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“When people leave our churches feeling good about themselves without ever having felt convicted, we have failed to do our jobs,” Emmit said as he spoke before the assembled group of preachers. The dull, humid Monday morning was already plagued with a misty grey sky that made everything feel uncomfortable. The Director of Missions had not bothered to explain why he was taking the group to the proverbial woodshed this morning, but he had their attention and he showed no sign of easing off the pressure.
“When people leave our churches without a sense of hope, without a glimpse of forgiveness and mercy, we have failed to do our jobs,” Emmit continued. “When people leave our churches more concerned about what’s for lunch than their personal responsibility to God, we have failed to do our jobs. When the last person walks out the door after any service and the most common comment has been, ‘Good sermon, pastor,’ we have failed to do our jobs. We are not here to satisfy the sanctimonious. God did not set us here to placate the pious. Christ did not suffer and die on the cross so that we might soothe the minds of those scrupulously adhering to dogma.
“If Jesus were sitting here around this table with us this morning, and as much as we might like to piously claim that the Holy Spirit is with us always, it’s not, but if Jesus, in physical manifestation were sitting in one of these metal folding chairs and given the opportunity to speak, do you think he’d congratulate you on what you’re doing? Do you think he’d pat you on the back and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing the best you can under difficult circumstances?’ Do you think that, when cumulatively, between both counties, we’re reaching less than ten percent of the unchurched population? Dare we think that Christ would be pleased that we’ve not planted a new church in this association in over 17 years?
“Look at us! Look at what we’ve become! Our young people enjoy singing, ‘It only takes a spark to set a fire going,’ but the instant we see any spark of creativity, anything that would bring new and, perhaps, different people through our doors, we immediately toss water on it while arguing that the fire our young people are trying to set could burn down the whole church. Look at us! Our egos are fragile, our theology is shallow, our motivation is self-serving, and our conduct is unbecoming a servant of God.
“Want to know what Jesus would have to say to us? Fortunately, Matthew wrote down exactly what he would say to us because it’s exactly the same thing he said when he was here the first time and no one paid much attention to him then, either. Chapter 23, and you’ll excuse me for cherry-picking the parts that apply to us the most. He’s speaking of the scribes and Pharisees when he says:
…you must not imitate their lives! For they preach but do not practise. They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders—yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives are planned with an eye to effect. They increase the size of their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their robes; they love seats of honour at dinner parties and front places in the synagogues. They love to be greeted with respect in public places and to have men call them ‘rabbi!’ Don’t you ever be called ‘rabbi’—you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers.
“I shouldn’t need to explain to you what’s going on here. Replace ‘rabbi’ with reverend and we are exactly the same. We love the way people defer to us on topics we have absolutely no authority addressing. We enjoy being invited to the best banquets, given seats at the dais and asked to say a prayer blessing what is, without question, the most unworthy of civic events. We love to grandstand, to offer ten-minute prayers over food that takes only five minutes to eat. And Jesus isn’t done. Picking up in verse 13, you might want to actually follow along in your own Bibles. You need to see with your own eyes what Jesus is saying to you.
“But alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play-actors that you are! You lock the door of the kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces; you will not go in yourselves neither will you allow those at the door to go inside.
15 “Alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play-actors! You scour sea and land to make a single convert, and then you make him twice as ripe for destruction as you are yourselves.
“Jump on down to verse 23 and ask yourself how honestly this fits:
“Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you utter frauds! For you pay your tithe on mint and aniseed and cummin, and neglect the things which carry far more weight in the Law—justice, mercy and good faith. These are the things you should have observed—without neglecting the others. You call yourselves leaders, and yet you can’t see an inch before your noses, for you filter out the mosquito and swallow the camel.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. Used by Permission.
25-26 “What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Can’t you see, Pharisee? First wash the inside of a cup, and then you can clean the outside.
27-28 “Alas for you, you hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness. For you appear like good men on the outside—but inside you are a mass of pretense and wickedness.
29-36 “What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You build tombs for the prophets, and decorate monuments for good men of the past, and then say, ‘If we had lived in the times of our ancestors we should never have joined in the killing of the prophets.’ Yes, ‘your ancestors’—that shows you to be sons indeed of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead then, and finish off what your ancestors tried to do! You serpents, you viper’s brood, how do you think you are going to avoid being condemned to the rubbish-heap?
The pastors looked at their Bibles as though they were reading the passage for the first time. None of them dared look Emmit in the face. He was uncharacteristically charged and as difficult as it was to hear what he was saying, none of them could deny that his accusations were valid, though most assumed he was talking about someone other than them. Each was thinking of his own excuse, his own reason for why his actions might appear to be less than righteous, something other than sincere.
Emmit continued. “I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve been embarrassed in recent weeks simply by being associated with you guys. I was in the pharmacy on Saturday and the woman behind the counter told me how one of you manages to slip something into your suit pocket without paying for it every time you’re in the store. I won’t be joining you for lunch today because I’ve been told that the tips you leave, as a group, amount to less than five percent of your bill. And yet, you sit there and laugh and make noise, and act as though you own the place.
“Your reputation in both counties is disgusting. I was visiting one church member in the Washataug hospital because her church is without a pastor. She told me that for all the time she’s been a member of a Southern Baptist church, I was the first minister to pay her a visit, despite the fact she has a chronic condition that requires frequent hospitalization. I was standing at the nurse’s station and was told how inappropriate some of you are, acting as though you know more than the doctors, questioning medical decisions, and apparently a couple of you are fond of slapping young nurses on the bottom! Who do you think you are? College frat boys?
“We have people visit us from Oklahoma City, trying to share with us ideas and concepts that could possibly help our churches grow and you guys treat them as though they are some kind of lower-class servant, questioning or discounting everything they say, to their faces! When Bruce Haggard left here two weeks ago he was completely and utterly discouraged by the way you responded to him and the Sunday School literature. No, he didn’t stay for lunch, he didn’t feel remotely welcome! One of you even shoved a packet of literature at his chest and told him that he’s wasting his time! How dare you! How dare you even call yourselves Christians let alone pastors with that attitude?
“I am ashamed of you. God is ashamed of you. The world is ashamed of you. The only people who like you guys right now are the ones sitting comfortably in your congregations thinking that their souls are safe and they don’t need to do anything more to help anyone else because they’ve given their tithe which means the church will take care of the poor and the homeless and the orphans and the destitute. Who do they think the church is? Our congregations think that God’s work is going to magically happen without them ever having to leave their cushioned pews and we have continually, fervently, reinforced that attitude with our preaching and setting examples that give the incorrect impression that since Jesus saves us from our sins, we can roller skate right on through the rest of our lives without ever having to worry about falling.
“Brothers, I have some bad news: We’ve fallen. We have fallen hard and we’re taking our churches with us. We have fallen so hard that I’m no longer surprised when the police come knocking at my door asking for information about one of you, attempting to verify your whereabouts in connection to some crime that has been committed. We have fallen so hard that only the blind assume your innocence.
“Take a look around you and notice who’s missing. I specifically asked many of you to be here this morning so that you would not be suspect. As we are meeting here, police are over at Grace Church arresting Charley Edmonds on suspicion of murder. You’ll remember the incident back in February where a deacon in the church was confronted after an evening service by a man claiming that his wife was having an affair. The man’s wife was murdered later that night and police originally arrested her husband for the crime. The chaos of that initial investigation is what brought us here to Calvary church for our meetings.
“What has come to light in the following months is that it wasn’t the deacon the young woman was having an affair with, it was Charley. When he heard what had happened in the parking lot, he got scared. He waited until everyone was gone then headed out toward the couple’s house, hoping to make sure the young woman was going to be quiet. He was almost there when he found her running alongside the road. He stopped, they had an argument, and he allegedly killed her.
“I’ve little doubt that he will be convicted. The police seem to think that I have some form of control over you guys and keep showing up at my office with evidence. I don’t know that I’ve seen it all but I’ve seen enough to be sickened by the whole matter. They’re arresting him now and it will be in all the papers this evening.”
Emmit paused for a second and looked down at the table. The room was quiet except for the creaking of strained metal as various pastors adjusted their weight in the chairs. They could tell by the pained expression on Emmit’s face that he wasn’t done.
“I was made aware of this action this morning,” Emmit continued, “not more than ten minutes after receiving a call from Oklahoma City informing me that the former pastor of Grace, Washataug, Merle Clinton, bought a gun on Saturday, took it home and shot his wife and himself in front of their children.”
Gasps and murmurs filled the room. Emmit waited as the group expressed their shock in the quiet and subdued tones men used when they felt the need to say something but didn’t want to be heard saying it. After a few seconds, he added, “That both of these pastors were at churches named Grace is not lost on me. Grace is the ultimate gift from God. Grace is the very reason Christ came to earth in human form. Grace is what saves us and right now brothers, grace is what we all need more than anything. Yet, as we’ve seen in both these events this morning, we’ve taken God’s grace and squandered it. What has been manifested through these two pastors is sin of which we all are guilty. We have taken the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from sin and used it as a cover for doing all the things we preach against.
I am tempted to call out at least half of you this morning because what you’ve done in your communities is already so public that you’re the only ones who seem to not be aware of how much the people in your churches already know. One of you has embezzled over $5,000 from your church. Your wife is helping to build the case against you so there’s no point in trying to run. One of you has been caught in your office on multiple occasions with young boys. The only reason you’re not in jail already is that the parents involved don’t want to drag their children through the trial process. Another pastor here lied about his credentials. Not only have you not been to college or seminary as you led your church to believe, you were never ordained at all. You are not legally a Southern Baptist minister and all the weddings you’ve performed are now being called into question.”
The quiet was disrupted by the sound of a metal chair being pushed back across the hard tile. Marshall Huffman, pastor of Trinity church in Washataug, got up and left the room without speaking.
“No, before you ask, Marshall was not among any of those I’ve mentioned,” Emmit said, knowing what the pastors were likely assuming. “You each know who you are and what you have done. I, for one, am done covering for you. I’m sick and tired of attempting to defend the indefensible. I took this position in the hopes that I would be able to support the pastors here and in doing so help grow the churches as well. I’ve obviously failed in that job. You are the most corrupt and malicious group of so-called Christians I have ever known.
“I had planned on waiting until our Annual Meeting in October to do this but I simply cannot, in good conscience, go on any longer. I’ve called Dr. Ingram and submitted my resignation. I can no longer be your Director of Missions or hold any affiliation with this association in any way. I’ve made a thorough and detailed report of exactly who has done what and mailed it to the ministerial services office in Oklahoma City. They’ll be reaching out to law enforcement where necessary and directly to churches where it is appropriate.
“I cannot begin to express my level of dismay in doing this. I look at your many failures and wonder what I could have done to stop it all, how I might have directed you away from so many sins. Perhaps I failed to inspire you sufficiently or it could be that I should have been more of a disciplinarian, pushing you to a more rigid discipleship. I don’t know. What I know is that I cannot continue.”
Emmit’s face showed the pain with which he was speaking. He closed his Bible and tapped it with his fingers, looking for the words with which to finish. Finally, he said, “There is a handful of you who, at least for now, appear to be faithful. I will reach out to you before I leave, let you know what you need to know to protect yourself from the sin that surrounds you. The rest of you… what happens next is between you and God and your churches. God may yet offer you forgiveness but I wouldn’t expect the same from your congregations.”
He picked up his Bible and walked toward the door. Seeing the still-shocked expression on Glynn’s face, he paused long enough to pat him on the shoulder before leaving, a move everyone noticed and questioned its meaning. The pastors waited quietly, some unsure whether to say anything, others quite certain that they needed to leave before more questions were asked, squirmed in their chairs, not wanting to be the first to stand. Disbanding slowly under a cloud of hushed questions and accusations, they each left with no mention of what to do next.
Glynn drove home in silence, the radio off, the windows rolled up and the air-conditioner doing its best to overpower the humidity. He felt as though he had his feet kicked out from under him. Emmit was his friend, or at least Glynn had always seen him as such. He’d been supportive and encouraging at every turn, offering sound advice when it was needed. The suddenness of his departure was a punch that compounded the angst and worries he’d felt over his own position. Now, given the broad brush strokes with which every pastor in the association had been painted, Glynn was no longer sure who he could trust. Was there anyone in whom he could confide?
The pastor arrived home to find Marve watching over the kids from the kitchen window as they played outside. She smiled at him as he came through the door. He walked up behind her, put his arms around her waist, and kissed the back of her neck.
“I take it this was another one of those meetings that left you worse than when you got here?” Marve asked softly as she leaned into her husband.
“Worst one yet. Emmit resigned, among other things,” Glynn said.
“That explains the phone calls,” Marve said as she reached for a piece of paper on the counter. “Both Joe Ingram and Calvin Cain said to give them a call if you need to talk.” She slipped the paper into his shirt pocket and then reached up to give him a kiss. “Of course, you could always talk to me. I don’t come with long-distance charges.”
Glynn held his wife close. “I’m not sure how much of this mess you want to know. Although, maybe it’s best you know before it hits the papers this evening.”
“Oh, God, is it that bad?” Marve asked as she looked out the window.
“Charley Edmonds was arrested for murder this morning,” Glynn said softly as he took a seat at the kitchen table. “The former pastor at Grace, Washataug killed himself and his wife. Some other things but Emmit didn’t name names. Just a lot all at once.”
“How’s all that going to affect you?” his wife asked. “I mean, why did Emmit have to resign?”
“I don’t know that he would have had to before this morning. He was tired of police showing up at his office all the time asking about different pastors in the association.” Glynn leaned on the table with his elbows, his head in his hand. “He was pretty heated in his delivery this morning, made it clear that, collectively, he considers the pastors in the association as bad if not worse than the scribes and Pharisees. He mentioned some things without naming names that are pretty bad. There’s no way he could be an effective leader after that and he made it pretty clear that he doesn’t want to be that leader anymore.”
Marve walked around the table and put her hands on her husband’s shoulders, gently massaging his back. “I’ve not felt you this stressed since the last time the plant had layoffs. What happens next?”
Glynn shook his head. “I don’t know. I guess the state convention steps in, finds someone to fill the position? I’m not sure. For us, for this church, it means we focus on right here, right now. Our community. Try to stay away from whatever trouble is brewing in other churches.”
Marve leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Glynn’s shoulders and leaned into him. “So much for the joys of being full time.”
“After this morning, I’m wondering if there’s any joy in being a pastor at all,” he sighed. “I’m feeling like I bought into a massive lie.”
Over the course of the rest of the week, Glynn poured all his energy into the church. He went down the membership roll and made sure he had some form of contact with everyone, even those who he saw on a regular basis. Some were normal enough, saying hi as he walked to the store and back. Others required traveling out to farms and occasionally into the middle of cornfields being actively harvested. Those he couldn’t get to he called and those who no longer lived in the area received a hand-written letter. He wanted to make sure that everyone in the church knew that he was focused on them.
The pastor’s most effective method, unsurprisingly, was to walk into the diner and stay through the entire lunch rush. By Friday, Alta Groves didn’t even bother taking his order. She’d greet him with a cup of coffee and bring out the day’s special as soon as it was ready. Those who were regulars at the diner took notice.
“Preacher, you keep this up and we’re going to have to get you a John Deere hat of your own,” Allen teased him. “We’re not used to having a preacher pay this much attention to us. It’s kind of like God has suddenly decided he wants to be your best friend and now you’re second-guessing everything you do.”
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Glynn asked, smiling. He hadn’t pushed Allen or any of the other farmers about their church attendance over the summer but he could tell his presence at the diner was causing some to feel a bit guilty.
The deacon laughed as he pulled up a chair and took a seat. “A little suspicious, maybe? I mean, you’ve not asked a single person if they’re coming to church, but how many of these guys have promised to be there this Sunday?”
Glynn took a sip of the coffee Alta had just refreshed. “There’ve been a few, but that’s their call. I’ve tried to give all y’all some space over the summer. I know you’re busy and there’s a lot to do. God’s not going to get upset because you didn’t drop everything for a couple of hours on Sunday.”
“Yeah, and that’s different from other preachers we’ve had. And personally, I appreciate you not taking a heavy-handed approach, I really do.” Allen paused as Alta set the plate of food in front of him. “But you’ve gone from being in here maybe once every other week when you needed to chat about something, to every day just because. And I can’t help but notice this is coming at the same time as that preacher over in Arvel is being arrested for that girl’s murder, and three other pastors have suddenly resigned, didn’t even wait for Sunday, and that Director of Missions fellow quit as well. Now, tell me if I’m wrong, but ya’ don’t have to be one of those TV detectives to think something might be up.”
The preacher leaned forward on the table and spoke softly. “Yeah, there’s a lot going on in the association right now, and I honestly won’t be surprised if we don’t see a couple more pastors resign on Sunday. As I think I’ve heard you say on occasion, the cow manure can only get so high before you have to start shoveling and it would seem that God’s doing some shoveling.”
“And you’re making sure we know you’re not one of those being shoveled,” Allen said slowly, not sure he was picking up on the pastor’s metaphor.
“Sort of,” Glynn answered. “But one of the accusations going around over in Arvel, and perhaps Washataug, too, is that all Southern Baptist preachers are either crooks or liars and that none of us can be trusted. If there’s anyone in Adelberg that’s feeling that way, I want to be able to address the matter before it gets out of hand.”
Allen was nodding his head as he ate his food. He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve before responding. “I’ve heard that talk. I was over at the tractor supply place yesterday and it’s not just Baptist preachers but all preachers that are gettin’ dragged through the mud a bit. But it seems to be more of an Arvel thing. I can promise you that no one around these parts feels that way. Same for, what’s his name over there, Carl something? Folks over in that part of the county just love him. I’ve not been into Washataug that much of late. I know when the stuff went down at Grace church it was kind of a big thing, but I think it’s blown over pretty much now.”
“The pastor involved there killed himself and his wife last weekend,” Glynn said gently. “That might stir things up again.”
Allen dropped his fork on the table. “You’re kidding me! Merle Clinton did that? I never would have taken him for that kind of person.” He picked up his fork and took another bite, not quite waiting until he had swallowed before continuing. “You’re right, that’s going to stir up the dust. You know, preacher, maybe it makes a couple of guys uncomfortable for you to be in here all the time, but maybe that’s a good thing. You’re visible, not hiding out and giving folks a reason to wonder what you’re up to. Keep on keepin’ on, as the kids say. School’s about to start, football season’s just around the corner, and folks’ll be back to worryin’ about normal stuff. This other nonsense will blow over.”
Allen’s words were what Glynn wanted to hear. By Sunday, the preacher was feeling more enthused than he had in over a month and the energy with which he delivered his sermon to the full sanctuary was abundant. His sermon on the never-ending grace of God was welcome and reassuring. He couldn’t help but notice that people lingered longer after the service, visiting and catching up with people they’d not seen much over the summer. This Sunday felt good for a change.
By the time 9:00 on Monday rolled around again, Glynn wondered if maybe the destruction of the association and with it the pastors’ conference was maybe a good thing. He didn’t feel the need to rush off. He wasn’t going to miss the negative attitudes. He could get his week started off well, maybe even get a little ahead of the curve with his sermon preparation.
Having a more flexible schedule also meant that he had time to go with Marve to enroll Hayden in kindergarten. Glynn hadn’t given any prior thought to how emotional the event would actually be. His little tow-headed boy was growing up quickly, being more independent and developing a personality separate from his parents, for better or worse. When Glynn and Marve left the school, they sat in the car, holding hands, and wiping away tears of both joy and sorrow that both kids were now in school.
It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that there was a soft knock on the church office door. Glynn answered, surprised to see Emmit there wearing blue jeans and a faded checked shirt.
“I was wondering if you’d have time to chat a bit,” Emmit said, his smile less enthusiastic than normal. “I didn’t have any chance to warn you before everything happened and I could tell it was all a bit of a shock.”
Glynn opened the door fully and motioned for Emmit to come in. “I’ll always have time for you, no matter what else is going on. How’ve you been? You’re right, that was a lot to take in last week, but for you, I can only imagine how much more difficult it had to be.”
Emmit took a seat in one of the folding chairs across from the pastor’s desk. “It wasn’t easy, but it was a long time coming,” he said firmly. “And I probably could have handled it better. I was feeling so very frustrated. You know, there were three different police detectives working five different cases in my office that previous Friday, all looking for answers that I didn’t have about pastors I didn’t control. They don’t understand how Baptists work, that the churches are autonomous. They kept insisting that I had to be able to order them to do things, or that I could affect their employment. When those calls came in Monday morning, that was the end. I couldn’t handle anymore.”
Glynn shook his head, not wanting to believe what Emmit was telling him but knowing that it was all likely true. “I… I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around there being so many pastors doing so much wrong in one association. I mean, this is an anomaly, right? This doesn’t happen elsewhere, does it? Or am I just in the dark?”
“There’s more than anyone cares to admit,” Emmit said. “In addition to those I mentioned last week, I’m aware of two pastors who are cheating on their spouses with their church secretaries. I don’t know if you noticed at camp, but there were some pastors who were never asked to teach a class. You were given a pass because of being so new, but most of the others who weren’t teaching can’t be trusted with children, even in a reasonably public setting.
“One of our older pastors, and this one really bothers me, but he goes to lunch or dinner at a diner near his house almost every day; doesn’t get much, maybe a bowl of soup or a sandwich and chips if he’s especially hungry, then just gets up and leaves without paying. Every time. They’ve stopped even bothering to bring him a check. I go by once a week and pay the bill for him. Between you and me, and the guys in the Ministerial Services office, he needs to be in a home. His house is a mess. If you say anything about it, his excuse is that his wife’s been working and hasn’t had time to clean. His wife died 14 years ago! He showed up for Sunday morning services a couple of weeks ago wearing his gardening shorts. Back last winter, there were a couple of Sundays he forgot to show up at all. I’ve talked to the deacons and other church members and they all agree that he needs help and needs to step down, but they feel like it would be mean to ask that of him and, of course, no one can make him resign or retire. So, we’re stuck. What’s he going to do? What’s the church going to do?
“And no, Glynn, it’s not just here. If it were, we might could do something, look at the common factors, see what the problem is. But it’s everywhere. When I talk to the other guys in the other associations, it’s as bad if not worse. Pastors who beat their wives and kids, pastors who are alcoholics and try to hide it, pastors who exaggerate or lie about things they’ve done, pastors who cheat, steal, extort money and favors from their own church members… There are times I think we could fill a prison with just preachers. And don’t even get me started on the evangelists that pass through here. Have you ever noticed that not many of them ever return to the area? Okay, you’ve not been here long enough I guess, but they don’t because they can’t. They’d be arrested or in trouble with someone’s husband.”
Glynn didn’t realize that his mouth was open as Emmit spoke. With each addition to Emmit’s list, his stomach turned another knot. He had never suspected such things from his colleagues. Perhaps there might be some slight exaggeration of a story for the sake of illustrating a point, but never anything beyond that. He felt painfully naive. He dropped his head. “Is there anyone I can trust?” he asked softly.
Emmit leaned forward, resting his arm on the desk. “Yes, even as bad as all this sounds, the majority are still good men. Clement, Bill, Carl, Ted over at Short Springs is a wonderful guy, Harold Waters, and plenty of others. But we’re in a profession where the churches and the communities expect them all to be good men. Even one straying is a problem, and when there are several it’s discouraging because a sin against God isn’t necessarily a crime against man. We don’t have a pastoral police force we can call. Other denominations have a process for handling these things outside the individual church, but not us. If the church chooses to look the other way, and they often do, there’s nothing that can be done. You just have to watch, pay attention to how pastors behave when they think no one’s watching. Choose your friends carefully.”
Glynn let out a long, slow sigh. He didn’t like what he was hearing. All the anxieties and doubt he’d had the weeks before came rushing back with more force than ever. What in the world had he gotten himself into? How could God allow such sin among his own messengers? There had to be a solution here somewhere or else everything he was doing was a fraud. “So, what’s next? Where are you going? What happens to the association?”
“I had already been talking with the folks at the Home Mision Board about going to Minnesota as a church planter,” Emmit said. “We’ve accelerated those conversations over the past week. I was going to wait until the Annual Meeting to announce anything and start up there the first of next year, but now it’s looking more like October. My wife’s not especially happy, but she understands that staying around here would only stir more trouble.” In a fake Italian accent, he added, “Knowing too much about pastors is kind of like snitching on the mob, you know?”
Glynn smiled at the reference to The Godfather, a popular movie that had been released earlier in the year about a crime family. He hadn’t seen the movie but he understood the inference.
“The association’s executive board will have to meet within the next week or so,” Emmit continued. “Someone from Oklahoma City will come up to help guide that. They’ll select a search committee, much like a church would do when looking for a pastor. The guys from Ministerial Services will make some suggestions but the committee isn’t bound to consider any of them. They’ll look for someone they think is qualified, make a recommendation, and then the executive committee either accepts the recommendation or tells them to keep searching.”
“The churches don’t get a voice?” Glynn asked, surprised by how closed the process was.
“Not really,” Emmit said as he shook his head. “If you stop and think about it, that would probably be a bad idea. There’s not much chance you’d get a consensus on anyone. We have enough trouble passing simple things like a budget at the Annual Meeting. No, treating this more as an administrative position rather than a pastoral one is best. It’s not like the Director of Missions has any real authority. We’re just here in a support role. They just need to find someone quickly or else the Annual Meeting will be chaos if it can happen at all.”
Emmit paused and looked at his watch. “I’ve taken up enough of your time, Glynn. I need to get back to Arvel and finish getting my things out of the office this afternoon. The secretaries will still be there of the morning if you need anything, of course.” He stood and extended his hand, clasping Glynn’s hand in both of his as they shook. “Stay the course, brother. I know this is hard and confusing for you. I assure you, God is still in charge. We come out of the fire refined and purified. Call Calvin. I think he’s coming up next week to meet with the executive committee. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind stopping by. He’s a good encourager.”
”You’ll stay in touch, right?” Glynn asked.
“You know it,” Emmit said, knowing full well he probably wouldn’t.
There was a short, obligatory prayer; the kind that seemed necessary because of who they were, neither of them expecting it to change anything on any level. Glynn stood in the parking lot and watched as Emmit drove away for the last time.