseases, had come to the room and confirmed the MS diagnosis. “At least, that’s what the tests seem to indicate,” he said. “We’ve eliminated every other possibility. There’s still a lot we don’t know. If I could have a look at your brain, that might help, but that kind of technology is still several years away if it ever happens at all. You seem to have a mild case, though, which means that with medication you should be able to return to a fairly normal life. You’ll simply have to learn the warning signs of when you’re about to have a flare-up and make sure you’re someplace safe when that happens. And you should avoid severe stress. Stress makes the flare-ups happen more often.”

Before leaving for the weekend, the doctor prescribed a new batch of medications so that by the time every one returned to the hospital on Monday, Glynn was already showing signs that the medicine was working. The medical center team would spend most of the next week teaching Glynn and Marve how to tell when a flare-up was about to happen, how to increase the time between flare-ups, dietary and exercise adjustments, and how to treat the flare-ups without having to go to the hospital every time. 

As Glynn improved, though, Marve was growing more exhausted. While his private room, paid for by the state convention, included a couch where Marve could sleep, the constant coming and going of the nursing staff prevented her from getting any real rest. She was also missing her babies. Each evening’s phone call tugged strongly at her maternal instincts, telling her that she should be home with them. 

Glynn tried to convince her to take a few days and go home. He insisted that he was doing better and that the nurses were more than sufficient to handle anything that might come up. Each time he almost had her convinced to make the drive home, though, he would have another flare-up, removing any sense that it might be safe for her to leave his side.

“This is going to change the way we do everything,” she told him after a particularly challenging session with a physical therapist. “I don’t know that I’m going to feel safe letting you go anywhere alone now, no matter how innocent it might be. What would you do if you were in an associational meeting and had a flare-up?”

Glynn sighed. “I don’t know that I dare attend associational meetings after all this,” he said. “I mean, Roger’s not going to ban me or anything, but he’s already split the pastors’ conference into two locations. That tells me he’s concerned that the whole thing could blow up again. Associational meetings and those damn pastors conferences were what got me into all this mess in the first place. If I’d just stayed home and minded my own business, we’d be fine.”

Marve reached over and held Glynn’s hand. She could tell he was agitated and given that he’d been having a relatively good day she didn’t want their conversation to mess up his progress. “You’ve made friends, too,” she reminded him. “Clement, Bill, Carl, all those guys have been down to see you. Calvin’s been here almost every afternoon. Several of the Oklahoma City pastors have been here more than once, also. You’ve been in the state less than a year and have already made a big impact, a good one, something you can be proud of.”

“I’ve caused more than my share of trouble, too,” Glynn said, not giving up the argument. “I’m still a Yankee to a lot of these people and a lot of the old animosities that have been in this denomination since its beginning have flared back up.”

“That makes absolutely no sense,” Marve said. “You told me a long time ago that the Southern Baptists split off from the North over slavery. How is that even still relevant?”

“Because the argument then came down to a matter of biblical interpretation. Those pastors from the Southern states were unbelievably finding ways to twist scripture to support their view. They were deplorably wrong but they were also stubborn as heck and refused to back down, so they split, years before the Confederacy took hold. In fact, Southern Baptist pastors of the mid-nineteenth century were some of the biggest traitors since Judas.”

Glynn reached behind him and readjusted his pillows so that he could sit up better. “One of the great challenges to preaching today is that we still understand so little about the original languages and the original texts. The best copies we have are centuries away from when they were first written and we can tell by the difference between one copy and the next that they were tampered with. Catholics still argue with everyone else over which books belong in the Bible and there are people who will challenge whether some of the minor prophets or all of Paul’s epistles should be in there. Almost every page in the Bible has something that Southern Baptists will fight over. They’ve always been that way I don’t see them ever changing.”

“Then maybe being Southern Baptist isn’t what’s best for us,” Marve suggested. “Those Methodist folk seem rather nice and outside the music thing, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between us and the Church of Christ. Perhaps its time to consider our options.”

Glynn shook his head, a movement he had to be careful to not engage vigorously. “I’m damaged goods at this point,” he said quietly. “You heard the doctor the other day. He made it pretty clear that I can only preach one sermon a week, and even those have to be restrained. How’s the church going to handle that? Do we cancel Sunday and Wednesday evening services? Do I let the deacons take turns, because you know that wouldn’t end well? We’re too small to take on an assistant of any kind. They barely pay my salary and expenses. There’s no way they can add to that.”

“They wouldn’t necessarily have to,” Joe said as he let himself into the room. He paused and smiled before continuing. “Good evening, Marve, sounds like he’s feeling better today.”

“If by ‘better’ you mean ornery and cantankerous, then yes, definitely,” she answered, smiling back. 

“And how long have you been standing out there listening to me throwing fits?” Glynn asked, more teasing than not. He didn’t mind that the Executive-Secretary might have heard him complaining. Certainly, he, of all people, could understand the situation.

Joe reached over and shook GLynn’s hand before answering. “Just long enough to confirm that you’re doing exactly what Dr. Teller warned me you’ve been doing. He’s worried that you’re worried and asked if there was anything we could do to help. And the answer is that there might be.”

“Joe, there’s no way you can keep sending people from here all the way up there,” Glynn objected. “I’ve appreciated everyone filling in, but especially with this winter weather trying to pretend it’s Michigan, it’s just not safe.”

“I think we may have a better solution,” Joe said, “And I want you to think about it a couple of days before we mention it to anyone at your church. I’ve talked with Roger, and Floyd Lockman in our state Missions department, and with a couple of people at the Home Mission Board in Atlanta, and I think that we might be able to cobble enough support together to pay for a part-time associate pastor for the church; someone who can fill in those gaps you’re not going to be able to do for yourself.”

Glynn leaned back into the pillows on the bed. His mind was instantly swirling with objections. “I don’t know, Joe. I can see all kinds of problems there. Having to manage a staff member could be just as stressful as doing everything myself. And to whom would he report, me or you guys or the Home Mission Board?”

“We’ve talked about that,” Joe said calmly. “And I think the right person would be more help than hindrance. There’s a retired, widowed pastor who lives in Washataug, his name’s Gordon Winsockit. Clement knows him well. In fact, he’s Clement’s default fill-in any time he has to be gone. He could come over on Sundays and Wednesdays, maybe take care of hospital visits in Washataug for you, and wouldn’t need or likely want to be involved beyond that. He’d still be a church employee and his salary wouldn’t need to be all that much. We’d funnel the collective funds directly to the church so that they stay in control. I’d like you to meet him, maybe give him a turn in the pulpit. Consider the option.”

Glynn considered the offer for a minute. Doctor Teller had warned him repeatedly that trying to return to a normal, busy schedule could have devastating, perhaps even fatal effects. Still, he worried that multiple pastors might result in divided loyalties among the congregation. Would they still want him if the new guy could do just as well without all the health expenses? “Do you think he’d handle the controversy?” Glynn asked. “I mean, to some extent being my assistant is rather like stepping into a powder keg with a lit match.”

Joe smiled in what seemed like a fatherly way, warm and caring yet slightly impatient. “First off, the controversy is about to go away. I was talking with Jackie Draper at First Southern, Down City just yesterday. Some of the same people had been after him over some nonsense about marrying people who’d been previously divorced. This had been going on for over a year, really raising a ruckus among the church down there, and he finally took a full week, last week, and went and visited directly with every one of those guys that’s been causing trouble. Only two of them wouldn’t talk to him, the two who are causing you trouble as well. But he’s effectively dismantled their network. Most of these guys are basically good, trying to do their best, but they don’t have the education and are easily influenced. Jackie’s a gentle educator and was able to get through to them that they’re hurting more than helping. Jerry and James are isolated. They don’t have the support they once did. I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about them after the first of the year.”

Marve leaned in and put her head on Glynn’s shoulder. “I think you should really consider it, honey. This could be the answer you’ve been looking for. I think it would be a good thing.”

Glynn closed his eyes. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe he could fill the pulpit this Sunday, see how the people react.”

“I think that’s a good move,” Joe answered. “I’ll talk with Gordon and with Buck, let them both know what we’re thinking. One step at a time, Glynn. We’ll get you there.”

Chapter 48

Chapter 48

Winter in Oklahoma is rarely troubling. Out-of-season tornadoes are more likely than below-freezing temperatures and snowstorms, especially in the Northeastern part of the state. When a super-cold snap does come along, it rarely lingers for more than a couple of days. Ranchers, especially, rely on these mild winters. Cattle are allowed to roam more freely, spend less time in barns, meaning less fat and more meat in addition to lower costs. This was not going to be one of those winters, though. 

Eventually, after tempers died down and a couple of people died, most of those who survived the ordeal admitted that it all could have, should have, been handled differently with deeper consideration all the way around for the feelings and needs of those involved. At the time, though, it was one disaster piling on top of another, some natural, some inevitable, and some born of pure stubbornness. 

Marve brought Glynn back home on the morning of December 1. Knowing the length of the trip and with inhospitable weather in the forecast, Dr. Teller made sure that Glynn was discharged by 8:00 that morning, not an easy feat with all the insurance and medical records that had to be prepared by an overnight staff that wasn’t accustomed to the pressure. The doctor was more concerned with getting the Waterburys on the road before it got too cold than he was with making sure that all the necessary paperwork was complete and correct. Paperwork, he assumed, could always be re-done. Lives couldn’t.

Frances and a couple of other women from the church, along with Ellen Stone next door, had made sure the parsonage was ready when the pastor and his wife arrived a little after 12:00. Having been practically unlived in for the past three weeks, there was plenty of dusting and routine cleaning that needed to be done. Beds were made with clean sheets, the few dishes that had been left in the sink were washed and put away. The refrigerator was stuffed with enough ready-to-eat meals for a week and Frances knew there were more planned for the rest of the month. Irene Hendricks spent the morning insisting everything had to be sanitized, which was largely impractical in such a short time. The women hardly noticed when the rain started. 

Marve thought she felt the back tires of the car slip a couple of times as she drove up the hill to the house but didn’t say anything. There was always enough loose gravel on the street to make a little slipping a rather common occurrence. She was more concerned that there were so many cars in front of the parsonage and that their personal space had been violated without their permission. She tried putting on her happy face as Glynn reminded her that surely everyone’s heart was in the right place and they didn’t have anything to hide in the first place. 

Everyone was excited to see the preacher home and walking without help, even if he was still a little shaky and frail-looking. Glynn settled into his recliner and tried to answer the influx of questions that were being flung at him by the assembled women. He assured them that, yes, while MS is often fatal, that no, he wasn’t dying just yet and that he’d be able to continue being their pastor. He secretly wondered how severe the rumors of his impending death had gotten but decided it was probably better to not ask.

Marve would remember that it was around 1:15 when Buck bounded up the front steps and entered the house as he knocked on the door. “I’m sorry to break up the party,” he said, slightly out of breath, “but the roads are starting to ice. Ya’ll best be gettin’ on home while ya’ can. None of ya’ want to be slidin’ down this hill. Ms. Irene, if you can hop in the truck I’ll take you to the house.” He then turned and warned Frances, who had her own car to drive home, “Be careful ‘bout that turn there at two-mile junction. Between the ruts and the ice you could ruin a tire.”

While the women gathered their assorted cleaning supplies, Buck sat down next to Glyn to confirm that Gordon Winsockit had agreed to fill the pulpit that Sunday, essentially coming in view of a call as associate pastor. The details needed to be worked out and Buck warned that Alan wasn’t completely gung-ho on the idea. Still, he felt sure that the church would agree to Gordon taking the position since it wasn’t going to directly cost them any money.

On his way out the door, Buck looked up at the unusually dark sky and said, “I think I’ll stop by the school and suggest Tom call the buses to take those kids home. This storm’s lookin’ like it’s gonna cause some trouble.” 

Later, Tom would tell the school board that he hadn’t heeded Buck’s advice because it was less than two hours before the busses would run anyway. By the time he called all six drivers and got them into town, it would have only made 10-15 minutes worth of difference. His assessment was almost certainly correct but not popular. School let out at the normal time with parents carefully inching along slick roads to pick up children who would normally have walked. The incidence of a couple of small fender-benders was a bit of a nuisance, perhaps, but Tom insisted that all six drivers felt confident they could get their kids home safely.

By 3:40, the sky was dark enough it felt like the evening had arrived early. Claire and Linda had dropped off Lita and Hayden but hadn’t stayed owing to the weather. The kids were, naturally enough, excited that their Daddy was home and Marve found herself repeating warnings that jumping on Daddy was not going to be acceptable. Neither child was inclined to listen, though, as each little body contained volumes of information that had been stored under pressure, waiting to explode in a torrent of chatter so severe all Glynn could do in response was nod.

The couple had already decided that Marve was to answer the phone exclusively for the foreseeable future. She was to use her discretion in determining which messages were important enough to be passed on to Glynn. When Rose called, however, Marve had to take a moment to decide how, exactly, to break the news in a way that wouldn’t have him wanting to jump up and run out the door.

“Who was that?” Glynn asked as Marve walked into the living room and sat down.

In the distance, the sound of the siren on the ambulance echoed through the town, its long wail piercing the quiet that inevitably comes with a winter storm. Everyone in town heard it, but only three people knew what the emergency was and where the ambulance was going. Had more people know, they would have done their best to respond.

“That was Rose,” Marve said as nonchalantly as she could. “She knows you’re in no condition to really do anything, but wanted you to be aware that apparently, a bus slid off the road out toward Bluebird.”

Glynn sat up in his chair and leaned forward, a dozen questions rushing to his mind. “Did she say which bus? There are two that go out that way, Gary’s and Norman’s. Gary’s route splits off at the old feed silo and goes north. Norman’s goes on down to Bluebird Road then heads south. Were any of the kids hurt? I mean, I guess someone was if Hub is going out there. She didn’t say how many kids were still on the bus, did she?”

Marve reached over and put her hand on Glynn’s arm. “She didn’t tell me a thing other than Hub’s on his way. This is one of those situations we talked about, honey. You can’t do anything but wait for more information. If anyone actually needs you, then maybe the kids can go next door to the Stone’s a play while I take you. But until then, just sit back and try to not let it get to you.”

No one ever called to say that Glynn was needed, though perhaps had he been out there, he might have helped cool tempers who were blaming Tom for the injuries. Norman Reed’s bus had slipped off the narrow dirt road and turned over in the four-foot-deep ditch. Norman broke a leg and his right shoulder. Two children, high school students, both boys who had been standing up at the time, waiting for their upcoming stop, had broken arms. Almost all fifteen of the remaining students had cuts and gashes from the glass, a few of which needed stitches.  

Hub wished that he could have gotten Norman and the kids to the hospital faster, but the roads wouldn’t allow it. The last thing he needed was to slide off the road himself and perhaps make the situation worse. He had no choice but to drive painfully slow, Norman on the gurney in the back with one of the teens sitting next to him, and the other teen sitting up front with Hub. The only sound other than the constant, annoying wail of the siren was an occasional groan from Norman. What would have normally been a 12-minute drive took almost an hour. 

By 5:00, it was not quite dark but it was close enough that one couldn’t see much without a light of some kind. A half-inch of ice coated everything, which doesn’t sound like much until one tries to walk on it and suddenly finds themselves sprawled out in the middle of the road. The ice was practically invisible in most places, making the danger even worse. Parents retrieved their children from the overturned bus, shouted obscenities at Tom for not having acted sooner, then took their kids home to bandage. While some would have benefited from going to the hospital, no one was worried enough to risk the trip. There wasn’t a farmhouse in the county that didn’t have quinine and bandages at the ready. Parents would take care of their own.

Marve pulled the first casserole out of the refrigerator and put it in the oven to heat. As much as she loved cooking, she was thankful to not have that obligation in front of her for the moment. The kids were always excited to try something different, though, in this case, their excitement was dampened when they discovered the casserole was all vegetables, especially heavy with carrots. Still, there was rhubarb pie for dessert and everyone left the table happy. Lita helped her mother clear the table while Glynn and Hayden retreated to the living room. Hayden played with his toy cars in front of the television he was ignoring. The national news broadcast was on now, serving merely as background noise as Glynn watched out the front window. 

Snow was falling. Perhaps, under some other set of circumstances, Glynn might have been thankful for the large, fluffy flakes that quickly placed a white blanket over the small town. The snow reflected the light from street lamps and sparkled enticingly in the darkness. The pastor knew from experience, though, that this snow was dangerous. If the ice had been difficult to see before, it was completely hidden now. Any traction one might have in a normal snowfall was gone when there was ice underneath. Anyone with any sense would stay inside until the county sent out salt trucks to help melt the mess. There was no chance of that happening before morning. 

The phone rang four more times that evening. The first was Frances letting Marve know that they were expecting the Waterburys to have Christmas dinner with them. She was making the call early so that Marve wouldn’t need to worry about buying additional food. Marve asked multiple times if she could bring anything but Frances insisted that all they needed to do was show up.

Two minutes later, Buck called back, upset that Frances hadn’t bothered to ask how the pastor was doing. Marve assured him that all was well except for the fact Glynn was frustrated at feeling helpless given the weather. Buck assured them that most everyone was feeling that way and went ahead and floated the idea that if the county didn’t get the roads salted on Saturday that they might want to cancel Sunday’s services. They all knew that if the doors were open, there were a handful of older church members who would insist on being there or at least trying. They didn’t need to be responsible for anyone else getting hurt.

Claire called next, upset with something she had read in a book she had gotten on interlibrary loan. Marve conferred briefly with Glynn and they agreed that Claire could come over, and bring the book, Saturday morning on the condition that she walked for her own safety. The teen was excited to have the pastor’s attention for a while. Glynn, on the other hand, dreaded the distinct possibility that he wouldn’t have the answers she wanted. Claire wasn’t yet in college and already her level of religious studies exceeded his.

Gordon Winsockit was the final call for the night. Roads in Washataug were as bad as those in Adelberg and Gordon was concerned as to whether he would be able to make the scheduled visit with Glynn on Saturday afternoon, especially if weather forecast held true and the snow continued through the night. They agreed that if such was the case they would talk instead by phone, each thankful that calls within the county were not considered long distance. 

By the time Glynn finished the conversation with Gordon, Marve had put the kids to bed and made hot tea for them both. They sat together on the sofa watching the late local news from Tulsa as best as they could, primarily for the weather forecast. The wind kept playing with the television antenna on the roof of the house, though, making the reception almost as snowy as the conditions outside. When they finally made their way to bed, thoroughly exhausted, that had little hope of Saturday being the least bit productive. 

Sleeping in would have been nice and appreciated, but with two children in the house anxious to watch the very first cartoon that showed up on television, that was impossible. Marve tried to convince Glynn to stay in bed and rest while she got up and fixed the kids’ cereal for breakfast, but he was too restless after a night of worrisome dreams that challenged his adequacies on every level. Besides, the aroma of fresh coffee was too enticing to ignore. The pastor got up, slipped on a loose-fitting shirt, old slacks, and a pair of slippers that had barely been worn. 

The first phone call came at 7:30. Alan’s message that the county was not going to be able to get over to Adelberg until after noon could have easily enough been relayed through Marve, but he insisted on speaking with Glynn directly. His reasoning soon became clear. Alan wanted to be the first to suggest that the church cancel the next day’s services. He felt certain that the late arrival of salt trucks would mean that little would melt and that what did would likely turn back to ice overnight, making the roads just as dangerous. The deacon also expressed doubts as to whether a person as old as Gordon needed to be driving in such cold and hinted that perhaps the pastor himself could return to the pulpit if they waited a week.

Glynn took the call relatively calmly at first, but the longer Alan talked the more agitated the pastor could feel himself becoming. Finally, after listening to Alan’s negative reasoning, Glynn snapped, “Look, I have to consider what’s best for the entire church, not what’s best for Alan Mayes. I appreciate your opinion but I’ll talk to others as well and we’ll ultimately do what’s best for the entire congregation.” He knew the moment he hung up the phone that he’d been too brusk but he ignored the voice in his head that urged him to call back and apologize.

Horace called shortly after 8:00, urging the pastor to postpone any decision about morning services. The farmer was convinced that he could marshal enough tractors with shovel blades attached to the front to scrape the town’s streets once they’d been salted. He told Glynn that the country roads weren’t as bad since the ice didn’t have the same effect on mud as it did on asphalt. Glynn agreed to wait and give Horace a chance to address the roads before making a decision. Glynn was the only one in town, however, who would give Horace such a positive response. 

The telephone refused to stop ringing. Marve was able to handle most of the calls. Yes, Glynn was feeling better and enjoying being home. No, Sunday services hadn’t been canceled yet but could be later in the day. Yes, they had sufficient food and supplies to get them through the snap of bad weather. 

When Roger called a little after 9:30, he was careful to press Marve as to whether Glynn might be up to handling some difficult news. The Director of Missions was hesitant to give Marve any details, telling her only that one of the pastors had been involved in an accident and the circumstances were raising some questions. When Marve handed the phone to Glynn, Roger still did a verbal dance asking Glynn how he was feeling and how the church was responding before getting down to the purpose of his call. 

“Listen, I called primarily because I wanted you to hear the news from me before it likely shows up in tomorrow’s papers,” Roger said, his voice quiet and somewhat conspiratorial in tone. “Larry Winston was in a car accident last night and is in critical condition at Baptist Hospital. The accident itself wasn’t his fault. He was parked along the street there in front of the Five and Dime when a guy in a pickup, driving too fast on the ice, slammed into him pretty hard, squashing his car up next to the building.”

Glynn hoped his voice sounded somber enough when he said, “I’m truly sorry to hear that. Is he going to be okay? Was his wife with him?” He wanted to sound concerned but he was having trouble holding back the thought that the trouble-making pastor was getting what he deserved.

Roger hesitated before continuing, knowing that what he was about to say could be taken as a form of character assassination if it proved untrue. “That’s just the trouble, Glynn, his wife wasn’t with him. This was a bit after 10:30 last night and there was a 14-year-old boy in the front seat with him.”

“What?” Glynn exclaimed loud enough that the kids looked up from their cartoons. “You’re not suggesting…”

“Hold on, it gets worse,” Roger said, interrupting. “The boy died at the scene. His body is completely smashed.”

Glynn felt his stomach turn. He didn’t like where this story was going. “Oh dear…” he said softly.

Roger continued, “To make matters worse, Glynn, the police are saying Jerry was drunk. There was a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the car and his blood-alcohol level was so high the hospital had to start a transfusion before they could treat his injuries. Then, they’re telling me, almost joking about it in fact, that Jerry has his pants down around his ankles. They’re laughing about it, but Glynn, you know as well as I do what’s going to happen if this hits the papers.”

Glynn fought back the urge to throw up. “Any chance you have enough influence at the paper to get them to hold off on the article? Sunday morning is a bad time for that to hit.”

“Only if something more sensational comes along,” Roger said. “I know some of our churches have already canceled services tomorrow because of the weather and I am tempted to look at that as a good thing, but at the same time, if they’re all home reading an article like this, that may or may not have its facts straight, they’re going to leap to conclusions that may not be true and it could be another week before we have a chance to address them. By then it will be too late. The damage to our reputations as pastors and as a denomination will be severe.”

Glynn didn’t want to hear this. As much as he personally disliked Larry, this stood to become an issue that would plague the church for years if it wasn’t tamped down. They would all be painted negatively and regarded with suspicion. “What about the boy’s parents? Have you talked with them? How are they reacting?”

“They’re understandably devastated,” Roger replied. “He was their younger of two sons. They said he had been in trouble a bit earlier in the year and that Larry had taken a special interest in him over the past couple of months. They said his behavior had changed in that time, that he had become more reclusive, but they didn’t mind much because at least he wasn’t in trouble. They’re a poor family. Dad drives a truck, isn’t home much. They’re worried about how to pay for the funeral. It will have to be a closed casket, though. That poor kid’s body is hardly recognizable as human.”

“Maybe we can pay for the funeral,” Glynn suggested. “Not the association directly, of course, but maybe the pastors pool their money. Let the family see us as good guys and perhaps they’ll not look too deeply into what Larry was doing with their son.”

Roger gave the idea some thought. “That might work. Let me talk with Bill and some of the other pastors over here. Let’s try to keep the whole matter quiet for now. If you hear any rumors, try to play them down. I’ll see if I can contact the reporter at the paper. I can’t ask them to lie, but maybe they could leave out some of the more damning issues. Get them to focus on the guy who was driving the truck that hit them.”

Glynn agreed that sounded like a good approach to take. After a little more “how are you feeling” chatter, the call ended just as Claire knocked on the door. She was carrying a rather large suitcase and both she and the suitcase were covered in snow.

Marve answered the door with, “Good heavens, Claire! I didn’t know you are moving in!”

The teenager shook off the snow before stepping inside then answered. “I didn’t know any other way to safely bring the books with me. They’re old and I didn’t want them to get wet. But yeah, Mom had me bring some spare clothes in case the weather gets too bad for me to walk home. Neither she or Daddy want to drive up the hill to get me and after the bus thing yesterday, I’m not sure Daddy should be out at all. He came home coughing and sneezing and I’m pretty sure he has a fever.”

Marve helped Claire get her coat off then laughed at the half-dozen additional layers of clothes she had worn. “How did you even walk in all that?” Tea was made. Friendly chatter was exchanged. Both kids had to have their turn at talking to Claire. Finally, Claire opened the suitcase and pulled out two ancient-looking volumes, neither of which were in English. 

Glynn looked at the books and warned, “I hope you’re not expecting me to translate those for you.”

Claire laughed as she opened the books to pages she’d bookmarked. “No, it’s simple German so the translation isn’t that big of deal. You remember Junias who was in prison with Paul?”

The pastor had to stop and think. The name was certainly familiar but had she pressed he couldn’t have told her exactly where the person was referenced. “I think so,” he said cautiously. “Refresh me.”

“Romans 16:7. Paul tells them to salute Junia and Andronicus, who had been in prison with him and were apostles before him,” she explained. “For the most part, everyone seems to treat that as a throw-away verse. But then I came across a place in a book I was reading a couple of months ago that referred to Junia as actually being Junias in the oldest manuscripts and that kinda changes things because Junias is feminine. How could there have been female apostles, right?”

Glynn simply nodded and let the girl talk as she went on about the evidence that existed that there had not only been female apostles but disciples as well, that Peter’s wife and several others were just as large a part of Jesus’ ministry and the growth of the early church as were any of the men involved. Her argument was detailed and involved and all Glynn could do was try and keep up. There was little of it that he understood.

“I guess maybe this could explain why Paul felt he needed to go all-in with the ‘men are the head of women’ thing in Timothy,” Claire continued. “I think he was threatened by the fact that the women were staying more true to the original cause of Christ while Paul and Peter and the others were getting distracted by the whole power structure, which was probably what eventually got them all killed.” She paused and looked up for a second before asking, “So, what am I supposed to do with this? I don’t have to keep reading a bunch of reference books to know that the Church has gotten this wrong. Paul said himself that there is no male or female, jew or greek, but I’m afraid if I say anything I’m just going to get talked down at, told I need to shut my mouth and listen to the men, and honestly, Pastor Glynn, I think the Church needs a feminist movement but I don’t know how to start one.”

Glynn leaned back in his recliner and sighed. “You’re not going to like my response, Claire. First of all, I’m not sure you’re right. I’ll admit that I haven’t studied the matter nearly as much as you have, but basing your argument on a couple of hidden statements in 19th-century books hardly seems conclusive. I mean, how do you know that the authors of those books were even legitimate scholars themselves?”

He leaned forward so that there wouldn’t be as much distance between them and added, “Look, Claire, I love how excited you are about the Bible and going to Princeton and everything. You’ve already got me beat by a mile. I can’t even keep up with you anymore. But the reality is that you’re going up against centuries of tradition and study, and you’re a girl. I’ve been yelled at for the past four months because I dared to say that death is an absolute. How do you think they’re going to respond to the idea that there were female disciples or a feminist re-writing of the Bible? They’re going to tear you apart, Claire. They’re going to tear you apart and they’re going to enjoy doing it because it makes them feel righteous.”

Tears welled up in the teen’s eyes. She closed the books and put them back in the suitcase. “So, you’re telling me I’m wasting my time, that I should just shut up and not rock the boat.”

“No, not at all… “ Glynn started, but Claire wasn’t paying any attention. 

“I’ll just go before the weather gets any worse,’ she said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I thought maybe you’d be different.”

Marve tried to convince Claire to stay. Another inch of snow had fallen since the girl had arrived. There were no signs of salt trucks or plows. No one else was out. Claire refused to listen. With all her layers of clothes back on and her coat fastened tightly around her, she kissed each of the kids good-bye and headed out the door into the cold.

Marve turned and glared at Glynn. “You couldn’t have humored her just a little, could you? You just crushed that little girl’s dreams. If something happens to her on the way home, it’s your fault.”

Barely a word was spoken between the couple the rest of the day. Marve’s anger only seemed to grow as the day wore on. Glynn, not feeling up for the fight, simply stayed quiet, making the situation worse in doing so.

Gordon called at 3:00 and Glynn answered the phone himself. “The roads are horrible and no one seems to be doing anything about it,” he said. “There’s no way I can make it over there tomorrow.”

“That’s understandable. Would you like to push it out a week?” Glynn offered. 

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone line. The older preacher finally said, “No, let’s wait until after the holidays. I think your church needs to hear from you. If I have my timeline correct, it’s been what, nearly a month? You’re their pastor. They need a sound of hope. They need a reason to rejoice this Christmas season. I think I’d rather wait and after the first of the year we can talk about whether you really need an associate.”

“If I can make it through the stress of Christmas events and services, I doubt we’ll need to have a conversation at all,” Glynn fired back a little more roughly than he intended.

Again, there was measured silence before Gordon responded. “You’re probably correct. You know where I am if you need me.”

The line went dead and Glynn stood there holding the phone not quite sure what had just happened. He hung up the phone and almost immediately it rang.
“We have to cancel services,” Buck said the instant the pastor answered. “One of the county’s salt trucks slid into a ditch and now they’re not sending out any of the others. We’re stuck.”

“What about Horace?” Glynn asked. “I thought he was going to try and …”

“Yeah, that didn’t work,” Buck said, interrupting. “No one wanted to risk their tractors in this mess. I think he tried getting his tractor out, but I’m not sure he made it very far.”

“Okay, then,” Glynn conceded. “Let everyone know.” He sat down in his recliner and barely moved until dinner time. Even then, the table was mostly quiet. Even the kids picked up on the level of stress in the house and kept their chatter to a minimum. 

Marve was clearing away the dinner dishes when the phone rang one last time. It was Linda. “Is Claire spending the night with you guys?” she asked. “She was supposed to call me by 3:00 if she was and I haven’t heard anything. Just wanted to check.”

Two minutes later, Marve came to the living room door and tossed Glynn’s parka at him. “Put that on and find your boots. I don’t care how sick you are, you need to go find Claire.”

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Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 45

Chapter 45

“Can you imagine attending a church service where everyone in the church was a Christian?”

There was a moment of stunned silence at the manner in which Joe Ingram had begun his Sunday morning sermon. In this small-town church with just over 100 people in attendance, where the congregation sits on wooden pews older than most of the church’s members, where the only version of the Bible they carry is the one authorized by King James, where the majority barely had a high school education and the few that had been to college barely managed to graduate, the question coming from the pulpit seemed strange. Sure, they could imagine a church service where everyone in the church was a Christian; that was the composition of almost all their church services. The most frequent source of new Christians was children growing up into an understanding of salvation, or at least the concept that it was better to pretend to understand than be viewed as a sinner.

For the few who understood the politics and hierarchy of Southern Baptist, it had been quite a shock when the Executive Secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma walked in and announced that he was their substitute preacher for the day. They were a small church and the general perception was that convention leaders never came to small churches; they couldn’t be troubled with congregations this tiny and remote. For everyone else, he was a smart-looking man dressed in a nice suit and they wondered if it was remotely possible for this guy from the big city to relate to their rural lives.

The behind-the-scenes story was that when Calvin had told Joe that Glynn was still ill and needed someone to fill Sunday’s services, Joe had immediately said he’d go himself. Tiny First Baptist Church of Adelberg had unwittingly become the center of a growing controversy within the state convention. To send someone from Calvin’s list of pastors-in-waiting, men who said they were called to preach but were perpetually “between pastorates,” was too risky. Someone in the church, whether intentionally or not, was leaking the contents of every sermon to someone disenfranchised who then spread the news throughout the churches poised to cause trouble. Joe knew this because too many phone calls he received began with, “Hey, did you hear …” He had heard of Roger’s safe and easy sermon last Sunday before he had finished lunch. By going there himself, Joe would be putting the argumentative and disagreeable groups on notice that he wasn’t going to just let them steamroll First, Adelberg out of the convention without a fight. 

No one sitting in a pew that morning was aware of that battle, though, and if they had few would have cared. The convention and, by extension, the whole denomination was of little use and less concern. While they were appropriately flattered that someone of relative distinction would drive the four hours to speak to them, they were confused and unimpressed by his opening statement.

Joe understood, though. He had been raised in a small church just like this one. He recognized the looks of confusion and skepticism on faces in the congregation and proceeded cautiously. “I know, that sounds like a bizarre question, doesn’t it? Surely, there is no one sitting here this morning who doesn’t claim to be a Christian. Yet, I want to challenge you with the possibility that there are among us wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who claim to follow Christ but are, in reality, liars, deceivers, others who have fooled themselves and those around them into thinking they have a relationship with the Savior.

“No, I’m not here to make accusations. I don’t really know anyone here and it would be inappropriate even if I did to make charges against someone from this pulpit. Rather, I’m here this morning so that you might know and you might be watchful for those who would call you brother and sister while leading you astray. 

“Jesus raises the issue himself in Matthew 7:21-23.

21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“Jesus knew that the world was full of people looking for power and prestige and that for some the Church would be an easy path to that goal. There are people who see us as gullible: if we’ll believe in God we’ll believe in anything. There are some who view the pulpit as the final authority and whatever the pastor says is what everyone should do. There are also those who view Christianity as the key to a political theocracy, a chance to conquer the entire United States if not the world.

“How are we supposed to respond to Jesus’ warning? How do we know who is telling the truth when they stand in this pulpit? Most of you have never seen nor heard of me before this morning. Can I be trusted? How do we know?

“The first step is in our attitude when we come to worship. I’m reminded of an old story that’s been told hundreds if not thousands of times about the family who had a habit of sitting around their dinner table after church on Sunday morning. ‘The pastor’s sermon wasn’t his best this morning,’ the father would say. ‘The choir was completely out of tune,’ the mother would complain. ‘It was too hot in there and those pews are uncomfortable,’ the daughter would moan. And then the youngest among them, a little boy of about six years old, would reply, ‘Well, I guess it wasn’t a bad show for seventy-five cents.’ Seventy-five cents was the amount they had put in the offering plate. 

“When we come to church looking for things other than God, we’re setting ourselves up to be fooled. God is not found in lofty words that tickle our ears. God is not found in the snake-oil sleight of hand that some call faith healing. God is not necessarily found in perfectly performed music that makes our skin tingle. Neither is the presence of God dependent upon a temperature-controlled environment that makes everyone comfortable. 

“If we come to church on Sunday morning looking for a show, we’re in the wrong place. You might as well stay home and turn on your television where fancy preachers in big cathedrals are experts at putting on a show. 

“However, if you’re looking to know God in all His fullness and glory, this is the place. If you’re looking for absolute and complete forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, this is the place. If you’re looking to find peace and contentment in the presence of the Holy Spirit, this is the place. If you’re looking for Truth in a world swirling with confusion and doubt about whether anything we experience is real, this is the place. If you’re longing for a relationship with a God that wakes you up every morning and says, ‘I love you, unconditionally,’ this is the place. 

“When we come to church looking for more than a show, more than something to occupy our time, we can then find the Truth that God has for us and in embracing that Truth, in making that Truth part of our lives, we become aware of the charlatans among us.

“When we embrace the Truth, we understand that God’s word lives in us and is not limited to the translation of scripture commissioned by a King looking to cover his own sin. Knowing God’s Truth allows us to see the Church as a compassionate, loving extension of the Spirit of God. Living in God’s Truth compels us to forgive as we have been forgiven. God’s Truth shows no favor, requires no creed, extorts no payments, endorses no other authority, and makes no idle promises.

“At the same time, God’s Truth is a secure foundation that makes it okay to have doubts, encourages us to ask questions, and challenges us to explore its deepest meaning. We don’t have to understand all the mysteries of the universe and we don’t have to have all the answers. God doesn’t dump a whole bucket full of Truth on us at the moment of salvation and say, ‘Okay now, you take that and go have a good life.’ 

“So, when someone comes along and says things contrary to the Truth, we know they are not of the Truth and we distance ourselves from them.
When someone demands that you must believe exactly as they believe, they are not of the Truth.
When someone claims that only they know the Truth, they are not of the Truth.
When we hear a voice claim authority over the Truth, they are not of the Truth.
When people claim they are too righteous to be questioned, they are not of the Truth. 
Those who would tell you they have a different Truth from the Truth of the gospel, they are not of the Truth. 

“We are surrounded by charlatans, wolves in Christian clothing, wearing their suits, standing in our pulpits, and preaching a false gospel. They preach a fire-and-brimstone gospel that is void of love, lacking in grace, and absent of forgiveness. They would rather condemn than congratulate, chastise rather than compliment, and punish rather than preserve. 

“We find ourselves in the midst of traitors, those we thought were family, who pretend to worship with us, and to dine with us, and to pray with us while, like Judas, plotting our demise.
They say the right words to our faces, they sing the hymns, they lead the Bible Studies, but behind our backs, they tear us down.
They spread lies and rumors with the intention of inflicting pain, causing distress, and driving people away.
They claim to be protecting the purity of the church when in reality they are the ones polluting it.
They send away those who seek, they discourage those in need of grace, and if given the chance they would stand at the gates of heaven and deny entry to those they deem sinners or heretics.

“A constant war exists within the Church that is greater than any force from the outside, a battle for Truth, a fight for control, an assault on grace, and combat over forgiveness. There are forces gathering right now in our own convention that seeks to define a doctrine so far removed from the Truth as to smother compassion, choke out the mercy of the cross, and suffocate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In place of the Truth, they would insert dogma, creedalism, and conviction based on hearsay. They would kick out those who challenge their narrow mindedness, censure those who speak out against them, and deny fellowship to those who administer grace in its fullest form.

“Our response must be to hold firm to the Truth that we are all children of God, that Jesus died for the sinner, and that the power of the resurrection saves anyone who believes. If we do not, if we allow the evildoers to dominate, then the cause of Christ is lost and the Church as we now know it loses all relevancy.”

Few of those sitting in the pews that morning had any concept of what Joe meant and to a large extent, that was okay. Denominational controversies rarely impacted the daily lives of church members. Yet, for a handful, those who paid attention to the denominational publications and read the various articles and letters, Dr. Ingram’s message landed as a declaration of war against preachers like Larry Winston and Roy Moody. 

Buck looked at Alan. Alan looked at Horace. Had the head of the state convention just insinuated there was a traitor within their own church? The trio met briefly in a Sunday School room after the service and agreed that they had to consider the possibility that someone was actively undermining the church and specifically Glynn. Who that could be, they had no idea, but from that point on, every word of every conversation would be considered suspicious.

The Edmonds were hosting Dr. Ingram for lunch and had invited Marve and the kids to join them. Having spent the entire morning in bed, Glynn asked to join them, saying it would be good to get out of the house a bit. He was still visibly weakened but, at least for the moment, he could hold himself upright and walk a reasonable distance without needing help. 

Conversation during the meal was lively and friendly, peppered with humorous stories Joe was happy to tell. The mood was intentionally light and at times frivolous as they chatted about the need for fried chicken in a pastor’s diet and how church potluck dinners were the ultimate exercise of faith. Glynn seemed chipper and was enthusiastic about devouring his food. Had it not been for the pale tone to his skin, no one would have thought he was ill. 

Once the meal was done and the kids had all run off to play, Frances served coffee and the adults’ conversation grew serious. Marve had told Glynn about the sermon and the questions it raised. The deacons weren’t the only ones who caught the apparent allegation of their being a traitor in the church and Marve was certain that even if not everyone caught it at first, they would catch on if they gave the matter any thought at all. 

“I know Claire caught it,” she told him, “and probably Tom and Linda as well. Claire had been hunched over taking notes, as usual, and she sat up so suddenly that I don’t see how everyone around her didn’t notice.”

Buck strategically waited until everyone had taken a sip of their coffee before asking Dr. Ingram, “So, did I hear you right this morning, did you say there’s someone in our own church trying to undermine us?”

Joe was ready for the question and was glad that Glynn was at the table to hear his hypothesis in person. “I’m fairly sure of it. Pastors around the state have known what was preached from this pulpit every Sunday since the end of September. Last week, I hadn’t even finished lunch before a pastor from Tulsa called asking if I’d sent Roger over as a spy. The only way that information can be traveling that quickly is if someone in the congregation is feeding the rumor mill. I wouldn’t think as much about it if the questions were coming later in the week, but I’ve known every sermon preached in this pulpit no later than Monday morning. There’s no way this is accidental or even incidental. Someone’s deliberately making an effort to spread rumors.”

Buck, Frances, Glynn, and Marve all exchanged glances. Having had time to prepare for this answer hadn’t softened its blow. Adelberg was a small town and the church was a focal point. A betrayal of the church was a betrayal of the entire town.

“Well, we know who the biggest gossips are,” Frances said, interrupting the awkward silence that had developed. “I know Hannah Montgomery is always on the phone, but she’s always more concerned about what someone said in her Sunday School class. The only time I can recall her complaining about anything during the service was that Sunday a couple of years ago when Buck had to lead the singing.”

The group laughed at the dig on her husband as Frances continued. “Maxine Waterman forgets to put in her hearing aid half the time so she doesn’t even hear the sermon when that happens. Grace Tillich likes to talk but that dear woman doesn’t know what year it is. She’s more likely to tell you about a sermon from 50 years ago than this morning. And she hasn’t been there much this fall. No one else really comes to mind.”

“Let me help focus the conversation a bit,” Joe interjected. “Yes, every church has its gossips, but they’re rarely mean spirited. Whoever this is, they likely have some beef with the church, or perhaps directly with Glynn. Has there been anyone who’s been causing trouble?”

Glynn and Buck looked at each other and Glynn leaned forward on the table. “Edith Mason?” the pastor asked as he looked at Buck. 

It took Buck a moment to register what Glynn was referencing. When he did, he shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s been pretty quiet since that whole thing with Carol. She slips into the service late, sits on the second pew from the back, and is quick to leave. I don’t see how that’s causing any trouble.”

Glynn looked over and saw the questioning expression on Joe’s face. “Part of the fallout from the Grace, Washataug incident,” he said, knowing Joe’s involvement with the matter. “Edith Mason’s daughter, Carol, was a member there and rumored to have been involved.” The pastor looked tentatively at Buck before continuing. “Since Carol grew up here, she moved back home and her mother mentioned that she’d likely be joining the church. It created an uproar and the decons and I were meeting at the church to decide how to handle the situation when she overdosed on pills. She was in a coma for several weeks and hasn’t been the same since. Her mom has to take care of her and her kids now. We failed that whole family as a church. I don’t think Edith’s spoken more than two words to me since.”

Joe considered the information for a moment before beginning to analyze the situation out loud. Folding his hands on the table and leaning in, he said, “I can see where someone like that might have a beef with the church. It doesn’t sound like she’s really participating so we have to ask what her purpose is for continuing to attend. Don’t rule out the possibility that despite feeling let down, she could still experience some spiritual benefit from coming to the service. Worshipping God could be the boost she needs to get her through the week. There’s also the matter of who she would be connected with enough to call every Sunday. We know the former pastor at Grace, Washataug isn’t an option. How many other pastors in the state does she know that well?”

Glynn looked at Buck and the deacon shrugged. Edith had lived in Adelberg her whole life. The only pastors she knew were those who preached in First Baptist’s pulpit and none of the former pastors were still in the state.

“What if…” Frances said haltingly, “What if she’s not calling a pastor directly? What if, for example, she’s calling a friend who’s shut-in and can’t attend services, and that person talks to a pastor who happens to be a family member?”

The group looked at Frances quizically. 

“That seems oddly specific,” Buck said. “Who are you thinking about?”

Frances sighed, the look on her face one of exasperation as she didn’t want to cause trouble for someone but felt the need to tell what she knew. Small towns don’t keep secrets well and casual conversations sometimes reveal more than an FBI investigation. To some degree, there was a sense that each conversation was being held in confidence, yet, at the same time, everyone knew who could keep their mouth shut and who couldn’t. Talking with some people was almost the same as printing the conversation in the newspaper.

“Fannie Littleton,” Frances said while twirling her hair around her index finger. 

Glynn cocked his head to the side. “I’ve heard that name. She’s one of the church members I’m not allowed to visit.”

Joe looked up in surprise. “Why are you not allowed to visit?”

“She’s an invalid, can’t get out of bed on her own,” Glynn explained. “She’s on oxygen and has to avoid any kind of outside contamination. I don’t know why she’s not in a facility somewhere, but the only people allowed in are her home nurses, and they have to wear special clothing from what I understand.”

Frances nodded. “She’s not in a facility because even that is too risky. Her nurses have keys to the house. They change into sanitized clothing when they get there and take them out to be cleaned when they leave. There’s someone with her twenty-four hours a day, partly to guard the door against visitors. The smallest outside germ could kill her.”

“That’s tragic, but what connection would she have to another pastor?” Joe asked.

“Well, you see, that’s where I’m not exactly sure,” Frances answered, pulling on her hair like an adolescent who’d been caught sneaking out a window at night. “Fannie never had any kids of her own that I know of. If she did, they never come around to check on her. She does have a nephew who’s a pastor somewhere, I want to say down near some military base or something? I’m really not sure on those details.”

“How do we know she’s calling him, though?” Marve asked. “And even if she is, why would she tell him about a worship service she didn’t attend?”

“Well, she’s been like this for a few years, you know, and I remember Edith saying once, that she keeps her phone by her bed with a list of numbers,” Frances explained. “Her doctors are on the list, of course, and she and Edith talk because she was friends with Edith’s momma before she passed. Sweet woman. The home health agency is on the list, the pharmacy, and the only family member she has any contact with, her nephew. He and Edith are really her only connection to what’s going on outside her house.”

Joe sat back in his chair and sighed. “That would make perfect sense. She talks to her nephew and relates what she’s been told simply for the benefit of conversation, no malice intended on her part. The nephew then takes the information and causes trouble because of what he sees as a heretic on the loose. If we knew who her nephew is, maybe we could put a stop to it.”

The room was silent for a moment as everyone tried to think of a solution. Frances got up and refilled everyone’s coffee cup and then insisted Joe and Glynn both have another piece of the pineapple upside-down cake she had made. 

They were just about to give up when Buck suddenly sat up, causing the coffee in his cup to spill over onto the table cloth. As Frances gave him a stern look he said, “Ask Hub. Better yet, ask Rose. I’d bet a nickel against a hole in a donut that they have her next of kin information because you know she’s going to pass soon and they’re going to need someone to take care of arrangements. Rose is particular about those details. I’m sure she has the nephew’s name and phone number in a file.”

The deacon didn’t wait for anyone else to act. He stood up and walked to the phone in the living room and called the funeral home. Sure enough, Rose had the information. Buck wrote down the name on a piece of paper and returned to the kitchen with an expression of anger and frustration as he tossed the paper onto the kitchen table. “James Warrington,” he announced. “Pastor of Hope Church down in Latimore.”

“Why is that name familiar?” Frances asked, reaching over and looking at the name as though that would reveal its inner secrets.

“Because the pulpit committee considered him before we got Glynn’s name,” Buck answered. “Complete waste of time driving down there, too. He was loud and obnoxious, kept calling people fools, said all of our political leaders are demons, kept going on about overthrowing the government, and setting up a new one that made attending church the law of the land.”

Joe shook his head. “I know exactly who you’re talking about. He’s been stirring up trouble down there for four or five years. He seemed okay when he first went there, but then he went to that Jimmy Swaggart thing they had down in Dallas a few years back and they caught him up in that nonsense hook, line, and sinker.” Joe paused and looked at Glynn before adding, “And he was at the pastor’s retreat this year.”

Marve looked at Glynn as what little color he had drained from his face. “I think it’s time I get you back home and back to bed,” she said softly. 

Joe and Buck quickly stood up as the change in Glynn’s physical condition became obvious. “I’m sorry, Glynn,” Joe apologized. “This is all stressful for you, I’m sure. Don’t worry, I’ll address the situation.”

Glynn forced a smile but was unable to speak. He felt the energy leave his legs as he attempted to stand. His body trembled as the two men helped him to his car. They then followed Marve back into town so she wouldn’t have to try and carry Glynn on her own. She surprised them, though, when instead of going home, she turned and pulled into the parking spot next to the ambulance at the funeral home. Hub met her as she ran to the door. “Glynn needs to go to the hospital, now,” she ordered.

Hub nodded and said, “Let me grab my keys.”

Chapter 46

Chapter 46

The church sanctuary was as packed for the Sunday evening service as it had been that morning. Everyone in town had heard the ambulance leave and several noticed that it was the preacher’s car chasing it, with Marve driving. Word spread through the community quickly and the call for a special prayer meeting at the church received a broad response from people who hadn’t been to church since Easter. They prayed until nearly midnight hoping that they would eventually be told that Glynn had experienced a miraculous recovery. That call never came.

Joe left the service before it was over, around 10:00, to drive back to Oklahoma City. He wouldn’t have much sleep before packing a trunkload of materials and heading to First, Tulsa for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. 

To some degree, the BGCO convention was a larger version of the associational annual meeting, except larger, with better speakers, and at times excruciatingly boring. Every department within the state convention’s office was required to make a verbal report which then had to be approved. The reports were all pre-printed in case anyone really wanted to read them (few ever did) and that gave the department heads an opportunity to use their allotted time to say whatever they wished in support of their department. Some departments, such as Evangelism and Missions, brought in guests who were dynamic speakers and gathered a lot of attention. For less glamorous departments, though, such as Education and Camps, the sanctuary would be half-empty as messengers chose that time to go to the restroom, stand out in the hallway and chat, or visit the bookstore display set up in a separate room. Parliamentary procedure was tightly administered and outburst from the floor were not tolerated. Requests for changes or resolutions had to be submitted in advance and were considered by a committee before being brought to the floor on the last day. Most requests were denied. 

Joe had the opening sermon Monday afternoon, and the resolutions committee would be approved just before he spoke. Joe didn’t miss his chance to preach an as strong and intentioned sermon as he had the day before. His tone was forceful as he laid out an agenda rejecting dogma and emphasizing growth through inclusivity. He challenged what he called “gross misinterpretation of scripture” and attempts at forced adherence to a creed. He told the assembled group of church pastors and staff that they must hold themselves to a higher standard, carefully examine the words they said, and be unimpeachable examples of Christ. 

As soon as his sermon ended, the meeting adjourned for dinner. Joe fought his way through the crowd of well-wishers to find Ferris Polk, the just-elected chairman of the resolutions committee. Pulling him off to the side, Joe asked, “Have you been handed the list of proposed resolutions yet?”

Ferris held up a three-inch black binder. “You mean this stack of nonsense? Yeah, looks like some of the same old malarky we see every year. Any concerns?”

“Make sure nothing silly or unnecessary makes it to the floor,” Joe said in a hushed tone, communicating the seriousness of the matter. “Hultgren’s on the committee and he’ll back you up if necessary. Nothing about censuring any pastors or removing fellowship from any churches. Nothing about forcing churches to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message, either.”

Ferris rolled his eyes. “The same guys make the same requests every year. They don’t seem to understand that the convention does not have the power to tell local churches what to do or dictate to pastors what they say from the pulpit. I’d be willing to bet there’s something in there about the Authorized King James Version of the Bible being the only approved translation, too. This is my seventh year on this committee. The same resolutions are submitted every year and they’re all rejected every year.”

Joe smiled. “Expect some firey ones this year. We’ve had a couple of incidents at the associational level.”

“So I’ve heard,” Ferris agreed, nodding, and looking around to see who might be trying to listen in on the conversation. The afternoon crowds were never that large and it didn’t take long for the hallways to empty out as pastors went in search of their evening meal. “Did a pastor really get punched up in Arvel?” he asked softly.

Joe nodded. “A deacon didn’t take nicely to his pastor being called a heretic. That’s another topic to reject, by the way.”

The committee chairman shook his head. “Maybe we need to spend more time on what it actually means to be called of God to the ministry. Too many of the men here think it’s some kind of power trip. They don’t understand that the very word ‘minister’ means exactly the opposite. We don’t lead crusades against each other, we get down in the dirt and the mud to help those in need without thought to our own station.”

Joe smiled and patted Ferris on the back. “Keep talking like that and someone’s going to recommend you for a speaking position on next year’s schedule.”

“I’ll pass,” Ferris said. “I get enough criticism of my sermons from my wife. I don’t need letters from every disgruntled pastor in the state.”

Both men laughed and promised to reconnect later, but the Wednesday morning conversation was largely irrelevant as the committee had only approved the mildest and polite resolutions, including one thanking the restaurants in Tulsa for feeding them. Joe was thankful that the meeting ended on a positive tone with no overt disagreements or complaints to be settled. 

Returning to his office Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Ingram ignored the unsurprising stack of mail and messages waiting on his desk and tried calling the Waterbury residence. When he didn’t get a response, he looked up Buck Edmond’s number. The news wasn’t good.

“The doctor is wanting to transfer him to a hospital in Tulsa,” the deacon said of Glynn. “Tests here are hinting that he might have some form of Multiple Sclerosis but the results are less than half certain about that. He was feeling better when I was over there this morning. Marve’s exhausted, though. She hasn’t left the hospital since Sunday night.”

“What arrangements have they made for the kids?” Joe asked, knowing that child care in these situations often made the situation more stressful.

“They’re staying with the school principal and his family. Their daughter, Claire, is the kids’ normal babysitter anyway, so that seems to be going well. I’m covering prayer meeting tonight but we’re going to need someone for Sunday again and honestly, the way our church is responding right now, it probably needs to be someone who can show some compassion and not try to save the whole town.”

Joe smiled from the other end of the telephone. “I think I know just who to send your direction,” he said calmly. “I’ll confirm with him and have someone give you a call back. Do you have Glynn’s room number?”

“Sure, he’s in room 211,” came the reply. “But they’re talking about moving him Friday.”

“Thanks, I appreciate the information,” Joe said, ending the call.

The Executive-Secretary stood there for a moment holding the phone’s received in his hand, considering whether or not to call the hospital. After a few moments’ thought, he hung up the phone and walked out to his secretary’s desk. “See if you can move tomorrow’s meetings to sometime next week, or perhaps have them go on without me. I need to make a run to Baptist Hospital in Arvel tomorrow. It’s rather urgent.”

“Glynn Waterbury’s not doing well?” she asked.

Joe shook his head. “They’re looking at a diagnosis of MS and his doctor’s wanting to move him to Tulsa, St. John’s I assume. I’m going to suggest they consider bringing him here to Baptist Medical Center. Not only do they have better resources, we can do more to make sure the bill is eliminated.”

Dr. Alton Guinn, the administrator of the 45-bed Baptist Hospital in Arvel, often complained they were the most underserved and overly ignored hospital in the group of eight hospitals the convention helped to fund across the state. Construction of two additional floors had strained the hospital’s resources and had caused some doctors in the area to send their more critical patients elsewhere. When he did get a phone call from Oklahoma City, it was usually to complain about spending exceeding the budget in some manner. While the state convention had to approve the hospital’s Board of Directors, rarely did anyone from the Baptist Building ever visit the facility.

The elderly volunteer at the front desk didn’t recognize the well-dressed man walking in on Thursday morning, asking if Glynn was still in room 211. Several preachers had been in and out to visit the ailing pastor and there was no indication he wasn’t another. When he signed the register, though, she noticed that he was from Oklahoma City and thought the name sounded familiar. As the visitor walked toward the elevator to the second floor, she picked up the phone and called Dr. Guinn’s secretary. “Deloris, this is Elly at the front desk. A Joe Ingram from Oklahoma City just signed in. He’s on his way to Rev. Waterbury’s room. That name sounds familiar.”

“He’s only the boss of the whole Baptist Convention,” the secretary said, over-stating Joe’s position. “I’ll let Dr. Guinn know he’s here.”

Joe knocked gently on the closed door to room 211. 

Marve waited a few seconds, expecting a member of the medical staff who normally knocked and came on in. When the door didn’t open, though, she got up and answered it, trying to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress and straighten her hair as she walked across the room. She was surprised to open the door and see Dr. Ingram standing there. “Dr. Ingram! I didn’t realize you were coming!” she said as she opened the door wider.

“I thought about calling yesterday, but it’s been a while since I’ve stopped by the hospital anyway. It made sense to come on up, check on Glynn, see how things are going with the construction,” Joe explained. “How’s he doing?”

Marve looked over at her husband who was currently sleeping with the aid of a muscle relaxer. “He’s doing better, anxious to get out of here, of course. Always asking about things back at the church. He’s worried about what’s not getting done.”

Joe nodded. “I understand his doctor is talking about moving him to Tulsa?”

“That seems to be the plan,” Marve sighed as she returned to the chair beside the hospital bed. “I’m not sure how to handle that. Obviously, I want him to have the best care possible, but that’s too far for the kids to come and visit and he looks forward to them coming up after school in the afternoon. I don’t know whether to stay with him or stay here with the kids. I don’t want him to be alone over there. I’m just not sure what to do.”

The tears in Marve’s eyes were unmistakable. Joe pulled over the stool the doctor used for consulting purposes and took Marve’s hands in his as he sat down next to her. “Don’t worry, we’ll work something out, okay? That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to make sure he’s getting the best care, but I also want to make sure you and the kids are getting the care you need as well.”

There was another knock at the door and Dr. Guinn and Dr. Dornboss came in together. After exchanging the necessary greetings, Dr. Guinn said, “No one told me you were comping up today, Joe. I understand you want to check on Glynn, here. Is there anything else you want to see while you’re here? Is there anyone I need to call?”

Joes shook his head and then looked over at Marve. She had reached up and taken Glynn’s hand, petting it softly while he slept. He motioned toward the door. “Why don’t we step out in the hall a minute?” he suggested.

The two doctors followed Dr. Ingram and he shut the door behind him before speaking. “I’m concerned that you’re transferring him to Tulsa and not Oklahoma City,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Why the choice to take him out of the system?”

“I don’t have privileges at the Medical Center,” Dr. Dornboss answered. “Plus, Tulsa’s two hours’ closer. I don’t have to compromise my practice to check on him.”

“I appreciate the difference in distance,” Joe said, “but as a doctor with privileges here, you automatically have privileges at any hospital in the network. If there’s any question, Alton should be able to verify that with a phone call.” He looked at Dr. Guinn and added, “If the diagnosis I’m hearing proves accurate, the family is going to need a lot of help. He’s on the state insurance plan and I’m pretty sure coverage for critical disease drops to something like 60 percent. If we keep him within the Baptist Hospital network, then we can help mitigate that a little bit. I can’t help him a bit if he’s at St. John’s.”

Dr. Guinn stuck his hands in his trouser pockets. “That seems a little extreme, Joe. I understand your concerns, but we’ve had pastors in here before and I don’t recall anyone ever taking a position like this. Typically, we just let insurance and the local churches handle the cost.”

“This isn’t a typical situation, Alton,” Joe fired back. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t stress a primary trigger for MS?”

Dr. Dornboss interrupted, “We haven’t confirmed yet that it’s MS, that’s why we need more tests.”

Joe nodded. “I get that, but my point is that it’s convention-related stress, not pastoral-related stress, that’s likely responsible for the condition he’s in. He’s hurting because no one protected him from the bullies in the denomination. We kept it from bubbling up at the convention this week, but I know those guys, they’re not going to give up their cause any time soon. What they’ve done to Glynn they’ll do to others. I want to set a precedent right now that lets pastors know we’ve got their backs. We unwittingly set Glynn up for this and we’ve got to take care of him.” He turned back to Dr. Dornboss. “Obviously, this is a medical decision and if you say Tulsa’s best then that’s what we’ll go with. But please, I strongly urge you to consider the advantages of the Medical Center in the City. “

“Wow, the television reception here is especially lousy today,” Glynn said from inside the room. 

The three men laughed. “Let’s go see how he’s doing, and perhaps talk the options over with him,” Joe said as he opened the door to the room. 

Glynn looked up and saw who was coming to visit him and said, “Oh heavens, Dr. Ingram and Dr. Guinn? Look, if I’m dying just give it to me straight.” He smiled and gave Marve a wink.

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Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 43

chapter 43

The pleasure of having a good meal away from the chaos of the associational annual meeting wasn’t enough to diminish the impact of the messages waiting when Glynn and Marve returned home.

“It’s, like, your phone never stopped ringing. I know I missed a couple of messages while the kids were getting their baths,” Claire told them when they walked in. “Some of the people sounded really angry. Is this normal for that kind of meeting?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Glynn said as he glanced through the notes Claire had carefully taken down on a legal pad. “It was my first one, and possibly my last. I’ve never seen such a disaster in a church building.”

“Did Mr. Mayes really knock out that other preacher?” the babysitter asked.

“Punched him square in the face and knocked him backward, but it was probably hitting his head on the back of a pew that knocked him out,” Glynn answered.

Marve reached into her purse and pulled out $8 and gave it to Claire. “Here’s a little extra for all the secretarial work tonight,” she said. 

Claire took the money and smiled in a compassionate way that sufficiently communicated her appreciation of the gift while acknowledging the sacrifice it represented on the part of the Waterbury’s. “I’ll put the extra in my college savings,” the girl said. “There are already some fee deadlines coming up by the end of the year.”

Marve returned the smile, somewhat bothered at the feeling the teenager was pitying them and equally bothered that they were in a position to be pitied at all. “Grab your coat and I’ll take you home. Glynn’s going to take 30 minutes trying to decide whether he needs to return any of those calls tonight or if they can all wait until morning.”

“Oh, I think they can all wait until morning. Most of them said so,” Claire responded as she put on her overcoat and gathered her school books.

Marve looked over at her husband who was still flipping through the four pages of notes. “Did you hear that, Glynn? None of them need to be returned tonight.”

“Mmmm hmmm,” he responded.

Marve laughed. “He’s so in his head right now it will be midnight before he finds his way out. Come on, let’s get you home.”

By Friday morning, Glynn had a plan in mind for how he was going to return all the calls and attempt to calm the situation. He didn’t have a chance to implement that plan, however, as the phone started ringing before the family had a chance to finish eating breakfast. Overnight, the rumors had grown from Alan knocking Larry out to killing him with a single punch. He did his best to keep his voice calm, laughing where he could, and trying to play down the drama. 

The pastor was a bit surprised but thankful to open the morning newspaper and there be no mention of the event on its pages. Certainly, there had been enough police activity around the church building to have gotten the paper’s attention. He quietly wondered if Dr. Bennet had enough influence in Arvel to squash such a story. He had heard of such things and this seemed like the perfect opportunity for that to happen. 

Glynn took the list of messages with him as he walked to the church office, the hood to his heavy coat pulled up over his head so as to subtly communicate that he wasn’t in the mood for idle conversation. The temperatures weren’t really all that cold compared to Michigan standards, but there was a comfort in having pulled the coat out of the closet and putting it on again. The coat represented the comfort he had felt in Michigan and the ability to wrap himself in the peacefulness of those memories. 

The pastor could hear the telephone ringing inside before he could unlock the office’s outside door. Roger was on the other end. He sounded as though he was out of breath and Glynn wondered if the new Director of Missions had even had any sleep. 

“Have you talked with Calvin yet this morning?” Roger asked the moment Glynn answered the phone.

“No, I was going to wait until he’s in the office this morning,” Glynn answered.

“Don’t bother, he’s on his way up,” Roger said. “Obviously, everyone in Oklahoma City is as upset as we are. I’ve been on the phone most the night with Calvin and Dr. Ingram and Bob Burkett, the convention’s legal guy. There’s a question of liability, since Clement, Bill, and I knew that Larry was going to complain. I don’t see how we could have anticipated what happened but Burkett’s of the opinion we should have done more to stop him. This is really going to spell trouble for the association. I already have six churches ready to remove themselves.”

Glynn listened and couldn’t help feeling that underneath everything Roger was saying lied an unspoken accusation that everything was Glynn’s own fault for having preached such a troubling sermon at the pastors’ retreat. “So, do I need to come over there for a meeting with Calvin?”

“Absolutely not,” came the stern reply. “I’ve already told the secretaries to not come in today. I’m working in the office with the front door locked. No one’s getting in until this matter gets resolved at least to a point where the various threats have stopped. Every hothead in both counties is up in arms. They’ve threatened Winston, your guy over there, Mayes, you, Clement, me, and to some degree the whole convention. I figure it’s all talk and will die down over the weekend, but until it does I’m not hosting any meetings here. I was looking forward to our first pastors’ conference on Monday, but I don’t see that happening now.”

“I don’t think I’d come even if you had one,” Glynn said. “The messages I’ve gotten show a lot of tempers flaring and just handling Alan and my own congregation is going to be enough. I don’t need any more trouble.”

“Neither of us may have a choice, Glynn,” the Director of Missions said firmly. “Trouble has found us all and the devil’s going to shake that tree as hard as he can to get us to fall. Know that I absolutely will not entertain any idea of removing any church from the association. I won’t let there be an investigative committee and we’re certainly not going to have a trial. Let the sourpusses leave.”

“So, what about Calvin?” Glynn asked.

“Oh, he’s coming up to talk with everyone individually. I think he’s going to Clement’s first this morning and he’ll probably stop by your place before coming over to seek Larry and Bill and myself,” Roger explained. “He’s trying to piece everything together so that the BGCO can issue a formal statement on Monday.”

“Is all that really necessary?” Glynn asked.

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone call; long enough that Glynn was beginning to wonder if the call had been disconnected or perhaps Roger decided to hang up. When he did respond, Roger’s voice was less firm than it had been. “Yeah, Glynn, it is. I’m afraid this whole issue of your sermon has gotten bigger than it needed to be. Dr. Ingram is concerned that what happened here could be a precursor of what could happen at the state convention in a couple of weeks. Accumulated ignorance has you in the hot seat, my friend, and it’s tough to fight ignorance when people think they know it all.”

Glynn hardly had time to ponder Roger’s words. They finished their call in short order but it was only a matter of seconds before the phone was ringing again. Buck had gone back over to Alan’s first thing that morning and found that people in Arvel had found his phone number in the phone book and had been so relentless with their threats that he’d had to take his phone off the hook to get any rest. The deacon’s temper was waning, but Buck expressed concern as to whether any of the threats could be real.

Between phone calls, Glynn walked to the post office and retrieved the mail. There were five more hate letters. When the pastor casually mentioned to the postmaster that he was getting tired of all the threats, the postmaster’s demeanor changed from his usually friendly engagement to one of seriousness. “Preacher, sending threatening letters in the mail is against federal law and is subject to prosecution. We normally don’t raise such cases unless there’s evidence of actual intent to harm, but I’ve seen how many of those letters you’ve gotten recently. If you’re telling me they’re all threatening, I have a legal obligation to take action.”

The advice took Glynn by surprise. “No, no, they’re not all threatening,” he responded. “At least, they weren’t at first. They started out being more positive than negative. The last week, though, has been all negative and something tells me it’s only going to get worse.”

“You mean that mess involving Mayes and that preacher in Arvel?” the postmaster enquired. “Is that related to your letters?”

Glynn sighed, hesitant to say too much not knowing what his own legal situation might be at this point. “Sort of, in a long way around. His defense of something I said is getting him so many threats he had to take his phone off the hook.”

The postmaster leaned over the counter and in an almost conspiratorial tone said, “Those threats are against the law, too. It’s messy, but at some point, ya’ll gotta stand up for yourselves.”

Glynn returned to the church office just as Calvin was pulling into the parking lot. After Glynn had provided his account of Thursday’s events, including what he had known versus what he hadn’t known, Calvin told him that what was needed now was to keep the church calm, to not make a bad situation any worse.

“We’re sitting on a powder keg here and it’s not going to take much to set a fuse to it,” Calvin warned. “The base issues are deeply theological but the people who are causing the trouble don’t have a basic understanding of even the most superficial theologies. The concepts of the association, the state convention, and everything else become lost when one person or one group tries to exert dominance over the whole.” He paused and looked at the stack of mail Glynn had brought in with him. “I’m guessing there are more letters in there?”

Glynn nodded and pulled the letters out of the stack, handing them to Calvin. “You’re more than welcome to read them if you wish.”

Calvin sifted through the envelopes, noting their return addresses. “None of these pastors were at the retreat, and they’re all from Telleconix association. I talked with the Director of Missions out there and he said Harvey Bentwood, pastor at First Church, Bellhaven, was the only one from out there who attended the retreat. Apparently he returned that Monday and told everyone at their pastors’ conference that the whole convention was full of heretics and that’s you’re their leader.”

Glynn sat up straight, startled by the accusation. “What? How can anyone think such a thing? I’ve not even been in the state a year!”

Calvin tried forcing a laugh. “I know, it’s a ridiculous statement but apparently he’s really whipping up that group out there and the DOM isn’t strong enough to fight it on his own. Joe’s sending someone out to talk with them Monday. They’re threatening to bring a resolution to the state convention. We don’t need that mess on the convention floor.”

Glynn looked down at his desk. “I’m so sorry. I had no intention…”

“I know,” Calvin said, interrupting. “We all know and no one in the Baptist Building is blaming you for anything except daring to speak the truth on a topic no one finds comfortable. This fight goes beyond your sermon, Glynn. It speaks to the heart of how we interpret the Bible. There are those in our convention who think we need to take a stand on the infallibility of scripture as interpreted in the King James Version. You and I both know that’s not accurate. The errors of the King James text have been proven over and over. But they’re gearing up for a fight that sooner or later is going to come to a head and when it does we’re going to lose a lot of churches and a lot of good pastors.”

The words rang in Glynn’s ears as an ominous warning. He’d only been in Oklahoma for eight months. Evidence seemed to be piling up that he’d made the worst mistake of his life by coming here, evidence that increasingly had him questioning the authority and validity of the church itself. The two men quickly wrapped up their conversation as Calvin still had several others he needed to see before heading back to Oklahoma City. 

Buck called again to let Glynn know that matters had escalated after someone had shot one of Alan’s cows that was grazing in a pasture near the road. Alan’s anger was hotter than ever. The sheriff had been called. What had been largely confined to being a church matter was now a legal matter and everyone in the county had an opinion.

Glynn called Roger to let him know of the change. Roger responded with news that Larry Winston’s condition had been downgraded to severe as blood clots had formed as a result of hitting his head on the pew. Arvel police were considering filing assault charges against Alan.

The phone calls continued. Church members shared their outrage at the accusation of heresy made against Glynn and the threat to remove the church from the association. Most were also supportive of Alan’s actions as well, saying that Larry had gotten what he had coming to him. The pastor’s attempts to calm that anger were proving ineffective.

Saturday saw further escalation as members of the county Cattlemen’s Association rallied around Alan and began patrolling the county roads around his property, stopping any vehicle with a Ridell County license plate. The sheriff had tried to convince the men to go home, but ultimately there were more of them with more guns than the sheriff had deputies. The best he could do was try to manage the situation and notify the state police. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol showed little interest in getting their black and white cruisers dusty on county roads.

Glynn worked through the night, sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by books and a growing pile of crumpled paper. By the time he stepped into the pulpit Sunday morning, everyone in the packed-to-overflowing congregation could see that he was weary. Marve had done her best to make sure he was wearing a well-pressed shirt and his best-fitting blue suit, giving him the most optimistic presentation possible, but the deep, dark circles around his bloodshot eyes told of a level of strain the people of Adelbert were not accustomed to seeing from their pastor.

He cleared his throat and read from Luke 12:49-50:

It is fire that I have come to bring upon the earth—how I could wish it were already ablaze! There is a baptism that I must undergo and how strained I am until it is over!

The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

“Do you ever wonder just how angry our God gets with us?” he began, looking at a sea of bewildered faces who seemed to have just encountered the odd verses for the first time. “Sure, we know the God of wrath in the Old Testament and we’ve seen Jesus angrily driving the money changers out of the temple, but here he’s sitting with his disciples, talking about taking responsibility and doing God’s work. 

“I’ve looked at these words in every translation I have available and there’s an anger here we’re not accustomed to seeing from Christ. He’s seething. He’s been traveling with his disciples for a while now and he’s grown a bit tired of all the malarky he’s had to endure. 

“The Jesus we see here wishes fire upon the earth! And while we can debate all day whether he is talking of a spiritual or literal fire, the end result is that the same Christ who, throughout the rest of scriptures is loving and compassionate, is in this moment ready to burn the place to the ground.

“What are we to think? Is it possible, even remotely, that Jesus is giving in to sin? Of course, it’s not! Anger is not a sin! 

I find it reasonable to assume that he’s foreshadowing the fire set on the earth by his coming resurrection and his desire is to skip ahead to that post-resurrection time, past the suffering, and into those glorious days leading up to Pentecost. That makes perfect sense. But right now, as Jesus is sitting with his disciples, he’s ready for it all to be over.

“Personally, I’m with Jesus and I think some of you may be in the same place. We’re ready for the accusations and condemnations and the resulting violence to be over. Wouldn’t it be nice if Christ would choose today to return and bring all this to an end?”

Glynn paused for a chorus of agreement from the congregation voiced as a nearly simultaneous amen.

“The day is still early, but should Christ choose to delay, we have to know how to deal with this affront that continues against us. We have become too dispassionate about evil. As long as it dresses in a suit and stands behind a pulpit we assume that it has God’s blessing and is bringing us good news. But my friends, while the devil dresses nicely, truth is often grotesque and ugly and fails to fit with our personal plans for our lives.

“The truth is that every last one of us are sinners. The truth is that we are wholly and completely incapable of recovering from that sin on our own. The truth is that death is the only possible result of our sin and death is an absolute, mind, body, and soul. And the truth is that God, in His infinite mercy, through the blood of Christ, brings his own power of the resurrection down into our graves, recovers our dead souls, and carries us to eternal life. It’s not pretty and I can’t tell you how quickly that process happens. Perhaps it is instantly, but we cannot impose our concept of time onto God’s timeline. An instant for God may well be a million years by our count. The timing is not what matters, though. What matters is that Jesus saves. The grave is not the end. 

“So, some people are offended by the truth. The truth does not change because we don’t find it pretty enough to fit our ideal. There are often long periods of life where truth is the opposite of pretty; it is grotesque, offensive, gnarled, and wretched to behold. That doesn’t stop it from being the truth though.

“When we see the truth in that dark light, we want to run away from it but if we are to deal with the anger caused by truth’s dark side, if we are to deal with the full reality of the gospel, we must embrace it more tightly than we ever have. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is setting fire to the world, then we must not come at it with a water hose but with matches, fueling the fire, helping it to spread, burning out the underbrush of deceit and lies and wishful thinking.”

The weary pastor looked at his congregation and saw among them nodding heads of approval. He feared what they might be thinking, how they might twist his words after they left the sanctuary. He carefully continued.

“We do not come to pick a fight any more than Christ did. But as is his example, we won’t back down from one, either. We will not use violence as some have this past week, but we will come at sin armed with the unwavering, never faltering, triumphant power of God’s truth. We will apologize only for the harm we do in our moments of sin. We will never apologize for our defense of the gospel.”

Glynn felt his legs begin to shake. He felt his skin grow clammy. Griping as tightly to the pulpit as he could, he closed the service. The invitation was short as he leaned on the communion table in front of the pulpit. The congregation, recognizing perhaps more than he did that their pastor was ill, left quickly and without commotion.

Buck and Horace followed behind Marve as she drove Glynn and the family home, helping to get the pastor into the house and safely into bed. His fever was high and within seconds of lying down, he was unconscious. Marve wiped a tear from her eye, thanked the men for their help, then turned to the kitchen where the kids were waiting for lunch, neither of them fully aware of what had happened to their father. 

The two deacons quietly dismissed themselves, giving each other a knowing look. Their pastor was in crisis. Their obligation was to protect him and protect the church, but that wasn’t going to be easy.

Chapter 44

chapter 44

By the time Dr. Dornboss arrived at the house Monday morning, Glynn’s temperature had soared to 105 degrees. His sheets were drenched in sweat. Marve had gotten little sleep, up checking on him every few minutes, trying to keep him hydrated. The doctor administered a heavy shot of penicillin, emphasized continued fluids, and promised he’d be back at the close of the day.

The fever did not break until Thursday evening. By that time, half the town was convinced that the pastor was going to die. A few, mostly those from the Holiness church out toward Bluebird, questioned whether Glynn was being punished for what had happened. More, however, were convinced that the church had put too much pressure on the new pastor. After all, he was not accustomed to all the full-time needs of a church, and perhaps they had pushed him to take on too much. Similar thoughts were being discussed at the Baptist Building in Oklahoma City. Calvin called daily to check on Glynn’s condition and Dr. Ingram had called twice. Roger and Clement had stopped by the house, separately, and careful to keep their conversations out on the front porch, each offering Marve any immediate financial support she might need. She thanked them and assured them that the church was taking sufficient care of them.

In the meantime, the division within the association grew in its ferocity. Larry Winston had been discharged from the hospital Tuesday morning, having been declared to be sufficiently healthy to stop bothering hospital staff with incessant nonsense. That afternoon, Larry and Roy Moody delivered a letter to Roger demanding that he start the process necessary to remove the three churches from the association. The letter was signed by only six pastors of whom only Larry and Roy were full-time. None of the pastors were formally educated. Roger reminded them that the association was composed of 64 churches and that it would take the vote of a two-thirds majority of those churches to initiate any investigative proceedings. The two pastors left angry and defeated but with promises to return.

Anger against Alan Mayes had taken a surprisingly secular turn as cattlemen in Ridell county took advantage of the situation to charge that cattlemen in Mishawaka county, led by Alan, had been manipulating cattle prices, causing Ridell ranchers to have to bring their cattle to the Adelberg sale barn to get a better price. Threats of violence were serious enough that the sheriffs of both counties were setting up checkpoints and turning back vehicles from the opposing county. Thursday’s scheduled cattle sale was suspended, further angering ranchers in both counties. 

On one hand, the cattlemen’s distraction had tempered Alan’s anger at Larry Winston. At the same time, though, a small militia was now camping just inside the front gate to Alan’s ranch. The sheriff asked the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for a heavier presence on state highways passing through the county, and a contingency plan was developed with the help of the state’s Attorney General allowing OHP limited jurisdiction on county roads should actual violence occur.

Claire and Linda both visited daily to help Marve take care of the kids and provide some much-needed company. Frances Edmonds organized the women in the church to make sure evening meals were provided. While the kids were loving all the attention, and devouring the special meals, Marve was growing weary herself, causing Dr. Dornboss to give her a B12 shot and prescribe her a series of vitamins strong on iron during Wednesday evening’s visit.

Buck had taken over the Wednesday evening prayer service, using it to rally the church around their pastor and their community, emphasizing that Larry Winston was almost certainly under the influence of the devil and was an evil against which they had to stand. Glynn would wince when he eventually found out but in the moment it gave voice to the emotion everyone was feeling. 

Friday morning, the doctor confirmed that the worst of the flu was gone but warned that it could still take the pastor up to two weeks to recover and that if he pushed too much before then that he could relapse. Not only did he tell Glynn that he could not preach the next two Sundays, but Dornboss also called all five deacons to make sure they knew it as well. As a result, they all gathered on the front porch of the parsonage Friday evening to determine how to handle Sunday’s services. 

This was the first time since the ill-fated associational meeting that Glynn and Alan had a chance to talk. The deacon was tentative, convinced he had done the right thing but also feeling guilt over the pastor’s condition. “Pastor, I’m sorry to have caused such a ruckus, but that loud mouth needed to be stopped,” the rancher said carefully. 

Glynn forced a smile. “Sometimes, perhaps, in our haste and in our anger, we still manage to do good. I hope that’s what comes of this whole situation.” His voice was feeble and lacked any confidence for the men to put any faith in his words. 

Faith, for the moment, was limited to the desperate hope that God wasn’t really trying to teach them something. They weren’t in the mood to learn anything deeply spiritual any more than they were in the mood to talk about the landslide presidential election of that week. All anyone wanted was for everything to go back to normal, where the biggest problem was someone’s tractor getting stuck in a muddy field. They didn’t want to address the accuracy of anyone’s theology. Theology didn’t put food on tables, cows in barns, nor souls in heaven. Faith, right now, was that God would deal with Larry Winston so that they wouldn’t have to do so.

After a short discussion, they all agreed with Glynn’s recommendation to ask Roger to fill the pulpit for both services this Sunday. This would give the church a chance to get to know the new Director of Missions and, hopefully, affirm their dedication to the association and the convention. Glynn said if he wasn’t feeling better by the following Sunday, he’d ask someone from the state convention to send someone to address the services.

Roger was quick to agree to preach on the coming Sunday. He not only considered it a show of support for the association by the church, but also affirming his support for the Adelberg congregation and their pastor. He knew that if he didn’t establish a strong tone of leadership right from the beginning that he’d never gain the full support of all the association’s churches, the support he desperately needed at the moment.

As Glynn slowly began to feel better it became more difficult for him to stay in bed and be quiet. He wanted to know what was going on throughout the community. He wanted to be a part of solving the associational crisis he felt he’d help start. He wanted to disarm the situation out at Mayes Ranch. Yet, each telephone call he attempted left him weak and barely able to sit up for the next several hours. 

Marve was attempting to handle the roles of nurse, pr manager, news reporter, kitchen manager, launderer, child care provider, housewife, comforter, and delivery driver all at the same time. Glynn might be weak but she was exhausted. Even with Claire and Linda helping, Marve was finding it difficult to have a moment to herself. Glynn was being a less-than-cooperative patient, his mind racing through everything he thought he needed to do, and the more he tried to do the more work it made for his wife. 

Tensions across the two counties had eased some by Sunday simply because of people having more important things to do. Heavy rain always caused problems with mud and low-level flooding and what started as a mild shower Friday night turned into a torrent by Saturday afternoon leaving much of the region floating. As difficult as the situation was, it also sent feuding cattlemen back to their ranches and put the focus back on the day-to-day task of surviving.

Marve opted not to attend church Sunday morning, arguing that Glynn couldn’t be trusted alone for two hours. She told Frances that she had no desire to come in from church and find her husband unconscious on the living room floor. Claire stopped by and took the kids to Sunday School and had them sit with her during the worship service. 

Roger’s sermon was sufficiently benign as was customary. It was never the job of a pulpit supply to upstage the host pastor. The Director of Missions avoided direct reference to the ongoing controversies, focusing instead on the cooperative roles and things that could be accomplished between the church and the association. He fully expected to see a loss in associational revenue over the next few months and wanted to be sure that First Church, Adelberg was not one cutting their giving. His jovial demeanor quickly won over the congregation and by the time the evening service was over, there was little question that the church would remain supportive.

Dr. Dornboss arrived early Monday morning, giving both kids a quick checkup before they went to school. His reasoning, as he told Marve, was that he had gotten a letter from the state’s health department over the weekend warning that the upcoming flu season could be especially destructive. New vaccines were still in development and wouldn’t be available for another month. 

Glynn’s continued weakness was also a problem the doctor found disconcerting. He drew blood samples to be sent to the lab, prescribed more medicines, and promised, again, to be back that evening. When Marve worried out loud about the cost of the eventual bill, the physician assured her that insurance was covering everything. The truth, of course, was something different. The pastor’s modest insurance policy would never have paid for home visits even under the direst circumstances. Dr. Dornboss knew, however, that the preacher was as close to a public figure as the town had. The extra effort was worth the trouble because it helped maintain the town’s trust.

Clement stopped by for a moment Wednesday morning after having been assured by Marve that Glynn could handle a few minutes of conversation. Glynn sat in his recliner, covered by a heavy quilt, while Clement sat on the end of the couch, each of them trying to casually balance a cup of coffee while trying to keep their normally demonstrative gesturing under control. After a few minutes of polite banter and teasing about Glynn having gone to the extreme to avoid having to confront Larry, Clement finally got down to the real purpose of his visit.

“Some of the other pastors and I have been talking, and we’ve included Roger in on the conversation, and we’re thinking it might be best, now that we have a Director of Missions again, that we resume the pastors’ conference, but that we have two of them, one in each county. Of course, it would be up to each pastor to decide which he wanted to attend, but it would give us a rather innocuous way of separating the super-conservative King James-loving pastors from those of us who take a more progressive approach to the gospel.” Clement’s tone was somewhat conspiratorial, as though what he was suggesting was in violation of some unknown pastoral law.

Glynn tried to lean in, enhancing the strange and unnecessary sense of secrecy while still trying to not spill his coffee. He was less than successful and tried to ignore the small wave of brown liquid that escaped his cup and plopped onto the quilt. “I can see where that makes some sense, but should we worry that as new pastors continue to fill the vacant pulpits they might not know which meeting to attend?”

Clement nodded and took a sip at his coffee before answering. “We’d rely on Roger to guide them in the best direction,” he said. “He’d handle the more conservative guys there at the associational office on Mondays. He doesn’t like moving around from church to church. He’s concerned that it becomes too much of a power play for the host and we don’t need any of that right now. The other group would meet at my church on Tuesday morning, that way Roger can attend both.”

“It certainly would make the meetings a bit more palpable than they had been,” Glynn said. “Still, are we sure that we’re not sowing seeds of divisiveness in separating everyone this way?”

“That’s certainly a concern,” Clement said. “And there’s no unanimous opinion there. I mean, it would be hard for things to be any more divisive than they are at the moment and I’ve talked to enough of the other preachers to know there are still some pretty hot heads out there on both sides. I think bringing us all together right now could potentially result in an all-out brawl. Roger says those five pastors most closely aligned with Larry won’t even answer his phone calls. Among the other more conservative pastors, the issue is not so much whether any of the three churches need to be kicked out of the association as it is whether we handled Larry’s complaint fairly. I still think that letting him air his grievances there, without giving you and the other two churches sufficient time to prepare a rebuttal, would have been criminal. You nor I nor Bill are going to find any welcome among those guys right now.

“Carl had the same question, though, and I think part of that question is whether cohesion can even be achieved in this environment. Roger mentioned, and I think he had input from Oklahoma City on this, that 64 is a lot of churches and it would be easier for him to manage if there was like a North group and a South group, or something like that. We could all still, maybe, come together for big meetings, although I think next year’s annual meeting might be a bit sparse.”

Glynn chuckled at the reference. “What, you don’t think they’d be coming out to see the fights?” He laughed a bit more before adding, “I don’t think we’ll elect Alan as a messenger next year. He kept dropping his left. Maybe we can recruit Cassius Clay or something.”

“Man, you’re behind!” Clement teased. “He’s been Muhammad Ali for a while now. And something tells me bringing a Muslim into this county might really get you killed, my friend.”

The two pastors laughed some more until Glynn started coughing. Clement took that as a sign he needed to excuse himself and promised Glynn that he would really pray for him, “you know, the real conversations we have with God, not like the liturgical prayers we do from the pulpit to keep the congregation in line.”

After Clement left, Marve helped Glynn back to bed where he slept the rest of the day. She called Buck and suggested they cancel the Wednesday services. Buck responded that since it was a business meeting they probably shouldn’t cancel but promised he’d make sure nothing too serious was addressed. 

Marve was worried knowing that Glynn would have been worried had he been awake. Neither of their concerns was realized, though. Attendance was sparse, most people assuming that without the pastor’s attendance there wasn’t a need for their presence, either, and to a large extent, they were correct. As a result, when Horace presented his idea that he gift the church with pads for the pews in Joanne’s memory, there was no objection. The only question was how long it might take, the answer to which was about three months. The issue passed with so little fanfare that it didn’t even make its way to the evening’s gossip conversations among the community. 

Glynn woke up Thursday morning fussing that business meeting had occurred without him having any input in the matter and expressing his frustration at what seemed to be an increase in dizziness and weakness in his legs. He called and talked briefly with Cavin who assured him they would send someone from the Baptist Building who could be trusted to fill his pulpit on Sunday with the necessary care. Glynn then called Buck to make sure he knew and fussed at him a bit for conducting a business meeting without talking to him first. 

By the time Dr. Dornboss came back around that evening, though, Glynn had exhausted all energy he had for orneriness and sat quietly in the kitchen chair as his temperature and blood pressure were checked. He told the doctor about the dizziness and weakness. In response, the doctor motioned for Marve to join them at the table.

“So, I got a preliminary report on those blood tests,” he said in that tone that always precludes bad news. “And they’re going to run some more tests to make sure before we come to a final diagnosis, but given how long your symptoms have gone on, even though your fever has been gone for a week now, I have to tell you that I am concerned that you may have something more critical and longer-lasting than the flu.”

Glynn and Marve looked at each other for a few seconds before Glynn asked, “What are you thinking it might be?”

Dornboss sighed and sat back in the chair, folding his arms in front of him. “I’m not sure it’s appropriate for me to even make a suggestion until those other tests come back. The initial tests could have easily been influenced by the remaining flu cells in your system. We have to eliminate that possibility before we get too specific. But I want you to be prepared. If you’re not better by Monday or Tuesday, I want to admit you to the hospital and run some specific tests.”

Glynn was stunned by the doctor’s words to the point that he couldn’t force his brain to form the words necessary to speak. He sat there, his mouth slightly open, looking as though he were about to talk, but making no sound.

Marve showed the doctor to the door and then returned to the table, sitting in the chair directly in front of her husband, who still hadn’t made a sound. “Don’t worry, dear,” she said softly. “Everything’s in God’s hands and it’s going to be okay.”

Glynn shook his head. “They broke me,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “We came to Oklahoma to do God’s work and they broke me.”

Reading time: 34 min
Pastors' Conference, `971, ch. 41-42

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Chapter 41

By the time Sunday came around, Glynn’s anxieties were showing in ways only Marve noticed. The tone of his voice wasn’t as bright as normal. He paused more when talking. He relied more heavily on his sermon notes than usual and lost his place more than once. He cut the invitation so short that he caught the entire congregation by surprise. 

Anyone who might have known what was going on would have excused Glynn’s behavior. Hayden’s eye surgery the next morning was enough to make any parent anxious. Adding to that, however, was the looming arrival of Marve’s parents and that was enough to make the pastor forgetful and seem unattentive. Glynn was good enough at maintaining his composure in public that no one seemed to notice. They were caught up in their own lives with plenty of worries to keep them from noticing the few anxious tics of their pastor.

Marve noticed, though, because she was as anxious as her husband, if not more so. As the weekend had progressed, Hayden was asking more questions about the surgery, and the more questions he asked the more anxious she became. It didn’t matter that the doctors boasted a 90 percent success rate with the surgery nor that the team was widely considered to be one of the best in pediatric ophthalmology surgery across the United States. What mattered was whether her little boy would be safe and if Marve could contain her anxieties through what was expected to be a two-hour long surgery. 

Lita seemed excited to see her grandparents again, but she was the only one who felt that way and her bubbly attitude about everything, including getting to ride to school with Claire and Linda, was the dominant noise over lunch. Hayden finished his chicken leg and mashed potatoes then went to his room to play with his cars. So much was happening that he didn’t understand. His visual world was getting fuzzier but the concept of cataracts was more than he could comprehend. How could he have something in his eye that he couldn’t see when he looked in the mirror? Why couldn’t Mommy take it out? Playing with cars was an easy way to avoid those questions and Lita’s annoying babbling.

Glynn helped Marve clean the lunch dishes then made one final inspection of the house before her parents’ arrival. They had decided to let the Roberts use their bedroom and Glynn and Marve would sleep on the sofa’s pull-out bed. Fresh sheets were on both beds, clean towels were laid out, everything was precise, and in order. All they had to do was wait. 

The trip from the Roberts’ home in Hadelsville in the Southeastern corner of the state to Adelberg was a little over three hours long, depending on how many times one needed to stop. Being a Sunday, there weren’t many options for stopping in the first place so Marve was expecting her parents to show up somewhere around 3:00. They didn’t. 4:00 passed and still no sign of them. By 5:00 Marve was beginning to worry. She called their home to make sure they were still coming and got no answer. She assumed they were on their way. She worried that their car might have broken down or had a flat tire. There were long stretches of highway with no shoulder and no pay phones closeby to call for help. 

Glynn had to leave for Training Union, the denomination’s Sunday-evening emphasis on teaching doctrine, at 5:45. Marve had said she’d bring her parents with them for the evening service. Surely they’d arrive by then. They didn’t. After the service, for which Glynn’s sermon was even more disjointed than the morning’s had been, the pastor called the parsonage to see if they’d at least called. Marve had heard nothing and was beside herself with worry. Glynn talked briefly with Tom and Linda to make arrangements for Claire to spend the night at their house. 

Hayden was sound asleep, his small suitcase packed and sitting ready at the foot of his bed, by 9:00. The girls were in bed even though their excited whispering could be heard clearly in the living room. Marve was certain that something horrible had happened to her parents and was pacing frantically. 

The evening news was ending and Glynn was about to suggest they go on to bed and try to sleep when headlights poured through the living room window as the Roberts’ car pulled into the driveway. Marve ran out to greet her parents, tearfully excited that they were indeed safe and extremely curious as to what had caused the delay.

“Your father, you know how he is about not looking at maps and not asking directions,” Mrs. Roberts explained, “got us so very lost that we ended up in Arkansas and didn’t know what to do but turn around and drive back the way we came. Then we had trouble finding a gas station that was open. And it got dark and we still weren’t sure we were on the right highway, so we got lost a couple of more times though not as bad.”

“Why didn’t you at least call?” Marve asked, as her worry began to be replaced with anger.

“We thought about it a couple of times and I guess we should have, but you know, your father and I don’t either one carry that much change and we didn’t want you to have to pay for a collect call,” her mother said. “I’m sorry if we caused you to worry, but at least we made it here safely, right?”

As Marve showed her mother into the house, Glynn helped his father-in-law with the luggage. Despite the brevity of their trip, they had packed four large suitcases and two overnight bags, all of which were extremely heavy.

Edward and Virginia Roberts were a near-perfect example of how opposites attract. Edward, who as always called Edward, never Ed nor Eddie, was tall and thin to the point of being lanky. He tended to be quiet and soft-spoken, wearing blue and white striped Roundhouse overalls with black round-toed boots everywhere except to church. He could sit in a room and go completely unnoticed until he lit his pipe, which only happened when he was bored. 

Virginia, on the other hand, was shorter than Marve by about an inch and round in a happy sort of way that made it easy to assume that she enjoyed cooking, which she did. Known as Ginny to her friends, Mrs. Roberts could hold a conversation totally on her own for over an hour without actually saying anything of value. She was the type of person who had opinions about everything and was quite certain that everyone else in the room was interested in hearing them even if the topics were not necessarily appropriate for the audience present. She had insisted that they pack extra clothing in case something happened and they needed to stay longer, though she insisted, they really couldn’t stay past Thursday because she was the secretary of the flower club and absolutely could not miss their meeting on Friday. 

Marve and her mother were in the bedroom by the time Glynn and Edward managed to wrangle the suitcases into the house. The sudden increase in volume from Ginny’s talking had awakened both children, who had run excitedly to see their grandmother, while Claire stood off to the side, observing. Another 30 minutes would pass before Marve could get the kids back in bed. Claire pulled her to the side and suggested giving her mother a call, asking her to arrive a few minutes early in the morning for fear that Ginny’s neverending conversation might otherwise make them late for school. 

Only when he looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly midnight did Glynn insist that everyone needed to go to bed. Making the day-long trip was hard enough and only getting three hours’ sleep was going to make it all the more difficult. Not that he nor Marve could get any rest. Marve worried whether she had given her mother enough instruction to be able to find everything she would need to prepare meals. Glynn kept going over the route to Oklahoma City, wondering which truck stops and service stations would be open along the way. He knew they would have to leave promptly by 4:00 in the morning to make it to the hospital in time to get Hayden checked in and ready for surgery. 

As it turned out, the couple’s mutual anxieties helped provide them with more than enough energy to get up early and be on the road by 3:45. Hayden, of course, immediately fell asleep in the back seat and one she was confident that Glynn had the driving well in hand, Marve was able to nap for a few minutes. They arrived in Oklahoma City with time to spare, checked in at the hospital, and then helped Hayden change into the hospital gown and get ready for his surgery.

Marve was caught by surprise when they wouldn’t let her go with Hayden into the surgical prep area where he was given a light general anesthetic. Instead, she was ushered into a separate room where she was given a surgical gown and mask with instructions on how to scrub her hands, all the way to the elbows, in the same manner as the surgical staff. She was then taken to the surgical center where the nurse explained everything that would be happening during the surgery, where Marve was to sit, and the importance of her not moving from that spot unless her presence was requested by the doctor. 

Glynn was taken to an office where he filled out what seemed like an endless amount of paperwork then was shown to the waiting area. For the moment, he was the only one there. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the 20-gallon pot provided by the hospital auxiliary, picked up a newspaper, and sat down to wait. He never had been all that consumed with politics, which is all the front section seemed to contain, but at least the Sooners were having a good season and the comics were amusing.

As additional people came into the waiting area, Glynn fought back the urge to pastor them. He had to remind himself with each new occupant of the white-tiled space that he wasn’t their pastor, they didn’t know him, and no one had asked for his services. He wasn’t there as a pastor, but as a Daddy to a very frightened little boy. Being a pastor was a lot easier, he decided, as the anxiety of waiting and the slowness with which time seemed to pass created a sense of tension and worry where every possible negative outcome was imagined and had to be pushed down.

An hour into waiting, Glynn was on his fourth cup of the stale coffee, trying to make sense of the articles in the business section of the paper, when a man about his own age walked in, looked around as if expecting to find someone he knew, poured a cup of coffee, and then, because it was the only seat left, sat down next to Glynn. Glynn smiled and nodded politely and perhaps wouldn’t have given the man’s presence a second thought had it not been for the fact that, like Glynn, and unlike everyone else in the room,  the man was wearing a suit. Marve had tried to get Glynn to dress more casually for the day, but he had insisted that he was more comfortable in the tie and jacket and that it would be more appropriate should the need arise to minister to someone in the room. 

A few minutes passed before the man, likely desperate for some distraction from the boredom, glanced at the section of newspaper Glynn was reading and said, “Domestic crude is really taking a beating, isn’t it?”

Glynn nodded. “I guess so. I really don’t understand the whole 30-day, three-month, six-month thing. I know I’ve never seen gas at forty cents a gallon until this morning.”

“It’s all a calculated guessing game designed to maximize profit in an unstable environment,” the man said. “We produce a lot of oil in Oklahoma and that comes at a calculated cost. When we go to sell that oil, though, we have to compete against foreign providers and increasingly, especially with changes in politics, providers like OPEC have been able to beat our prices by quite a bit, forcing us to drop prices considerably if we want to compete. No one in Washington seems to understand that it’s already putting a number of smaller oil companies out of business.”

“I thought the oil business was one of the most lucrative in the state,” Glynn said, surprised by what he was being told.

The man shifted his position in the chair so that it was slightly less uncomfortable to engage in conversation. “It’s lucrative if you own the land or own the company. Right now, we’re producing more oil than we can sell. Companies are starting to cap new wells rather than pull the oil from them. Too much oil drives the price down and OPEC has been producing double what they were and now the market’s flooded.”

Glynn nodded as though he understood. He wanted to understand, but numbers and corporate business had always been concepts he found it difficult to grasp. He looked at his watch anxiously, knowing that the surgery should be over soon if everything had gone well.

“Waiting’s never easy, is it?” the man commented.

“I guess not. The last time I was in a waiting room like this was when my son was born,’ Glynn responded. “Now, he’s in there having surgery and it’s taking everything I have to not let the worry drive me crazy.”

“That’s probably true for pretty much everyone in here,” the man replied, crossing his legs and pulling a pack of cigarettes from his suit coat pocket. “You mind if I smoke?”

Glynn shook his head. He didn’t smoke cigarettes, never had found a taste for them, and he particularly didn’t like being in a room like this where the smoke hung thick around the ceiling. He didn’t feel as though he had any right to object, though. While he felt that smoking and drinking both violated the Biblical mandate for keeping one’s body “clean before God,” smoking was the less obvious of the two sins and one that even a number of preachers did with no apparent thought to paradox. The concept that smoking was dangerous was still relatively new and not a warning many people in the Southwest took seriously. 

The preacher walked over and refilled his coffee cup yet again. He was about to return to his seat when he saw Marve coming down the short hallway. He hurried over, catching her well short of the waiting room. “Well, how’d it go?” he asked anxiously.

Marve gave him a big hug and said, “It was just fine. One of the nurses kept telling him silly jokes so he giggled all the way through it. And he asked a lot of questions. He got a little impatient toward the end and kept asking how many more pieces they had to remove. But he likes the eye patch he has to wear. He’s certain that he’s a pirate now.”

Glynn laughed as much from relief as with the thought of Hayden playing pirate. “So, what happens now? Are they taking him to a room?”

Marve nodded as they walked to the waiting room. “They told me to come down here while they get him in a room and get everything set up. They want to monitor him coming off the anesthesia. They said sometimes there can be some lingering pain and they want to address that. We should be able to see him in a few minutes. How have you done out here? Did they have enough coffee?”

“Yeah, just sitting here talking with a guy about oil prices,” Glyn answered. “Not like I know what he’s talking about.”

Marve stopped walking. “Wait, you don’t know anything about oil prices. Is this guy a couple of inches taller than you, good looking, probably wearing a suit and acting like he owns the building?”

Glynn started, “Well, he is wearing a suit, but…”

Marve ran the rest of the way to the waiting room and began looking through the crowd of people standing around. She found him quickly. “Doug!” she nearly shouted. “You came! You never said for sure so I wasn’t expecting you!”

As the two embraced tightly, Glynn calmly walked over and extended his hand. “I guess I should have introduced myself. I’m Glynn Waterbury.”

Doug shook Glynn’s hand. “Doug Carmichael. Nice to finally meet you.” Turning to Marve he asked, “Did everything go okay?”

Marve nodded. “He did just fine. Can you stay long enough to meet him? He’d be so excited!”

“Sure! I took the day off to ‘do some field research,’ so we have plenty of time to catch up. It’s been so long! You grew up good, baby sister!” Doug looked back at Glynn. “You know, the last time I saw her was at her high school graduation, and that was only because I snuck into the back of the auditorium and left before our parents could see me.”

“Oh, I’m sure nothing’s changed,” Glynn teased. “She’s still as spry and lively as she was when she was 17.”

“Sure, with a few more wrinkles and a lot more weight than I had then,” Marve said. “How are Barbara and the kids?”

“Spoiled,” Doug said with a big smile. “Barb will be up here around noon. She’s anxious to meet both of you. I’m afraid we’ve gotten so accustomed to staying away from both our families that we’ve neglected the ones we still care about.”

“You don’t see her family, either?” Glynn asked, hoping that he wasn’t prying too much so early in getting to know his brother-in-law.

If the question bothered Doug he didn’t show it. “No, her parents divorced when she was six. We don’t know even know if her dad is still alive. He’s a raging alcoholic, spent some time in jail, and the last anyone heard from him he was in Arizona. Her mom drinks almost as much, has a number of health problems, and the temper of a woman who blames her children and the world for her life not being perfect. Barb has three older brothers but we’ve not seen them since we got married. One’s in Seattle, one in Texas, and the other in Philly. We exchange Christmas cards but other than that there’s no one anxious to have a family reunion.”

The rest of the day was spent exchanging all the information and details of the past several years. Hayden was recovering well and enjoying the fact that the hospital would give him all the cherry gelatin he could eat. Meeting his Uncle was nice but not as exciting as having a television in his own room and being able to watch cartoons.

Glynn drove back home safely enough but was frustrated to walk in and find that Claire and Lita were up late, still doing the dishes from a dinner that hadn’t been served until after 7:00. He tried to be gentle in reminding his in-laws that Lita’s bedtime was a strict 8:00 and that staying up late on a school night was not permissible. 

When the same thing happened Tuesday night, though, he was intentionally more brusk in his response. The house was a mess with newspaper and clothing strewn around the house, dishes piled high in the sink, and dirty pans still on the stove. Glynn called Tom and got permission to take Lita out of school the next day, then drove Claire home. When he told Ginny and Edward that he was taking Lita with him the next day and that their services were no longer needed, they went to bed in a huff, complaining that their “sacrifice” wasn’t being appreciated.

Lita, however, was thrilled to miss a day of school. She was excited to meet her aunt and uncle and was full of questions about the hospital. She also enjoyed getting to ride in the front seat of the car, peppering her Dad with all kinds of questions about everything they passed. 

Glynn was concerned about what the house would look like when they returned. He had done his best to clean up what he could before falling asleep, exhausted, in the recliner. He knew that, without anyone there to provide oversight, Ginny and Edward might leave the house in a terrible mess. Much to his surprise, however, the house was perfectly clean when the family returned home just in time for Glynn to run to the Wednesday night service. 

Ginny did leave Marve a letter, complaining about how rude Glynn had been to them and that they would not bother to offer their child-sitting services again. Marve tore up the letter and dumped it in the trash.

Hayden would have to wear a patch over his eye for the next week, which not only made him the most popular kid in Kindergarten but all of the lower elementary. He was thrilled with all the attention. 

By the time Friday rolled around, everything seemed back to normal. The family went to the last football game of the season, happy that the team ended with a win while shivering in the suddenly cold evening temperatures. Years would pass before Marve would mention her parents again and the promises of keeping in touch with Doug would fall flat as other stressors demanded attention. What had started as a dramatic week ended in a whimper that would eventually be lost to other more pleasant and important memories. It was almost as if the week had never happened at all.

Chapter 42

Glynn could feel the tension in the air Sunday but wasn’t able to exactly place the source. Emotions were running high as evidenced by the lack of conversation between Sunday School and the morning’s worship service. There were no smiles, no warm greetings. Everyone took their seat and waited. Quietly. The music was lackluster. Some were already squirming in their seat before Glynn started his sermon. 

Looking out over the congregation, he noticed there were some not in their normal seats. Buck and his family normally sat on the right side of the sanctuary. Today, they were on the left, directly in front of Horace. Alan, who normally sat on the left side, directly behind Horace, was now on the right. The same applied to a half-dozen others.

Glynn made a point of asking if everything was okay as people left the service. “Sure, pastor, everything’s fine,” they would say with a forced smile. Even Alan, who was usually quick to identify even the smallest problem, was dismissive with, “Just another Sunday morning, pastor.”

He checked with Marve, who normally was aware of changes in the community before he was. “I can’t say that I’ve heard anything,” she told him. “I wouldn’t worry about it. We’re at that strange time of year where there’s nothing really going on and I think it makes people uncomfortable.”

The pastor wasn’t so convinced but also knew better than to go poking around. No one liked a nosey preacher. He knew any serious problem would eventually bubble up to the top but he would much rather find a solution before it reached that point.

When three more disgruntled letters arrived in Monday’s mail, Glynn decided it was time to call Calvin. While he still wasn’t concerned about the comments in any one letter, the volume of them was disconcerting. More than a month had passed since his sermon on death had rattled the pastor’s retreat. He thought pastors would have turned their attention back to their own congregations by now. 

Calvin sounded genuinely surprised to hear that Glynn was still getting letters. “We only got feedback here for a couple of weeks and then it dropped off. Do you mind telling me who some of the negative letters are from?” he asked.

Glynn reached into the bottom desk drawer where he had tossed the negative letters and read some of the names from the return addresses on the envelope. Glynn found it interesting that none of them had written anonymously. They were willing to take on a fight if he chose to engage it. 

“Interesting, more than half of those are from pastors out in Telleconix Association, out along the western border. Sounds like someone out there is keeping them all riled up,” Calvin said. “That’s usually a pretty quiet association. Most of the pastors out there are bi-vocational and either teach school or ranch as a profession. We rarely see any of them at state gatherings because of the distance and their inability to get away. Let me see who from out that direction was at the retreat. If I can, I’ll reach out to their Director of Missions and see if he can put a lid on the problem.”

Glynn thanked him and hung up the phone hoping that the whole matter would go away. He was trying to focus on his sermon for the associational annual meeting. This was being yet another example of trying to find words to greet an audience at an event he had never personally experienced. Sure, Baptist Associations in Michigan had annual meetings, but he had never had the time, nor actually the desire to attend one. 

The concept of an annual meeting was that since the association operated on the collective donations of churches in that association, they needed to be accountable for what they did with those donations. The same thing was true of the state convention’s annual meeting in November and the Southern Baptist Convention in June. At their essence, they were little more than business meetings intended to demonstrate some level of accountability for the funds and responsibilities with which they were entrusted. That they were treated as more than that was, in Glynn’s opinion, a heaping shovel full of religious pomposity. He did not need someone to preach to him on the power of mutual cooperation when the biggest argument he’d heard so far had been over the autonomy of the individual church. Yet, that was the topic Clement had taken. Neither did he need someone to spend 30 minutes dramatizing the need for evangelism when he was daily made aware of the degree to which Christianity had over-saturated the local market, leaving only a handful of sinners for which they all clamored so aggressively as to convince the uncommitted that they were probably better off with the reliable spirits found in a bottle than the schizophrenic Spirit presented by 14 different denominations all bent on saving their soul. He would listen to Bill’s sermon politely, but he expected no lasting benefit from it.

His own topic was supposed to be the Importance of Building Strong Youth Programs. He had borrowed books from both Clement and Bill again and read all the articles in the current denominational and general conservative Christian literature but still felt as though the entire topic was something that existed in someone else’s reality. His church had only a smattering of “young people,” those between the ages of 13 and 18. Besides Claire, only Roland Hughes could be considered a regular and the difference between the two teens could not have been more stark. Claire was deeply involved in her independent religious studies that far outstripped the meager preparation that Frances Edmonds attempted late on Saturday nights. Russel Daniels would show up about half the time, but neither of his parents was especially regular and when he was there it was more likely because Roland had some other topic of interest on which the two would spend the morning service passing notes back and forth. There were others who came and went, of course. On any given Sunday there were five or six people in the classroom. Yet, the church had no official youth leader. Even among the teens themselves, there was no one who could unify the group all that well. Claire was the most popular but even she wasn’t prone to getting everyone together. Each one tended to do their own thing. Glynn would do his best with the sermon, but he didn’t expect anyone to be inspired by his words.

The association’s annual meeting was held at First Baptist, Arvel, whose large sanctuary and high ceiling felt both impressive and imposing. This was the largest church in the association with a budget larger than the association’s which meant that they tended to do their own thing and leave the association to the smaller churches. Dr. Harold Bennet was the pastor here, a well-dressed, well-educated, gray-haired preacher whose voice ranged from gentle words of wisdom to thunderous indictments of eternal damnation. He made the necessary greetings, gave the opening prayer, and then promptly disappeared into his office. 

For most of the pastors in the association, this was their first time seeing each other since Emmet’s dramatic exit. They greeted each other cordially enough, though there was still some trepidation among them as to who might have done what. There were also several new faces in the crowd, mostly younger pastors who had stepped into the pulpits of those churches whose pastors had left abruptly and under questionable circumstances resulting from Emmet’s letter to the state convention. 

Dr. Bennet’s prayer was followed by a couple of requisite hymns, another prayer, and then Clement called the meeting to order. The speed with which chaos ensued was mind-boggling. Immediately, Larry Winston stood up and shouted so everyone could hear, “Point of order, Mr. Moderator. I would move that the messengers from Grace Church, Arvel, Grace Church, Washataug, and First Church, Adelberg not be seated as their churches are out of fellowship with the association.”

There was a second to the motion from someone toward the back of the sanctuary, though no one was certain who that might be. Immediately, Clement countered with his own parliamentary maneuver. “The motion is denied given that none of the messengers have yet to be seated, therefore there is no one in standing to make the motion.”

Grumbling and confusion scattered across the assembly and Alan leaned over and asked Glynn, “What does he mean that we’re out of fellowship. We’ve been sending our checks, haven’t we?”

Glynn shrugged. “As far as I know. This is the first I’ve heard about anything. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Bill stood up and made the more customary statement. “Mr. Moderator, I move that all the messengers who have presented themselves as duly elected representatives of the stated churches of this association be seated as voting delegates of this annual meeting.”

Again, there was a second, though Glynn recognized Carl’s voice this time. Still, the second had hardly left Carl’s mouth before Larry was on his feet again.

“Point of order, Mr. Moderator. I would move that the messengers from Grace Church, Arvel, Grace Church, Washataug, and First Church, Adelberg not be seated as their churches are out of fellowship with the association,” he insisted.

This time, there was a gap of several seconds before Roy Moody reluctantly seconded the motion after Larry had turned around and given him a harsh look.

Bill had waited until the second had been given before he shot Larry’s motion down again. “Mr. Moderator, said motion is out of order insomuch as associational bylaws state in section 14, paragraph six, that churches continuing to participate in the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention cannot be removed from the association nor can their messengers be denied without the recommendation of the Executive Committee following a public examination of the charges against them.”

Glynn looked at Marve, then at Buck and Alan. “That was awfully specific,” he said quietly. “No way he knew that off the top of his head.”

“Sounds to me like we’re being set up for something,” Buck replied.

“Motion denied,” Clement said quickly. “All in favor of the motion to seat messengers say aye.”

A thunderous “Aye,” rose from the assembly.

“All opposed say, Nay,” Clement continued.

Larry shouted his Nay but the few voices joining him were meager to the point of being reluctant. 

“And the motion carries,” Clement said. “You should have been given upon entry a copy of the minutes of the 1971 annual meeting. Do I hear a motion…”

“NO!! I will not allow this meeting to continue!” Larry shouted. “We cannot sit here and tolerate the presence of murderers and adulterers and that heretic over there!” As he said “over there,” he pointed hard in Glynn’s direction as though attempting to jab at him from across the sanctuary. 

Alan looked sternly down the pew at Glynn, then back at Larry and before anyone could move fast enough to stop him he was on his feet and moving out into the aisle. “Who the sam-hill are you calling a heretic?” he shouted at Larry. “I don’t recall seeing your face in any of our services. You don’t know what you’re talking about and I demand an apology to our pastor and our church!”

Buck stood up and touched Alan’s shoulder but the deacon pushed him away.

“And you don’t have any control over your own pastor!” Larry shouted back. “He’s running around all over the state spreading heresy!”

Alan threw his Bible onto the pew and stepped aggressively across the aisle. “You will take that back and apologize right now!” he shouted.

Clement banged a gavel on the pulpit. “Order! Gentlemen, we will have order in these proceedings!”

No one was paying any attention. “I will do no such thing!” Larry shouted back.

As Alan was moving, Buck was reaching to stop him but was half a second too late. Even if he had managed somehow to catch Alan’s elbow it is unlikely that he could have stopped him. The full force of the rancher’s fist connected with the soft tissue of the preacher’s face, instantly breaking his nose and causing blood to spurt onto everyone around him. Larry fell backward, hitting his head on the back of a pew before landing on the floor with a hard thud.

Naturally, men from Larry’s own church came after Alan as Buck and Glynn both struggled moving past their wives to reach him and pull him back. Alan was ready for the fight, though, and two more men went down before Glynn could get around in Alan’s face and yell at him to stop. As Glynn and Buck pulled Alan from the fray, though, others joined, punching and pushing each other, no one really knowing which side anyone else had taken but determined to come to the defense of one or the other. All the while, Clement stood banging his gavel, screaming for order.

The actual fight lasted less than three minutes. Glynn and Buck wrestled Alan out the door and into the parking lot where Glynn told Alan to go home and not bother returning. “You are a disappointment to me, a disappointment to your church, and most importantly a disappointment to God,” he said. They would be words he would come to regret but at the moment they felt necessary. He watched Alan storm to his pickup and drive off then turned to Buck and asked, “What in the world do we do now?”

“You got me, preacher,” Buck said, his hands shoved in his pockets. “I can tell you that having Alan Mayes angry is never a good thing. I’ve not seen him this mad at another person in years and never at a preacher like that. He’ll cool down in a couple of days, I suppose, but I’d give him some distance.”

Glynn and Buck turned to walk back into the church building just as the ambulance pulled up along with a couple of police cars. People were hurriedly leaving through another door. For all practical purposes, the day’s meeting was over. Inside, Buck went to talk with Marve and Frances while Glynn found Clement and Bill talking with Roger Gentry who was now, technically, Director of Missions.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see that coming,” Glynn said as he approached the group, feeling somehow responsible for Alan’s actions.

Roger shook his head. “It’s not your fault, Glynn. We underestimated how volatile Larry’s disruption would be. One of the messengers from Grace Church here was headed that direction as well. Yours just beat him to it.”

“Wait, you knew Larry was going to say something?” Glynn asked. He felt a sudden surge of anger at the possibility of being betrayed.

“Sort of,” Clement admitted. “He called me when we mailed out the schedule and he saw your name on it. He wanted you off the roster and when I refused to do so he started getting nasty, calling me names and such. He didn’t say for certain that he’d do anything here, but we were anticipating some kind of challenge.”

“Why didn’t you call me, at least give me some kind of heads up?” Glynn charged. “I would happily give my speaking spot to someone else to avoid a disaster like this!”

“That’s my fault,” Roger said. “I thought we’d be able to nip the whole thing in the bud, save all three churches from any sort of public embarrassment. Since neither of the other churches have pastors, there really wasn’t anyone there we knew to contact. And I was afraid you’d back out of speaking if you knew.”

“I definitely would have backed out!” Glynn said, trying to keep some hold on his temper. The four men watched as Larry was taken out to the ambulance, followed by his wife and the other messengers from his church. Glynn looked around at the near-empty sanctuary. “So, what do we do?”

“I think this meeting is over and everyone needs to leave,” Harold Bennet said as he walked up to the group. “I never thought I’d see the day when anything like this would happen. This is a disgrace. We’ll be sending the association a bill for the cleanup, of course, and at this point I’m not sure we’ll continue our giving. That it happened at all is embarrassing. That this happened in my church is unconscionable.”

The senior pastor turned to Roger and continued, “I would strongly suggest that you look at ways you might mute some of the more ignorant pulpit robbers among us. We might not be able to stop churches from hiring uneducated and illiterate men like that but we don’t have to let them participate and poison the waters for the rest of us.”

Looking at Glynn he added, “Young man, don’t think I’m not aware of the melee you caused at the pastors’ retreat. I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but know this, there’s a price that comes with speaking the truth to people who don’t want to hear it. We hedge the gospel, all of us do because in its raw form it’s insulting to people’s lives. If we were honest, we’d have to tell people how wretched and miserable their lives are. We can’t run churches like that, though. We have to finesse Christianity so that people see it as a way to feel better about themselves, not a means for wrestling their own pathetic nature. Never forget that truth is a game for martyrs.”

He looked at Clement, “You’ll wrap this up and get everyone out of my church, correct?”

Clement nodded in agreement, not daring to meet Harold’s harsh gaze.

Dr. Bennet took a couple of steps away before finishing with a final warning. “Don’t ask me to use our facilities for associational gathers ever again. The answer will be no.” He walked back toward his office, leaving the four preachers looking at each other in silence.

There wasn’t much left to do. After some brief discussion, it was determined that being well short of a quorum, the meeting was automatically adjourned and required no further parliamentary action. 

Glynn walked back over to where Marve, Buck, and Frances were waiting. Marve knew the look on Glynn’s face and was concerned as to what could have him so angry. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“They knew,” he responded.

“What?” Marve and Buck asked in unison.

“They knew that Larry was going to try to get us kicked out. They thought they could stop him before it got to the floor,” Glynn explained. “I don’t know what to think. I’ve never seen a fight like that in church before.”

Buck reached over and put a hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “Look, pastor, none of this is your fault. That yahoo insulted the entire membership of three different churches. I don’t know of anyone in Adelberg that’s likely to take that sitting down. I know what Alan did was wrong, but its what every one of us wanted to do. Where’s that tallywhacker from, anyway?”

“Small church here in Arvel, over there east of the junior college. Pretty small group form what I understand, 30-40 people in Sunday School,” Glynn said. 

“And they couldn’t keep him from standing up and calling you a heretic?” Marve asked, sharing some of Glynn’s anger. “I mean, had we known we wouldn’t have come at all, would we?”

Glynn shrugged. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m so angry I can hardly see straight. We need to go, though. Dr. Bennet’s more than a little upset and has asked everyone to leave.”

“I can’t say I blame him,” Frances said, speaking up for the first time. “Someone makes a mess in your house, you kick them out.”

Marve looked at Glynn. “You know, we have a baby sitter until late tonight. Why don’t we drive over to Joplin for dinner? Get away from this nonsense for a while.”

Buck reached in his back pocket and removed his wallet. “I think that’s a good idea, pastor. You two drive over to Joplin and catch your breath a bit. I’ll even pay for it.” He removed a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet and tucked it in Glynn’s shirt pocket. “Don’t even think about arguing with me. You guys go. I’ll check on Alan and talk with you tomorrow.”

Glynn and Marve thanked Buck and Frances then walked out to the parking lot where only a few cars remained. “I wasn’t all that excited about sitting through two days of boring reports in the first place,” Marve said and Glynn started the car. 

Glynn sighed. “This isn’t going to blow over, you know. I’m sure the rumor mill has kicked into overdrive. Maybe we should call Claire and tell her to not answer the phone this evening.”

“She’s not out of school yet,” Marve reminded him. “We can call when we find someplace to eat. Just drive.”

Glynn followed the road to the highway then turned East instead of heading toward home. The mixture of anger and embarrassment resulted in a heavy foot on the gas pedal. He wished he could drive straight to Michigan and never look back.

Reading time: 37 min
Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 39

chapter 39

October and November tend to be fairly quiet months right up to the holiday season, which is the reason so many denominational activities are scheduled for that period. Adelberg was more quiet than normal this year, though. The entire town was depressed. The school’s football team was having a losing season. Crop prices took a sudden dip just as the season was ending. Cattle prices weren’t much better. No one felt much like talking, but they were attending church. The Sunday morning services were full and Sunday evening was better than normal. Still, the spirit was lackluster. No one hung around to chat. Smiles were rare as people left the building.

The trip to Oklahoma City went largely as expected. The doctor there confirmed what Dr. Ginzeman had told them. They scheduled the surgery for the Monday two weeks out, the day before the presidential election. Marve listened carefully as the doctor explained how the surgery would take place, that a parent would be necessary to help keep Hayden calm since he would have to be awake during the process. 

The surgery sounded frightening and inconclusive. The risks were considerable but to not do anything meant certain blindness. There was little question that Marve would be the one in the surgery room with Hayden and she would be the one to stay in the hospital with him during his recovery, which would take a couple more days. Glynn would drive back and forth, coming down early in the morning then driving back each day by noon. The schedule would be exhausting but it was the only option they had. Glynn wouldn’t have any vacation time until he had been at the church a year. Even if he’d had the time, the community still needed his presence.

Glynn wasn’t surprised when Clement called to confirm that Roger had accepted the Association’s offer. The plan was to introduce him at the Annual Meeting the following week and allow him to make the keynote address Friday evening. Clement would give the opening address Thursday morning, Glynn would preach Thursday evening, and Bill took the Friday morning slot. They all agreed that the tone needed to be kept light and upbeat, focused on moving forward rather than mourning the failures and losses of the past year. Among the five executive committee members, they also agreed to keep the business sessions moving, making sure reports were accepted without challenge, and using parliamentary procedure to ward off any challenges to the budget.  They needed the meeting to occur without incident if at all possible.

Wednesday night’s church business meeting, typically one of the most boring uses of anyone’s time, centered largely around electing the church’s messengers for the upcoming associational annual meeting and the state convention in November. Southern Baptist Churches, being wholly autonomous entities, participated in such meetings voluntarily, primarily because as joint partners in funding those larger entities they wanted a say in how the money was being spent. Anyone was welcome to attend but to prevent large churches from taking over and silencing small churches, the role of messenger was established. Only messengers could vote and each church was limited, at that time, to five messengers. 

Some churches took the election of their messengers quite seriously. Carl had mentioned during one of the executive committee meetings how his church members had argued over an hour as to whether his wife could act as a messenger. Other churches felt as though the messengers needed to be elected from the church at large, more of a popularity contest. Glynn was happy that the Adelberg church had neither of those problems. Being a largely agriculturally-centered congregation, the only real question was who had the time and interest to be bothered. 

Glynn asked for volunteers and no one moved. After a couple of awkward minutes of silence, Buck said, “I make a motion we send our pastor and his wife.” Alan quickly seconded the motion and before Marve could adjust her attention from Hayden’s squirming they had been elected. Then, seemingly as a joke, Alan said, “I make a motion we send Buck and Frances as well.” Buck quickly retaliated by nominating Alan and with that, the reluctant messengers were elected. 

The only other business of consequence was authorizing the Women’s Missionary Union to consult with Horace about an appropriate memorial for Joanne. Carmella Thomas was tearful in accepting the responsibility but made it clear she couldn’t handle the pressure alone and would need the help of other women in the church. Glynn smiled, then gave Marve a quick glance as he caught her rolling her eyes. 

“You realize the first thing Carmella will do is call Horace and ask him what size plaque he wants in the vestibule,” Marve said on the short drive home. “And then she’ll blubber for six months about what to put on the plaque.”

Glynn laughed. “I know, but it’s relatively unobtrusive and we can put it back in fellowship hall so Horace doesn’t have to see it every time he walks through the church doors. Plus, maybe by the time she actually gets around to doing something, Joanne’s death won’t be as tender a topic as it is at the moment.”

The quiet of the community continued into Thursday with a gentle wind from the West rustling through the trees whose leaves were just now starting to change color. Outdoor temperatures were just cool enough to require a light jacket which meant Glynn could still walk around town comfortably but no one was in the mood to visit so he paused long enough to say hi in the various stores and moved on. Rather than their usual Thursday night date, Marve had opted for a quiet night at home, a pleasant change of pace from the hectic schedule of the past few weeks. The Waterbury family was sitting down for dinner, Lita picking at the meatloaf on her plate, Hayden arranging his peas into what he considered animal shapes when the doorbell rang. Glynn and Marve looked at each other, surprised that someone was visiting this late in the day.

Glynn got up from his seat and headed toward the door, then started laughing when he looked out the front window and saw Claire dancing on the front porch, waving a piece of paper. “It’s Claire,” he called, which instantly ended dinner as both Lita and Hayden raced to be the first to open the door. Glynn grabbed them both by their shirt collars and held them back as Marve opened the door.

Without waiting for an invitation, Claire hugged Marve and then bounced her way into the living room chanting, “I got in! I got in!” as she picked up each of the children in turn and whirled them around.

“In where?” Glynn asked as he dodged getting hit in the face with Hayden’s shoe as it passed.

“Princeton!” Claire practically screamed. “I didn’t think I had a chance; it was such a long shot.” She paused her bouncing long enough to give Marve another hug. “Thank you so much for the letter of reference,” she told the pastor’s wife. “All my references were women and I really think that made a difference.”

Marve laughed and hugged the girl back. “That’s wonderful! We’re going to miss you, of course, but I’m so happy you got in! How’d your Dad take the news?”

The girl tilted her head sideways and made a face that was enough to say her father’s reaction had been less than positive. “He’s not happy. He immediately started grumbling about having to pay out-of-state tuition and how that I’d better find a guy I like because I’ll never get a job with a degree in religious studies…”

“Wait, did you say religious studies?” Glynn asked, suddenly more interested in the conversation than he had been a second before.

Claire spun in his direction and bounced again, the excitement more than she could contain. “Yes! Can you believe it? They let me in! I didn’t think I had any chance at all, but look! This is the letter!”

Glynn took the piece of paper that Claire was shoving in his face. Sure enough, the letter confirmed that she had been accepted into the school’s undergraduate religion program overseen by the Division of Humanities. “This is definitely exciting,” Glynn said, forcing enough excitement to not quell the girl’s obvious joy. “What are you thinking of doing?”

“I’m not sure yet. I am supposed to get a letter from my faculty advisor next week. There are just so many options in philosophy and teaching and, who knows, maybe even following in your steps, Brother Glynn!” She whirled back around to Marve. “I’m hoping I can do well enough to get into their seminary after I graduate. That would be so cool!”

Glynn looked back at the letter with a mixture of emotion and concern. “This says they were especially impressed by your essay. What did you write about?”

“How I feel that the theological doctrine of soul competency, while inherently making every individual responsible to God on their own, has been trampled on by religious patriarchy creating a separate level of priesthood limiting women’s access to the church and the scriptures,” came the lengthy reply.

“Wow, that sounds more like a graduate-level thesis than an entrance essay. No wonder they were impressed!” Glynn said, trying to make sense of what Claire had just said. “Did you keep a copy? I’m still not sure I understand exactly what you’re saying.”

Claire plopped herself onto the sofa, her long legs crisscrossed under her. She looked up and motioned for Marve to sit next to her. Both kids jumped on top of her, forcing her to take some time playing with them before getting back around to Glynn’s question. “I have a Xerox copy Mom made for me at the school. It looks kind of funky, dark around the edges, but if you want I’ll bring you a copy to church Sunday.”

“I would love that,” Glynn said as Hayden launched himself from the couch at his father. Glynn caught him and set the child carefully on the floor as he sat in the recliner. “Obviously, you’ve studied the issue more than I have. I’m not sure I even understand what ‘soul competency’ means. Where did you find books on this?”

Hayden was attempting to climb onto Claire’s shoulders as Lita tried to pull him off, momentarily knocking the glasses off Claire’s face. As she helped the boy down and readjusted her glasses, she said, “The college library in Arvel has a bunch of old books on religion. I think they were donated by someone, maybe a preacher or something. They’re really old and the librarian says they hardly ever get used. I found this one, Axioms of Religion but the way it explained things was really old fashioned. I mean, I get the basic idea, that everyone is responsible for their own relationship to God, that being a member of a church or doing all the right church activities doesn’t make someone a Christian. What I don’t get, though, is that if we’re all responsible for our own relationship to God then why does the church, or at least some church members, get in the way of us making the most of that relationship?”

Glynn was feeling both confused and embarrassed at not having what he considered an intelligent response. His instincts told him that Claire was ultimately opposing Baptist doctrine but he couldn’t define exactly how, or what defense he might provide. “I think you might be able to teach me a few things,” he said. “Although, how do you feel that the church is getting in the way? I mean, I know opportunities are limited in a small town like Adelberg, but it’s not like we tell you that you can’t help around the church.”

There was a pause in the conversation as Marve declared that it was time for the kids to get ready for bed. Claire wasted no time in hopping up and helping Lita take a shower and put her pajamas on while Marve handled Hayden who was not remotely close to being ready to go to sleep. 

“You know, you’re going to make a great mom someday,” Marve told Claire as she helped wrestle Hayden into his pajamas. “You’re definitely getting plenty of experience babysitting these two!”

Claire laughed as she tied Hayden’s blanket around him like a cape. “They’re fun, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure I want to have kids and all, you know? I think I’d rather be the crazy aunt who takes her nieces and nephews on wild adventures.”

Marve picked Hayden’s clothes up off the floor and tossed them into the hamper. “I get that, I wasn’t sure I wanted kids either until I was pregnant with Lita. It’s just a different feeling when it happens. Your perspective changes. You’ll get to Princeton and meet someone who just clicks with you and everything is suddenly different.”

Claire leaned against the bathroom door frame. “Ugh. What if you don’t want your perspective changed? I like my views. I’ve worked hard to get out of this Oklahoma mentality that says you only go to college to get a guy. I may not know exactly what I want to do but I know I don’t want being tied down to a family and children to be part of that.”

“We don’t always get a choice, Claire,” Marve said as she used a damp towel to wipe the water off the bathroom floor. “Even with our own lives.  I swore when I left Oklahoma after high school that I’d never, ever return. Well, look where I am. I guess I had a bit of a choice in the matter. I could have balked and completely derailed Glynn’s career, but where would that have left me? We have to be open for the world to impact us as much as we impact the world. I believe God works like that because sometimes the path we choose doesn’t take us where we need to be.”

“You two going to keep the conversation in here to yourselves?” Glynn asked as he turned out the light in Lita’s room. He smiled and winked at Marve as he walked past them into the living room.

“Do you guys always agree on everything?” Claire asked as she stood straight and stepped into the bathroom to check her ponytail in the mirror. “I’ve never heard you guys argue or fuss about anything.”

Marve laughed as she guided Claire toward the door and into the living room. “Of course we don’t always agree. We just choose when and where to air our disagreements, and sometimes we don’t say anything at all.”

Claire looked briefly out the living room window before resuming her cross-legged pose on the couch. “I probably should get home. Dad’s going to worry about me walking alone at night, even though nothing ever happens around here.”

“I can take you,” Glynn volunteered. “I know Adelberg is about as safe a town as you can find but that doesn’t mean I’d feel comfortable with Marve or Lita walking alone at night.” He stood and grabbed his car keys off the kitchen table.

“I’ll call your dad and let him know you’re on your way,” Marve added. “We appreciate your parents letting you stay here so often. Let’s not spoil that.” 

Claire responded with a shrug as stood to give Marve a hug. “You guys are so much more fun to talk to. I ask Daddy a question and he’s all like, ‘Go look it up,’ and if I ask Mom her answer is always, ‘Go ask your father.’ I don’t understand why she doesn’t voice her own opinion. I know she has them.”

“People have different ways of communicating,” Marve said as they walked toward the garage door. “Your mother is sweet and intelligent and I’m sure she lets Tom know exactly how she feels on matters that are important. She’s surrounded by seven-year-olds all day, though, who ask non-stop questions. I’m sure she prefers peace and quiet when she gets home.”

Glynn had the garage door open and the car started by the time Claire walked around and got in on the passenger’s side, waiving once more at Marve as they left. He waited until they were down the hill and had turned the corner before asking, “So, our conversation got interrupted by bath time.  What did you mean about the church limiting or hampering your relationship with God?”

“Okay, so, soul competency. We believe that no one is responsible for your relationship to God but you. You make the decision to believe in God, you choose to accept Jesus Christ, and no one, including the Church, gets to challenge or nullify that relationship, right? I listen to God and God, through whatever, the Holy Spirit or something, tells me what he wants me to do, expecting me to obey him.”

Glynn nodded, “Sounds good.”

Claire shifted in the seat, tucking her legs under her as she talked. “So, I don’t get why Southern Baptist limit what women can do. We can’t preach, we can’t be deacons, and we can’t even teach boys in Sunday School after they graduate. I don’t get it. If God calls a woman to preach, what right does the Church have to stand in the way of that?”

Glynn swallowed hard. He knew the rote answer that he was expected to recite in answer to the question, but he had a feeling Claire wasn’t going to accept that. He was also certain that any answer she might accept was going to take more time than the short car ride. He sighed. “Short answer, and I know it’s not sufficient, is that since women were created second and Biblically required to be submissive that they can’t be submissive and lead a church at the same time.”

Claire opened her mouth to argue but Glynn put up his hand to stop her. “I know, I know, there are all kinds of problems with that point of view, but that’s a much longer conversation than we have time for tonight. I’m willing to listen to your opinion. Continue the conversation later, when we have time?”

Claire shrugged and gave him a dismissive “Yep.”

Glynn pulled the car up to the curb in front of them Hiddleston’s home. “I’m excited for you getting into Princeton. I know you’re going to do great there,” he said. “See you Sunday?”

“Or maybe before,” Claire said as she opened the car door a crack. She looked up at her home as the porch light flickered on. “And yeah, we can talk later. I just think Baptists are, like, wearing sexist goggles when they interpret the Bible. Thanks for the ride!”

Claire shut the car door behind her and Glynn watched to make sure she made it into the house before pulling away from the curb. Adelberg streets were quiet this time of night and had he still been in Michigan Glynn might have taken a moment to drive around and think about Claire’s questions. Here, though, it was that quiet that pushed him to go straight home. People in Adelberg expected quiet this time of night and any sound, even that of a passing car, was disruptive. Glynn understood the phenomenon because he had fallen victim to it as well, sitting up in his chair every time he heard a car pass at night.

He knew Claire’s questions were not the kind he could safely answer from the pulpit. Southern Baptists, as a denomination, had made their opposition to any form of feminism public and he knew most of his church members embraced the denomination’s point of view. Claire was that rare person who took the concept of Bible study to a different level, digging deeper than many of his colleagues. As he pulled into the driveway, Glynn wondered if perhaps Claire was right, and if she was, could he ever admit that and still keep his job? He already knew the answer to the last question. If his views on death stirred so much controversy, the convention certainly wasn’t ready for a challenge on women in the pulpit. 

Glynn parked the car in the garage and walked in to find Marve waiting with a glass of ice tea. “Claire got to you, didn’t she?” Marve asked with a knowing smile. “I can see those wheels grinding away in that head of yours.”

Glynn took a long drink of the tea, emptying half the glass before answering. “The problem is, she’s only 16 years old and already she knows more about the topic than I do. And I don’t know where to look for help or even who to ask without risking the impression that I might agree with her. You know how much preachers like gossip.”

They both walked over and sat on the couch, Marve curled up next to Glynn, resting her head on his shoulder. “Well, do you?” Marve asked. She felt Glynn move and realized she’d caught him off guard. “Do you agree with Claire? I mean, it seems to me she’s making a valid point.”

Glynn shrugged and leaned against the back of the couch, taking Marve with him. “I really don’t know. Yes, she has a point. I get that the church has been dominated by men for centuries and that they’ve pretty much left women to teaching school and raising babies. That’s restrictive and denies that a woman can have a relationship with God outside the controls and confines that the church puts on them. But if I believe where I think Claire’s going, with complete ecclesiastical equality for women, then I have to consider the impact that has on church polity and all I see is one giant mess full of arguing. To answer her with any authority, I need to already have the education she’s going to Princeton to get. I don’t stand a chance of getting this right.”

Marve kicked off her shoes and snuggled in more tightly, tucking her legs under her. She yawned before asking, “Who says you have to get it right? Maybe this is one of those times where you support her, point her in the right direction, and let her make the discovery for herself. You can’t have all the answers for all the questions, especially when it comes to Claire. That child’s brain just never stops working.”

Glynn followed his wife’s yawn with one of his own. “That feels dismissive. Send her to Princeton, let her figure it out for herself? I don’t know. It’s times like this I feel totally under-equipped for this job.”

Marve rolled over and gave him a long kiss. “Don’t worry, we’re all under-equipped for all the jobs. Except sleeping. We’re very well equipped for that.”

Glynn returned her kiss and smiled. He knew Marve was working her magic on him again, keeping him from obsessing over things he couldn’t control. He didn’t mind.

Chapter 40

Chapter 40

Sunday came with rain that made it all the more surprising for Glynn to look up and find the sanctuary was again full for the morning service. Attendance for the earlier Sunday School had been bleak but there was still a need in the community to work through their shared and continued grief. The pastor gave them what they wanted, though perhaps not through the channels they might have expected. Once again, he eschewed the “five steps of grief” that Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s books had made popular, opting instead for the more stoic approach of Roman philosopher-in-exile, Seneca, encouraging listeners to neither dwell endlessly on their grief nor run away from grief but to tackle and conquer it with deliberate determination. Glynn did replace the philosopher’s embrace of liberal arts with an emphasis on helping others, something he felt embodied Joanne’s spirit, and carefully concluded that faithfulness to God drove away grief, though, personally, he wasn’t as convinced of that portion as he would have preferred. 

Autumn rains in Oklahoma are generally more calm and soft compared to those in the spring and the light grey clouds and the gentle patter on the roof made for easy napping once the remnants of lunch were cleared from the table. Glynn got both kids settled in their rooms and had just eased into his recliner when the phone rang. 

“I’ve got it,” Marve called.

Glynn listened for a moment, determined that the call wasn’t in relation to anything pastoral, and relaxed back in his chair, closing his eyes and giving in to the weariness of the week’s strain. Even when there was nothing “going on” in the sense of major activities, there were still hospital visits and checking in on the elderly. One church member had been finally moved to a care facility in Washataug for which Glynn was thankful. The 87-year-old man was no longer able to do as much as keep himself clean and the pastoral visits had become exercises in personal eldercare more than addressing any spiritual needs. Calm, Glynn thought, was a mirage that hides all the chaotic effort that goes into making sure everyone else doesn’t fall into the chaos.

Slipping in and out of consciousness as the rain ebbed and flowed and the tone of Marve’s phone conversation at times crescendoing before long periods of silence, the preacher was unaware of how much time had passed when Marve walked into the living room and announced, “Well, that’s it; my parents are coming to take care of Lita while we’re in Oklahoma City next week.”

Glynn bolted upright in the recliner, suddenly more awake than he might have been after several cups of coffee. Marve’s parents never visited—she never made them feel welcome. Their relationship had long been strained by a history of physical abuse and emotional detachment. At their wedding, Marve’s mother had announced that her daughter’s choice in husbands had doomed her to a life of poverty from which she was sure they would need constant rescuing. Glynn and Marve had worked hard to keep that prediction from coming true, though at times it wasn’t terribly far from being correct. Her parents had made brief trips to Michigan when each of the kids were born, both times making sure Marve knew how much the trip was terribly inconvenient for them. Gifts were sent for the kids’ birthdays, usually in the form of a check since “we have no idea what your kids want since we never get to see them.” Marve would occasionally get a phone call but outside that made no attempt to regularly communicate with her parents at all. Such a history made news of their impending visit startling and a bit frightening.

“What?” Glynn exclaimed, practically leaping out of his chair. “Why? Leaving Lita with them is like leaving her with a complete stranger. No, we can’t let that happen!”

Marve collapsed onto the sofa and buried her face in her hands for a moment before responding. “It’s happening. Apparently they’ve started going to church again since they have a new pastor and that’s triggered their guilt. Not that it changes anything at all, mind you, but it gives them a chance to spend some time with their granddaughter.”

“And give them an opportunity to treat her like they did you? I don’t think so!” Glynn said in the loudest whisper he could manage, not wanting to wake the kids from their naps. “I’m not risking any chance of either of them laying a hand on her!”

“Just hold on a second. You slept through the second conversation,” Marve said with a heavy sigh. “After I got off the phone with them, I called and talked with Linda. She’s going to drive Claire up of the morning and come in with her. They can take Lita to school and then Claire will walk her home. If either of them senses that anything’s wrong or out of place, she’ll call us at the hospital. And it gives you some flexibility if you do need to stay in the city because of weather or something. We have a backup. It will be okay.”

Glynn paced back and forth across the small living room not knowing what to make of these sudden and unexpected changes in plans. The problem wasn’t that he didn’t get along with his in-laws, he didn’t see them often enough to have actually established much of a relationship with them, but he did know how they treated Marve when she was little with daily spankings for the most trivial of grievances, constantly putting her down, telling her how worthless she would always be, that she would never be as good or as smart as her older brother, Doug. Moving away from home the week after she had graduated from high school had been like starting her life over. Even then, when someone introduced her to Glynn and he drove her home, she was so unsure and untrusting that she wouldn’t let him walk her to her door. In all her anxiety, she had left a glove in his car, which gave him too convenient an excuse to ask her out. The first year of them dating had been a constant exercise in slowly winning her trust. He didn’t want Lita to grow up having any of those same insecurities and doubts.

“I don’t get any say in this do I?” Glynn finally asked. The question was obviously a rhetorical expression of his frustration but he stood glaring at Marve for an answer nonetheless.

Marve sighed and turned so that she was looking out the front window at the rain when she answered. “It was the lesser of two evils. At first, they wanted me to bring Lita down there. They didn’t see the problem with her missing three days of school, nor the fact that it’s impossible for us to travel all the way to the Southeastern corner of the state on a Sunday. At least this way, we have some checks and balances. I think they’re hoping you’ll stay in the city. I’m not telling them about Linda and Claire until they get here. I’m thinking of calling Doug, too.”

Glynn’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me,” he said softly, realizing the impact of what Marve had just said.

Douglas Carmichael was seven years older than Marve and represented, for most of her youth, the impossible standard to which she could never obtain. He had sailed through school with perfect scores and won all the awards. He was captain of his high school football team. He managed college on a full-ride scholarship, the first person in the family to ever graduate. He then completed his law degree and was working as a corporate attorney focused on mergers and acquisitions for an Oklahoma City-based oil company. On the surface, he seemed to be doing quite well. He married his college sweetheart, had a couple of kids, and a large house in a northside suburb. 

The issue was that Carmichael was not the family name. Doug had grown tired of his parents’ constant interfering and trying to leach off his success while in college. He had changed his name from Roberts to Carmichael his Junior year to make it easier to distance himself. He had not sent his parents an invitation to his wedding nor had he told them about the births of his children. His communication with Marve had remained friendly enough when it happened, but he had refused to come to her wedding knowing that their parents would be there. Marve’s position had been that it was best to let him be. She had dropped him a letter when they first moved to Adelberg but he hadn’t responded and she didn’t pursue anything further. 

Marve reaching out to Doug was like slapping her parents in the face. They had taken great offense to his name change and vowed never to speak of him again. Marve was still living at home when the name change happened and her mother had slapped her to the floor when she discovered the two siblings were still exchanging letters. That act had solidified Marve’s decision to leave home as soon as she could.

“Yeah, maybe he could come by the hospital one evening and keep me company after you leave,” Marve said. “Plus, if my parents start acting up, it would be nice to have him as an ally. I don’t trust them any more than you do but if there’s any trouble I’d rather be able to keep in in the family, you know? He’s an attorney. He’ll know better how to keep them at bay if it comes to that.”

“Do you think he’ll even accept your call?” Glynn asked, knowing how delicate the situation was. He worried that Marve might be setting herself up for disappointment from both directions.

“He always has,” Marve said softly. “He knows I won’t call if it’s not important.”

Glynn decided to let the matter go and set on the couch behind Marve and rubbed her back as she continued looking out the window. He could only imagine the stress that the situation created for her. She was already worried about Hayden’s surgery. Having to deal with her family on top of that was a weight he knew she couldn’t bear without consequences. 

The rain let up by Monday and Glynn walked to the church so that Marve could have the car. Mondays were typically quiet enough anyway. He didn’t expect any interruptions.

Two weeks after the fact, letters were still coming. Glynn opened each of them, responding to the ones that were supportive, ignoring those that were not. He was surprised and disappointed at some of the vitriol some of the letters contained.

“You are a disgrace to the pulpit…”

“You are the most stupid and ignorant person…”

“We will drive you back to Michigan…”

“You are not a Southern Baptist and have no business poisoning our churches…”

Still, he did not think any of them were serious enough to call Calvin for help. None of them were from anyone in his own association. He wasn’t aware of any of them having any connection to his own church. What harm could they actually do?

Shortly after 11, there was a hard knock on the office door and Horace let himself in. “Sorry for the interruption, preacher,” the deacon said as he closed the door behind him. “I just saw Marve down at the gas station and she said you were here. I was wondering if I could talk with you about that memorial thing.”

Glynn motioned toward the folding chairs and said, “Sure, have a seat. Carmella’s not being a bother, is she?”

Horace smiled and shook his head. “No, Carmella’s just being Carmella. She’s got herself all worked up about some plaque, but I wanted to talk with you about maybe doing something more substantial.”

“Okay, what’s on your mind?” Glynn asked as he sat back in the office chair.

“Well…” Horace hesitated, his discomfort with the situation palpable. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his worn feed-company ball cap in his hands. “There’s some insurance money left over after paying all the funeral and hospital bills and fixing up some things around the house. And you know Joanne, she loved this church more than anything. The only thing I ever heard her complain about, and she really only mentioned it on the really cold Sundays in winter, was how hard and cold those pews are. So, I’ve been checkin’ around and it seems you can get cushions made for those pews. It’s a nice, kinda burlap-y but comfortable fabric over two inches of foam. The cost isn’t really all that much and for the older people in the church especially it would make those pews a lot more comfortable. I’m thinkin’ I’d like to do that for the church in memory of Joanne.”

Glynn smiled at Horace’s generosity in dealing with this grief. He knew that everywhere the man went in town there were memories of his wife. People would still stop and tell him how much they loved her and missed her. No one seemed to realize that, while the sentiments were appreciated, the overwhelming response was making it difficult to work through the emotions. “I think that would be a very appropriate and very generous gift, Horace. I don’t see any problem at all. What do we need to do?”

Horace chuckled a bit without looking up from the ball cap he was still fidgeting with. “Well, you see pastor, that’s the problem. About 15 years ago or so, there was an older lady, member of the church, her name was Virginia Swanson. She was getting on up in years, 80-somethin’ I believe, and she put it in her will that when she died she wanted the church to have her collection of religious artifacts. Now, I don’t know, maybe she had us confused with them Catholics or somethin’, but you know there ain’t no place here for religious artifacts or nothin’ like that. To make it worse, she had all these pictures of Jesus with that flamin’ heart thing that was just downright ugly. There was no way we could hang those things anywhere in the church.”

Horace paused and took a big breath, realizing that his story was perhaps getting a bit boring. “Well, anyway, she died and this truck shows up here one day with 15 large boxes full of that crap, not a bit of it worth the price of a mule’s shoe. We did find one picture of Jesus that didn’t have the flamin’ heart thing on it, it’s still hanging back there in the old ladies’ Sunday School room I think, but the rest of the pictures and knicky-knack things were worthless. Some of us wanted to just take the whole lot of it and dump it in the garbage but all the ladies in the church got upset, said it was disrespectful. It took months to work out and more than a few tense business meetings, let me tell ya’. 

“So, anyway, after that we made it a rule, put it in the by-laws and everything, that the church can’t accept any non-monetary gifts with a value over $100 without first voting on it. It’s a good rule, I don’t regret doing it, but it means that the church has to vote to accept the pew cushions before I can order them. That’s where I kinda need your help.”

Horace had Glynn’s full attention now. The preacher was imagining 15 boxes of trinkets and things stacked away in a corner of fellowship hall gathering dust. “Sure, I’m not sure what we need to do but you’ve definitely got my support. I can’t imagine the church not accepting the gift.”

Horace chuckled again and it was a sound that made Glynn uneasy. “You don’t know this church yet, preacher. There are folks in this church that’ll argue over which door to sweep the dust out. I regret to say that there have been times I’ve been one of those folk. Jesus Christ himself could show up and there are some people here who would complain that his hair is too long. My guess is they’ll want to fuss about the color, whether it matches the carpet, and whether they can be cleaned easily enough, and stuff like that. I promise, it will be an issue.”

Glynn didn’t have any problem believing what Horace was saying. Already, he’d seen some business meetings go longer than they should have because someone didn’t think the water in the water fountain was cold enough, or that kids playing in the courtyard between Sunday School and the worship service were too loud. After a brief pause, thinking through his options, Glynn said, “Tell ya’ what, we’ve got a few weeks before November’s business meeting. Why don’t we go ahead and start talking up the idea and maybe by the time we get there folks will already have some of the orneriness and arguments worked out?”

Horace thought that was a good idea. His face brightened up a bit and the two men talked a while longer about how things were going, how Horace was adjusting to having his daughter home doing the things Joanne would have done, and how fall cattle sales were going. Grief and mourning were woven into every topic as Horace remembered how integrated Joanne had been in everything that he did. Surviving was turning out to not be as easy as he thought it should have been and the deacon was finding himself more compassionate and understanding in his opinions of other people now. By the time he left the church office, there had been enough laughter and tears to last him the day. He went home to face the afternoon chores like he always did, but without his wife’s face to greet him when he was done.

Glynn walked through the sanctuary before heading home for lunch, trying to imagine what it would be like with pads on the pews. It would certainly brighten up the place a bit, He wondered if he might have to preach a little harder to keep everyone awake through the sermon and smiled at the thought of half his congregation snoring in unison. 

Walking home for lunch, the pastor noticed a hint of icy coolness in the air. Winter would be here soon with its own challenges and problems. At least here they wouldn’t have two feet of snow before Thanksgiving. Glynn was happy about that.

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Pastors' Conference, 1972, ch. 37038

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Chapter 37

Chapter 37

Glynn drove home as quickly as he could, stopping only for a quick burger at a truck stop north of Oklahoma City. While part of his mind still wanted to go over the sermon he’d just preached and the various reactions he had seen, he knew his focus had to be on what was waiting for him in Adelberg. Joanne Lyles was dead. Everyone’s mom was gone. A significant portion of the church’s backbone was no more. The work ahead of him needed a team, not a lone preacher. Horace would obviously be distraught. He was a strong man, an outspoken man, but he loved his wife dearly and wisely listened to her when she spoke. She was the center of their home. That part was understandable but there was more.

Their two daughters, Glynn struggled to remember their names, Sharon and Denise? Sharon was a senior at OU. Denise worked for the Williams Corporation in Tulsa. He was sure both of them would already be home, grieving for their mother while trying to help their dad. He hardly knew the girls at all, having only met them a couple of times each. He had no clue how to minister to them now. What did they need to hear? What did they need to say?

Then, there was the church. Joanne was the lifeblood of the church in so many different ways. She taught 4-6-grade girls’ Sunday School and had for generations. She ran VBS and both camps. She was responsible for the Christmas pageant. Anything the Women’s Missionary Union ever did, which admittedly wasn’t much, was because Joanne pushed them then took the lead in making sure it got done. Practically every auxiliary ministry of the church had Joanne involved.

An even bigger task, though, would be helping the community to mourn. Joanne had grown up here. She went to school here. She and Horace had gotten married a mere two weeks after they graduated high school some 30-plus years ago. She was pregnant with Sharon when Horace was drafted to fight in WWII. She ran what was then a small farm by herself, kept it going, and made it profitable so that when Horace returned they were able to expand. She was involved in every school bake sale, every fundraiser, chaperoned field trips, went to every ballgame, ran the concession stand for baseball and basketball games, and was involved in every community event that ever happened. There wasn’t a person in town who didn’t know Joanne Lyles.

Most importantly, though, Glynn knew that Joanne was the compassionate person who paid for school lunches when children couldn’t afford them. When he would go to visit someone who was ill at home, Joanne had almost always been there before him bringing in food and helping take care of home chores. She talked to teachers who would tell her which children were wearing the same clothes to school every day and would secretly, anonymously, buy them new clothes without ever asking for any help. She knew who was being abused and rumor had it she had taken a shotgun with her to confront more than one Dad, warning them to never touch their daughters again.

What was Glynn supposed to say to that many people, all who had personal relationships with Joanne and now, quite suddenly, had no one to trust, no one to ask for help, no one to come to their defense? Sure, the preacherly thing to do would be to tell them that they could turn to God, but Jesus wasn’t going to be in the concession stand at tonight’s football game. A spiritual replacement wasn’t enough. They would be looking for someone physical to step in and Glynn wasn’t immediately aware of anyone who was the least bit capable of filling Joanne’s shoes.

As Glynn arrived in the small town, he drove by the funeral home to see if Horace was there yet. He wasn’t, so Glynn went on home. He would prefer to take a shower and change clothes before meeting with Horace and the girls. As he pulled into the driveway, the kids came bursting out the front door of the parsonage yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!” Glynn got out of the car and gave each of them a big hug before pulling his suitcase out of the back seat.

Marve was standing on the front porch drying her hands on a dishtowel. She smiled as her husband vainly attempted to carry both wriggling children and the suitcase, eventually having to set the children down, disappointedly. “Hub says Horace and the girls are coming in around 6:00. I’ll have dinner ready by the time you get out of the shower.”

Glynn leaned over and kissed his wife as he attempted to climb the steps with Hayden attached to his leg. “Sorry I wasn’t gone long enough for you to miss me,” he said with a playful smile. Even if there were serious matters waiting, he could set those aside long enough to flirt with his wife.

“You weren’t gone long enough for anyone to get into trouble, either,” she shot back with a knowing wink. “Parm chicken, peas, and corn sound okay?”

“Sounds perfect,” he replied, entering the house and taking a deep sigh as he looked around to make sure nothing changed. He needed something to be stable and home needed to be that place. 

Even the quick shower and meal wasn’t enough to calm Glynn’s anxiety as he drove to the funeral home. Hub was waiting for him at the door, still not understanding why the preacher had been gone but smart enough to not say anything more about it at the moment. “Hey, preacher,” the funeral director said as he held the door open. “I’m glad you’re here. I wouldn’t want to go through this without some help.”

“Marve told me it was rather traumatic this morning,” Glynn said softly. There was something about being inside the funeral home that caused everyone to lower their voice and he was no exception.

“Traumatic is an understatement, preacher. He didn’t want to let her go. When Marve told me you were out of town, I called for Alan and a couple of others to come help. They had to physically hold him back while we put her on the gurney and took her to the ambulance.” Hub paused. “I’m almost wondering if we should call for some backup tonight. If he breaks down like that here, you and I aren’t going to be enough to handle him.”

Glynn considered the matter for a moment. Horace was a big man and grief had a way of causing people to do some strange and drastic things. He could understand Hub’s concern. “His daughters are coming with him, correct?”

Hub nodded.

“Bill’s across the street, the Jones boy is just a block over, he’s big enough to help handle Horace. Maybe call them, have them be on standby. Let’s see how he’s doing, try to keep things as quiet as possible,” Glynn advised. He said a quick, silent prayer that Horace would be able to stay composed. Any level of public breakdown would eventually lead to humiliation that Horace didn’t need.

Much to the pastor’s relief, it was a calm and composed Horace Lyles that walked into the funeral home a few minutes later, a daughter on each arm, lingering tears in everyone’s bloodshot eyes. The deacon’s handshake was firm and he nodded resolutely to the preacher as a way of confirming that he was going to get through this. Any emotional breakdown would be done in private. He understood that a level of public decorum had to be followed.

The process was familiar and Hub guided Horace through it compassionately. First, there was a casket to pick out. Horace wisely let his daughters take the lead on this and wiped tears from his eyes as they chose one that was pink with embossed roses. Then, while Hub and Glynn took the casket to the back, Rose explained the various burial plans that were available, including vaults and tombstones. The tombstone, she explained, didn’t need to be chosen right at this moment, but again, the girls came to a relatively quick choice of pink-toned granite. After some discussion, it was decided that the funeral service would be held at the church on Monday afternoon at 3:00.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to check with the school about using the gym?” Rose asked. “A lot of people are going to want to pay their respects.”

Horace shook his head. “She loved the town, but she loved that church more,” he said. “I think she’d be upset if we had her funeral in the gym. A funeral’s not a ball game.”

By the time the arrangements were made, Glynn and Hub had Joanne’s casket ready for viewing in the chapel. They waited anxiously as Horace walked slowly down the aisle to look at his deceased wife. There was a moment of concern as he paused for a moment and choked back a sob, but he quickly composed himself and walked the rest of the way with his arms around the girls. They cried together. They took turns crying separately. Glynn stood at the casket with his arms around Horace, searching for something inspirational to say what wouldn’t feel trite. Nothing came to mind.

When it seemed that everyone was cried-out for the evening, Glynn, in full pastor mode, prayed with the family in his most compassionate voice, a prayer that he had used too many times the past few months. As he asked God to comfort the family through their grief, though, he couldn’t help wondering if anyone was listening. If God was listening, he certainly wasn’t coming off as caring. 

They walked out of the funeral home together into the quiet of a cool late-September evening. The football team was playing out of town and those who hadn’t gone to the game had mostly gone on to bed. Cricket chirps echoed quietly through the empty streets, a soft breeze gave a sense of solemnity to the moment. 

Glynn stood at the car door as Horace paused before getting in. “You know, preacher,” the deacon said quietly, “I’m probably going to be mad at God for taking her before he took me. That’s the way we had it all planned out. Girls would get married, have grandchildren, and then I’d die, probably out in the middle of a field somewhere yelling at a cow that had gotten itself stuck. She’d bury me then enjoy the next years enjoying the grandkids and spoiling everyone. That’s the way it was supposed to happen. It’s not all sunk in just yet, but when it does, I’m going to be angry.”

Glynn nodded. “That’s okay. We can be mad at God. He can take it. One of the challenges of death is that it never, ever makes sense. It’s okay to wrestle with this unexpected reality and if you need me, if you simply need someone as a stand-in for God so you can yell out your anger and frustration, I’m here. You know my number.”

The deacon nodded and patted the pastor on the shoulder. “You know, Joanne was the one who told the church we needed you. She was right. She was always right.” He bowed his head and sighed then got into the car and drove back to the farm.

Saturday and Sunday were almost surreal. Normal activities occurred, shopping, farming, laundry, and other routine things, but it all felt automated as if the entire town had fallen into some kind of trance. Of course, the community rallied around Horace and the girls. There were so many cars parked along the road to Horace’s house that Glynn had to park down the road and walk the better part of a mile to get to the family. Women throughout the town were involved in preparing meals and a schedule was created so that Horace wouldn’t have to worry about cooking for the better part of a month. Everyone knew the schedule was clumsy and not nearly as well planned as Joanne would have done.

Glynn borrowed pieces from Thursday’s sermon for Sunday morning, using slightly different language to make it more palatable for the circumstances. The sanctuary was full, which wasn’t surprising, but there was no emotion beyond sadness. They listened politely as the pastor spoke of the necessity of death’s absolute horror and the transcendent power of God that made resurrection possible, but when it was all over they filed out with few words, returned to their homes, and ate dinner in near silence. Only the smallest of children, the two- and three-year-olds, seemed unaffected. Their shrieks and squeals as they ran about playing felt disruptive to the grieving process and parents went out of their way to quiet the young ones who had not yet lost their happiness.

Monday was a process more complicated than a full Catholic Requiem and Glynn was at the center of it all. While Baptists didn’t believe in taking the body out to the home, there were scheduled viewings at the funeral home. Horace and the girls were coming in at 9:00 and would receive visitors so people in town could offer their condolences and remind them how much Joanne had meant to their lives. Glynn was there for all of it, patiently counseling those who could not contain their grief, watching Horace and helping him slip into a separate room when the press of well-wishers became overwhelming. Hub did his best to keep traffic flowing smoothly through the small chapel but the crowd was overwhelming as people from all over the two-county area came to pay their respects.

Glynn followed the family back out to the farm at 11 and did his best to politely tell people that the road needed to be kept clear for the family car, the funeral home’s extended-body Cadillac that could hold up to seven mourners in the back if everyone squeezed in tightly. Few cared to listen and it was only when Alan came out and took over parking duties that the road was quickly cleared.

Back at the church, Buck and his wife, Frances, along with Irene Hendricks, Norma Little, and an exasperated Roger Sutherland, whose cows had decided they didn’t like their pasture and taken a stroll down the road, worked with Rose to get the church set up for the funeral. There was no question that the crowd was going to be too large for the sanctuary. The crowd at the funeral home had Rose wishing she had insisted upon using the school gym, but she knew that would have had its own set of problems as well. Buck and Roger attached a couple of auxiliary speakers to the sanctuary’s meager sound system and ran wire back to the fellowship hall where an additional 100 folding chairs had been set up. This would serve as overflow for those unable to be seated in the sanctuary. The women made sure the sanctuary was clean from Sunday’s services. Rose managed the onslaught of flowers as they delivered, making sure there would be plenty of space for the casket when it was brought over. 

Most of the town, including the school and the bank, shut down at noon so that everyone would have time to prepare for the funeral. Only the diner and the gas station stayed open until 1:00, which was considered the last minute. Marve and Claire had volunteered to keep smaller children in the church’s nursery so that parents could attend the funeral but older children were given no choice but to attend with their parents, leading to no small amount of fussing at having to wear their best clothes two days in a row. 

Hub closed the funeral home at 1:00 as well. While the distance between the funeral home and the church sanctuary was only a little more than 200 feet, moving the casket respectfully meant either loading it in the hearse and then backing up to the front door of the church, or calling the pallbearers to ceremoniously carry the casket from one place to the other. Glynn and Hub had talked about the options and decided that using the hearse was probably the safest. The pallbearers Horace had chosen included his fellow deacons and Glynn doubted whether Marcus was strong enough to make that march. When the casket was safely in place at the front of the sanctuary, Hub left and drove out to the farm to pick up the family. 

People began arriving at the church at 2:00, desperate to get a seat in the sanctuary if at all possible. Rose began directing people to the overflow space by 2:30. At 2:45, Buck opened the windows in the fellowship hall so that those standing outside could hear. While the street in front of the church had been blocked off, cars were parked throughout the neighborhood all the way back to the highway so that when the family car pulled into town Horace felt the need to ask Hub if they would have to leave the family car and walk part of the way to church. Hub smiled and expertly navigated the Cadillac through the narrow space, pulling up in front of the church at precisely 2:58. 

Normally, Glynn liked to keep a funeral service to 20 minutes, maximum, but there was no way for that to happen this afternoon. A former Sunday School student of Joanne’s, who had moved away 15 years ago, had a poem she wanted to read. The poem was long. Sharon and Denise could not agree on which was their mother’s favorite hymn, so three of them were included in the service. Horace had agreed to let a group of three women share remembrances they had of Joanne. By the time Glynn stepped behind the pulpit for the requisite homily, 30 minutes had already passed. People who had been sitting in their pews since 2:00 were beginning to fidget. Still, this wasn’t something he could abbreviate.

For the next 20 minutes, Glynn spoke softly of Joanne’s commitment to her family, her community, and her church, interweaving examples of her dedication with scripture. Unlike Sunday morning’s sermon, he mentioned death very little and focused more on the life Joanne had lived and compared that to the life she would experience through the resurrection. He kept the theology simple and avoided common clichés about everyone seeing her again in heaven or a great reunion “on the other side.” 

When the sermon was finished, it took another 45 minutes for people to file out, passing by the open casket one last time. Afterward, Horace and the extended family, which included Joanne’s mother and three brothers, were given time for a last goodbye. Glynn and Hub stood by, carefully watching in case Horace should break down and need assistance. Hub had seen grieving husbands practically pull their dead wives from the casket and feared something similar might happen here but Horace remained reasonably composed, crying with his daughters but knowingly aware that he was expected to set an example for the entire town.

The string of cars following the hearse out to the town’s cemetery was over a mile long and took 20 minutes to park. Here, Glynn was able to keep the service brief. Clouds were gathering and thunder rumbled as he gave final words of encouragement and said the last prayer. He walked the family back to their cars and assured them he would be out the next day to check on them. As the family car drove away, it began to rain. 

Glynn hurried back under the tent that had been set up over the gravesite. He watched as the crowd quickly dispersed. Only after almost everyone was gone did he look over under a large pine and see Calvin Cane standing under an umbrella, watching somberly. Glynn felt compelled to walk over and say something.

“This is a surprise,” Glynn said softly as he approached. “I wouldn’t have expected Joanne’s service to warrant a visit from anyone in the Baptist Building.”

“I just came on my own,” Calvin said with a shrug. “After your sermon last Thursday I wanted to see how you handled something this delicate. You did a good job. You stayed true to what you preached at the retreat which couldn’t have been easy.”

“Is anything we ever do all that easy?” Glynn asked.

Calvin shook his head. “No, I guess it isn’t, is it.” He paused for a moment then added, “I guess I should warn you that you’ll definitely be getting some letters and not all of them are going to be positive. The conversation the rest of the day was lively, to say the least. I can’t even say that everyone in the Baptist Building agrees with you. There will be many interesting conversations in the weeks ahead.”

Glynn looked at the ground and kicked at a clump of weeds with the toe of this shoe. This wasn’t something he particularly wanted to hear. He definitely wasn’t in the mood to deal with someone else’s fussing. “I’m sorry if I caused any problems,” he said. “The more I read on the topic, though, the more I felt we’d been approaching it all wrong, turning death into a fantasy of immortality.”

“You were right to say what you did,” Calvin quickly responded. “And you will want to know that Dr. Hobbs called yours the most thought-provoking message of the entire weekend. He’s squarely in your corner, as are Joe and I and several others, those who appreciate a thoughtful, careful approach to the scripture. There were a lot of pastors from smaller churches, though, who are struggling to understand and a handful that are downright angry. You’ll be hearing from them. Just, please, don’t feel the need to respond or engage with any of them. If they get abusive, let me know. There are a couple I had to take aside there at the retreat because they were being inappropriate with their comments. Let us deal with the rowdiness. You focus on helping your community heal.”

A bolt of lightning hit close enough that both men were startled. Calvin excused himself and made a run for his car. Glynn waited until the casket had been lowered into the grave then made the solemn drive home. Death, he thought, was exhausting for the living. He wondered to himself if there was a better way to grieve, to mourn without it consuming the entire body. 

The town felt vacant for 6:00 on a Monday evening. There were no cars out driving from one place to the next, no lights on in the store windows, no sign that anyone lived in any of the houses. Adelberg was coming to grips with the absolute horror and blackness of death and Glynn knew that as people dealt with the finality in their own way there would be questions. He didn’t want dealing with death to be his legacy, but he knew that to leave the community struggling would be the cruelest thing he could do. 

Chapter 38

Chapter 38

The first letter came on Tuesday. Glynn opened it and at the sight of the “Dear Fool,” greeting, folded the letter, returned it to its envelope, and put it in the bottom drawer of the desk. He didn’t have time to argue with anyone who wasn’t part of the community for which he was spiritually responsible. The association’s annual meeting was quickly approaching. The executive committee was meeting a prospective Director of Missions that afternoon at Clement’s church. Glynn hoped that this would be someone they could trust, hire, and introduce at the meeting at the end of the month. 

While he understood the importance of the position and the need for the committee to do due diligence, at the same time he knew there was plenty of need right in Adelberg that could fill his schedule for the rest of the year and beyond. Joanne’s death had prompted many questions as to who was going to take her place. Marve had already taken a number of phone calls asking if she could help in the various activities that Joanne led. She had balked hard at first, but by Monday evening was beginning to wonder if she was being too reclusive. Glynn knew she couldn’t do everything Joanne had, that she should do that much, but he didn’t have anyone else to suggest, either. 

There were also requests for him to speak. The Lion’s Club issued their third invitation and Glynn was beginning to feel pressure to accept. The town’s garden club was being persistent as well, their chairperson having been the first phone call he fielded upon arriving at the office. The high school science teacher was wondering if perhaps Glynn might talk about the nature of death and decay both physically and spiritually, as the teacher was concerned that a purely academic discussion might upset too many of his students. 

He had already planned to stop by and check on Horace on his way back from the executive committee meeting and had warned Marve that they might need to have dinner a little later than usual. Glynn was feeling the pressure from all the ministerial needs of the community when Marve called.

“The eye place in Oklahoma City called. They want to see Hayden next Monday at nine,” she said. “The next appointment they have open isn’t until mid-November. I know it’s a long drive. What do you think.”

“The drive isn’t’ going to get any shorter in November,” Glynn responded. “Maybe we can have Claire spend the night and she can walk Lita to school that morning.”

“How early do you think we’ll need to leave?” Marve asked, concerned about the length of the trip. Hayden, of course, could sleep in the back seat, but she had never been able to sleep well in the car. If nothing else, she was concerned about Glynn falling asleep at the wheel.

“If we leave the house by 4:00 we should be fine. We won’t have any real traffic until we get close to the city.” Glynn didn’t mind the drive all that much. The turnpike road was fairly smooth and he knew the trip back would be the harder part. He could ask Marve to do some of the driving then.

Marve agreed and said she’d handle all the arrangements. She could tell Glynn was stressed. All the talk and study about death the past few weeks had left him somber and quiet. Even their date nights had been less robust as he wrestled with the thoughts continually going through his head. 

All the details might have seemed minor to anyone bothering to observe from the outside; not that anyone would actually bother. Most people assumed that the life of a small-town pastor had to be fairly mundane, perhaps even boring. What else could there be to do but visit the sick, bury the dead, and marry the young? Glynn knew, however, that even the smallest detail, if missed, could grow into a major issue down the road. He was doing his best to pay attention to what he heard in the diner and at the gas station, looking for opportunities to head off problems before they became large, and for the most part, he was successful. Everything that was hitting him now, though, was proving to be a challenge.

Distractions seemed necessary right now. The radio blared songs by Elvis Presley, who Glynn never really liked but Marve did so he tried his best to pretend, interesting songs with almost nonsensical lyrics by The Moody Blues, Chicago, and a quirky but fun instrumental called Popcorn that never failed to make Glynn smile. Glynn was thankful for the drive to Washataug by himself where no one cared if he sang with the radio or “danced” a little in the seat as he drove. Being able to clear his mind, even for the scant 20 minutes that it took to make the drive, was welcome and probably even necessary. 

Glynn liked the large, well-lit fellowship hall at Emmanuel Church. Here, the walls were paneled, not painted concrete block like most churches. Coffee came from a commercial coffee maker, not a five-gallon pot. Seats in the metal folding chairs were padded. They were all relatively small touches but together they presented an impression of a church that was more established, was doing well, and maybe had a little extra money to spend instead of worrying over every little detail. 

Clement was waiting with Carl when Glynn arrived. Somehow, Clement had managed to convince the baker at the town’s lone bakery to provide them with some extra donuts, and Carl had just taken a large bite of one when Glynn walked in, nearly choking in attempt to swallow quickly. 

“Hail our associational celebrity!” Clement exclaimed as he shook Glynn’s hand. “Brother, as ill-timed as your church member’s death may have been, you being able to duck out saved you having to answer a lot of questions that afternoon.”

“So I’ve been told,” Glynn responded. “Calvin was up for the funeral yesterday. Apparently I’m in for a deluge of letters. I got one this morning that started, ‘Dear Fool.’ I’ve not read any further than that and probably won’t.”

“I don’t blame you,” Clement said as they walked together toward the coffee pot. “Some of the conversations reminded me of seminary, debating whether or not it is possible for the soul to die. Any letters you might get from those guys are likely to at least be polite and reasonably academic in their argument. The guys whose study is limited to the King James Version and Strong’s Concordance, though, they were hot. How dare you suggest that the early church had re-written some of the Bible to suit their political needs?” He paused to laugh at his own sarcasm. “I’m constantly amazed that some preachers feel they don’t need any level of understanding beyond what they see right there in their Bible. You can’t even talk Bible history with them let alone any level of criticism. They’re short-fused and always seem ready to fight.”

“I think they feel threatened,” Carl said as he licked the glazed sugar off his fingers. “I know I did when I first started preaching. I mean, you feel this call to preach, and once you’ve made that public, churches around here seem to think God somehow magically grants you all the wisdom and understanding of scriptures. It’s easy to buy into that concept. You’re supposed to be able to answer everyone’s spiritual questions. You end up thinking you know things when you really have no clue. When something or someone comes along and challenges your perspective, it’s easy to take it personally.”

Glynn picked up a donut and was momentarily distracted by the wealth of glazed dripping from the fresh pastry. 

“Don’t worry, that donut isn’t going to challenge your views on the Eucharist,” Clement teased.

Glynn smiled and took a small bite of the pastry, being sure to swallow before trying to talk. “That’s exactly why I think we need a well-educated and experienced Director of Missions,” he said, picking back up on the conversation. “When I first started, I had an older pastor who immediately dumped a pile of books in my lap and told me to start reading. Right from the beginning, I had the opposite feeling. I knew I didn’t know anything and honestly, there are still some passages of scripture I won’t preach from because I really don’t understand what’s going on. Actually, there’s a lot of passages I won’t preach from.”

The three men walked over to a round table and each took a seat. They were still talking about the dominant lack of education when a rather round gentleman in a brown suit walked through the door. He was a little shorter than Glynn and at least a hundred pounds heavier. There was a hint of a wheeze as he talked, as though his lungs weren’t quite producing enough air to get the words completely out of his mouth. His hair was dark and curly but grayed at the temples and he walked with just a bit of a waddle.

“Hi, I’m Roger Gentry,” he said as he entered, then, looking at Clement, added, “Good to see you again, brother! That was a lively retreat, wasn’t it?” Before Clement had a chance to respond, Roger recognized Glynn and his eyes brightened as he turned and extended his hand, “And you’re Glynn Waterbury, aren’t you? My goodness, but you set off a spark! I loved it! I’ve never seen Hobbs and Ingram and the gang work so hard to answer questions and either explain or dodge a topic for the rest of the weekend. Hultgren was over there, ‘I think there’s room for more than one opinion on the matter,’ because he hadn’t had time to confer with Billy Graham as to what his own opinion is supposed to be. Our little state needed that jolt. Love it!”

As Carl introduced himself, Bill and Herb entered together, each making their own introduction. Once everyone had been sufficiently supplied with coffee and donuts, Carl sheepishly taking three more, they sat back down at the table and began the interview. Clement distributed copies of Roger’s resumè outlining his education; OBU graduate, Masters from Southwestern Seminary, and his pastoral experience; four churches across twenty-three years. He was pleasant and easy to talk with, almost to the point of being jovial had it not been for the fact that Bill kept asking rather weighted questions about deeper theological matters, which Roger answered in an academic fashion that seemed to please both Bill and Clement. 

After several minutes of going back and forth, and multiple trips to the coffee pot, Roger said, “You know, I have to be upfront. Dr. Ingram told me about some of the challenges this association has faced. He showed me the list of allegations Emmitt made and brought me up to date on what has happened since. This a powder keg of a position and I can’t promise you that my kid gloves are soft enough to avoid setting the whole thing on fire. I’m not sure there exists anyone who could. What I can promise you, is that I’ll push education, see if maybe we can get some seminary extension courses offered up here, or at least within a driveable distance. I’ll try to stay on top of the most difficult situations, keep them from becoming trouble spots for the whole association. Unlike some, I don’t believe the Baptist Faith and Message is creedal. With all due respect to Dr. Hobbs and the leadership he’s given that project, it’s got some holes that I think are going to become problems for the convention, especially in our larger churches. I’m bothered by this whole infallibility debate that’s started. I think it’s dangerous, especially for our pastors who don’t have the education to fully understand the concept. What I can do, though, is promise to be there to answer every question I can, push every resource that’s available, and be the backstop you all need when things get rough.”

The meeting adjourned and after Roger left it took little time for the committee to agree that he was who they wanted to fill the position. They authorized Clement to present the offer and let them know if there were any additional questions that needed to be answered.

Glynn drove home feeling pleased that, with any luck, the whole question of a Director of Missions had been resolved and things in the association could get back to normal. He stopped by to check on Horace and was pleased to hear that Sharon was going to take the rest of the semester off to help her Dad cope. There seemed to be little question that he needed someone to help for a while. 

Increasingly early sunsets meant it was dark by the time Glynn pulled into the driveway at home. Marve had already fed the kids and was trying to get through bath time. Glynn quickly downed the plate of leftovers that was set aside for him so he could help. Neither child was being terribly cooperative. Hayden didn’t like the underwear Marve had pulled from the drawer. Lita’s hair was tangled. By the time all the issues were resolved and the kids were in bed, Marve and Glynn fell slumped together on the couch feeling thoroughly exhausted.

“Do you think we can convince the world to finally slow down for a bit?” Marve asked hopefully.

“We can ask, but something tells me just asking could bring more trouble,” Glynn answered. His voice was quiet. He reached over and took Marve’s hand. “Everything set for Oklahoma City?” he asked.

Marve nodded and leaned into his shoulder. Claire had been excited about spending the night with Lita and walking her to school. Marve still had her reservations but there didn’t seem to be a better option. She was thankful that Claire’s parents gave her that much freedom on a school night. “It’s not ever going to get any easier, is it?” she asked, knowing the answer already.

“Probably not,” Glynn murmured. “I think I’d worry about what was wrong if it did.”

They turned on the television only marginally aware of what they were watching. They were both asleep before the first commercial.

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Reading time: 32 min
Pastor's Conference, 1972, ch. 35-36

While portions of our story might stand alone, most of it needs some context. If you’re just joining us, you may wish to click here to start from the beginning.

Chapter 35

Chapter 35

Dr. Able Ginzeman moved the equipment away from Hayden’s eyes and sighed. As an ophthalmologist with more than 20 years of experience, he had seen all manner of pediatric eye disease, but it was never easy breaking the news to parents, especially when he knew that treating the issue was likely going to cost more than the family’s annual income. Dr. Dornboss had already told him that if the diagnosis was what he suspected that the Waterbury’s would not be able to afford the necessary surgery. Still, there was little question that the family doctors’ suspicions had been correct.

“There’s really no easy way to put this,” Dr. Ginzeman started as reached over and took a prescription pad off a nearby counter. “Hayden has pediatric cataracts and is going to require surgery.”

Glynn and Marve looked at each other, horror-struck. They had walked into the exam knowing that a common childhood problem, such as near- or far-sightedness, would require glasses and that alone would have strained their meager income. But surgery? Cataracts?

“I thought cataracts only developed in older people,” Glynn said, feeling lost and confused by the diagnosis.

Dr. Ginzemen had anticipated the shock. No parent was ever ready for anything more than, “your child needs glasses.” He pulled over a stool and sat down so that he was at eye level with the parents. “You’re correct, normally cataracts are something our eyes develop as we age. Pediatric cataracts are reasonably rare but definitely not unheard of and you’d probably be surprised at how often it comes up. Chances are reasonably high that he has had them since birth, they were just too small to notice until now. Dr. Dornboss was not being neglectful in missing them at his last exam.”

“So, he was born with them?” Marve asked, a growing feeling of desperation coming over her. “Why are we just now noticing? And why only at school?”

“Unlike adult cataracts, children can develop cataracts in two ways. One can be like a gray cloud forming over the eye all at once. That would have been noticeable quickly. In fact, you would have seen it at home without any need for medical devices.” The doctor paused to make sure the parents were following. News like this often came with a level of shock that made it difficult for people to follow long explanations. “Hayden’s are more like little pieces, tiny dots that are slowly growing. They’ve not been a problem until now partly because they were too small to interfere with what he was doing. He’s also at an age where he’s just now being asked to focus on smaller details. What didn’t bother him when he was outside playing with his toys is now an issue because the cataracts are blurring those details. They’ve not reached a point yet where they completely obscure his vision, but it makes things like numbers and letters blurry around the edges.”

Glynn looked over at Hayden sitting in the exam chair, the little boy’s still-dilated pupils wide with wonder. “So, what exactly are we looking at? You said surgery. What’s that going to involve?”

Dr. Ginzeman took a deep breath. “It means he’ll have to see a specialist in Oklahoma City. They’ll have to confirm the diagnosis and then they’ll schedule the surgery. There’s currently only one place in Oklahoma that does this kind of work, so we don’t have any real choice, but from an insurance perspective, that’s ultimately a good thing. They’re likely to cover more than they might otherwise. Depending on how busy they are, we can probably get him an appointment in two or three weeks, and they’ll probably schedule the surgery a week or two after that.”

Marve and Glynn looked at each other. Oklahoma City. Surgery. Insurance. They were both overwhelmed, their minds spinning off in different directions, imagining worst-case scenarios that would never come true but would continue plaguing the back of their minds until the whole ordeal was over. 

For Marve, the mere mention of surgery was frightening. She had been frightened of the concept since her own botched tonsillectomy when she was seven years old. Hearing that her young son was going to be subjected to something significantly more dangerous left her shaking. She held onto Glynn’s hand tightly, fighting the urge to rush over and snatch up the little boy and run out of the room as if she could physically remove him from the danger. “Surgery sounds so dangerous,” she finally said. “Is that the only way they can be treated? We can’t put some kind of drops in his eyes to dissolve them?”

“I’m afraid the medicine hasn’t reached that point yet,” the doctor said, doing his best to sound compassionate. He knew the surgery was challenging and contained no small amount of risk, but that wasn’t something he was ready to discuss with the Waterbury’s at this point. They were still trying to process the diagnosis. They didn’t need to be scared more. 

“About a month after the surgery, they’ll want to see him in Oklahoma City again,” Dr. Ginzeman continued. “They’ll check and make sure everything’s healing okay and that they got all the little pieces. Then, you’ll come back here and we’ll  get him fitted for glasses.”

“So, this isn’t going to be a short and easy process,” Glynn said. “I hate to ask this question, but how much of this do you think insurance is going to cover?”

Dr. Ginzeman had been waiting for this question. Every parent eventually had to ask. Glynn had shown more restraint than most. “Fortunately, the severity of his diagnosis means it falls under the heading of medical necessity. That means that if we don’t address the situation right now, with some measure of urgency, that it will cost more to fix later and could seriously impact other health issues. I’ve already talked with Dr. Dornboss and I think we can get insurance to pay for close to 90 percent of the bill. What they don’t pay, we’ll look to foundations like the Lion’s Club and some other places that help specifically with pediatric eye care.”

As he was talking, Dr. Ginzeman watched carefully as Marve and Glynn considered what he was saying. Again, he found himself trying to soften the edges on topics that were complicated and involved. The truth was that a lot of paperwork would have to pass between the various doctors involved and the insurance companies. There would be routine denials that would have to be challenged and clinical justification written for everything that needed to be done. The volume of bureaucracy was so severe that he employed two people full time in his office to do nothing but try and keep it all straight. 

“I want to warn you,” the doctor said, “You’re going to see a lot of invoices and statements and letters that are going to have some very frightening numbers on them. Let me suggest you just file them away and pay no attention to them for now. Don’t throw them away or lose them because you may need them later, but don’t dwell on them. Just put them in a file. You won’t get a final bill from any of the doctors or the hospital until after everything is over and every option has been exhausted. Given the time frame we’re looking at, that’s likely to be January or February of next year. I have people here and they have people in Oklahoma city who do nothing but work with insurance companies. You don’t worry about that. You focus on this little guy, keep him healthy, make sure he eats well and gets plenty of exercise, which I doubt is going to be a problem.”

Dr. Ginzeman scribbled on the prescription pad and then handed the script to Glynn. “Take this to your pharmacy at home. They’re drops you’ll want to put in his eyes each morning. It just helps clear up any goop or film that might develop overnight while he’s sleeping. It doesn’t directly affect those cataracts, but it might help slow their growth while we finish looking at everything. My office will check with Oklahoma City and then they’ll reach out to you to set an appointment.” He pushed the stool back, stood up, and helped Hayden down from the exam chair. The whole conversation had taken less than five minutes but he knew that for Glynn and Marve it felt like an eternity had just passed. “I’m going to waive your co-pay for today,” he said. “You’ve got a lot coming up, and I know it’s scary. Just remember, it’s everyone’s goal to make sure you’re little boy is as healthy as possible. You’re not in this alone.”

Glynn picked up Hayden and gave him a squeeze. He and Marve thanked the doctor and walked out into the bright September sunshine still trying to process everything they’d just been told. The first part of the trip back was fairly quiet. They found a place to eat lunch and headed back to Adelberg as quickly as possible. They had made arrangements for Claire to walk Lita home and stay with her until they returned, just in case, but they both preferred to be there by the time school was out.

As they passed through Washataug, Glynn said, “Maybe I should cancel that thing at the Pastor’s Retreat this week. This is a lot to process. It doesn’t feel right for me to run off and leave you and the kids.”

Marve was silent for a moment, which caused Glynn no small amount of anxiety. Normally, he could read her face and tell what she was thinking, but there was no way to look at her and focus on driving at the same time. Finally, she said, “No, I think you should go. You’ve been working on that sermon too long and, let’s be honest, Glynn, the exposure could pay off long-term. Besides, if you stay home you’re just going to stew and worry about things you can’t control. Go. Spend some time with your preacher buddies. Maybe make a new friend or two. You need the break.”

Glynn tried to object, but Marve had made up her mind. She’d pack his bags and put them in the car herself if necessary. He was going and there was no point trying to get out of it, no matter how much he really didn’t want to go. 

Sure enough, two days later Glynn was in the car, having said goodbye to his family, headed into something he had no idea how to anticipate. The state convention’s campground served as a conference center the remainder of the year, and Glynn was surprised by the rugged terrain he encountered as he drove South from Oklahoma City. Here, the rolling hills were not green and lush as they tended to be in the Northeastern part of the state. Instead, they were rough and raw with sprouts of dried prairie grass growing between outcroppings of rock and scraggly pines scattered across the terrain. Glynn thought this was a slightly unusual place to put a campground but was aware that it had been in place for so long now that to even mention moving it would have been offensive to most of the churches in the state.

Clement and Bill had offered to let Glynn ride down with them, and initially, he had agreed to do so. After the trip to Bartlesville, though, he apologized and told the other pastors he needed the flexibility to return suddenly if a church member needed him. Not that there was a church member that had mentioned such a thing. Glynn simply didn’t like the feeling of being trapped, reliant on someone else’s transportation. Instead, he enjoyed the solitude of driving by himself, going over his sermon in his mind, still attempting to process everything that was going to be required to take care of Hayden’s eyes. He felt the pressure growing and he wasn’t convinced he was up to everything that was being set before him.

Arriving at the campground, Glynn was pleased to be assigned to one of the hotel-like rooms in the facility normally reserved for convention staff and visiting dignitaries. He would share a room with another of the retreat’s speakers, a pastor from one of the Oklahoma City suburbs whose church was growing at a surprising rate. Not that Glynn would ever see his roommate outside of the few minutes before and after sleeping. The schedule was packed and his roommate was popular. There was no time for lounging about in the room.

Calvin, of course, greeted Glynn enthusiastically. “I’ve put you on the schedule for Friday at 11:00,” Glynn was told. “I know, right before lunch may not seem like the best spot to talk about death, but you’d be surprised how many of the guys don’t stay past the Friday afternoon ballgame, especially those who live the furthest out. I wanted to make sure you had the largest audience possible.”

Glynn immediately felt his anxiety increase 300 percent. He still wasn’t convinced that his sermon was as good as it could be and now the pressure was on to deliver something close to perfection. His mind started racing with all the corrections he needed to make. Normally, he would carefully practice delivering a sermon this important but there wasn’t the time nor a place that he knew would be unobtrusive. 

After unpacking, Glynn walked down to the cafeteria where the pastors were gathering for coffee and donuts. Several pastors, including Clement, Bill, Carl, and Herb, were already there, chatting and laughing. He was about to walk over and join them when Joe Ingram spotted him and rushed over. 

“Glynn! It’s so good to see you again!” the executive director said with a big smile and strong handshake. “Calvin’s been keeping me up with everything going on up your direction. It’s been a rough year up there. How are you doing?”

“We’re doing well, thank you,” Glynn responded with the expected answer. “This certainly has been a huge learning experience. A lot more has happened than I would have ever expected.”

“This has been an unusual year,” Joe agreed, “but then, it seems there’s always a crisis going on somewhere. That’s why we need events like this. They’re not only educational and informative, they give us a chance to be encouraging to those who are struggling.”

Glynn laughed. “I’m not sure my topic is the most encouraging.”

Joe smiled. “You might be surprised. Death is an interesting topic and affects people in different ways. I have no doubt that your message will be exactly what someone needs to hear.” He paused for a moment then added, “Has Calvin talked to you about the response letters?”

“No, are those something we send out later?” Glynn asked, curious as to what was meant.

“It’s one of the side effects of speaking at large gatherings like this,” Joe answered. “Anytime you get this many preachers together, it doesn’t matter what you say, someone will disagree. Take the rapture, for example. You could preach on the second coming of Christ and 85 percent of the pastors here will agree and shout you on. However, those who went to seminary at Southern or Golden Gate, or if they went to college at one of the Ivy League schools, we have a couple of those, they’re going to disagree and at least a couple of them would write you a letter about it.”

Glynn’s eyes widened with surprise. He never had considered that someone might respond negatively to his sermon, at least not in a physical manner.

“Now, with a topic like that, they’re going to be pretty nice about it, take the academic approach of telling you why they think you’re wrong,” Joe continued. “But if you were to, say, challenge the dominant concepts of the deity of Christ or the reality of the resurrection, you’d get some rather harsh mail.”

Glynn felt his stomach do a flip. He felt he has definitely challenging some of the myths around death. Could his concepts possibly offend someone? “I never considered that. Not that I would expect everyone to agree with everything I say, but to go so far as to write about it seems a little extreme.”

“Don’t let it factor into what you say,” Joe said, his voice cheerful and encouraging. “Everyone gets two or three letters. Most of the time you can just ignore them and go on. If you get one that’s disturbing or if you get more than you expected, let us know and we’ll help handle them. It’s sometimes surprising what these guys get upset about.”

Joe gave Glynn a pat on the back and walked over to talk with another pastor who had just walked into the cafeteria. Glynn went over and sat down at the table with Clement and the others. He was greeted by a chorus of good-natured ribbing about being a celebrity and hob-knobbing with the convention elites. He was pleased that, so far, the atmosphere here was much more relaxing than the associational pastors’ conferences had been.

“Have you seen anyone else here from the association?” Glynn asked, looking around the room. 

“I think Herschel Vandemeer from First, Washataug is here,” Clement says. “He likes this type of meeting because it gives him a chance to hang out with the guys from Oklahoma City as if he isn’t down there half the time anyway. Don’t expect him to say anything to the rest of us, though. He doesn’t even acknowledge the other pastors in town, let alone the association.”

Bill nodded. “That tends to be true for the pastors of almost all the larger churches. First Tulsa, if Dr. Hultgren wasn’t speaking he wouldn’t be here. He’s friends with Billy Graham and Oral Roberts and prefers hanging out with guys like that. The rest of us don’t even register as existing.”

“I tried introducing myself to Herschel Hobbs, once,” Herb said. “There were so many people around him, though, he didn’t get a chance to respond before someone else was asking another question and pulling him away. It was rather frustrating.”

Bill nodded toward the far corner of the cafeteria. “He’s over there now holding court. He’s retiring from pastoring First, Oklahoma City at the end of the year, but they’re giving him the title of ‘Pastor Emeritus,’ and keeping him on the payroll. It’s probably for the best. He’s a dynamic preacher but he’s always left the ministry of the church to his staff.”

Carl looked over at the group surrounding the fabled theologian who had authored The Baptist Faith and Message some nine years earlier. “What does ‘Pastor Emeritus’ even mean? I’ve always looked at him as a kind of spiritual Superman. He pastors the church, writes articles and books, records that broadcast for the Radio and Television Commission, is on a dozen different boards and committees at both the state and national levels. I think of ‘emeritus’ as another word for retired. I don’t see Dr. Hobbs retiring anytime soon.”

Clement chuckled. “Are you kidding? They’re just making it easier for him to do what he’s already doing, minus the bothersome task of having to preach every Sunday. He’ll keep on doing all the convention stuff. He stopped being a real pastor years ago.”

“Have you heard who’s taking his place?” Herb asked to no one in particular.

“My money’s on Gene Garrison,” Bill said. “When Emmit first left, he was one of the top names the convention recommended to be our Director of Missions, but his name was almost immediately withdrawn after they sent us that list. The explanation was that he was expected to take on a significant pastoral responsibility.”

Glynn sat back in his chair and sighed. “Do you think the people in our churches have any idea of everything that goes on behind the scenes like this? I mean, here we are fawning over pastors with big names and big churches, but it doesn’t sound like they do much pastoring at all. They’re more like the Baptist version of politicians; they show up on Sunday to hog the spotlight, but the rest of the time they’re off padding their pockets with book deals and speaking engagements, completely ignoring their churches.”

“Careful, you could end up being one of them,” Clement teased. “You’re the one invited to speak after being here less than a year. Next thing we know, they’ll have you at one of those big Oklahoma City churches.”

“Are you kidding?” Glynn countered. “I have enough trouble being pastor to 100 people. A big church would kill me!”

The men laughed and continued their light-hearted banter on through dinner. By the time the evening session started, the speakers seemed like more of an interruption than an inspiration. Glynn felt he was getting more benefit from sitting around tables talking with different pastors than anything he heard from the small podium the preachers were using. He couldn’t help wonder if other pastors would feel the same way about his sermon as well. Was he anything more than an interruption, a break in the camaraderie most of them seemed to need? 

Glynn excused himself from the after-session coffee and returned to his room to give his message a few more tweaks. He had reached a point of accepting that he wasn’t going to be the most dynamic or popular speaker there. Neither did he hope to build up his own reputation among the pastors. He wanted to make a statement, though, and to do that he was going to have to take a different approach than he had planned.

Chapter 36

Chapter 36

Friday morning’s schedule was divided into two sessions, one at 8:00, which seemed a bit early for several of the pastors, and the second at 10:30, following an hour’s break. Each session had two speakers with a couple of hymns before each one. The format gave the session some sense of being a worship service only slightly less formal and without anyone passing an offering plate. 

Working from a theme of “Confronting Pastoral Fears,” the speakers for the early session had been assigned the topics of “Dealing With Rejection,” and “Surviving Success,” topics Glynn found interesting but the substance was less than helpful. 

“The Pastoral Paradox” was the topic of the speaker preceding Glynn. He’d had a chance to visit with the veteran pastor the night before and was interested in the consideration of balancing preaching responsibilities with ministerial responsibilities and the fear of doing neither well. 

Glynn wouldn’t have a chance to hear the message, though. They were nearing the end of the break time when Dr. Ingram’s secretary found him and handed him a note instructing him to call home immediately. The secretary told him where the camp’s office phone was located and how to get an outside line. 

Without any context to the message, Glynn panicked, nearly running to the camp office to place the call. He knew that Marve wouldn’t have called unless the situation was more than she could manage, and he knew Marve could manage just about anything. That meant either something catastrophic had happened to one of the children or there had been a significant death, someone other than one of the older church members perpetually on what Glynn sarcastically referred to as the Death Watch List. He worried about his parents. He worried about Marve’s parents. 

Marve seemed to anticipate Glynn’s angst. She answered the phone with, “The kids are fine, our parents are fine, nothing’s on fire. Take a second and catch your breath.”

“You know me too well,” Glynn said. “There seemed to be a bit of urgency when they delivered the message, though.”

“There is,” Marve answered quietly. “Joanne Lyles died this morning. Apparently, she had a stroke while fixing breakfast. Horace was there, of course, and he called Hub immediately, but there wasn’t anything anyone could do. She was gone before Hub could get all the way out there.”

Glynn took a deep breath, trying to weigh the significance of the news not only for Horace but for the entire church family. “Do I need to jump ship and leave now?” he asked, concerned both for Horace but also not wanting to leave Calvin in the lurch, especially given how unusual it was for someone like Glynn to have the chance to speak.

Marve was silent for a moment, an uncomfortable silence that made it difficult to know whether she was hedging her answer or trying to figure out how to put it delicately. “Horace knows where you are, of course, and to some degree, he understands how important it is. He said to tell you not to rush back. Between you and me, though? He’s a basket case, Glynn. He called, then Hub called and, of course, Hub didn’t know where you were and actually sounded a bit angry that you weren’t available to go out there immediately. Is there anything keeping you there after you speak?”

“Not that I know of,” Glynn said. “In fact, judging from the actions of some of the others, speaking then leaving seems to be part of the routine. I doubt anyone other than the guys from around here would miss me. I can leave right after, grab lunch in Oklahoma City, and be home before five, I think.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Marve responded. “I won’t say anything, just in case you do get delayed, but if you can be here by the time Rose is done embalming and all, I think that would be good. Horace certainly doesn’t need to go to the funeral home without some support.”

For the first time that day, Glynn felt comfortable with the decision he was making. “It’s settled then. I’ll leave as soon as I speak and get there as quickly as I can. Do me a favor and keep tabs on any plans any of the ladies are making. This is going to be a jolt to the entire church. The women can’t help but respond”

“Will do. Drive safe, and remember I love you,” Marve answered as she hung up the phone. 

Glynn walked slowly back to the small chapel where the sessions were being held, taking in the enormity of what had just happened. Joanne’s presence was deeply woven into the fabric of the entire church. There was no one whose life she hadn’t touched in some significant way, from taking food to someone who was ill to teaching Sunday School, to running both VBS and church camp. Losing her was as though the whole church had lost its collective mother.

Outside the chapel, he came across Calvin and Joe standing a few feet away from the door. Calvin saw the deep expression of anguish on Glynn’s face and knew something was wrong. “Brother Glynn,” he called somewhat softly, motioning for him to join them. “Is everything okay? I noticed you had a phone call earlier.”

“The wife of one of my deacons died earlier this morning. Her presence in the church was significant. I’ll be leaving just as soon as I finish speaking,” Glynn said, trying to keep his voice from wavering. 

Joe and Clavin both placed an arm around the pastor’s shoulder in comfort, drawing him closer into their circle. “Listen, you are not under any obligation to speak under these circumstances. Every pastor in there will understand if you need to leave,” Calvin told him.

“For all the pretense of importance we put on these things, your church family comes first,” Joe said. “I’ll cover for you myself if you wish.”

Glynn tried to force a smile, but it came out more like a grimace. “I appreciate the flexibility,” he said, “but I think I need to preach this as much for myself right now as for anyone else. I need to remind myself of who God is in the face of death. I wouldn’t mind a little prayer, though,” The statement was meant more rhetorically than anything; it was one of those religious phrases that just came out when there wasn’t anything concrete to be done. What happened next caught him by surprise.

“Absolutely,” Joe said. He knelt where he had been standing and Glynn and Calvin followed suit. With their hands on Glynn’s shoulders, they each prayed, asking God to comfort Horace and his family, the church in Adelberg, and to give Glynn strength to know what to say. While they were praying, Glynn felt a third hand on his shoulders. He didn’t look up, but when Calvin finished praying, Glynn recognized the voice of Herschel Hobbs. Soon, there was a fourth hand, then a fifth, and more as convention staff members who had been outside the chapel came and joined them. Each knelt in the dusty Southern Oklahoma sand. If they could reach Glynn, they put a hand on him. They took their cue from the person praying before him and continued the near-mantra that Joe had started. 

When the last person stopped, 23 men stood around Glynn, assuring him they would be praying as he spoke, and as he drove home. He felt both emboldened and oddly embarrassed at having unexpectedly drawn so much attention. Inside, the group was singing the second hymn before Glynn was to speak.

“I’ll keep my introduction abbreviated,” Calvin said. “Take as much or as little time as you feel led. The clock’s off.”

The group was standing as they sang, making it easier for the men to enter and make their way to their seats. When they finished the hymn and sat down, Calvin made his way to the podium and after making a couple of announcements concerning the afternoon’s softball game, he said, “Our next speaker, unlike some others, needs an introduction. Glynn Waterbury is new to us, having been only been pastor of First Baptist, Adelberg since February. Coming from a bi-vocational position near the Detroit area, he’s still getting accustomed to the way we do things down here and the challenges of being a full-time pastor. He’s speaking this morning, though, because he’s had to deal with some significant deaths in the short time he’s been here and his manner and method of approach to the topic is one I felt appropriate to be shared here, given our theme. Please welcome Reverend Glynn Waterbury.

In traditional Southern Baptist fashion, there was no applause. Clapping was considered to promote vanity, something that plagued many despite no one thinking it was their own problem. Instead, a chorus of hearty Amens came from the group and Glynn stepped behind the lectern that now seemed too small and too wobbly to support the weight he desired to place on it. He looked across the audience and saw Clement and the others from his association sitting together, smiling in anticipation. For the most part, the faces of all the men were encouraging. They were eager to listen and Glynn wondered how quickly the smiles were about to fade.

Placing his hands on either side of the lectern, he began: “Death is such a fun topic to be assigned, isn’t it?” He paused for the smattering of chuckles that passed through the group of pastors. “Unlike I might with some other topics, though, I want to warn you from the outset that I did not come here armed with jokes. I do not intend for the next few minutes to be filled with amusing anecdotes. If you feel good when you leave this chapel for lunch, I want it to be because of the surety you have in the absolute awesomeness of God’s transcendent immanence and faithfulness, not because I’ve found some magical way of making a difficult topic something less than the frightening monster it is.

“Death is an absolute. I received word earlier that a dear soul, perhaps the one person who might be considered the mother to all of our church, suffered a stroke and died this morning. She was making breakfast for her family, something she enjoyed doing, and in that flash of a moment, she ceased to be.”

Murmurs of shock and concern waved across the group and Glynn gave them space to react before continuing. “Do you know what happens when you have a stroke? I know it’s a common medical term and as pastors, we hear it often as a cause of death. We know it has something to do with the brain, but do we really understand what it’s like to have a stroke? Maybe some of you do, but for the rest, please let me briefly explain.

“A stroke is caused when something, usually a blood clot or a hemorrhage, blocks the flow of blood to the brain. That’s the nice, clinical definition that we get from doctors trying to explain to grieving families what just happened to the person who 30 minutes ago seemed perfectly alive and well. 

“But for the person experiencing the stroke, there’s a lot more. For Joanne Lyles this morning, she likely woke up with the headache that was signaling that there was a problem. Some people describe it as a lightning strike, like biting into ice cream and getting that brain freeze we all dread. And Joanne, like most of us who live busy lives, ignored that headache and began her morning routine. She made coffee. She cooked bacon. She was working on scrambled eggs. Then, the left side of her brain, the part that keeps us present, focused, and in control, stopped working. For a moment, Joanne likely felt wonderful as the right side of her brain filled her with a sense of euphoria. She wouldn’t have felt the pain of her brain shutting down. She would have more likely had what some people might call a moment of oneness with the universe. She smiled, not because she was seeing Jesus, but because the part of her brain that processes reality was gone. With blinding speed, as she was consciously experiencing this almost out-of-body feeling, other portions of her brain were shutting down. She lost muscular control of her body and slumped to the floor. She lost the ability to recognize speech or respond in any verbal manner. As her husband rushed to her, his face was no longer recognizable. 

“Then, all too quickly, before anyone had time to call for help, the euphoria was turned off like a light switch, and there was nothing. No bright light. No sudden whoosh of her soul leaving her body. Just black, lonely, disarming, frightening, nothing. She was dead.

“Right here is where we as pastors make our first mistake because our instinct is to mitigate that solid, dark, painful reality of the absoluteness of death. So, we don’t use the word. Instead, we say that Joanne has passed on or passed away. She is no longer with us. She has entered into the arms of God. She has crossed the river. She has met her maker, her God, her Savior. She has gone on to her eternal reward. 

“Outside of our religious context, people say that someone has bought the farm, kicked the bucket, fallen off the perch, assumed room temperature, cashed in their chips, and quite poetically, shuffled off this mortal coil. For the entirety of humanity, we have looked for ways of describing death without actually using the word because the meaning and inference that comes with saying that someone is dead drives home just how dark and bleak that reality is.

“Death is the final end, and that scares us. Death is the emptiness of being forsaken, it is a rupture to our reality, a discontinuity, sheer blankness, and absolute poverty. In death, our lives are cast into a human void with no inner view, no period of self-reflection, and no explanation. Whatever sense we try to make of death comes not from death itself because death is always senseless. So we attempt to make some leap from this senselessness by ignoring the reality with a selected reading, some artificially imposed hope from something other than death’s complete and unwavering bleakness. 

“Death is so frightening, so radical, that it puts us in a position as pastors to try and find some softer way to explain the unexplainable. And in trying to pull that punch, we too often resort to folklore, tradition, and nursery rhymes in place of what the Bible lays out for us. Oh, we can stretch and bend and try to make different pieces of scripture fit all those little stories, but not only are we not being faithful to scripture when we do so, but we are also simultaneously diminishing the power of God.

“As unintentional as it may be, we are frequently engaged in deceit when we approach the topic of death, starting with its origins. We look at the book of Genesis and tell our congregations that it is the sin of Adam that brought death into being, that before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, everyone and everything was immortal and that was good. I am convinced, however, that that’s not the truth. 

“Remember how in the very beginning of the book of Genesis, where God is looking at this mess of void, formless swamp of deep darknesses and over that primordial mess he says, ‘Let there be light;’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good so he separated the light from the darkness and right there, as he was creating the first day, establishing this thing we call time, in the deepest, furthest reaches of darkness, where there isn’t even the slightest hint that light exists, there is where God created death. It has been with us from the very beginning because without it we cannot begin to fully understand the transcendent glory of the God who defies that darkness.”

Glynn paused to let the statement sink in. The smiles were gone, a serious, almost stern expression taking its place as the pastors began to realize that this new guy was challenging their theology. He looked at Clement, who met his gaze and nodded. He looked to the front row and saw Dr. Hobbs furiously writing on a scrap of paper. A couple of rows behind him, Warren Hultgren, surrounded by his staff, had leaned forward, his hands folded on the back of the chair in front of him. Toward the back of the chapel, the one pastor who had not gotten the memo about dressing casually, Gene Garrison, had his Bible open in front of him, checking the validity of what Glynn was saying. He continued.

“Bad theology comes in many forms with many different excuses. Over time they have mixed and intermingled with each other to the point that we cannot recognize what is Truth until we compare the mythology we’ve created around death with the reality of God. Perhaps the most common is the idea that the soul, immortal, never experiences death, that when the earthen container of life is broken, the soul somehow floats right on up to the presence of God. There are two problems with that concept. 

“First, it’s a hoax not supported by original scripture. There is no soul in the Hebraic tradition of the Old Testament. Neither Jesus nor Paul would have understood what we were talking about. Instead, the concept on which they operated was the reality of something they called Sheol, an absolute nothingness. Only when popular philosophy finally embraced Aristotle’s idea of the soul being a separate existence from the human body, some 300 years after Christ, did church leaders go back and actually re-write scripture in an effort to support this belief that originated in secular thought.

“But even apart from this strange embrace of Greek philosophy, if we preach that the soul just somehow automatically disjoins from the body and is spirited away, what is it, exactly, that God is resurrecting? If what we’re saying is that the soul is capable of making its own way without actually experiencing death for itself, then why did Christ need to die? Are we daring to say that death is now somehow different than it was 2,000 years ago? There’s nothing in scripture to support that and it’s a dangerous presumption to make. If the soul does not experience death for itself then we are inherently diminishing if not completely negating the power of God through the resurrection! The soul must die, just as Jesus completely and fully died, experiencing that full rejection of life, or else the immanence of God over death is moot.”

Glynn definitely had everyone’s attention now. Some were flipping through their Bibles, others had closed them, sitting sternly with their arms crossed defiantly. He ignored them and went on.

“Another concept that has recently gained a lot of popularity and taken over a lot of contemporary literature on the subject, is that death is something we have to work to accept as part of five stages of grief. I’m sure you’ve heard of them: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The process, based not in scripture but contemporary psychology, comes across as a compassionate understanding of what is presented as a natural course of the life cycle. When we have finally matured enough, when we have fought our way through these destructive stages to ultimate acceptance, only then can we appreciate the finality of death and move on from it.

“The problem with this approach is first that it reduces death to merely a distorted perspective; that death is only bad because we perceive it wrongly through our maladjusted attitudes, because we refuse to accept the natural conclusion of life. This is just the way life is. You live, then you die, accept it and be free. But again, if death is something we can psychologically accept, if it’s not something from which we desire to run away and avoid, if it is only the final stage of human growth, then what does that make of God? If death is a natural extension of life, then do we even need God?

“It is the undeniable condition of death’s darkness that makes the question of God’s existence moot. Only in the complete collapse of the human person is the primal shape of faith revealed. Faith must desperately cling to the God who is in no way affirmed by the darkness ahead but who triumphs over that darkness through the power of his own transcendence. Take away the power of death and we mute the power of God. How dare we even consider such a thing?

“There are also those who look to death as a point of ultimate realization, the pinnacle of human existence where we finally realize what it is to be human in the brief instant before we stop being human. Go ahead, try to make sense of that. Such a philosophy ultimately discards God entirely.

“And the one that gets me the most is the idea that death is like a butterfly breaking forth from a chrysalis, bursting forth from the drudgery of this mortal existence into the beauty and splendor of heaven. It sounds nice, doesn’t it, but the superficial aspects of the metaphor deny the existence of death completely. Death? What’s that? Oh, you mean that old cocoon? That’s nothing. 

“Have any of you, probably as children, broken open a chrysalis to see what’s inside? If you have, you likely know that in order for a butterfly to ever break free from the unpenetrable darkness, the caterpillar that created the tomb has to die, its body reduced to nothing more than an icky, sticky, smelly, disgusting block of a mess. Only there, when every last vestige of its previous life is completely stripped away, does God’s creation deliver a butterfly. Full, complete, death of the whole body has to occur before eternal life can become an option. 

“As comfortable as it may make us and our congregations, when we preach anything other than the absolute rigid blankness of death we distort and diminish who God is and what he can accomplish. Only in that hopelessness where no possible human remedy could potentially exist, where the most brilliant mind has no chance to explain its way out or provide another alternative, only there does faith finally, desperately, look to the omnipotence of God and find salvation. If God is going to be our rock, then death must first be the ocean in which we drown. Only when we risk complete nothingness, a blankness that erases the whole of our existence, can God’s power reward us with eternal life. 

“When I leave here in a few minutes, I return to a man who is not only experiencing the loss of his wife and the mother of his children, I have a deacon who is beginning to see for himself the darkness of death. I will not tell him that God called his wife home. I will not tell him that her death is in any way, shape, or form acceptable. I will not excuse her death as just another passing phase that he has to learn to accept. 

“Instead, I will admit with him that his wife’s death is a tragedy for him, his family, and the whole community. I will acknowledge with him the pain of despair that he is feeling; diminishing, or excusing it in no way, but embracing it with him as a partner in grief. Then I will gently assure him, that through all the anguish, through all the darkness, through the utter finality of death, at the ultimate end of everything, there, God is our strength and our refuge. There, God transcends all else and displays the full power and awesomeness of his deity. There, just as God raised Jesus, he raises Joanne Lyles. 

“We can preach no mediation. We cannot embrace any attempt to soften the blow by deteriorating death’s power. Death is the ultimate opposite. Death is death, but God is God. How dare we preach anything else?”

Glynn looked at his audience. Expressions of wonder, confusion, and disbelief scattered between nods of agreement, thoughtfulness, and appreciation. Clement smiled and give him a discreet thumbs-up. Glynn stepped back from the lectern, looked at Calvin who nodded his understanding that the sermon was complete, then slipped out the side door. Within minutes he was heading for home where the reality of his sermon was waiting.

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