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Pastors Conference, 1972

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Chapter 9

Sunday felt good. Two weeks out from Easter, Sunday School attendance was at 92, a number the church hadn’t seen in at least two decades. The sanctuary was full enough for the morning service that Glynn and the deacons had a quick meeting after the service to discuss how they might handle a standing-room-only situation on Easter morning. Chairs down the center aisle, distributed as needed, was the agreed-upon solution. The evening numbers were still low, with only 36 returning for Training Union and only a few more for the service, but Glynn was okay with that. He was beginning to understand that asking farmers and ranchers to stop their evening chores, change clothes, and come in for church at 6:00 was an unrealistic expectation. Topping the day off had been an unexpectedly long nap that afternoon. Not only had both kids gone down without a fuss, but they also stayed asleep for a good two hours. 

Glynn drove to the Pastors’ Conference in Arvel Monday morning humming along with the radio, finding it interesting that Bread, Cher, and Donny Osmond were all singing about love. The sun was shining and while the air was still on the crisp side of cool, the pastor was comfortable in a light sport coat and was hopeful that he could soon put his parka away. A warm feeling that he was where he needed to be, doing what he needed to do, filled him as he drove and by the time he arrived at Olivet Baptist Church for the meeting, he had a smile he couldn’t wipe from his face. He greeted familiar faces in the parking lot, exchanging pleasantries and even lightly teasing one pastor who was still wearing a heavy overcoat.

Everyone’s mood changed inside, though. The pastor at Grace Church, Washataug, had resigned on Sunday with a fiery sermon that had directly accused a deacon of carrying on several affairs with married women both within and outside the church, including the pastor’s own wife. The pastor named names, catching at least two husbands off guard. A brawl had ensued. Four church members spent the night in jail. Emmit and two members of the ministerial services staff in Oklahoma City had spent the rest of the day working with the affected families, trying to convince husbands to stay with their wives and others involved in the brawl to not press charges against fellow church members. 

Rumors were flying as the pastors gathered around the room in small groups waiting for Emmit to arrive. When he did, ten minutes later than the appointed time, he looked tired. His customary smile was gone. Weariness covered his face. He quickly picked up on the conversation in the room and brought the meeting to order.

“Gentlemen, if you don’t mind, I would like to dispense with our normal routine,” the Director of Missions started. “Obviously, you are all aware of the grave events that happened at Grace, Washataug yesterday. I’ll clear up a few details in a second, but when I finish, we need to spend a lot of time in prayer. There is a whole church hurting this morning; not only a church, but a community. There isn’t much we can do at this point beyond lifting these people up in prayer, and ourselves also because what happened at Grace could just as easily happen in any of our churches.”

“How long were you aware of the situation?” Jerry Winston, pastor of Arvel’s Pick Creek church asked. Jerry had a reputation for being a tough, conservative, by-the-Bible, Old Testament-type of preacher. He had already been overheard referring to the women as harlots and suggesting that the Mosaic law had a strict punishment for infidelity.

“About six weeks,” Emmitt answered, setting off a buzz around the table. “Billy Clayton, the chairman of deacons, came over and told me he had discovered and confirmed that Merle’s wife, Colleen, was involved. He was certain that Merle had no knowledge of the affair and was concerned what would happen when he found out. As we all know, Merle Clinton never has been one to keep his opinions to himself. So, I called our office of Ministerial Services and Clyde Benning and Roger Welch came up and the three of us went together to break the news to Merle. He, understandably, did not take the news well, but by the time we left, we were all three of the opinion that Merle was going to quietly resign and he and his family were going to move into a house in Edmund that the convention owns.”

Glynn sat at the table astonished by what he was hearing. Emmit painfully laid out how that the pastor’s anger grew after they left and he decided to confront the deacon himself. The deacon called the pastor a liar and started rumors that it was the pastor, not him, who was having an affair. Other church members began calling Emmit and finally, someone called Clyde Benning directly. More meetings occurred. Each time, a truce and resolution appeared to be in place only to have it fall apart after the meeting ended. Joe Ingram’s meeting there on Thursday had been the final attempt to salvage the church. He had all but insisted that Merle leave a letter of resignation to be read on Sunday and leave town with his family immediately. The state convention would help provide a place for them to go until other accommodations could be established. Shortly after Dr. Ingram left, though, another woman in the church came to Merle and not only confessed that she had been having an affair with the same deacon but knew of five others as well. By the time Joe returned to Oklahoma City, there was a message waiting canceling the arrangement. 

Emmit, Clyde, and Roger had been in attendance for the morning service. They tried to talk with Merle but he refused to speak to them. When the fight broke out, Roger and Emmit had first tried to get the women and children out of the sanctuary to a place of safety. Clyde, who was tall and broad enough to be physically imposing, had literally grabbed Merle out of the crowd and carried him to the church office, barring the door so no one could get in. Roger had then rounded up Colleen and their children, taking them to a separate room. When all four of the town’s police officers showed up, Emmit had convinced them to go in without their weapons, making the argument that someone might attempt to steal a gun from its holster, creating an even larger tragedy. 

By the time Emmit finished relaying all the important details and correcting a handful of rumors, there wasn’t a pastor at the table who didn’t feel the pain of the tragedy. While opinions varied as to who was to blame within Grace church, everyone agreed that Emmit and the men from the state convention had done everything within their power to prevent Sunday’s melee. The question now was how they, as an association of cooperative churches, would handle the fallout. Being Sunday, the newspaper hadn’t had enough staff to put the story in the Monday morning edition, but it would certainly be in Tuesday’s. By that time, rumors would have spread all over both counties and most of the Northeast portion of the state. This wasn’t the kind of thing that anyone would keep quiet.

“My suggestion,” Emmit said wearily, “is that we not raise the subject from the pulpit. To do so would only give more fuel to the fire. Billy told me this morning that services there have already been canceled for at least the next two weeks. Those of you in the Washataug area may see some of their members in your services. If you do, greet them warmly and don’t make things awkward by addressing the matter in any way. This is Palm Sunday. We have plenty of positive things to preach about. Sermons about divorce, infidelity, or even forgiveness are going to be taken as opinion pieces and may ultimately do more harm than good. Please, for the sake of the gospel, be careful.”

Following a longer-than-usual prayer time, Emmit excused himself from the normal lunch gathering owing to the matters in Washataug he still needed to address. On his way out, though, he pulled Glynn to the side. “I understand Joe stopped by for a few minutes,” he said, a hint of his smile returning. “How’d it go?”

Glynn returned the smile. “Very well. He was warmer and more personal than I ever would have imagined. He had some fantastic advice.”

“He likes you, Glynn,” Emmit said. “He and I have talked several times since then and each time he’s mentioned something different he likes about you. Don’t be surprised if you get another visit after all this blows over.”

Glynn blushed. “Do you think it will blow over?”

Emmit shrugged. “I hope it will but this is such a mess… There’s a rumor now that women at First Church and a deacon at Emmanuel may be involved as well.” Emmit sighed heavily and shoved his hands deep into his trouser pockets. “We’re going to lose Grace church,” he said quietly. “And every other Baptist church in the association is going to feel some of the pain.” He shook Glynn’s hand one more time and walked to his car.

Glynn decided to skip the lunch as well. He knew the pastors would hash and re-hash what happened at Grace and he didn’t care to be any part of it. He had sermons to prepare and church members of his own to visit. He drove back home with the radio turned off, praying quietly that no one from Grace would attend their services.

Glynn walked through the back door of the small home and slumped into a kitchen chair. Marve looked at him and said, “You’re ready to go back to Michigan, aren’t you?”

The pastor shook his head. “I’m sure things are just as bad there, I just wasn’t close enough to the action to know about it,” Glynn murmured. “Being a Baptist may be easier here than it was in Michigan, but people everywhere are sinners, and had I been full-time I probably would have known about all the bad things happening there as well. Being bi-vocational kept me insulated. Or blind. I’m not sure which.”

Marve pulled up a chair in front of him and took his hands in hers. She didn’t need to know what had happened. She understood Glynn’s discretion in not talking about other people’s problems. She didn’t like seeing what the weight of those problems was doing to her husband, though. “Listen, I know the next couple of weeks are kinda big with Palm Sunday and Easter, and I’ve got a long list of messages waiting for you as well. But right now? You and I are going to stop everything and go lie down. If you’re going to survive this, you’re going to have to rest.” She leaned forward and kissed him, easing up onto his lap, wrapping her arms around him. 

When they finally paused, Glynn asked, “I’ll go lie down but do we have to sleep?”

Marve giggled and shook her head.

The next two hours were as blissfull as any they’d had since moving to Adelbert. Once Hayden had them back up, Glynn started in on the long list of phone calls he needed to return before going to the hospital in Washataug. There were church members in the hospital in Arvel as well but those weren’t as critical and could wait until Tuesday. 

In an attempt to keep church and family life in balance, Glynn made sure to eat breakfast with the kids and to walk Lita to school each morning before walking down to the church. He quickly discovered that, with his car not sitting in the church parking lot, the number of bothersome calls he received diminished severely. He enjoyed the peace and quiet, knowing that those with real needs would either call anyway or call Marve who would tell them to call the church. The important messages would get through. 

Something about the approaching Spring, though, had seemed to ignite latent medical conditions for a good portion of his congregation. Front desk receptionists at both hospitals now knew Glynn by name and were good to alert him to patients from Adelbert he didn’t know. He didn’t care whether they were church members or not. Everyone in pain deserved a pastoral visit, in his opinion. 

A virus was going through the community as well. Lita came home from school Thursday afternoon with a fever and her dinner came right back up soon after eating. That meant she wouldn’t be going to school the next morning. Glynn couldn’t help feeling a little lonely as he walked to the church by himself the next day.

Over the course of the week, the pastor made three ambulance trips with Hub, had lunch with Alan and Horace at the diner twice, and visited with six families whose names were on the church rolls but he hadn’t met since arriving. Some were busy with too much farm and too little help, illness plagued a couple of others, but one couple admitted that they stopped going to church because they weren’t sure they still believed what the church was preaching. Glynn listened to their questions, thoughts deeper than he had anticipated or had sufficient education to quickly answer. He promised them if they would come to church Sunday morning that he would try to have as many answers for them as he could. 

By Friday, Glynn had also confirmed an evangelist from North Little Rock, Arkansas for the Spring Revival, one that came highly recommended by the state convention’s evangelism department. He felt anxious about turning his pulpit over to someone he hadn’t met but the man’s considerable experience and reputation for producing results were encouraging. 

Stepping into the pulpit Sunday morning, Glynn looked across the congregation, happy to see several new faces, faces of people he had visited in the hospital, people who hadn’t been to church in years. He noticed certain seats did not contain their usual elderly occupants; the virus was still plaguing the small town and while Lita was feeling better and sitting with friends, older church members were struggling to recover. No seat was empty, though, confirming that they would need folding chairs at the ready the next week.

“This morning, we come into what I think is the most misunderstood week in Christianity,” Glynn said as he began his sermon. “We celebrate today, Palm Sunday, and what we have come to refer to as Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. We know that just four short days from now, Jesus ends up on trial before Pilate. The next day, he was hung on a cross and died. Was this descent from high praise to high treason all part of God’s plan? That’s certainly the easiest explanation for us. No one is at fault if God had intended for everything to happen in the first place. Let’s look at scripture. John’s account is, I think, worth examining. Chapter 12, verse 12.

12 The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on an ass’s colt!”
16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Laz′arus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”

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. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“What we see in these verses sets up everything that happens over the next week. There is a sense of God’s plan at work when, as the people crowd around Jesus, he somehow finds a young donkey and persuades its owner to let him borrow it for the trip into the city. When we look at just this portion, it appears strong and triumphant, but around him is chaos. His own disciples are confused. The Pharisees, leaders of the Jewish community, were frustrated. We know that God is not the author of confusion, so why isn’t everyone on board here?”

Glynn paused long enough for people to shift uncomfortably in their seats as they weighed the question. Then, he continued, “What we forget is that in Jesus’ day, just as it is now, perception is everything. What people thought they saw, what we think they saw, was not necessarily what was happening. At least half of Jesus’ disciples were zealots, Jews who were anxiously looking for a military Messiah who would drive the Romans from Israel and restore their homeland. When they saw what was happening, from their perspective, this was the beginning of a coup. The prophet Zechariah had said that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which Jesus had just left, riding on a donkey. They weren’t ready. Jesus had caught them off guard. And while they joined the celebration, they were unsure as to what would happen next.”

“From the Pharisees’ perspective, what they saw was evening more troubling because at the same time Jesus was entering Jerusalem through one gate, Pilate was returning from a trip to Rome through another. The other gate is where the big parade was supposed to be. Pilate and his massive entourage of soldiers, their standards raised, their flags flying, would have been an impressive sight. That was where everyone was supposed to be, but they weren’t. Instead, here was this crowd, however large or small it might have been, on the other end of town, welcoming this cult leader that threatened to upset the delicate political environment they had established. If we can imagine Fidel Castro coming into Washington, DC at the same time President Nixon is returning from a trip, that’s a bit like what the Pharisees were feeling. And while we have the advantage of hindsight and see Jesus as the ultimate savior, the Pharisees didn’t have that advantage. Their perspective is that they were the protectors of the faith, the ones tasked with the message of God. They were certain they were doing God’s will but no one was listening. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem played more like a protest march than the arrival of the Son of God.”

Glynn paused again. This wasn’t the Palm Sunday sermon his congregation was expecting. Husbands and wives looked at each other. Deacons exchanged concerned glances from across the sanctuary. The pastor saw them all and smiled as he continued. “While there was confusion and consternation on the ground, though, from God’s perspective, this was a critical transition point. Jesus left the Mount of Olives as a teacher and entered Jerusalem, not as a military king, not as a political troublemaker, but as the sacrificial lamb necessary to take away the sins of the world. Here, he stops being Jesus of Nazareth and takes on the role of Savior of the world. And while the people in the streets thought they knew what was going on, the disciples thought they knew what was going on, and the Pharisees thought they knew what was going on, only God, in His omnipotence, really understood the importance of this moment.”

“We look at the events around us, we see the sin of some, we see the failings of others, we see what appears to be churches being torn apart, we read of events in the newspaper and we think we know what’s going on, but we’re quite likely to be wrong. In the context of God’s agenda, the world doesn’t need a king, or a boss, or a great leader, or even a great preacher. We don’t need excuses or explanations or justification for the natural reaction to things that happen. The world needs a sacrifice. The world needs a Savior. God’s plan leads to one place, Calvary. Not Washington. Not the capitals of Europe. Not even Israel. God’s plan only leads to the cross.”

When the service was over, Glynn stood at the front door of the church shaking hands, noting the brevity of the greetings. Even Buck, who was normally talkative, left with an almost dismissive, “See you this evening.” The young couple with the questions promised to be back, though. 

“You made them think,” Marve said once they were home. “I’m not sure anyone is accustomed to doing that on Sunday morning.”

“I’m not sure some are accustomed to thinking at all,” Glynn said. “That’s going to have to change.”

Chapter 10

Sundays tended to be quiet following the morning service, the evening service often being little more than a footnote to the day. Monday morning found Glynn on the phone before he’d had time to finish his first cup of coffee. Marve was still in her housecoat, fixing breakfast, and the pastor was looking under Lita’s bed for the matching barrette for her hair when the phone rang. Glynn bumped his head on the bottom of the bed which led him to mutter something under his breath that no one else actually heard. 

The phone kept ringing until Glynn could get to it. He paused, took a deep breath, and answered, “Hello, Waterbury residence. This is Glynn. How may I help you?” The greeting was formal, to be sure, but Lita was tall enough to reach the phone now and they were trying to teach her some manners for the times she was allowed to answer it.

“Good morning, Glynn, this is Richard,” said the voice on the other end of the call. “Sorry for the early hour, but I wanted to call before leaving for school.” Richard Lore was the schools’ only music teacher, covering everything from Kindergarten music time to high school band and choir. He was also the church’s music director, which meant he was responsible for choosing the “special” music for each service, the song just prior to the pastor’s sermon. 

“Not a problem,” Glynn replied. Marve shot him a stern look, knowing he was lying. Phone calls before 7:00 were a problem unless someone was dying.

“I wanted to check with you about Sunday’s music,” Richard said. “The choir has been working on ‘The King Is Coming,” and I was wondering what you thought about them doing that one just before the sermon.

Glynn paused for the briefest of moments as the words of the relatively new song by Bill and Gloria Gaither ran through his mind.

“The marketplace is empty
No more traffic in the streets
All the builders’ tools are silent
No more time to harvest wheat
Busy housewives cease their labors
In the courtroom no debate
Work on earth is all suspended
As the King comes thro’ the gate…:”

“I don’t know, Richard,” Glynn said carefully, not wanting to hurt the musician’s feelings. “Would you mind holding onto that for about four weeks? That’s more of a ‘Second Coming’ song. It doesn’t really fit the resurrection, does it?”

It was Richard’s turn to pause for a moment before answering. “Perhaps not directly, but isn’t the resurrection of Easter a metaphor for the final resurrection of Jesus’ return?”

“I suppose you could look at it that way,” the pastor replied, his deeper, more authoritative voice in use now. “But that’s not the direction the sermon is going. I had given some thought to doing a heavy ‘Second Coming’ sermon the week following the revival. Didn’t I hear the choir working on an arrangement of ‘What Wondrous Love’ last Wednesday? That sounded pretty good.”

This elicited another look and a pointed finger warning from Marve. The choir had not sounded good. Everyone there knew it hadn’t sounded good. With the majority of choir members being over the age of 60, there was little chance it would ever sound good.

Richard paused again. “You’re right, ‘What Wondrous Love’ is probably the better choice.” The tone of the musician’s voice fell. “I’m sorry, the song is just exciting for me.”

“I appreciate that Richard, I really do. I enjoy that song as well, it’s very stirring,” Glynn said. “We have the Gaither’s album and enjoy it. I’ll look forward to hearing the choir sing it after the revival.”

“Okay, we can do that,” came the defeated reply. “Any other suggestions for this Sunday?”

“I think everyone kind of expects the standards. You know, ‘He Arose,’ ‘Power In The Blood,’ ‘Old Rugged Cross,’ and maybe ‘Jesus Paid It All’ for the invitation. ‘When I Survey The Wondrous Cross’ is always inspiring, but we did that one just a couple of weeks ago. What do you think?” Glynn was certain he had hurt Richard’s feelings and was trying to recover.

“How would you feel about ‘Amazing Grace?” Richard asked. “Even people who don’t go to church are going to know that one.”

Glynn winced. “Amazing Grace” was certainly popular, some would argue too popular. Glynn’s issue was that the song was not explicitly Christian, using the word “grace” in a more spiritual, universal sense without mentioning the elements that delivered grace—Jesus, the cross, or the resurrection. He had already shot down one of Richard’s suggestions, though. He could let this one slide. “Sure, that can work,” he replied. “Perhaps right before the morning offering?”

Richard’s voice seemed to perk up a little. “Yeah, that makes sense. I’ll have a final list for you Wednesday night.”

“That sounds good,” Glynn said. “I’ll see you then.”

As Glynn hung up the phone, Marve looked up from the kitchen table where she was getting Hayden set for breakfast. “Glynn Waterbury, you’re going to have to do some praying this morning, lying like that.”

Glynn sighed as he sat down at the table. “I know, and I’m pretty sure I hurt Richard’s feelings, but I couldn’t let him do that song this Sunday. It doesn’t fit.”

Marve picked up the coffee pot and refilled Glynn’s cup. “I agree with you on that part,” she said, “but when did you start planning your sermons out a month in advance? And you have got to stop telling people ‘no problem’ when they call this early in the morning. This house is not open 24 hours a day.”

“But I’m the pastor, and I am essentially open 24 hours a day,” Glynn countered. “It doesn’t matter when someone has a need, I have to be willing to answer it even if I’m not totally awake. That’s part of being a pastor.”

“There have to be limits, Glynn. Emergencies, sure, they need to call. But don’t tell me Richard couldn’t have called you during one of his smoke breaks between classes,” Marve said, her voice growing more irritated. “You’ve got to set some limits.”

“This wasn’t the time for that, Marve. I’ll try to set some limits where it’s appropriate, but we’ve barely been here two months, people are still getting to know us and we’re still getting to know them.” Glynn took a sip of his coffee. “Maybe we shouldn’t be so judgmental about people who smoke, either,” he added, knowing it was one of Marve’s pet peeves. Glynn wasn’t especially comfortable around smokers and it was a habit he had never found appealing, but it was still socially popular, especially in more rural areas like Adelbert.

“Sure, let’s let smoking slide,” Marve said as she sat down at the table. “I’m sure Jesus would have had a Marlboro hanging from his mouth during the Sermon on the Mount.”

Glynn was almost thankful that Hayden chose that exact moment to fling a spoonful of oatmeal across the table, hitting his sister. Lita screamed and dumped her entire bowl on her brother’s head. With both children now crying, the parental response was automatic. Glynn grabbed Hayden and went to the restroom while Marve took Lita to the bedroom. This would be the tone of the entire day.

Five minutes into the Pastors’ Conference, Glynn was wishing he’d skipped the meeting. Fallout from the situation at Grace Church, Washataug, remained the hottest topic with opinions differing on whether the deacon was responsible for the destruction of the church or the pastor or the many women involved. No matter how much Emmit tried to steer the conversation in other directions, the pastors continually came back one way or another. One Washataug pastor said his church had decided to refuse membership to anyone coming from Grace. Another recounted how a deacon had confronted one of the families from Grace directly involved in the matter and let them know they were not welcome. Others questioned whether Grace Church should be kicked out of the Association, a move that Emmit and Glynn strongly opposed but drew a lot of support from the other pastors. 

Glynn skipped the lunch portion again and went straight back to the church, his stomach too tied up in knots to be in the mood to eat. He had hardly sat down at his desk when there was a knock on the outside door and Alan Mayes walked in.

“Sorry to bother you, preacher,” Alan started, “but I saw you pull up and wanted to stop by just for a second. I was wondering about your sermon yesterday morning.”

Glynn looked up and motioned for Alan to take a seat. “Sure, what’s bothering you?”

Alan sat down directly across from the pastor. “Well, something you said about us not needing a king, or a great leader, or a great preacher kinda bothered me. Seems to me, we need all those things right now. We need strong Christian leaders everywhere, in our schools, in our elected officials, and as the situation over there at Grace Washataug proves, in our preachers. I don’t think now’s the right time to be presenting Jesus Christ or his followers as lambs being sacrificed.”

Glynn leaned forward on the desk, choosing his words carefully, knowing they would likely be taken out of context later. “Yes, we need strong Christian leaders, especially in the church, but the example that Christ gives us is that strength comes in yielding to God, even to the point of becoming a sacrifice so that others will come to salvation. Jesus says that we must first be a servant before we can lead. God’s kingdom isn’t one to be forced by might, but through patience, forgiveness, love, and grace.”

“So, you’d forgive all those people over in Washataug?” Alan asked.

“My forgiveness isn’t what they need,” Glynn answered, “and I’m pretty sure God has already forgiven them.”

“Uh-huh,” Alan said in a tone that conveyed his disagreement. “Okay then, preacher, I’ll leave you to your studies. Just wanted to check with you about that.”

“My doors always open, Alan,” Glynn replied as he stood to shake the deacon’s hand. “Feel free to stop by anytime.”

Tensions seemed to remain high all week and a massive Thunderstorm on Wednesday didn’t help. Marve kept the kids home from Bible Study as did almost everyone else. Glynn, Buck, and Richard sat on the front pews talking about The Godfather and other movies until it was obvious no one else was going to show up. They prayed, waited to make sure no one else came in for the non-existent choir rehearsal, then went home. 

Glynn spent Friday morning putting the finishing touched on his evening sermon then spent the rest of the day with his family. School had let out for the day as was customary, though none of the students were Catholic. The bank was closed as well. The kids were fairly quiet as another round of storms rolled through. Naps helped keep everyone in a decent enough mood that Glynn took them to the diner for a dish of ice cream.

Sunday proved to be everything the pastor had expected and dreaded. Sanctuary pews were half-filled before Sunday School let out. Deacons set a row of chairs down both sides of the wide center aisle, then more along the more narrow outside aisles. Glynn watched from the back of the sanctuary, thankful they weren’t using any candles or other materials whose misuse might prompt a sudden evacuation.

The first part of the service was sufficiently routine. The choir did its best despite both the lack of rehearsal and the fact that a third of the people sitting there never sang in the choir at all. Glynn felt confident as he stepped into the pulpit to begin his sermon.

“We have come here this morning, all of us in our own way looking for Jesus. We come with our expectations set high, sure of what we will find, what we will experience, and perhaps completely unaware of the surprise God has in store for us. We are like Mary and the other women who went to the tomb that morning. Matthew 28 gives us a familiar account.”

When the Sabbath was over, just as the first day of the week was dawning Mary from Magdala and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. At that moment there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from Heaven, went forward and rolled back the stone and took his seat upon it. His appearance was dazzling like lightning and his clothes were white as snow. The guards shook with terror at the sight of him and collapsed like dead men. But the angel spoke to the women, “Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here—he is risen, just as he said he would. Come and look at the place where he was lying. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead.

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.

“When Mary and the other women close to Jesus went to the tomb that morning, all they expected was to finish the burial rituals that that Sabbath had prevented them from completing earlier, but the morning was full of surprises. They expected guards but the stone covering the tomb had been rolled away and the guards had passed out. They expected to be alone, but here sat this angel shining in all of Heaven’s glory. They expected to find a dead body, but he is not here—he is risen.”

“Like those women, we look for Jesus in the wrong places. We look for Jesus among the relics of overworked and over-wrought religion, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the catacombs of catechisms seeking to bring order to our religion, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the crypts of consumerism as television evangelists try to convince us we can buy our way into heaven by donating to their ministry, but he is not here—he is risen.
We look for Jesus in the sepulcher of spirituality as though our good deeds might save us, but he is not here—he is risen.
We look for Jesus in the tomb of tradition because lord knows we’ve always done it that way, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the pit of piety, trying to show the world just how religious we are, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the coffin of constraint, sure that if we simply don’t do the bad things we’ll be safe, but he is not here—he is risen.
  We look for Jesus in the grave of guilt, convinced that if we publicly and loudly confess every last one of our sins that we will be worthy, but he is not here—he is risen.”

“We look so hard to find Jesus where he isn’t that we miss him where he is. Jesus is not dead, so why would he continue to linger around our religious graveyards? Jesus is alive in the very things his resurrection secured for us.
  Jesus is alive in forgiveness for as he forgives us we are also to forgive others.
  Jesus is alive in acceptance for as he died for both Jews and Gentiles, so we are to accept everyone without condition.
  Jesus is alive in comfort for as he dries our tears so are we to comfort those who are distressed and in need.
  Jesus is alive in generosity for as he saw fit to leave the riches of Heaven for our sake so must we be willing to give to the poor and the hungry not only in our community but around the world.
  Jesus is alive in mercy for has he removed the eternal consequences of sin for us so also must we look past the grievances of sin done against us.
  Jesus is alive in the grace he has poured out upon those not worthy and it is that same grace we must extend to those we find most undesirable.
  Jesus is alive in the blood that secured our salvation and we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, our homes, our jobs, our desires, and perhaps even our lives for the benefit of others.
  Most importantly, Jesus is alive in the love that he has for us and the greatest commandment is that we love God and the second is that we love each other just as much as we love God.”

“My dear friends, if we are having trouble finding Jesus, perhaps the problem is that we’re looking in the wrong places.”

Glynn’s voice thundered through the sermon in poetic fashion. People responded. The Invitation, an evangelical addition to the worship liturgy where congregants feeling convicted walk down the aisle to confess and “be saved,” or respond to the message in some form of self-deprecating supplication, all while the rest of the congregation sings a theoretically compelling hymn, lasted nearly 15 minutes. After “Jesus Paid It All” was sung at as slow a tempo as humanly possible three times, Richard switched to the standard “Just As I Am,” also sung slowly so as to not run out of song before people stopped coming. 

Then, there was that point of the service, again unique to evangelical churches and given a particular twist by Southern Baptists, where those who had “come forward” stood in front of the congregation as the pastor explained why each person was there. Following that, the congregation was invited to “extend the hand of Christian fellowship,” to those standing there, something like a receiving line for the newly converted or those joining the church. All this extended the service by another 20 minutes.

Buck’s family had invited the Waterbury family to join them for Easter dinner, which they Waterburys were happy to do, but by the time they ate and chatted for a bit, it was 4:00 in the afternoon when they returned home. Glynn collapsed into the recliner while Marve tried to convince the children that they needed to take a nap. When all was finally quiet, Marve stretched out on the sofa and closed her eyes. “I’m glad this only happens once a year,” she said. “I don’t think I could hand this every week.”

“You know,” Glynn said quietly, “Full-gospel and A.M.E (African Methodist Episcopal) churches are probably still going. They’ll have dinner, play games, and then go right on into their second service.”

“I’m glad Southern Baptists don’t get quite so excited about church,” Marve replied. “And while your sermon was one of the best I’ve heard you preach, that whole Invitation process nearly had me asleep. You know, the Methodists were just as happy about the resurrection as we are but they were out by noon.”

“All seven of them, rushing home to their warm cups of broth,” Glynn said, poking fun at the small and elderly Methodist congregation that met just down the street from First Baptist. “I think I saw five cars in the parking lot at the Catholic church this morning. That’s double what they normally have. I’m sure Father Ridley was thrilled.”

Neither of them said anything for a while, their thoughts taking them different places as they tried to relax while they could. Several minutes had passed before Marve asked, “Do you think they did the full service?”

“Who did what service?” Glynn answered, jolted from nearly being asleep.

“Father Ridley. Do you think he did a full mass with only a handful of people there?”

Glynn thought for a moment. His knowledge and understanding of the Catholic mass and its variations was limited. He knew few still did mass in Latin and priests followed a set liturgical calendar but beyond that, he only knew what he had seen on television. “I don’t know. I think Easter Mass is kinda set in stone. He has to do communion and all that stuff.”

Marve replied with a soft, “Mmmmm. Sounds complicated.”

“We’re always finding ways to complicate God,” Glynn whispered as he drifted off to sleep.