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October and November tend to be fairly quiet months right up to the holiday season, which is the reason so many denominational activities are scheduled for that period. Adelberg was more quiet than normal this year, though. The entire town was depressed. The school’s football team was having a losing season. Crop prices took a sudden dip just as the season was ending. Cattle prices weren’t much better. No one felt much like talking, but they were attending church. The Sunday morning services were full and Sunday evening was better than normal. Still, the spirit was lackluster. No one hung around to chat. Smiles were rare as people left the building.
The trip to Oklahoma City went largely as expected. The doctor there confirmed what Dr. Ginzeman had told them. They scheduled the surgery for the Monday two weeks out, the day before the presidential election. Marve listened carefully as the doctor explained how the surgery would take place, that a parent would be necessary to help keep Hayden calm since he would have to be awake during the process.
The surgery sounded frightening and inconclusive. The risks were considerable but to not do anything meant certain blindness. There was little question that Marve would be the one in the surgery room with Hayden and she would be the one to stay in the hospital with him during his recovery, which would take a couple more days. Glynn would drive back and forth, coming down early in the morning then driving back each day by noon. The schedule would be exhausting but it was the only option they had. Glynn wouldn’t have any vacation time until he had been at the church a year. Even if he’d had the time, the community still needed his presence.
Glynn wasn’t surprised when Clement called to confirm that Roger had accepted the Association’s offer. The plan was to introduce him at the Annual Meeting the following week and allow him to make the keynote address Friday evening. Clement would give the opening address Thursday morning, Glynn would preach Thursday evening, and Bill took the Friday morning slot. They all agreed that the tone needed to be kept light and upbeat, focused on moving forward rather than mourning the failures and losses of the past year. Among the five executive committee members, they also agreed to keep the business sessions moving, making sure reports were accepted without challenge, and using parliamentary procedure to ward off any challenges to the budget. They needed the meeting to occur without incident if at all possible.
Wednesday night’s church business meeting, typically one of the most boring uses of anyone’s time, centered largely around electing the church’s messengers for the upcoming associational annual meeting and the state convention in November. Southern Baptist Churches, being wholly autonomous entities, participated in such meetings voluntarily, primarily because as joint partners in funding those larger entities they wanted a say in how the money was being spent. Anyone was welcome to attend but to prevent large churches from taking over and silencing small churches, the role of messenger was established. Only messengers could vote and each church was limited, at that time, to five messengers.
Some churches took the election of their messengers quite seriously. Carl had mentioned during one of the executive committee meetings how his church members had argued over an hour as to whether his wife could act as a messenger. Other churches felt as though the messengers needed to be elected from the church at large, more of a popularity contest. Glynn was happy that the Adelberg church had neither of those problems. Being a largely agriculturally-centered congregation, the only real question was who had the time and interest to be bothered.
Glynn asked for volunteers and no one moved. After a couple of awkward minutes of silence, Buck said, “I make a motion we send our pastor and his wife.” Alan quickly seconded the motion and before Marve could adjust her attention from Hayden’s squirming they had been elected. Then, seemingly as a joke, Alan said, “I make a motion we send Buck and Frances as well.” Buck quickly retaliated by nominating Alan and with that, the reluctant messengers were elected.
The only other business of consequence was authorizing the Women’s Missionary Union to consult with Horace about an appropriate memorial for Joanne. Carmella Thomas was tearful in accepting the responsibility but made it clear she couldn’t handle the pressure alone and would need the help of other women in the church. Glynn smiled, then gave Marve a quick glance as he caught her rolling her eyes.
“You realize the first thing Carmella will do is call Horace and ask him what size plaque he wants in the vestibule,” Marve said on the short drive home. “And then she’ll blubber for six months about what to put on the plaque.”
Glynn laughed. “I know, but it’s relatively unobtrusive and we can put it back in fellowship hall so Horace doesn’t have to see it every time he walks through the church doors. Plus, maybe by the time she actually gets around to doing something, Joanne’s death won’t be as tender a topic as it is at the moment.”
The quiet of the community continued into Thursday with a gentle wind from the West rustling through the trees whose leaves were just now starting to change color. Outdoor temperatures were just cool enough to require a light jacket which meant Glynn could still walk around town comfortably but no one was in the mood to visit so he paused long enough to say hi in the various stores and moved on. Rather than their usual Thursday night date, Marve had opted for a quiet night at home, a pleasant change of pace from the hectic schedule of the past few weeks. The Waterbury family was sitting down for dinner, Lita picking at the meatloaf on her plate, Hayden arranging his peas into what he considered animal shapes when the doorbell rang. Glynn and Marve looked at each other, surprised that someone was visiting this late in the day.
Glynn got up from his seat and headed toward the door, then started laughing when he looked out the front window and saw Claire dancing on the front porch, waving a piece of paper. “It’s Claire,” he called, which instantly ended dinner as both Lita and Hayden raced to be the first to open the door. Glynn grabbed them both by their shirt collars and held them back as Marve opened the door.
Without waiting for an invitation, Claire hugged Marve and then bounced her way into the living room chanting, “I got in! I got in!” as she picked up each of the children in turn and whirled them around.
“In where?” Glynn asked as he dodged getting hit in the face with Hayden’s shoe as it passed.
“Princeton!” Claire practically screamed. “I didn’t think I had a chance; it was such a long shot.” She paused her bouncing long enough to give Marve another hug. “Thank you so much for the letter of reference,” she told the pastor’s wife. “All my references were women and I really think that made a difference.”
Marve laughed and hugged the girl back. “That’s wonderful! We’re going to miss you, of course, but I’m so happy you got in! How’d your Dad take the news?”
The girl tilted her head sideways and made a face that was enough to say her father’s reaction had been less than positive. “He’s not happy. He immediately started grumbling about having to pay out-of-state tuition and how that I’d better find a guy I like because I’ll never get a job with a degree in religious studies…”
“Wait, did you say religious studies?” Glynn asked, suddenly more interested in the conversation than he had been a second before.
Claire spun in his direction and bounced again, the excitement more than she could contain. “Yes! Can you believe it? They let me in! I didn’t think I had any chance at all, but look! This is the letter!”
Glynn took the piece of paper that Claire was shoving in his face. Sure enough, the letter confirmed that she had been accepted into the school’s undergraduate religion program overseen by the Division of Humanities. “This is definitely exciting,” Glynn said, forcing enough excitement to not quell the girl’s obvious joy. “What are you thinking of doing?”
“I’m not sure yet. I am supposed to get a letter from my faculty advisor next week. There are just so many options in philosophy and teaching and, who knows, maybe even following in your steps, Brother Glynn!” She whirled back around to Marve. “I’m hoping I can do well enough to get into their seminary after I graduate. That would be so cool!”
Glynn looked back at the letter with a mixture of emotion and concern. “This says they were especially impressed by your essay. What did you write about?”
“How I feel that the theological doctrine of soul competency, while inherently making every individual responsible to God on their own, has been trampled on by religious patriarchy creating a separate level of priesthood limiting women’s access to the church and the scriptures,” came the lengthy reply.
“Wow, that sounds more like a graduate-level thesis than an entrance essay. No wonder they were impressed!” Glynn said, trying to make sense of what Claire had just said. “Did you keep a copy? I’m still not sure I understand exactly what you’re saying.”
Claire plopped herself onto the sofa, her long legs crisscrossed under her. She looked up and motioned for Marve to sit next to her. Both kids jumped on top of her, forcing her to take some time playing with them before getting back around to Glynn’s question. “I have a Xerox copy Mom made for me at the school. It looks kind of funky, dark around the edges, but if you want I’ll bring you a copy to church Sunday.”
“I would love that,” Glynn said as Hayden launched himself from the couch at his father. Glynn caught him and set the child carefully on the floor as he sat in the recliner. “Obviously, you’ve studied the issue more than I have. I’m not sure I even understand what ‘soul competency’ means. Where did you find books on this?”
Hayden was attempting to climb onto Claire’s shoulders as Lita tried to pull him off, momentarily knocking the glasses off Claire’s face. As she helped the boy down and readjusted her glasses, she said, “The college library in Arvel has a bunch of old books on religion. I think they were donated by someone, maybe a preacher or something. They’re really old and the librarian says they hardly ever get used. I found this one, Axioms of Religion but the way it explained things was really old fashioned. I mean, I get the basic idea, that everyone is responsible for their own relationship to God, that being a member of a church or doing all the right church activities doesn’t make someone a Christian. What I don’t get, though, is that if we’re all responsible for our own relationship to God then why does the church, or at least some church members, get in the way of us making the most of that relationship?”
Glynn was feeling both confused and embarrassed at not having what he considered an intelligent response. His instincts told him that Claire was ultimately opposing Baptist doctrine but he couldn’t define exactly how, or what defense he might provide. “I think you might be able to teach me a few things,” he said. “Although, how do you feel that the church is getting in the way? I mean, I know opportunities are limited in a small town like Adelberg, but it’s not like we tell you that you can’t help around the church.”
There was a pause in the conversation as Marve declared that it was time for the kids to get ready for bed. Claire wasted no time in hopping up and helping Lita take a shower and put her pajamas on while Marve handled Hayden who was not remotely close to being ready to go to sleep.
“You know, you’re going to make a great mom someday,” Marve told Claire as she helped wrestle Hayden into his pajamas. “You’re definitely getting plenty of experience babysitting these two!”
Claire laughed as she tied Hayden’s blanket around him like a cape. “They’re fun, that’s for sure, but I’m not sure I want to have kids and all, you know? I think I’d rather be the crazy aunt who takes her nieces and nephews on wild adventures.”
Marve picked Hayden’s clothes up off the floor and tossed them into the hamper. “I get that, I wasn’t sure I wanted kids either until I was pregnant with Lita. It’s just a different feeling when it happens. Your perspective changes. You’ll get to Princeton and meet someone who just clicks with you and everything is suddenly different.”
Claire leaned against the bathroom door frame. “Ugh. What if you don’t want your perspective changed? I like my views. I’ve worked hard to get out of this Oklahoma mentality that says you only go to college to get a guy. I may not know exactly what I want to do but I know I don’t want being tied down to a family and children to be part of that.”
“We don’t always get a choice, Claire,” Marve said as she used a damp towel to wipe the water off the bathroom floor. “Even with our own lives. I swore when I left Oklahoma after high school that I’d never, ever return. Well, look where I am. I guess I had a bit of a choice in the matter. I could have balked and completely derailed Glynn’s career, but where would that have left me? We have to be open for the world to impact us as much as we impact the world. I believe God works like that because sometimes the path we choose doesn’t take us where we need to be.”
“You two going to keep the conversation in here to yourselves?” Glynn asked as he turned out the light in Lita’s room. He smiled and winked at Marve as he walked past them into the living room.
“Do you guys always agree on everything?” Claire asked as she stood straight and stepped into the bathroom to check her ponytail in the mirror. “I’ve never heard you guys argue or fuss about anything.”
Marve laughed as she guided Claire toward the door and into the living room. “Of course we don’t always agree. We just choose when and where to air our disagreements, and sometimes we don’t say anything at all.”
Claire looked briefly out the living room window before resuming her cross-legged pose on the couch. “I probably should get home. Dad’s going to worry about me walking alone at night, even though nothing ever happens around here.”
“I can take you,” Glynn volunteered. “I know Adelberg is about as safe a town as you can find but that doesn’t mean I’d feel comfortable with Marve or Lita walking alone at night.” He stood and grabbed his car keys off the kitchen table.
“I’ll call your dad and let him know you’re on your way,” Marve added. “We appreciate your parents letting you stay here so often. Let’s not spoil that.”
Claire responded with a shrug as stood to give Marve a hug. “You guys are so much more fun to talk to. I ask Daddy a question and he’s all like, ‘Go look it up,’ and if I ask Mom her answer is always, ‘Go ask your father.’ I don’t understand why she doesn’t voice her own opinion. I know she has them.”
“People have different ways of communicating,” Marve said as they walked toward the garage door. “Your mother is sweet and intelligent and I’m sure she lets Tom know exactly how she feels on matters that are important. She’s surrounded by seven-year-olds all day, though, who ask non-stop questions. I’m sure she prefers peace and quiet when she gets home.”
Glynn had the garage door open and the car started by the time Claire walked around and got in on the passenger’s side, waiving once more at Marve as they left. He waited until they were down the hill and had turned the corner before asking, “So, our conversation got interrupted by bath time. What did you mean about the church limiting or hampering your relationship with God?”
“Okay, so, soul competency. We believe that no one is responsible for your relationship to God but you. You make the decision to believe in God, you choose to accept Jesus Christ, and no one, including the Church, gets to challenge or nullify that relationship, right? I listen to God and God, through whatever, the Holy Spirit or something, tells me what he wants me to do, expecting me to obey him.”
Glynn nodded, “Sounds good.”
Claire shifted in the seat, tucking her legs under her as she talked. “So, I don’t get why Southern Baptist limit what women can do. We can’t preach, we can’t be deacons, and we can’t even teach boys in Sunday School after they graduate. I don’t get it. If God calls a woman to preach, what right does the Church have to stand in the way of that?”
Glynn swallowed hard. He knew the rote answer that he was expected to recite in answer to the question, but he had a feeling Claire wasn’t going to accept that. He was also certain that any answer she might accept was going to take more time than the short car ride. He sighed. “Short answer, and I know it’s not sufficient, is that since women were created second and Biblically required to be submissive that they can’t be submissive and lead a church at the same time.”
Claire opened her mouth to argue but Glynn put up his hand to stop her. “I know, I know, there are all kinds of problems with that point of view, but that’s a much longer conversation than we have time for tonight. I’m willing to listen to your opinion. Continue the conversation later, when we have time?”
Claire shrugged and gave him a dismissive “Yep.”
Glynn pulled the car up to the curb in front of them Hiddleston’s home. “I’m excited for you getting into Princeton. I know you’re going to do great there,” he said. “See you Sunday?”
“Or maybe before,” Claire said as she opened the car door a crack. She looked up at her home as the porch light flickered on. “And yeah, we can talk later. I just think Baptists are, like, wearing sexist goggles when they interpret the Bible. Thanks for the ride!”
Claire shut the car door behind her and Glynn watched to make sure she made it into the house before pulling away from the curb. Adelberg streets were quiet this time of night and had he still been in Michigan Glynn might have taken a moment to drive around and think about Claire’s questions. Here, though, it was that quiet that pushed him to go straight home. People in Adelberg expected quiet this time of night and any sound, even that of a passing car, was disruptive. Glynn understood the phenomenon because he had fallen victim to it as well, sitting up in his chair every time he heard a car pass at night.
He knew Claire’s questions were not the kind he could safely answer from the pulpit. Southern Baptists, as a denomination, had made their opposition to any form of feminism public and he knew most of his church members embraced the denomination’s point of view. Claire was that rare person who took the concept of Bible study to a different level, digging deeper than many of his colleagues. As he pulled into the driveway, Glynn wondered if perhaps Claire was right, and if she was, could he ever admit that and still keep his job? He already knew the answer to the last question. If his views on death stirred so much controversy, the convention certainly wasn’t ready for a challenge on women in the pulpit.
Glynn parked the car in the garage and walked in to find Marve waiting with a glass of ice tea. “Claire got to you, didn’t she?” Marve asked with a knowing smile. “I can see those wheels grinding away in that head of yours.”
Glynn took a long drink of the tea, emptying half the glass before answering. “The problem is, she’s only 16 years old and already she knows more about the topic than I do. And I don’t know where to look for help or even who to ask without risking the impression that I might agree with her. You know how much preachers like gossip.”
They both walked over and sat on the couch, Marve curled up next to Glynn, resting her head on his shoulder. “Well, do you?” Marve asked. She felt Glynn move and realized she’d caught him off guard. “Do you agree with Claire? I mean, it seems to me she’s making a valid point.”
Glynn shrugged and leaned against the back of the couch, taking Marve with him. “I really don’t know. Yes, she has a point. I get that the church has been dominated by men for centuries and that they’ve pretty much left women to teaching school and raising babies. That’s restrictive and denies that a woman can have a relationship with God outside the controls and confines that the church puts on them. But if I believe where I think Claire’s going, with complete ecclesiastical equality for women, then I have to consider the impact that has on church polity and all I see is one giant mess full of arguing. To answer her with any authority, I need to already have the education she’s going to Princeton to get. I don’t stand a chance of getting this right.”
Marve kicked off her shoes and snuggled in more tightly, tucking her legs under her. She yawned before asking, “Who says you have to get it right? Maybe this is one of those times where you support her, point her in the right direction, and let her make the discovery for herself. You can’t have all the answers for all the questions, especially when it comes to Claire. That child’s brain just never stops working.”
Glynn followed his wife’s yawn with one of his own. “That feels dismissive. Send her to Princeton, let her figure it out for herself? I don’t know. It’s times like this I feel totally under-equipped for this job.”
Marve rolled over and gave him a long kiss. “Don’t worry, we’re all under-equipped for all the jobs. Except sleeping. We’re very well equipped for that.”
Glynn returned her kiss and smiled. He knew Marve was working her magic on him again, keeping him from obsessing over things he couldn’t control. He didn’t mind.
Sunday came with rain that made it all the more surprising for Glynn to look up and find the sanctuary was again full for the morning service. Attendance for the earlier Sunday School had been bleak but there was still a need in the community to work through their shared and continued grief. The pastor gave them what they wanted, though perhaps not through the channels they might have expected. Once again, he eschewed the “five steps of grief” that Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s books had made popular, opting instead for the more stoic approach of Roman philosopher-in-exile, Seneca, encouraging listeners to neither dwell endlessly on their grief nor run away from grief but to tackle and conquer it with deliberate determination. Glynn did replace the philosopher’s embrace of liberal arts with an emphasis on helping others, something he felt embodied Joanne’s spirit, and carefully concluded that faithfulness to God drove away grief, though, personally, he wasn’t as convinced of that portion as he would have preferred.
Autumn rains in Oklahoma are generally more calm and soft compared to those in the spring and the light grey clouds and the gentle patter on the roof made for easy napping once the remnants of lunch were cleared from the table. Glynn got both kids settled in their rooms and had just eased into his recliner when the phone rang.
“I’ve got it,” Marve called.
Glynn listened for a moment, determined that the call wasn’t in relation to anything pastoral, and relaxed back in his chair, closing his eyes and giving in to the weariness of the week’s strain. Even when there was nothing “going on” in the sense of major activities, there were still hospital visits and checking in on the elderly. One church member had been finally moved to a care facility in Washataug for which Glynn was thankful. The 87-year-old man was no longer able to do as much as keep himself clean and the pastoral visits had become exercises in personal eldercare more than addressing any spiritual needs. Calm, Glynn thought, was a mirage that hides all the chaotic effort that goes into making sure everyone else doesn’t fall into the chaos.
Slipping in and out of consciousness as the rain ebbed and flowed and the tone of Marve’s phone conversation at times crescendoing before long periods of silence, the preacher was unaware of how much time had passed when Marve walked into the living room and announced, “Well, that’s it; my parents are coming to take care of Lita while we’re in Oklahoma City next week.”
Glynn bolted upright in the recliner, suddenly more awake than he might have been after several cups of coffee. Marve’s parents never visited—she never made them feel welcome. Their relationship had long been strained by a history of physical abuse and emotional detachment. At their wedding, Marve’s mother had announced that her daughter’s choice in husbands had doomed her to a life of poverty from which she was sure they would need constant rescuing. Glynn and Marve had worked hard to keep that prediction from coming true, though at times it wasn’t terribly far from being correct. Her parents had made brief trips to Michigan when each of the kids were born, both times making sure Marve knew how much the trip was terribly inconvenient for them. Gifts were sent for the kids’ birthdays, usually in the form of a check since “we have no idea what your kids want since we never get to see them.” Marve would occasionally get a phone call but outside that made no attempt to regularly communicate with her parents at all. Such a history made news of their impending visit startling and a bit frightening.
“What?” Glynn exclaimed, practically leaping out of his chair. “Why? Leaving Lita with them is like leaving her with a complete stranger. No, we can’t let that happen!”
Marve collapsed onto the sofa and buried her face in her hands for a moment before responding. “It’s happening. Apparently they’ve started going to church again since they have a new pastor and that’s triggered their guilt. Not that it changes anything at all, mind you, but it gives them a chance to spend some time with their granddaughter.”
“And give them an opportunity to treat her like they did you? I don’t think so!” Glynn said in the loudest whisper he could manage, not wanting to wake the kids from their naps. “I’m not risking any chance of either of them laying a hand on her!”
“Just hold on a second. You slept through the second conversation,” Marve said with a heavy sigh. “After I got off the phone with them, I called and talked with Linda. She’s going to drive Claire up of the morning and come in with her. They can take Lita to school and then Claire will walk her home. If either of them senses that anything’s wrong or out of place, she’ll call us at the hospital. And it gives you some flexibility if you do need to stay in the city because of weather or something. We have a backup. It will be okay.”
Glynn paced back and forth across the small living room not knowing what to make of these sudden and unexpected changes in plans. The problem wasn’t that he didn’t get along with his in-laws, he didn’t see them often enough to have actually established much of a relationship with them, but he did know how they treated Marve when she was little with daily spankings for the most trivial of grievances, constantly putting her down, telling her how worthless she would always be, that she would never be as good or as smart as her older brother, Doug. Moving away from home the week after she had graduated from high school had been like starting her life over. Even then, when someone introduced her to Glynn and he drove her home, she was so unsure and untrusting that she wouldn’t let him walk her to her door. In all her anxiety, she had left a glove in his car, which gave him too convenient an excuse to ask her out. The first year of them dating had been a constant exercise in slowly winning her trust. He didn’t want Lita to grow up having any of those same insecurities and doubts.
“I don’t get any say in this do I?” Glynn finally asked. The question was obviously a rhetorical expression of his frustration but he stood glaring at Marve for an answer nonetheless.
Marve sighed and turned so that she was looking out the front window at the rain when she answered. “It was the lesser of two evils. At first, they wanted me to bring Lita down there. They didn’t see the problem with her missing three days of school, nor the fact that it’s impossible for us to travel all the way to the Southeastern corner of the state on a Sunday. At least this way, we have some checks and balances. I think they’re hoping you’ll stay in the city. I’m not telling them about Linda and Claire until they get here. I’m thinking of calling Doug, too.”
Glynn’s jaw dropped. “You’re kidding me,” he said softly, realizing the impact of what Marve had just said.
Douglas Carmichael was seven years older than Marve and represented, for most of her youth, the impossible standard to which she could never obtain. He had sailed through school with perfect scores and won all the awards. He was captain of his high school football team. He managed college on a full-ride scholarship, the first person in the family to ever graduate. He then completed his law degree and was working as a corporate attorney focused on mergers and acquisitions for an Oklahoma City-based oil company. On the surface, he seemed to be doing quite well. He married his college sweetheart, had a couple of kids, and a large house in a northside suburb.
The issue was that Carmichael was not the family name. Doug had grown tired of his parents’ constant interfering and trying to leach off his success while in college. He had changed his name from Roberts to Carmichael his Junior year to make it easier to distance himself. He had not sent his parents an invitation to his wedding nor had he told them about the births of his children. His communication with Marve had remained friendly enough when it happened, but he had refused to come to her wedding knowing that their parents would be there. Marve’s position had been that it was best to let him be. She had dropped him a letter when they first moved to Adelberg but he hadn’t responded and she didn’t pursue anything further.
Marve reaching out to Doug was like slapping her parents in the face. They had taken great offense to his name change and vowed never to speak of him again. Marve was still living at home when the name change happened and her mother had slapped her to the floor when she discovered the two siblings were still exchanging letters. That act had solidified Marve’s decision to leave home as soon as she could.
“Yeah, maybe he could come by the hospital one evening and keep me company after you leave,” Marve said. “Plus, if my parents start acting up, it would be nice to have him as an ally. I don’t trust them any more than you do but if there’s any trouble I’d rather be able to keep in in the family, you know? He’s an attorney. He’ll know better how to keep them at bay if it comes to that.”
“Do you think he’ll even accept your call?” Glynn asked, knowing how delicate the situation was. He worried that Marve might be setting herself up for disappointment from both directions.
“He always has,” Marve said softly. “He knows I won’t call if it’s not important.”
Glynn decided to let the matter go and set on the couch behind Marve and rubbed her back as she continued looking out the window. He could only imagine the stress that the situation created for her. She was already worried about Hayden’s surgery. Having to deal with her family on top of that was a weight he knew she couldn’t bear without consequences.
The rain let up by Monday and Glynn walked to the church so that Marve could have the car. Mondays were typically quiet enough anyway. He didn’t expect any interruptions.
Two weeks after the fact, letters were still coming. Glynn opened each of them, responding to the ones that were supportive, ignoring those that were not. He was surprised and disappointed at some of the vitriol some of the letters contained.
“You are a disgrace to the pulpit…”
“You are the most stupid and ignorant person…”
“We will drive you back to Michigan…”
“You are not a Southern Baptist and have no business poisoning our churches…”
Still, he did not think any of them were serious enough to call Calvin for help. None of them were from anyone in his own association. He wasn’t aware of any of them having any connection to his own church. What harm could they actually do?
Shortly after 11, there was a hard knock on the office door and Horace let himself in. “Sorry for the interruption, preacher,” the deacon said as he closed the door behind him. “I just saw Marve down at the gas station and she said you were here. I was wondering if I could talk with you about that memorial thing.”
Glynn motioned toward the folding chairs and said, “Sure, have a seat. Carmella’s not being a bother, is she?”
Horace smiled and shook his head. “No, Carmella’s just being Carmella. She’s got herself all worked up about some plaque, but I wanted to talk with you about maybe doing something more substantial.”
“Okay, what’s on your mind?” Glynn asked as he sat back in the office chair.
“Well…” Horace hesitated, his discomfort with the situation palpable. He leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, his worn feed-company ball cap in his hands. “There’s some insurance money left over after paying all the funeral and hospital bills and fixing up some things around the house. And you know Joanne, she loved this church more than anything. The only thing I ever heard her complain about, and she really only mentioned it on the really cold Sundays in winter, was how hard and cold those pews are. So, I’ve been checkin’ around and it seems you can get cushions made for those pews. It’s a nice, kinda burlap-y but comfortable fabric over two inches of foam. The cost isn’t really all that much and for the older people in the church especially it would make those pews a lot more comfortable. I’m thinkin’ I’d like to do that for the church in memory of Joanne.”
Glynn smiled at Horace’s generosity in dealing with this grief. He knew that everywhere the man went in town there were memories of his wife. People would still stop and tell him how much they loved her and missed her. No one seemed to realize that, while the sentiments were appreciated, the overwhelming response was making it difficult to work through the emotions. “I think that would be a very appropriate and very generous gift, Horace. I don’t see any problem at all. What do we need to do?”
Horace chuckled a bit without looking up from the ball cap he was still fidgeting with. “Well, you see pastor, that’s the problem. About 15 years ago or so, there was an older lady, member of the church, her name was Virginia Swanson. She was getting on up in years, 80-somethin’ I believe, and she put it in her will that when she died she wanted the church to have her collection of religious artifacts. Now, I don’t know, maybe she had us confused with them Catholics or somethin’, but you know there ain’t no place here for religious artifacts or nothin’ like that. To make it worse, she had all these pictures of Jesus with that flamin’ heart thing that was just downright ugly. There was no way we could hang those things anywhere in the church.”
Horace paused and took a big breath, realizing that his story was perhaps getting a bit boring. “Well, anyway, she died and this truck shows up here one day with 15 large boxes full of that crap, not a bit of it worth the price of a mule’s shoe. We did find one picture of Jesus that didn’t have the flamin’ heart thing on it, it’s still hanging back there in the old ladies’ Sunday School room I think, but the rest of the pictures and knicky-knack things were worthless. Some of us wanted to just take the whole lot of it and dump it in the garbage but all the ladies in the church got upset, said it was disrespectful. It took months to work out and more than a few tense business meetings, let me tell ya’.
“So, anyway, after that we made it a rule, put it in the by-laws and everything, that the church can’t accept any non-monetary gifts with a value over $100 without first voting on it. It’s a good rule, I don’t regret doing it, but it means that the church has to vote to accept the pew cushions before I can order them. That’s where I kinda need your help.”
Horace had Glynn’s full attention now. The preacher was imagining 15 boxes of trinkets and things stacked away in a corner of fellowship hall gathering dust. “Sure, I’m not sure what we need to do but you’ve definitely got my support. I can’t imagine the church not accepting the gift.”
Horace chuckled again and it was a sound that made Glynn uneasy. “You don’t know this church yet, preacher. There are folks in this church that’ll argue over which door to sweep the dust out. I regret to say that there have been times I’ve been one of those folk. Jesus Christ himself could show up and there are some people here who would complain that his hair is too long. My guess is they’ll want to fuss about the color, whether it matches the carpet, and whether they can be cleaned easily enough, and stuff like that. I promise, it will be an issue.”
Glynn didn’t have any problem believing what Horace was saying. Already, he’d seen some business meetings go longer than they should have because someone didn’t think the water in the water fountain was cold enough, or that kids playing in the courtyard between Sunday School and the worship service were too loud. After a brief pause, thinking through his options, Glynn said, “Tell ya’ what, we’ve got a few weeks before November’s business meeting. Why don’t we go ahead and start talking up the idea and maybe by the time we get there folks will already have some of the orneriness and arguments worked out?”
Horace thought that was a good idea. His face brightened up a bit and the two men talked a while longer about how things were going, how Horace was adjusting to having his daughter home doing the things Joanne would have done, and how fall cattle sales were going. Grief and mourning were woven into every topic as Horace remembered how integrated Joanne had been in everything that he did. Surviving was turning out to not be as easy as he thought it should have been and the deacon was finding himself more compassionate and understanding in his opinions of other people now. By the time he left the church office, there had been enough laughter and tears to last him the day. He went home to face the afternoon chores like he always did, but without his wife’s face to greet him when he was done.
Glynn walked through the sanctuary before heading home for lunch, trying to imagine what it would be like with pads on the pews. It would certainly brighten up the place a bit, He wondered if he might have to preach a little harder to keep everyone awake through the sermon and smiled at the thought of half his congregation snoring in unison.
Walking home for lunch, the pastor noticed a hint of icy coolness in the air. Winter would be here soon with its own challenges and problems. At least here they wouldn’t have two feet of snow before Thanksgiving. Glynn was happy about that.