Just joining us? You can click here to start from the beginning.
As often happens in Oklahoma, Easter’s weather had turned cool and by Monday morning had developed into full-blown thunderstorms complete with a tornado watch that covered the eastern half of the state. Glynn drove Lita to school then went on to the church to get some administrative work done. Whether he would attend that week’s pastors conference would depend on how heavy the rain was in a couple of hours. Already, he’d experienced enough of Oklahoma’s weather to know that these things often blew on through in a couple of hours. When they didn’t, though, they stayed all day.
Listening to the rain pounding the church roof was relaxing, though. The high-angled pitch of the sanctuary roof provided the perfect level of white noise to help keep the pastor calm as he went through Sunday’s numbers. 98 in Sunday School. He wondered if they could break a hundred. Then, he wondered if they could hold that level for an entire month. He considered that might be a good campaign to try for the fall.
The phone didn’t ring the entire morning. One of the interesting aspects of this rural town was that the people here were extremely cautious about lightning. With no tall buildings around to attract the energy, sometimes the greater threat during storms like this was the possibility of lightning striking things it couldn’t reach in larger, more congested cities, things like utility poles, trees, and cattle standing out in a field. This led to a large number of disastrous stories. Some claimed a person could get hit by lightning through a window. Others claimed the lightning could shock a person in the shower. Another story had lightning coming through the phone wires and giving a person a jolt. Glynn had no way of knowing whether any of these stories were true, and more than a few seemed highly suspect, but people here swore by them and as a result, stayed off the phone during thunderstorms unless it was an emergency.
After completing the necessary forms and putting them in an envelope to mail to Oklahoma City, he opened his Bible and began considering what he might preach the next Sunday. Traditionally, this would be the Sunday to preach about faith, using the disciple Thomas as an example, but the more Glynn read the more he felt uncomfortable about the reliability of those passages of scripture. Already, he had begun to question whether large passages of the Old Testament were factual, especially within the first five books. He no longer looked at the Genesis account of creation as six literal 24-hour days but as six “ages” of creation that more closely conformed with the evolutionary periods laid out in science. The more he read, the more he found reason to question the possibility that the entire post-resurrection accounts from the gospels might be apocryphal, legends and stories added later in second-century manuscripts in order to bolster what the church was teaching at the time. He worried that using those passages to support a sermon might amount to participating in a fraud.
Sitting at his desk, thumbing through various post-resurrection passages, nothing particularly struck Glynn as being the specific message his congregation needed to hear at this exact moment. The problem was, he wasn’t entirely sure what they did need to hear. Sunday morning’s sermon had been received well enough that nearly half the congregation had returned for the evening service. The poetic presentation method he had used wasn’t something he could maintain for every Sunday, though. Glynn’s homiletic style tended to be more conversational, casually teaching rather than trying to force a point of view down anyone’s throat. To preach a sermon “just because” felt empty and meaningless.
Glynn wrestled with the challenge long enough that he was late leaving for the Pastors’ Conference in Arvel. While the rain was lighter than it had been, it was still heavy enough to require careful driving. As a result, the meeting had already started by the time Glynn slipped through the door. Emmit smiled as Glynn took a seat but almost no one else noticed. Larry Winston was holding some kind of magazine in his hand and commanding the attention of everyone in the room.
“I’m telling you right now, we’re being attacked from the inside,” Larry was saying. “When one of my church members brought this magazine to me this past week, I was nearly knocked off my feet. This thing claims to be a Christian publication but it turns around and dares to suggest that Jesus didn’t actually die, that he asphyxiated or some nonsense like that and simply “woke up” early Sunday morning. I’m telling you, brothers, that’s straight-out heresy and its creeping into our churches through garbage like this New Christian magazine. We’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve got to preach against this! There’s no question that this is coming straight from the devil himself to attack us and tear the church apart!”
The preacher tossed the magazine onto the table in front of them and the others stared in silence for a moment, unsure exactly what to say. Of the 27 pastors assembled, only three were seminary graduates, a fact they chose to keep quiet among their peers. Two others had gone to college and majored in Pastoral Studies. The rest relied on books and magazines to help them fill in the gaps but mostly took the King James Version of the Bible as the factual word of God and would argue with anyone who claimed otherwise.
Finally, Roy Winston commented, “I mean, we’re sort of being bombarded on every side. Like with that Billy Graham crusade that was on the TV last week. Did any of ya’ll catch what they were offering? All ya’ had to do was write to them and they’d send you the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, only they didn’t call it that. They called it “The Good News For Modern Man.” And not only is this thing in paperback, which is disrespectful enough, it comes with these little drawings in the middle of the pages, treating God’s word as though it were a comic book! And this is coming from Billy Graham, of all people!”
“I never have trusted him,” Larry said.
“He says he’s Southern Baptist, but he won’t speak at any Southern Baptist churches or any convention gatherings,” added Carl Roberts, pastor of the small Liberty Creek church over near Washataug.
“I hear his wife’s not even Baptist,” Larry inserted. “She’s Methodist or something like that. He can’t be thoroughly Baptist if he allows his wife to go to a different church.”
“At least he preaches a good sermon,” Bill Moody said, coming to the evangelist’s defense. Bill was pastor at Harmony Church in Holmes, a small town north of Arvel. “And he seems to get good results. I mean, he brings hundreds of people to Christ every service.”
Roy was quick to counter. “You don’t think all those people are actually having conversion experiences, do you? I mean, they give them some literature and send them home. They’re not really saved.”
“How do we know that?” Bill countered. “Has anyone here ever been to one of his crusades?”
“He’s never close enough,” answered Herb Stanley. The small man with a soft voice was the seemingly reluctant pastor of First Baptist in Ochillie. “I mean, he was in Dallas last year, but I know I couldn’t afford to go all the way down there just to see him.”
“He only goes where he can draw large crowds and get the most attention,” Larry charged. “Oklahoma doesn’t even have a place large enough for him. I’m not sure I’d attend even if he came to something right here in Mishawaka County. God ordained the local church, not the traveling circus.”
Bill shook his head. “John was an evangelist, and he was closer to Jesus than any of the other disciples. I think we need to support our brothers trying to spread the word regardless of their method, not tear them down.”
Larry Winston was back on his feet. “We have to guard the sanctity of the Bible!” he nearly screamed. “We can’t have people running around here outside the authority of any church preaching whatever they want! That’s how liberalism gets into our churches! And people will believe anything, especially if it’s on television. We have to be on guard! We have to protect the Bible! And anytime we catch someone preaching anything that’s contrary to what it says in the King James Version of my Bible, we need to kick ‘em out and send ‘em packing!”
Sensing that the conversation was about to get completely out of control, Emmit interrupted. “Brothers, I think our best course of action, for now, is that we focus on the challenges of our own churches and pray for those who might be led astray. Let’s let God deal with those we don’t agree with. Brother Garner, how was your day yesterday?”
Clement Garner was the pastor at Emmanuel Church in Washataug and one of the few seminary-trained pastors in the Association. He was quick to pick up on Emmit’s diversionary tactic and stood quickly to take the floor. “We had a fantastic day celebrating the Resurrection of our Savior,” he said, smiling. “We had 187 in Sunday School and our ushers counted 233 for the worship service. We had four professions of faith, three rededications, and two new families joined, one from Oklahoma City and another from Muskogee. We’re looking at some great things as we move into Spring.”
That was enough to put the meeting back on track. Nearly all the pastors were excited over the size of their congregations despite knowing that at least a third would not be seen again until December. There was a perpetual hope among them that Easter, followed by a Spring Revival, would be enough of a spark to ignite dramatic growth in their churches. Few had an interest in the statistics showing that the two counties were oversaturated with churches and even if they had been interested most would have held to the hope that their church would be the one to defy the odds. Each pastor was sure they could grow their church and that anything standing in their way was simply the work of the devil.
Glynn decided to stay for lunch, having skipped the past two weeks. He couldn’t help notice that the pastors seemed to divide into two groups, Larry, Roy, and others like them at one group of tables, Bill, Clement, and those less likely to argue sitting a few feet away, still close enough to exchange comments back and forth when desired, but distinctly separate. Glynn joined the latter group, taking a seat next to Clement. The conversation was light, focusing more on sports than religion. Glynn wasn’t terribly informed on the subject but appreciated that the preachers had interests outside their churches.
As Glynn was getting ready to leave, Emmit walked over and asked, “Have you seen or talked to Jerry Weldon lately? He’s not been here for three weeks now and that’s not like him. I haven’t been able to catch him on the phone, either. I’m a little bit concerned.”
Glynn shook his head. “No, I’ve not seen or heard anything from him. Do you think there’s a problem?”
“Probably not,” Emmit admitted. “We all get busy from time to time and not everyone finds these meetings useful. I know sometimes the pastors of the smaller churches get discouraged over not having larger numbers to share. And Jerry’s not exactly full-time, either. He does some mechanic work on the side. I’m sure there’s a good reason.”
“I’ll keep a look out for him,” Glynn offered. “I’m through the Bluebird community three or four times a week. Wouldn’t be a problem to stop by and just say hi.”
Emmit smiled. “That would be wonderful if you could. And no need to let me know if it’s nothing significant. My wife says I worry about you guys too much.” He laughed and Glynn smiled at the confession.
The storms persisted through the afternoon with a small tornado sighted over in the West end of Ridell County. As the warning sirens went off across the county, Glynn rushed home from the church to check on Marve and the kids. Hayden was quick to run to his Daddy’s arms.
“Are we gonna get blown up?” the four-year-old asked.
“No, we are not going to get blown up,” Glynn assured the child, hugging him tightly. “Everything’s going to be fine. The radio said the only thing damaged was an old chicken coop that didn’t even have any chickens.”
That seemed to be enough to calm the little boy and he soon hopped down from his father’s lap to resume playing on the floor. Glynn stayed home with Hayden while Marve went to pick up Lita from school. The nine-year-old arrived home full of energy and quickly asked if she could turn on the television to watch cartoons. Glynn agreed and sat back in his recliner to take a deeper look at the day’s newspaper.
Rain continued on and off during the week, not enough to flood the yard again but still enough to make everything around them a muddy mess. Visiting church members out in the country was impossible as the dirt roads developed ruts too deep for anything smaller than a pickup to navigate. Barely passable were the few roads the county had covered in gravel. The gravel never seemed to stay in place for more than a couple of weeks but it provided enough extra footing that Glynn’s Impala could get down the road without getting stuck. The pastor had just left the home of an elderly couple when he realized he was near Bluebird church and decided this would be a good time to stop and chat with Jerry.
Glynn pulled up to the parsonage that sat next to the church, which was common for a majority of the churches in the area. Jerry had his head under the hood of an old Ford Fairlane and smiled when he saw Glynn in the driveway. He wiped his hands on a red grease rag and walked over to greet the younger pastor.
“Welcome!” Jerry said enthusiastically. “What brings you out to this part of the world?”
Glynn got out of the car and smiled as he shook the pastor’s hand. “Oh, just running around, seeing where I can go without getting the car stuck. I was just down at the Reynolds’ checking in on them, realized I was close so thought I’d stop by and see how things are over here.”
Jerry smiled. “Mighty thoughtful of you. Emmit said something about me not being at Pastors’ Conference, didn’t he?”
Glynn couldn’t help laughing. “Yes, he did. I guess you know how he is about keeping tabs on everyone.”
“Yeah, he’s a bit like an old mother hen that way,” Jerry said as he leaned back against the Ford. “If I’m not there this next Monday he’s likely to drive out here himself by that afternoon.”
The two pastors laughed as Glynn added, “He stopped just short of insisting that I stop by. Had I not already been out this way I wouldn’t have bothered you.”
“Awww, it’s okay. I guess I need to go in and have a chat with Emmit anyways. I’m going to have to sooner or later. I’ve had a problem come up that’s going to have to be dealt with and I keep putting it off.” Jerry sighed as he wiped his hands on the rag again.
“Anything I can help with?” Glynn asked, concerned at what might have happened within the church.
Jerry looked at the ground for a moment then said quietly, “Yeah, I guess I should tell you, too. You’re likely to see some of my church members here soon.”
“Oh? Why would they leave?” Glynn was even more worried now that something might have happened.
“I went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago,” Jerry started. “Seems I have stage four prostate cancer. I didn’t even know that was a thing. I went to a clinic in Oklahoma City last week, they’re still debating whether to do radiation or chemotherapy on me. Either way, though, I’m not likely to make it through the summer. September, tops. Doc says its aggressive, movin’ through my body fast, and I can feel it. I started having trouble going to the bathroom, which is why I went to the doctor in the first place. Now, I’m starting to feel pain in my bones. Honestly, I don’t even know if it’s worth trying to fight it at all. Maybe it’s better to just let God call me on home.”
Glynn felt as though he’d been punched in the gut. He had expected Jerry to have just been too busy to attend any external meetings. Even if he had said he was sick, Glynn wouldn’t have expected anything worse than the flu. Cancer never came with a hopeful prognosis and Jerry’s sounded worse than most. He walked over and put his arm around Jerry’s shoulder. “Is there anything I can do? How’s your family taking the news?”
“Like any other family, I expect,” Jerry answered. “Lots of crying. My wife, Gladys, is devastated, of course. She’s blamed God, blamed the church, blamed herself, and you know, none of that’s the cause. It’s just a thing that happens. I’m worried about her, though. She’s never had to work, you know. I’m not sure how she’s going to get by. My girls, Norma, lives in Tulsa, she says her mom can come live with her, but they’ve got two kids and a three-bedroom house. I’m not sure how well that would work. My other girl, Helen, lives in Alabama and she doesn’t have any kids but Gladys has lived in Oklahoma all her life. She’s not crazy about the thought of leaving.”
“Have you told your church yet?” Glynn asked.
Jerry shook his head. “Haven’t told anyone outside of family except you. Not sure exactly how to handle it. I mean, do I go ahead and resign so they can find another pastor? If I do that, though, I don’t know where we’d go for the interim. I don’t want to wait too long because if I do chemo I’m going to be sick and have to miss Sundays. I guess I need to go and talk to Emmit, see what he thinks, but it’s just so hard to do. I mean, I guess I need to plan my own funeral, too. There’s no way to stop what’s going to happen.”
Glynn thought for a moment. The news was impossible to fully comprehend. He couldn’t imagine what would happen to Marve and the kids if he were to suddenly be faced with cancer or something similar. Finally, he asked, “Would you like for me to go with you to see Emmit? I’ll drive. I don’t even have to say anything, just be there for support.”
Jerry nodded. There were tears in his eyes and as he turned to embrace Glynn he began to sob. “It’s one thing to preach about death and seeing heaven, it’s quite different when you’re facing it for real. I’m not ready to go.”
Glynn held the pastor close. He had never even considered what it would be like to face the inevitability of his own death. Doing so now sent a chill down his spine. The thought of what Jerry must be feeling was disconcerting and left Glynn not sure what to say next. After several seconds, he finally pulled back from the hug and said, “I’ll call Emmit as soon as I get back and set something up, okay? You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Before he left, Glynn prayed with Jerry, not so much because he actually thought God might intervene, he’d never known that to happen before, but simply because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Still, he asked for God’s healing, just in case. The pastor drove home with tears running down his cheek. He didn’t know Jerry well at all, but he hadn’t known any other pastors struck with cancer before, either. He had heard of a couple in Michigan who died of heart attacks but this was different. This felt personal.
Sunday seemed rote. Following Dr. Ingram’s advice, Glynn decided that this wasn’t a Sunday he needed to toil heavily over the sermon. There were too many ministerial needs not only with Jerry but his own church as well. He preached of the need for revival using Psalm 85 as his text, carefully plucking the first part of verse 4 from the scripture:
“Restore us again, O God of our salvation,”
Glynn knew that this was a passage that could have thundered just as loudly as his Easter sermon had but his instinct told him to back off and that proved to be the better approach. Attendance was down even more than he had expected and from those who were in attendance came a perpetual chorus of coughs, sniffles, and sneezes. Glynn focused on God breathing fresh life into his Church rather than beating them up about the need for forgiveness. He would wait and let the evangelist pound that message home next week.
Revival meant two Sundays where Glynn didn’t need to prepare a sermon, something of a break. However, his time was just as consumed. There were flyers to print and distribute to every business in town, which happily put the flyers in their front window. There were accommodations to prepare. Normally, the evangelist would have stayed with the pastor but given the current state of housing, Buck volunteered his spare bedroom, which Glynn thought was an excellent idea. The ladies of the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) organized who would feed the preacher and evangelist in their homes each evening. While there was no intended obligation to invite Marve and the children, everyone did. Marve appreciated the break from cooking but wasn’t sure she could keep the kids on their best behavior for a full week.
Then, there was the matter of cottage prayer meetings. Each weeknight before the revival, those who were interested would meet in a different church member’s home, share prayer requests, and pray for revival. Typically, refreshments were served, though Glynn asked that the be held until after prayer to help keep the group focused. Normally they would have gone all week but with the calf sale on Friday, Glynn opted to end them on Thursday. Each night saw the same core group of people: Glynn and Marve, Buck and his wife, Frances, Norma Little, Horace and Joann Lyles, along with a couple of widows, Evelyn Winters and Irene Hendricks, who could be counted on to be at every church event as long as it wasn’t raining or snowing. Each night there would be one or two others, but they wouldn’t be back a second night as farm schedules were simply too busy. Each night contained the same conversations and the same prayers. By Thursday, Glynn told Marve he could predict what each person would pray. She wasn’t surprised when he was correct. The pastor quietly wondered to himself what God thought of their ritual and made a note of preaching one the topic sometime when there weren’t more pressing issues.
Glynn had scheduled time to take Jerry to visit with Emmit on Thursday. In the interim, Jerry had made another visit to the oncologist in Oklahoma City and was told that the cancer was spread enough that neither radiation nor chemotherapy was likely to do anything beyond making him feel more miserable. This shortened his life expectancy to three months. He wouldn’t be surviving the summer.
Emmit’s empathetic response was not unlike Glynn’s had been. The Director of Missions cried with the men for a while, prayed with them for a long moment of begging God to spare Jerry’s life, then practical discussions on how to handle telling the church and when to begin the transition. Emmit reminded Jerry that his wife would be eligible for an apartment at the Baptist Retirement Center that had just been built in Huggins in the south-central part of the state. The retirement fund Jerry paid into through the state convention’s annuity program would likely be sufficient to not only pay her rent but provide her a modest income. Jerry wasn’t sure how Gladys would feel about moving all the way down to Huggins but that seemed a better option than moving in with one of their daughters.
By the time they finished, a surprisingly three-hour-long meeting, a plan was in place. At the point Jerry felt he could no longer stand in the pulpit on a weekly basis, he would tell his congregation what was going on. Only then would Emmit let the other pastors in the Association know. Emmit felt certain that the church would not want him to resign early which meant Gladys wouldn’t have to move out of the parsonage prematurely. The Association would provide a “supply preacher,” a temporary fill-in, giving the church time to grieve before undertaking the task of finding a new pastor. The state convention would help with funeral expenses and could help Gladys move anywhere within the state, even if it wasn’t to Huggins.
Both Jerry and Glynn felt relieved as they left the Associational office. Glynn had been impressed by how much assistance the state convention had offered, and how quickly they had responded to Emmit’s phone calls. He dropped Jerry off at his home and went back to the church office, knowing that the sight of his car in the parking lot would produce phone calls generating more visits and prayer requests and no small amount of gossip. Other days, Glynn might have complained about the weariness of it all but today it provided a necessary distraction. He could earnestly pour his sympathy into needs he could do something about, give people hope, and not have to think about death lurking at every corner, even though it was more than he realized.
Sunday morning came more quickly than Glynn might have liked. The evangelist had confirmed his plan to arrive at the church around 10:00 that morning and within Glynn’s estimation of everything that could possibly go wrong, that was cutting it a bit close. A loose herd of cows blocking a road would be enough to cause the preacher to be late.
“For a man of faith, you’re not demonstrating much,” Marve chided him as Glynn sat at the kitchen table perusing his Bible in case he needed a last-minute sermon.
“Having faith in God does not preclude us being rational and reasonable in our actions,” Glynn said quietly. “God’s ability to see a larger picture sometimes overrides our desire to have things happen according to schedule.”
Despite all the self-induced anxiety, however, the evangelist did arrive shortly after 10:00. Charlie Henderson wasn’t an especially tall man but he came with a big smile that seemed to add a couple of inches to his stature. His thinning, graying hair gave him an air of experience and, perhaps, an insight that translated to authority when he stepped behind a pulpit. His black suit was well-pressed, his white shirt starched, and his tanned complexion seemed to make him shine a bit as he entered the sanctuary.
Years of traveling from one church to the next had helped Charlie develop the perfect greeting for meeting a pastor the first time. He knew that many pastors, especially in smaller churches, didn’t feel secure in their position as pastor and while most welcomed the opportunity to learn from someone who preached more than 300 sermons a year, others saw him, and any other evangelist, as a threat, someone who might give their church a reason to search for a new pastor or possibly take their pulpit for himself. As soon as he spotted Glynn, Charlie smiled his biggest smile, made quick, deliberate strides in his direction, and had his hand extended well before he was within arm’s reach of the pastor. “You must be Reverend Waterbury,” Charlie said in a practiced tone that was as smooth as velvet. “The folks in your state evangelism office spoke highly of you, said you’re getting off to a strong start. How long have you been here?”
“Just barely two months, and please, call me Glynn,” the pastor said, adjusting the tone of his own voice in an attempt to match the evangelist’s warm baritone. “How was your trip in this morning? Were you coming all the way from North Little Rock?”
“No, I just finished a half-week set of services down in Greta Valley. It was only a couple of hours’ drive up here, nothing too strenuous,” Charlie answered. “How are you feeling about the week? Any concerns I should know about?”
Glynn shook his head. “We had a good Sunday on Easter. Last week was understandably down but I can already tell Sunday School attendance is back up. There was a big calf sale at the auction house on Friday so I’m not sure how many of our ranchers will make it in this morning, but overall the attitude seems to be upbeat. We had a good week of cottage prayer meetings, I’ve been making a number of visits, lining up more for us to make this week. Overall, I think we’re in good shape.”
Charlie smiled again. “That’s good to hear. You know, I was a little surprised that you would schedule a revival so soon after moving here. It sounds like you’ve adjusted well.”
Glynn shrugged, not sure what to do with the compliment. “We’re still transitioning, to be honest. There are a number of cultural differences between here and Detroit, little things mostly, things we didn’t give a second thought until they changed. The people here have been lovely, though. I couldn’t have asked for them to be any more welcoming. I’m pleased with where we’re at.”
Glynn didn’t realize that he had just passed a test the evangelist always used when meeting a pastor for the first time. Framing the test itself always changed a little, depending on the church, but a pastor with a long list of worries and complaints was often a sign that Charlie wasn’t likely to see much in the way of results. Churches with confident pastors who loved and cared about their congregation typically signaled a good week ahead. The evangelist also knew that new pastors often had a sense of regret a few months after moving and was happy to hear Glynn hadn’t reached that point.
The two men sat on the front pew and talked for much of the remainder of the Sunday School period. Charlie gave Glynn a list of his sermon topics and scripture passages for the week. Glynn introduced Charlie to Richard and the evangelist expressed his preference for strong, upbeat hymns to start the service, with a passionate solo right before the sermon. Richard wasn’t the strongest soloist and no one else in the small church had a particularly strong voice, either, but he agreed to the evangelist’s request.
Sunday School ended and the sanctuary filled with a sense of excitement. The church had been holding two revivals a year for as long as anyone could remember and tended to treat them almost like festivals. The evangelist was easy enough to spot and several members made a point to introduce themselves. Charlie took note of the number of times someone mentioned how well he would have to preach to match Glynn’s efforts, another good sign. By the time the music had ended and Glynn introduced him, Charlie felt confident that this could be a good week.
Charlie’s homiletic style was considerably different than Glynn’s. Charlie was a storyteller. His sermons focused less on the context of scripture and more on an anecdotal tale of a sinner whose life had gone horribly wrong and somehow made his way to God and changed his life. Charlie was animated, moving from one side of the platform to the other, his stories interspersed with humor, his voice strong and engaging. Even the weary farmers who sometimes used the sermon as a chance for a short nap couldn’t help paying attention to the compelling voice of the skilled orator.
As he preached, Charlie watched the congregation. He noticed who was paying attention and the moment he caught sight of someone whose head began to bobble or droop he moved to that side of the platform, bringing them back, engaging the weary with a joke before driving another point home. Charlie had also learned to spot those who were feeling convicted by the sermon, the way they would sit uncomfortably in the pew, constantly shifting their body, their eyes darting from one place to another as they tried to avoid making eye contact with the preacher. He wasn’t surprised that Sunday morning’s congregation mostly nodded in agreement. There was no one “lost” in this crowd. Those would come later in the week as church members told others how “powerful” and “spiritual” his sermons were.
Charlie’s formula worked well in Adelbert. Church members found him entertaining which made it easier for them to invite neighbors who at least claimed to be members of a different denomination. They weren’t likely to be converted but they kept the pews filled in the early part of the week. Traveling from one church to the next meant that Charlie could use the same sermons, with a few adjustments, week after week, one church after another. As a result, his delivery was polished. He made no mistakes. He held the congregation with rapt attention and by Wednesday people were convincing their unchurched friends to attend.
By Thursday, the revival yielded its first “profession of faith,” a young farmhand walking the aisle to be “saved.” Friday night delivered two more along with a number of tearful “rededications,” church members who felt convicted for not being as spiritual as the sermon suggested they should be. Saturday night saw a sanctuary as full as any Sunday morning. By the time Sunday morning’s service ended, the church had grown by 15 new members, only eight of which had moved their membership from other churches. Everyone in Adelbert considered the week a success.
Evangelists like Charlie typically worked on a “love offering” basis, meaning that there was no guarantee as to how much they would be paid for the week. Evangelists who demanded minimums would only go to larger churches whose congregations were large enough to budget such expenses. Norma had brought the church checkbook with her and quickly calculated the offering to be $350, an amount larger than Glynn’s weekly salary and more than Charlie was accustomed to receiving from a church of that size. He only glanced at the amount before slipping the check into his suit coat pocket and asking Glynn if he could use the office phone to call and let his wife know he was on his way home.
As Glynn waited in the sanctuary, he was surprised by how much of the evangelist’s conversation he could hear as the sound echoed through the empty space. He had always assumed that any conversations in the office were completely private and was more than a little disturbed to discover that they weren’t. He was glad he was the only one remaining in the church building as he couldn’t escape what he heard.
“I’m heading home in a bit,” Charlie told his wife. “Should be about four and a half hours.” He paused as his wife responded, then said, “No, this has been a good week, very gracious pastor and people. Nothing like Greta Valley. I have a check.” There was another pause and this time his response sounded tenser. “I don’t care who said what, none of those things ever happened. You know I’m not like that. I keep to myself.” After the next pause, the evangelist was struggling to not yell. “Look, you can believe your husband or you can believe the liars down in Texas. We’ll talk about this more when I get home.”
Glynn waited at the back of the sanctuary not letting on that he had heard any part of the conversation. He walked Charlie to his car, expressed his appreciation and wished him safe travels. By the time Glynn made it home, Marve had already fed the kids lunch and put them down for a nap. A cold roast beef sandwich was waiting for him on the counter. He took the plate and sat in his recliner as he ate.
“Charlie get off alright?” Marve asked.
Glynn nodded, his mouth too full to respond.
“Are you pleased with how the week went?” his wife continued as she browsed through a magazine.
Glynn swallowed so he could answer. “Yeah, the church and the town seemed to respond well to his style.” He looked over and noticed that Marve had a somewhat stern expression on her face, the one that told him she was being passive-aggressive about something. “Okay, what’s bothering you?” he asked.
Marve put down the magazine and sat back on the sofa. “I don’t really know. There’s just something about Charlie that’s not right. I can’t quite put my finger on it.”
“What do you mean,” Glynn asked, immediately recalling the phone conversation he had overheard.
Marve sighed. “I don’t know, there’s something about the way he acts around some people and then acts differently around others. Like, he would be super-friendly to Joann and me then all but ignored Norma and Evelyn and I swear he was outright flirting with that high school girl that’s been coming. What’s her name, Cathy?”
“He’s a very outgoing personality,” Glynn responded, somewhat defensively. “Part of the reason he’s able to produce the results he does is because people like him.”
“I don’t know, maybe I’m just being oversensitive,” Marve said. “He’s a good preacher, but I don’t think I’d ever want him as my pastor.”
“I hope you never have any reason to test that,” Glynn said, chuckling. “He’s an evangelist, not a pastor. He’s doing what he does best.” The conversation changed and Marve went back to perusing her magazine. Glynn hoped that he was right in defending Charlie. If there was a problem, it was almost certainly none of his business.