Pastors’ Conference, 1972, ch. 25-26

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Chapter 25

chapter 25

Jerry’s funeral was held Sunday afternoon in the Bluebird school gymnasium. Everyone in Mishawaka County seemed to be there. All the pastors from the Ridell-Mishawaka Association were named honorary pallbearers. A surprisingly large contingent from the Baptist Building, including Dr. Ingram, were in attendance as well. For Glynn, this was the largest funeral he had ever attended. He stood outside the gym, watching people arrive, talking casually with Dr. Ingram as they waited for the family to take their seats.

Glynn hadn’t asked to be part of the service and was surprised when Gladys called to ask him to deliver the homily. Certainly, there were others who knew him longer and better and were more qualified, he had objected. Gladys was insistent, though, saying that he had been the closest thing Jerry had to a friend in the ministry. Few others knew about his cancer. No one else was there for them after the tornado. Jerry had left Gladys with clear instructions that Glynn was to officiate. No one else.

Others spoke, of course. Dr. Ingram gave a stirring eulogy that elevated Jerry’s years of ministry to the level of sainthood, had Baptists believed in such a thing. Emmit followed, talking about how much Jerry had meant to the Bluebird community over the years. Richard quietly sang the hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” accompanied by an old and severely out-of-tune piano that echoed harshly through the gym. 

As he guided the service through the necessary liturgy, Glynn couldn’t help feeling horribly out of place. He didn’t like funerals. He never felt as though he had the right words at the right time. Who was he to be speaking to an audience that contained some of the most illustrious and gifted preachers in the state sitting alongside farmers with little more than a fourth-grade education? His palms were sweaty and the knot in his stomach was churning. On top of everything else, the gym wasn’t air-conditioned. Large industrial fans sat at either end of the gym doing little more than stirring the hot air and making noise. 

Finally, as Glynn stepped to the podium, the fans were turned off and all eyes were on him. He figured he had, at the most, ten minutes before his audience, drenched in perspiration, would begin to lose interest. He had to be poignant and precise.

“As Christians, we have based 2,000 years of faith on the belief and assurance that what Christ secured for us on the cross is an eternal life beyond this one,” Jerry began. “2,000 years of tradition, mining the scriptures, examining the languages of the Bible, sometimes distracted by folklore, and often replacing Biblical accuracy with wishful thinking. Jerry believed in that hope. Jerry preached that hope every Sunday God gave him to preach. Yet, for all that study, despite all those sermons, we sit here in the heat of an Oklahoma summer with more questions than answers. Why Jerry? Why now? And what’s next?

Glynn glanced over at Gladys, sitting on the front row flanked by her two daughters. She smiled and nodded. The pastor continued, “What most of you did not know, and what Jerry would want me to tell you this afternoon, is that he was ready to go. The only part of his death that was a surprise was the timing. Jerry had known for a few months now that he had prostate cancer and despite every reasonable effort to fight it, his condition only became worse. We had talked off and on about when would be the right time to tell the Bluebird congregation that their pastor was dying; it wasn’t something he wanted to do. He loved this community and given all the other destruction and loss of life they’ve endured this spring and summer, he didn’t want to his own needs to distract from the needs of others. Even as he was out helping church members and others sort through the rubble and begin to rebuild their homes and lives, Jerry was looking at the certainty that his life was ending.”

There was an audible gasp from several in the audience and the sound of renewed sobbing echoed off the gym’s polished hardwood floors. Glynn swallowed hard and fought back the urge to vomit. He could feel the sweat rolling down his own back. He wanted to rush outside and be done with the whole service. 

“In one of my last conversations with him, Jerry told me that he wasn’t concerned about dying. His faith that he was continuing on to something better was secure. ‘I don’t dread Heaven,’ he said. ‘The tough part is going to be waiting for all you other slowpokes to join me.’ “

A scattering of laughter made its way across the audience. Glynn forced a smile, grasped the small podium with both hands, and went on.

“Jerry’s words echo the reality of the Bible. What lies beyond for the believer is incredible. In First Corinthians, chapter two, verse 19, we are given the assurance that ‘eyes have not seen and ears have not heard and our minds cannot conceive the wonders’ that Jerry is now experiencing first-hand. We don’t have to worry about Jerry one bit. He didn’t. He wouldn’t want us to worry about him, either.

“Rather, Jerry would have us focus on where we go from here. In the garden, the night before he was crucified, Jesus tried explaining to his disciples that there would be someone else, ‘an advocate to help you and be with you forever … You know him, for he lives in you and will be with you; I will not leave you as orphans.’ As much as we might feel the loss of Jerry Weldon in this moment, and there’s no question that the loss of this pastor and community leader is immense, we are not alone. Where my friend and colleague is gone, there is another. In the absence of your pastor, that one who stuck with you through thick and thin, comes one who is even greater.

“You see, one of the challenges of our faith is that while we want to believe, and we say we believe, we still want to see evidence of God. We want visible proof that the Almighty is with us and can sit and talk with us. And often, a pastor becomes that physical manifestation of what we want God to be. We look to a pastor not merely as God’s representative, but as some sort of Holy being that has a direct channel to God that no one else can access. We fear that if we lose that person, that pastor or deacon or Sunday School teacher, that we somehow lose our access to God.

“What we sometimes fail to realize is that there is no special trick, no hotline, no satellite connection that gives Jerry or me or anyone else a tighter connection to God than what you already have available. What Jerry spent every Sunday preaching is that salvation is personal. God communicates with us one on one. You don’t need a church. You don’t need a preacher. You don’t even need a Bible. God is within you just as much as he was within Jerry.

“Jerry was like the person who stands on the back porch ringing the dinner bell, telling us to come and get what God has to offer. But when we get there, when we sit down to God’s table, it’s not his job to spoon-feed everyone. God gives us the ability to know Him for ourselves, to feed ourselves. The pastor may gently remind us, ‘Hey, you need more vegetables on that spiritual plate,’ or ‘God gives you more than fried chicken,’ but Jerry, more than anything, wanted you to feed yourselves, to know that advocate that God has placed inside you; for God does not come and go as people in our lives come and go. God is eternal. He is here. 

“Yes, I am going to miss Jerry because I’m going to miss talking with my friend. Those who knew him will miss some aspect of him that made that relationship special. Yet, we are not left alone. We have each other. We have our faith. And most importantly, we have the assurance that the same God that gave Jerry the power to stand in the pulpit even as cancer ravaged his body still lives in each of you. You have the same power, the same God, and a personal relationship to guide and comfort you through this moment.

“God doesn’t mind if you’re angry. God doesn’t mind if you’re sad. God doesn’t mind if you need to cry. As he walked with Jerry through every minute of his life, he also walks with you.”

Richard ended the service dutifully singing “How Great Thou Art.” Glynn stood at the head of the casket as everyone filed past to pay their last respects. Given the severe heat, Hub had discouraged opening the casket for anyone other than family. Gladys and her daughters were understandably distraught, each leaning on the other as they said one final goodbye to the father and husband that had shaped so much of their lives.

Glynn rode in the hearse with Hub to the cemetery, thankful that the funeral director had the foresight to start the vehicle early and turn on the air-conditioner. He was anxious to get out of the black suit but knew there were still several more minutes at the graveside and back at the family’s home. By the time Hub dropped the preacher back at home Glynn felt as though he’d run a marathon. His face was flush, the pain in his stomach almost unbearable. He hugged Marve, who asked if he had gone swimming in that suit, and then took a long shower. There was still the evening service to endure, though Glynn didn’t mind admitting that his heart wasn’t in it. Only 23 people bothered to attend. 

Monday didn’t feel a lot better. Glynn was quiet as he got dressed and even though he managed to tease the kids at breakfast Marve could tell that he was lost in thought. Even his goodbye kiss, which normally contained a reasonable amount of passion even when he was in a hurry, seemed lackluster. She had never seen her husband so unfocused and likely would have called someone to express her worry had she known anyone to call. 

Glynn didn’t seem to be the only pastor doing some serious introspection, though. Clement pulled into the church parking lot in Arvel at the same time. In place of the usual firm handshake and playful banter, Clement simply put a hand on the younger pastor’s shoulder and the two walked into the meeting without saying a word. There was no one telling jokes this week or complaining about what the convention might or might not be doing. The mood was somber and serious and by the time they had finished, it was clear that everyone was affected by Jerry’s death. 

Feeling the emotion in the room, Emmit bypassed the normal devotional message and went straight from the church reports to prayer. Even here, the pastors, many of whom were typically anxious to make their voice heard, were hesitant to speak and were quiet when they did so. By the time they finished, no one felt any better than they had when they arrived. Some had tears in their eyes. No one mentioned going to lunch.

As the other pastors began to leave, Emmit pulled Glynn off to the side. He spoke quietly, not only for the sake of privacy but because the topic didn’t necessarily fit the mood. “Listen, I know you’ve heard this a lot, but you really did a good job with Jerry’s service yesterday. You really impressed a number of people.”

Glynn shook his head. “It took everything I had to not throw up. I don’t think I’ve ever endured anything as difficult as that service.”

“I get that but for everyone in the audience, you appeared composed and compassionate. Your sermon was brief but concise and beautifully relayed the message Jerry would have wanted.” Emmit paused and looked around the room before continuing. Seeing only Clement and Carl left, he continued. “You also really impressed everyone from Oklahoma City. Obviously, yesterday wasn’t the time for anyone to go on about it, but I had dinner with Joe and some of the others and you were all anyone could talk about.”

Glynn’s stomach did a flip. Receiving praise for a funeral felt inappropriate and somewhat dirty. He hadn’t been trying to impress anyone. He would have been happier to simply serve as a pallbearer. The compliment felt wrong. He looked at the floor before saying, “I appreciate that but I wasn’t trying to use the service to make an impression. I just did what Jerry wanted me to do.”

Clement and Carl had stepped outside, leaving Emmit to speak more freely. “I know. These things have a way of producing unintended consequences, though, and this time those consequences seem to be positive. There’s a request for you to speak at the annual pastor’s retreat in September. You can choose your topic but they need to know by the end of next week so they can get the programs printed. It’s a fantastic opportunity on a number of levels. What do you think?”

The pastor sighed deeply and looked around the empty room. The pastors’ retreat wasn’t something he had considered attending, at least not this year. He had been more concerned about focusing on his church than what he had expected to be little more than mutual back-slapping. The date was also two weeks before the fall revival. “I don’t know,” Glynn said softly. “That’s a busy time of year, just two weeks before our fall revival…”

Emmit tried to be encouraging without sounding too pushy. “I get that, but brother, if any of us could use a break and some time of fellowship, it’s you. You’ve been running hard from the moment ya’ll moved here. I think it could be an encouraging moment for you. I’d like for you to consider it.”

Glynn’s hands were shoved as far down into his slacks pockets as they would go. He wanted to scream, “NO!” and run from the room but knew that was the wrong response. “I’ll give it some prayer,” he eventually said, clearly not enthused by the offer. “When do you need to know?”

“Call the Pastoral Ministries office when you decide,” Emmit said. “I think Calvin Cain, the associate director, is in charge of the retreat. He was the one most insistent about you speaking.”

“Okay, I’ll give him a call in a couple of days,” Glynn said. He took a couple of steps toward the door and paused. “You really think I should do this, huh?”

Emmit smiled. “I can’t think of anyone better. You sell yourself short, Glynn. It’s okay to have a moment in the spotlight.”

Glynn nodded and held the door open as Emmit followed him out. They walked around the corner of the building and saw Clement and Carl still standing in the parking lot, talking. As they crossed the gravel lot Clement motioned them over.

“I didn’t want to bring this up in the meeting because it didn’t feel appropriate,” Clement started as they approached. “The pastor of First, Houston is doing some big summer explosion thing at First, Tulsa and I thought it might be worthwhile to drive down and see how the big guys do things, maybe pick up a pointer or two that we can apply on a smaller scale. Would you guys be interested in riding along?”

“I already have a commitment for that evening,” Emmit responded. “Although, that does sound like a good idea.” He paused and looked at Glynn. “Might be just the boost you need, though. Think Marve would mind you being gone another evening?”

Under different conditions, Glynn would have jumped at the opportunity. The pastor of First, Houston had a reputation for growing a church that everyone else had written off as dead. There could be a lot to learn. Now didn’t feel like the right time, though. He shook his head. “I appreciate the offer, but I owe Marve some family time this weekend. Take notes for me, though. I’m sure there’s a lot there to learn.”

“It’s always interesting to see how things are done when all the resources are ideal,” Carl said. “Whitling it down to something appropriate for a small church is the challenge.”

“Maybe you guys can give everyone a report at our meeting next week,” Emmit suggested. “I wish we could take a whole bus down there. We all could use some fresh ideas.”

Clement looked at Carl briefly before answering. “Yeah, I think we can do that. He has a new book out that I’ve been reading, too. It will be interesting to see if the actions match the words.”

“Let’s do that, then,” Emmit said. “I think it can help several of us.”

With that, the men got into their cars and each headed off in a different direction. Glynn drove home, his head swirling. Speaking at Jerry’s funeral had been tough enough. Could he really pull off speaking at the pastors’ retreat in front of so many men, men with advanced degrees and several years more experience? What could he possibly have to say that would be worth hearing?

And what of his own church? Folks in Adelbert had settled into a summer slump that they found too comfortable. “This happens every year,” is what Glynn had been told any time he voiced concern. Was this something he just had to accept or was there a way to keep summers from being so depressing? For a moment, he second-guessed whether he should have taken Clement up on his offer. Perhaps there was something valuable in being there and experiencing what was happening in Tulsa. At the same time, though, Glynn knew that his family needed attention. There had been too many date nights missed that he hadn’t made up. Hayden’s birthday was this Thursday, so that would make another week where they weren’t able to go out without the kids. 

“No lunch this week?” Marve asked when Glynn arrived home earlier than usual. 

Glynn shook his head. “No one was really in the mood,” he answered with a sigh. “I don’t know. I’m feeling worn out and I’m really not sure what direction to go next.”

Marve walked over and gave her husband a kiss. “You need to lie down and take a nap. The rest of the world can wait for a minute. And then we can talk about Hayden’s birthday.”

Glynn forced a smile. Hayden was turning five, ready to start kindergarten this fall; yet more evidence of how quickly and out of control life seemed to be moving. Perhaps a nap was what he needed. 

Chapter 26

chapter 26

The dog days of an Oklahoma summer have less to do with any astronomical event and more to do with the days stretching from the last two weeks of July into mid-August when there is almost always a severe lack of rain. For the farmer, the challenge is keeping crops watered long enough to get them through to harvest. Ranchers worry about keeping cattle hydrated, the emergence of rattlesnakes, and heatstroke for both the cows and themselves. This time of year could be dangerous with afternoon temps frequently above one hundred degrees. Neverending wind stirred up clouds of dust that made breathing difficult for anyone with a respiratory condition. Playgrounds sat empty because metal slides and merry-go-rounds were too hot to touch. Fish died in ponds. Small, gurgling creeks went dry.

Glynn couldn’t help but notice the difference. Fewer people came to town during the day. The feed store adjusted their hours to open earlier and close at noon. There weren’t as many people at the diner, either. Alan and Horace were rarely seen anywhere in town. Little league baseball games, the town’s only form of entertainment, were put off until nearly dark. Even the flowers in Eloise Willingham’s garden began to droop and turn brown. 

Hayden’s birthday came and went with sufficient fanfare among the Waterbury family but was kept private enough that no one in the church could be offended by not being invited to the party they didn’t have. The five-year-old was thrilled with the baseball and bat that Glynn’s parents had sent and filled his afternoon playing with the new toy cars Marve’s parents had provided. Cake and ice cream followed a dinner of hot dogs and chips with a bath and bedtime coming soon after. 

Lita took the opportunity of her brother’s birthday to announce that she was too old for a party now that turning ten was almost like being an adult. She told her mother she was too old to play with dolls but would gladly accept gifts of dresses and hair products. Glynn wondered how the colored pencils and sketch pad his parents had already sent would be received but Marve insisted that the noise was all for show.

Claire visited the house more frequently, often spending as much time talking with Marve as she did playing with the kids. Conversations ranged from boys and why Adelbert had none she found remotely interesting to motherhood and the teenager’s perspective that it seemed more like a form of indentured servitude. Marve would counter that there was never any rush to connect with a boy and that motherhood was the most precious gift ever given to her. Claire never seemed quite convinced, though, and would ride her bike back home with all the same opinions she had when she arrived.

Glynn, despite the constant reassurance from Norma Little that summers were always lean and the church would handle the fiscal drought, worried. He worried about what emotional effect might be happening among those who still came to church but found so many pews empty. He worried about the spiritual condition of those who hadn’t seen the inside of a church since early June. He worried about the health of the small town every time Hub called him to help take another person to the hospital. Some days there were as many as three such trips. The heat aggravated everything from heart conditions to kidney issues and intestinal problems. Many evenings he slumped into the recliner barely able to stay awake long enough to put the kids to bed.

As much as anything, though, Glynn worried about his own changes not only emotionally but theologically. He had grown up with a consistent concept of who and what he thought God was and how his relationship to the creator was supposed to work. He had read through all the books Clement had given him, though, and bought several others, and the more he read the more he found himself questioning, wondering if what he had believed all these years, everything he had preached, had been wrong.

Clement dropped by with another box of books. “I was going through things and discovered I had multiple copies of these and thought, perhaps, maybe one or two of them might offer some help.”

The two pastors had chatted for a while, neither of them in any hurry to be doing anything else because there was nothing important waiting to be done. Both had visited hospitals, checked on the ill, reached out to the unchurched, and had sermons ready for Sunday’s services. Their conversation wandered between tales of their own childhood summer adventures to whether too much was being made of Jane Fonda’s visit to Vietnam, the possibility of George Wallace upsetting the election by running as an independent, and why some flavors of homemade ice cream worked better than others.

“Our church is having an ice cream social next Saturday,” Clement said. “You should come over and bring your family. I’m sure the kids would love trying out all the flavors and you could be the guest speaker. There always has to be some kind of devotional moment or it doesn’t count.”

Glynn shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “What is it with people trying to get me to come and speak all of a sudden?” he asked. 

“What do you mean?” the other pastor inquired.

“Emmit said Calvin Cain and some others from the Baptist Building were wanting me to speak at the pastors’ retreat in September. I’m supposed to let them know by tomorrow and I’m not convinced that I’m up to that level of speaking,” Glynn explained. “Especially when there are so many people there with a lot more knowledge and education than I’ll ever have. I’m not eloquent, nor funny, nor prone to dig into the linguistic details of scripture. I think I’d just be like a little puppy dog sitting up and begging for attention. Kind of an, ‘Oh, look at the little small-town preacher; isn’t he cute?’ sort of thing.”

Clement sat up, suddenly more interested and engaged than he had been through the rest of the conversation. “Are you kidding me?” he charged. “This is an incredible opportunity, and no, I can promise they’re not trotting you out as a token small-church pastor. I’ve never known them to do that. If anything, they’re likely to bring in pastors from outside the state to give us insight into what others are doing. I go every year. You absolutely should take the offer!”

Glynn shook his head. “I really don’t know. They’re basing the invitation on a sermon at a funeral, not exactly a dynamic and inspiring moment. Between you and me, it took everything I had to not throw up during that service. Why they think that is sufficient reason to ask me to speak anywhere else baffles me.”

“Emmit said Calvin issued the invitation?” Clement asked.

“I guess, more or less,” Glynn shrugged. “Apparently the subject was floated when he was having dinner with Calvin and Joe and some others after the service. He said Calvin was insistent.”

Clement wiped his hand over his face in disbelief. “You do know Calvin’s background, don’t you?”

Glynn shook his head. “Other than Sunday I’m not sure I’ve met him before.”

“The state convention stole him from Southern Seminary four years ago. He was a professor of homiletics, and I’ve gotta tell you, taught one of the most difficult classes I’ve ever taken. The only reason his title is ‘associate’ director of pastoral ministries is because his educational pedigree is so long that it intimidates a lot of the pastors who haven’t been to college, and even a few who have. Bob Ray Abernathy is just kind of a frontman for the department. Calvin is the brain. You’ve been given a fantastic compliment. I don’t see how you can turn that opportunity down, brother.”

Glynn leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his head resting in his hands. He sighed. “I’ve never done anything like this. Like, how many guys are there?”

“Around 200, give or take,” Clement answered. “Some bring their wives, they have their own thing going at the same time in a different building down there. Evening sessions are usually both groups together, so max, maybe 300 people? Less than were at the funeral.”

This was overwhelming for the pastor who had been so actively worried in recent days as to whether he was even doing his best with his own church. He looked at the floor, feeling the pressure of all his flaws, the demons in his mind accusing him of being a charlatan. How could he be inspirational to a group of pastors when he couldn’t even convince 100 people of his own congregation to show up on a summer Sunday? What could Dr. Cain have possibly seen in his funeral sermon that would warrant such a sought-after request?

Clement broke the silence. “Listen, take the offer then you and the family come over next Saturday, give maybe a five to seven-minute devotional. Talk to Emmit, I’m sure he can help you get in some extra practice, too. I get it, this is kind of a big deal, but Glynn, no one from this part of the state has ever even been asked. A lot of the pastors in this Northeastern corner feel that Oklahoma City brushes us off, forgets we’re here. We get fewer teaching resources, host fewer training sessions, and unless there’s serious trouble, get fewer visits from the state guys. You speaking at the retreat says that there are people of value up here. We all need this.”

“Okay, I’ll call Calvin in the morning,” Glynn said, relenting to the pressure. “That ice cream better be good, though,” he added. “I don’t want to drive over there for some runny lemon nonsense.”

“You’ve never had anything better in your life,” Clement said, laughing.

They chatted a while longer, completely filling their afternoon which was a relief to both pastors. Late summer wasn’t a friend to any church in Oklahoma and they weren’t the only pastors struggling with doubts and worries. Had their colleagues not been afraid of being open at pastors’ conferences, they would have appreciated knowing that almost everyone was wrestling with the same questions. No one was willing to make that admission, though. Fear of being chastised and ridiculed kept all of them tight-lipped about any personal misgivings they might have. 

When Glynn called Calvin Cain the next morning, the voice on the other end of the telephone was bright, cheerful and encouraging, excited that he had accepted the invitation to speak. “The theme this year is ‘Confronting Pastoral Fears,’” he was told. “After you did such a beautiful job with Jerry’s funeral, I was hoping you could perhaps talk with us about our fear of death. I sensed that you had done some wrestling with that topic and I like the way you put those thoughts together.”

Glynn closed his eyes and said a quick, desperate prayer as he agreed.

“Let me know if you have any questions, need any resources or materials to help, anything at all,” Calvin offered. “We lose about a dozen active pastors a year. Almost everyone knows someone who died while serving. It’s a fear none of us particularly like to admit we have. This is tender ground and I think the way you handled it with Jerry’s funeral was perfect.”

Glynn thanked him for the opportunity. Yes, he wanted help with resources, but he didn’t know what was available so he didn’t know what to request. When the phone call was finished, he walked across the office and looked through the box of books that Clement had left. He found a thin volume whose title, Sermons That Get Pastors Fired struck him as almost humorous. Opening the book, he read:

Consider another matter upon which there is a serious and sincere difference of opinion between evangelical Christians: the second coming of our Lord. The second coming was the early Christian phrasing of hope. No one in the ancient world had ever thought, as we do, of development, progress, gradual change as God’s way of working out His will in human life and institutions. They thought of human history as a series of ages succeeding one another with abrupt suddenness. The Graeco-Roman world gave the names of metals to the ages—gold, silver, bronze, iron. The Hebrews had their ages, too—the original Paradise in which man began, the cursed world in which man now lives, the blessed Messianic kingdom someday suddenly to appear on the clouds of heaven. It was the Hebrew way of expressing hope for the victory of God and righteousness. When the Christians came they took over that phrasing of expectancy and the New Testament is aglow with it. The preaching of the apostles thrills with the glad announcement, “Christ is coming!”

In the evangelical churches today there are differing views of this matter. One view is that Christ is literally coming, externally, on the clouds of heaven, to set up His kingdom here. I never heard that teaching in my youth at all. It has always had a new resurrection when desperate circumstances came and man’s only hope seemed to lie in divine intervention. It is not strange, then, that during these chaotic, catastrophic years there has been a fresh rebirth of this old phrasing of expectancy. “Christ is coming!” seems to many Christians the central message of the Gospel. In the strength of it some of them are doing great service for the world. But, unhappily, many so overemphasize it that they outdo anything the ancient Hebrews or the ancient Christians ever did. They sit still and do nothing and expect the world to grow worse and worse until He comes.

Side by side with these to whom the second coming is a literal expectation, another group exists in the evangelical churches. They, too, say, “Christ is coming!” They say it with all their hearts; but they are not thinking of an external arrival on the clouds. They have assimilated as part of the divine revelation the exhilarating insight which these recent generations have given to us, that development is God’s way of working out His will. . . .

And these Christians, when they say that Christ is coming, mean that, slowly it may be, but surely, His will and principles will be worked out by God’s grace in human life and institutions, until “He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied.”

These two groups exist in the Christian churches and the question raised by the Fundamentalists is—Shall one of them drive the other out? Will that get us anywhere? Multitudes of young men and women at this season of the year are graduating from our schools of learning, thousands of them Christians who may make us older ones ashamed by the sincerity of their devotion to God’s will on earth. They are not thinking in ancient terms that leave ideas of progress out. They cannot think in those terms. There could be no greater tragedy than that the Fundamentalists should shut the door of the Christian fellowship against such.

I do not believe for one moment that the Fundamentalists are going to succeed. Nobody’s intolerance can contribute anything to the solution of the situation which we have described. If, then, the Fundamentalists have no solution of the problem, where may we expect to find it? 

Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Christian Work 102 (June 10, 1922): 716–722.

Glynn closed the book and put it back in the box. Liberal? Conservative? Fundamentalist? He had only recently heard and seen the labels batted about in conversations and articles, almost haphazardly applied to different pastors or teachers, none of whom Glynn knew personally. In fact, the whole argument seemed to be held at a level of denominational relevance far above what the local pastor had time to consider. He wondered into which camp he might fit. Perhaps more importantly, he wondered into which camp others might place him. While the labels may not make any difference on the front lines of pastoring a rural church, they most definitely mattered when it came to denominational politics.

What mattered more, though, was that as he preached that Sunday he felt a little more drained than normal. Glynn looked through the sparse congregation and saw people whose minds were elsewhere. He wondered if, instead of scripture, he could have read a nursery rhyme and not had anyone notice the difference. It pained him to hear Marve admit that she was thinking more about getting Hayden ready for school than she was his sermon. What were people thinking when they came to church? If he knew, then perhaps he could preach sermons that were more relevant than Jesus healing an otherwise obscure blind man. 

Glynn tried convincing himself that the obvious answer to all his worrying was that he needed to pray more, to trust God more, to lean into the Bible more. Yet, the more the pastor tried those tactics, hitting his knees several times a day to pray, intentionally not second-guessing his impulses, deeply researching and studying every passage of scripture he read, the more he questioned. What was the true meaning behind what he read? Was he buying into horrible misinterpretations that were nothing like the intention of the author? Could he trust that his instincts were being driven by God?

There were only seven people at Wednesday night’s Bible study. Marve had stayed home with the kids on the premise that, being they were the only children who were likely to be present, they would be nothing more than a distraction. Glynn hated admitting that she was right. He didn’t like services where she wasn’t present. He felt incomplete.  

He walked from the house to church that evening and it was darker than he expected by the time he began the walk back home. Thunder rumbled in the distance as Glynn considered everything that had plagued him the past few weeks. For all the questions he had asked, he did not feel that he had received a single answer, only more confusion. Perhaps, he thought, he had wandered into a spiritual desert. He thought of the years the Apostle Paul spent in a Roman prison. Where was God then? What benefit did God get from Paul’s suffering? What benefit was there in his own confusion and lack of direction?

He stood at the foot of the hill looking up at the lights glowing from inside the parsonage a mere fifty yards away and it began to rain.

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