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“Can you imagine attending a church service where everyone in the church was a Christian?”
There was a moment of stunned silence at the manner in which Joe Ingram had begun his Sunday morning sermon. In this small-town church with just over 100 people in attendance, where the congregation sits on wooden pews older than most of the church’s members, where the only version of the Bible they carry is the one authorized by King James, where the majority barely had a high school education and the few that had been to college barely managed to graduate, the question coming from the pulpit seemed strange. Sure, they could imagine a church service where everyone in the church was a Christian; that was the composition of almost all their church services. The most frequent source of new Christians was children growing up into an understanding of salvation, or at least the concept that it was better to pretend to understand than be viewed as a sinner.
For the few who understood the politics and hierarchy of Southern Baptist, it had been quite a shock when the Executive Secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma walked in and announced that he was their substitute preacher for the day. They were a small church and the general perception was that convention leaders never came to small churches; they couldn’t be troubled with congregations this tiny and remote. For everyone else, he was a smart-looking man dressed in a nice suit and they wondered if it was remotely possible for this guy from the big city to relate to their rural lives.
The behind-the-scenes story was that when Calvin had told Joe that Glynn was still ill and needed someone to fill Sunday’s services, Joe had immediately said he’d go himself. Tiny First Baptist Church of Adelberg had unwittingly become the center of a growing controversy within the state convention. To send someone from Calvin’s list of pastors-in-waiting, men who said they were called to preach but were perpetually “between pastorates,” was too risky. Someone in the church, whether intentionally or not, was leaking the contents of every sermon to someone disenfranchised who then spread the news throughout the churches poised to cause trouble. Joe knew this because too many phone calls he received began with, “Hey, did you hear …” He had heard of Roger’s safe and easy sermon last Sunday before he had finished lunch. By going there himself, Joe would be putting the argumentative and disagreeable groups on notice that he wasn’t going to just let them steamroll First, Adelberg out of the convention without a fight.
No one sitting in a pew that morning was aware of that battle, though, and if they had few would have cared. The convention and, by extension, the whole denomination was of little use and less concern. While they were appropriately flattered that someone of relative distinction would drive the four hours to speak to them, they were confused and unimpressed by his opening statement.
Joe understood, though. He had been raised in a small church just like this one. He recognized the looks of confusion and skepticism on faces in the congregation and proceeded cautiously. “I know, that sounds like a bizarre question, doesn’t it? Surely, there is no one sitting here this morning who doesn’t claim to be a Christian. Yet, I want to challenge you with the possibility that there are among us wolves in sheep’s clothing, people who claim to follow Christ but are, in reality, liars, deceivers, others who have fooled themselves and those around them into thinking they have a relationship with the Savior.
“No, I’m not here to make accusations. I don’t really know anyone here and it would be inappropriate even if I did to make charges against someone from this pulpit. Rather, I’m here this morning so that you might know and you might be watchful for those who would call you brother and sister while leading you astray.
“Jesus raises the issue himself in Matthew 7:21-23.
21 “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
“Jesus knew that the world was full of people looking for power and prestige and that for some the Church would be an easy path to that goal. There are people who see us as gullible: if we’ll believe in God we’ll believe in anything. There are some who view the pulpit as the final authority and whatever the pastor says is what everyone should do. There are also those who view Christianity as the key to a political theocracy, a chance to conquer the entire United States if not the world.
“How are we supposed to respond to Jesus’ warning? How do we know who is telling the truth when they stand in this pulpit? Most of you have never seen nor heard of me before this morning. Can I be trusted? How do we know?
“The first step is in our attitude when we come to worship. I’m reminded of an old story that’s been told hundreds if not thousands of times about the family who had a habit of sitting around their dinner table after church on Sunday morning. ‘The pastor’s sermon wasn’t his best this morning,’ the father would say. ‘The choir was completely out of tune,’ the mother would complain. ‘It was too hot in there and those pews are uncomfortable,’ the daughter would moan. And then the youngest among them, a little boy of about six years old, would reply, ‘Well, I guess it wasn’t a bad show for seventy-five cents.’ Seventy-five cents was the amount they had put in the offering plate.
“When we come to church looking for things other than God, we’re setting ourselves up to be fooled. God is not found in lofty words that tickle our ears. God is not found in the snake-oil sleight of hand that some call faith healing. God is not necessarily found in perfectly performed music that makes our skin tingle. Neither is the presence of God dependent upon a temperature-controlled environment that makes everyone comfortable.
“If we come to church on Sunday morning looking for a show, we’re in the wrong place. You might as well stay home and turn on your television where fancy preachers in big cathedrals are experts at putting on a show.
“However, if you’re looking to know God in all His fullness and glory, this is the place. If you’re looking for absolute and complete forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ, this is the place. If you’re looking to find peace and contentment in the presence of the Holy Spirit, this is the place. If you’re looking for Truth in a world swirling with confusion and doubt about whether anything we experience is real, this is the place. If you’re longing for a relationship with a God that wakes you up every morning and says, ‘I love you, unconditionally,’ this is the place.
“When we come to church looking for more than a show, more than something to occupy our time, we can then find the Truth that God has for us and in embracing that Truth, in making that Truth part of our lives, we become aware of the charlatans among us.
“When we embrace the Truth, we understand that God’s word lives in us and is not limited to the translation of scripture commissioned by a King looking to cover his own sin. Knowing God’s Truth allows us to see the Church as a compassionate, loving extension of the Spirit of God. Living in God’s Truth compels us to forgive as we have been forgiven. God’s Truth shows no favor, requires no creed, extorts no payments, endorses no other authority, and makes no idle promises.
“At the same time, God’s Truth is a secure foundation that makes it okay to have doubts, encourages us to ask questions, and challenges us to explore its deepest meaning. We don’t have to understand all the mysteries of the universe and we don’t have to have all the answers. God doesn’t dump a whole bucket full of Truth on us at the moment of salvation and say, ‘Okay now, you take that and go have a good life.’
“So, when someone comes along and says things contrary to the Truth, we know they are not of the Truth and we distance ourselves from them.
When someone demands that you must believe exactly as they believe, they are not of the Truth.
When someone claims that only they know the Truth, they are not of the Truth.
When we hear a voice claim authority over the Truth, they are not of the Truth.
When people claim they are too righteous to be questioned, they are not of the Truth.
Those who would tell you they have a different Truth from the Truth of the gospel, they are not of the Truth.
“We are surrounded by charlatans, wolves in Christian clothing, wearing their suits, standing in our pulpits, and preaching a false gospel. They preach a fire-and-brimstone gospel that is void of love, lacking in grace, and absent of forgiveness. They would rather condemn than congratulate, chastise rather than compliment, and punish rather than preserve.
“We find ourselves in the midst of traitors, those we thought were family, who pretend to worship with us, and to dine with us, and to pray with us while, like Judas, plotting our demise.
They say the right words to our faces, they sing the hymns, they lead the Bible Studies, but behind our backs, they tear us down.
They spread lies and rumors with the intention of inflicting pain, causing distress, and driving people away.
They claim to be protecting the purity of the church when in reality they are the ones polluting it.
They send away those who seek, they discourage those in need of grace, and if given the chance they would stand at the gates of heaven and deny entry to those they deem sinners or heretics.
“A constant war exists within the Church that is greater than any force from the outside, a battle for Truth, a fight for control, an assault on grace, and combat over forgiveness. There are forces gathering right now in our own convention that seeks to define a doctrine so far removed from the Truth as to smother compassion, choke out the mercy of the cross, and suffocate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In place of the Truth, they would insert dogma, creedalism, and conviction based on hearsay. They would kick out those who challenge their narrow mindedness, censure those who speak out against them, and deny fellowship to those who administer grace in its fullest form.
“Our response must be to hold firm to the Truth that we are all children of God, that Jesus died for the sinner, and that the power of the resurrection saves anyone who believes. If we do not, if we allow the evildoers to dominate, then the cause of Christ is lost and the Church as we now know it loses all relevancy.”
Few of those sitting in the pews that morning had any concept of what Joe meant and to a large extent, that was okay. Denominational controversies rarely impacted the daily lives of church members. Yet, for a handful, those who paid attention to the denominational publications and read the various articles and letters, Dr. Ingram’s message landed as a declaration of war against preachers like Larry Winston and Roy Moody.
Buck looked at Alan. Alan looked at Horace. Had the head of the state convention just insinuated there was a traitor within their own church? The trio met briefly in a Sunday School room after the service and agreed that they had to consider the possibility that someone was actively undermining the church and specifically Glynn. Who that could be, they had no idea, but from that point on, every word of every conversation would be considered suspicious.
The Edmonds were hosting Dr. Ingram for lunch and had invited Marve and the kids to join them. Having spent the entire morning in bed, Glynn asked to join them, saying it would be good to get out of the house a bit. He was still visibly weakened but, at least for the moment, he could hold himself upright and walk a reasonable distance without needing help.
Conversation during the meal was lively and friendly, peppered with humorous stories Joe was happy to tell. The mood was intentionally light and at times frivolous as they chatted about the need for fried chicken in a pastor’s diet and how church potluck dinners were the ultimate exercise of faith. Glynn seemed chipper and was enthusiastic about devouring his food. Had it not been for the pale tone to his skin, no one would have thought he was ill.
Once the meal was done and the kids had all run off to play, Frances served coffee and the adults’ conversation grew serious. Marve had told Glynn about the sermon and the questions it raised. The deacons weren’t the only ones who caught the apparent allegation of their being a traitor in the church and Marve was certain that even if not everyone caught it at first, they would catch on if they gave the matter any thought at all.
“I know Claire caught it,” she told him, “and probably Tom and Linda as well. Claire had been hunched over taking notes, as usual, and she sat up so suddenly that I don’t see how everyone around her didn’t notice.”
Buck strategically waited until everyone had taken a sip of their coffee before asking Dr. Ingram, “So, did I hear you right this morning, did you say there’s someone in our own church trying to undermine us?”
Joe was ready for the question and was glad that Glynn was at the table to hear his hypothesis in person. “I’m fairly sure of it. Pastors around the state have known what was preached from this pulpit every Sunday since the end of September. Last week, I hadn’t even finished lunch before a pastor from Tulsa called asking if I’d sent Roger over as a spy. The only way that information can be traveling that quickly is if someone in the congregation is feeding the rumor mill. I wouldn’t think as much about it if the questions were coming later in the week, but I’ve known every sermon preached in this pulpit no later than Monday morning. There’s no way this is accidental or even incidental. Someone’s deliberately making an effort to spread rumors.”
Buck, Frances, Glynn, and Marve all exchanged glances. Having had time to prepare for this answer hadn’t softened its blow. Adelberg was a small town and the church was a focal point. A betrayal of the church was a betrayal of the entire town.
“Well, we know who the biggest gossips are,” Frances said, interrupting the awkward silence that had developed. “I know Hannah Montgomery is always on the phone, but she’s always more concerned about what someone said in her Sunday School class. The only time I can recall her complaining about anything during the service was that Sunday a couple of years ago when Buck had to lead the singing.”
The group laughed at the dig on her husband as Frances continued. “Maxine Waterman forgets to put in her hearing aid half the time so she doesn’t even hear the sermon when that happens. Grace Tillich likes to talk but that dear woman doesn’t know what year it is. She’s more likely to tell you about a sermon from 50 years ago than this morning. And she hasn’t been there much this fall. No one else really comes to mind.”
“Let me help focus the conversation a bit,” Joe interjected. “Yes, every church has its gossips, but they’re rarely mean spirited. Whoever this is, they likely have some beef with the church, or perhaps directly with Glynn. Has there been anyone who’s been causing trouble?”
Glynn and Buck looked at each other and Glynn leaned forward on the table. “Edith Mason?” the pastor asked as he looked at Buck.
It took Buck a moment to register what Glynn was referencing. When he did, he shook his head. “I don’t think so. She’s been pretty quiet since that whole thing with Carol. She slips into the service late, sits on the second pew from the back, and is quick to leave. I don’t see how that’s causing any trouble.”
Glynn looked over and saw the questioning expression on Joe’s face. “Part of the fallout from the Grace, Washataug incident,” he said, knowing Joe’s involvement with the matter. “Edith Mason’s daughter, Carol, was a member there and rumored to have been involved.” The pastor looked tentatively at Buck before continuing. “Since Carol grew up here, she moved back home and her mother mentioned that she’d likely be joining the church. It created an uproar and the decons and I were meeting at the church to decide how to handle the situation when she overdosed on pills. She was in a coma for several weeks and hasn’t been the same since. Her mom has to take care of her and her kids now. We failed that whole family as a church. I don’t think Edith’s spoken more than two words to me since.”
Joe considered the information for a moment before beginning to analyze the situation out loud. Folding his hands on the table and leaning in, he said, “I can see where someone like that might have a beef with the church. It doesn’t sound like she’s really participating so we have to ask what her purpose is for continuing to attend. Don’t rule out the possibility that despite feeling let down, she could still experience some spiritual benefit from coming to the service. Worshipping God could be the boost she needs to get her through the week. There’s also the matter of who she would be connected with enough to call every Sunday. We know the former pastor at Grace, Washataug isn’t an option. How many other pastors in the state does she know that well?”
Glynn looked at Buck and the deacon shrugged. Edith had lived in Adelberg her whole life. The only pastors she knew were those who preached in First Baptist’s pulpit and none of the former pastors were still in the state.
“What if…” Frances said haltingly, “What if she’s not calling a pastor directly? What if, for example, she’s calling a friend who’s shut-in and can’t attend services, and that person talks to a pastor who happens to be a family member?”
The group looked at Frances quizically.
“That seems oddly specific,” Buck said. “Who are you thinking about?”
Frances sighed, the look on her face one of exasperation as she didn’t want to cause trouble for someone but felt the need to tell what she knew. Small towns don’t keep secrets well and casual conversations sometimes reveal more than an FBI investigation. To some degree, there was a sense that each conversation was being held in confidence, yet, at the same time, everyone knew who could keep their mouth shut and who couldn’t. Talking with some people was almost the same as printing the conversation in the newspaper.
“Fannie Littleton,” Frances said while twirling her hair around her index finger.
Glynn cocked his head to the side. “I’ve heard that name. She’s one of the church members I’m not allowed to visit.”
Joe looked up in surprise. “Why are you not allowed to visit?”
“She’s an invalid, can’t get out of bed on her own,” Glynn explained. “She’s on oxygen and has to avoid any kind of outside contamination. I don’t know why she’s not in a facility somewhere, but the only people allowed in are her home nurses, and they have to wear special clothing from what I understand.”
Frances nodded. “She’s not in a facility because even that is too risky. Her nurses have keys to the house. They change into sanitized clothing when they get there and take them out to be cleaned when they leave. There’s someone with her twenty-four hours a day, partly to guard the door against visitors. The smallest outside germ could kill her.”
“That’s tragic, but what connection would she have to another pastor?” Joe asked.
“Well, you see, that’s where I’m not exactly sure,” Frances answered, pulling on her hair like an adolescent who’d been caught sneaking out a window at night. “Fannie never had any kids of her own that I know of. If she did, they never come around to check on her. She does have a nephew who’s a pastor somewhere, I want to say down near some military base or something? I’m really not sure on those details.”
“How do we know she’s calling him, though?” Marve asked. “And even if she is, why would she tell him about a worship service she didn’t attend?”
“Well, she’s been like this for a few years, you know, and I remember Edith saying once, that she keeps her phone by her bed with a list of numbers,” Frances explained. “Her doctors are on the list, of course, and she and Edith talk because she was friends with Edith’s momma before she passed. Sweet woman. The home health agency is on the list, the pharmacy, and the only family member she has any contact with, her nephew. He and Edith are really her only connection to what’s going on outside her house.”
Joe sat back in his chair and sighed. “That would make perfect sense. She talks to her nephew and relates what she’s been told simply for the benefit of conversation, no malice intended on her part. The nephew then takes the information and causes trouble because of what he sees as a heretic on the loose. If we knew who her nephew is, maybe we could put a stop to it.”
The room was silent for a moment as everyone tried to think of a solution. Frances got up and refilled everyone’s coffee cup and then insisted Joe and Glynn both have another piece of the pineapple upside-down cake she had made.
They were just about to give up when Buck suddenly sat up, causing the coffee in his cup to spill over onto the table cloth. As Frances gave him a stern look he said, “Ask Hub. Better yet, ask Rose. I’d bet a nickel against a hole in a donut that they have her next of kin information because you know she’s going to pass soon and they’re going to need someone to take care of arrangements. Rose is particular about those details. I’m sure she has the nephew’s name and phone number in a file.”
The deacon didn’t wait for anyone else to act. He stood up and walked to the phone in the living room and called the funeral home. Sure enough, Rose had the information. Buck wrote down the name on a piece of paper and returned to the kitchen with an expression of anger and frustration as he tossed the paper onto the kitchen table. “James Warrington,” he announced. “Pastor of Hope Church down in Latimore.”
“Why is that name familiar?” Frances asked, reaching over and looking at the name as though that would reveal its inner secrets.
“Because the pulpit committee considered him before we got Glynn’s name,” Buck answered. “Complete waste of time driving down there, too. He was loud and obnoxious, kept calling people fools, said all of our political leaders are demons, kept going on about overthrowing the government, and setting up a new one that made attending church the law of the land.”
Joe shook his head. “I know exactly who you’re talking about. He’s been stirring up trouble down there for four or five years. He seemed okay when he first went there, but then he went to that Jimmy Swaggart thing they had down in Dallas a few years back and they caught him up in that nonsense hook, line, and sinker.” Joe paused and looked at Glynn before adding, “And he was at the pastor’s retreat this year.”
Marve looked at Glynn as what little color he had drained from his face. “I think it’s time I get you back home and back to bed,” she said softly.
Joe and Buck quickly stood up as the change in Glynn’s physical condition became obvious. “I’m sorry, Glynn,” Joe apologized. “This is all stressful for you, I’m sure. Don’t worry, I’ll address the situation.”
Glynn forced a smile but was unable to speak. He felt the energy leave his legs as he attempted to stand. His body trembled as the two men helped him to his car. They then followed Marve back into town so she wouldn’t have to try and carry Glynn on her own. She surprised them, though, when instead of going home, she turned and pulled into the parking spot next to the ambulance at the funeral home. Hub met her as she ran to the door. “Glynn needs to go to the hospital, now,” she ordered.
Hub nodded and said, “Let me grab my keys.”
The church sanctuary was as packed for the Sunday evening service as it had been that morning. Everyone in town had heard the ambulance leave and several noticed that it was the preacher’s car chasing it, with Marve driving. Word spread through the community quickly and the call for a special prayer meeting at the church received a broad response from people who hadn’t been to church since Easter. They prayed until nearly midnight hoping that they would eventually be told that Glynn had experienced a miraculous recovery. That call never came.
Joe left the service before it was over, around 10:00, to drive back to Oklahoma City. He wouldn’t have much sleep before packing a trunkload of materials and heading to First, Tulsa for the annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
To some degree, the BGCO convention was a larger version of the associational annual meeting, except larger, with better speakers, and at times excruciatingly boring. Every department within the state convention’s office was required to make a verbal report which then had to be approved. The reports were all pre-printed in case anyone really wanted to read them (few ever did) and that gave the department heads an opportunity to use their allotted time to say whatever they wished in support of their department. Some departments, such as Evangelism and Missions, brought in guests who were dynamic speakers and gathered a lot of attention. For less glamorous departments, though, such as Education and Camps, the sanctuary would be half-empty as messengers chose that time to go to the restroom, stand out in the hallway and chat, or visit the bookstore display set up in a separate room. Parliamentary procedure was tightly administered and outburst from the floor were not tolerated. Requests for changes or resolutions had to be submitted in advance and were considered by a committee before being brought to the floor on the last day. Most requests were denied.
Joe had the opening sermon Monday afternoon, and the resolutions committee would be approved just before he spoke. Joe didn’t miss his chance to preach an as strong and intentioned sermon as he had the day before. His tone was forceful as he laid out an agenda rejecting dogma and emphasizing growth through inclusivity. He challenged what he called “gross misinterpretation of scripture” and attempts at forced adherence to a creed. He told the assembled group of church pastors and staff that they must hold themselves to a higher standard, carefully examine the words they said, and be unimpeachable examples of Christ.
As soon as his sermon ended, the meeting adjourned for dinner. Joe fought his way through the crowd of well-wishers to find Ferris Polk, the just-elected chairman of the resolutions committee. Pulling him off to the side, Joe asked, “Have you been handed the list of proposed resolutions yet?”
Ferris held up a three-inch black binder. “You mean this stack of nonsense? Yeah, looks like some of the same old malarky we see every year. Any concerns?”
“Make sure nothing silly or unnecessary makes it to the floor,” Joe said in a hushed tone, communicating the seriousness of the matter. “Hultgren’s on the committee and he’ll back you up if necessary. Nothing about censuring any pastors or removing fellowship from any churches. Nothing about forcing churches to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message, either.”
Ferris rolled his eyes. “The same guys make the same requests every year. They don’t seem to understand that the convention does not have the power to tell local churches what to do or dictate to pastors what they say from the pulpit. I’d be willing to bet there’s something in there about the Authorized King James Version of the Bible being the only approved translation, too. This is my seventh year on this committee. The same resolutions are submitted every year and they’re all rejected every year.”
Joe smiled. “Expect some firey ones this year. We’ve had a couple of incidents at the associational level.”
“So I’ve heard,” Ferris agreed, nodding, and looking around to see who might be trying to listen in on the conversation. The afternoon crowds were never that large and it didn’t take long for the hallways to empty out as pastors went in search of their evening meal. “Did a pastor really get punched up in Arvel?” he asked softly.
Joe nodded. “A deacon didn’t take nicely to his pastor being called a heretic. That’s another topic to reject, by the way.”
The committee chairman shook his head. “Maybe we need to spend more time on what it actually means to be called of God to the ministry. Too many of the men here think it’s some kind of power trip. They don’t understand that the very word ‘minister’ means exactly the opposite. We don’t lead crusades against each other, we get down in the dirt and the mud to help those in need without thought to our own station.”
Joe smiled and patted Ferris on the back. “Keep talking like that and someone’s going to recommend you for a speaking position on next year’s schedule.”
“I’ll pass,” Ferris said. “I get enough criticism of my sermons from my wife. I don’t need letters from every disgruntled pastor in the state.”
Both men laughed and promised to reconnect later, but the Wednesday morning conversation was largely irrelevant as the committee had only approved the mildest and polite resolutions, including one thanking the restaurants in Tulsa for feeding them. Joe was thankful that the meeting ended on a positive tone with no overt disagreements or complaints to be settled.
Returning to his office Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Ingram ignored the unsurprising stack of mail and messages waiting on his desk and tried calling the Waterbury residence. When he didn’t get a response, he looked up Buck Edmond’s number. The news wasn’t good.
“The doctor is wanting to transfer him to a hospital in Tulsa,” the deacon said of Glynn. “Tests here are hinting that he might have some form of Multiple Sclerosis but the results are less than half certain about that. He was feeling better when I was over there this morning. Marve’s exhausted, though. She hasn’t left the hospital since Sunday night.”
“What arrangements have they made for the kids?” Joe asked, knowing that child care in these situations often made the situation more stressful.
“They’re staying with the school principal and his family. Their daughter, Claire, is the kids’ normal babysitter anyway, so that seems to be going well. I’m covering prayer meeting tonight but we’re going to need someone for Sunday again and honestly, the way our church is responding right now, it probably needs to be someone who can show some compassion and not try to save the whole town.”
Joe smiled from the other end of the telephone. “I think I know just who to send your direction,” he said calmly. “I’ll confirm with him and have someone give you a call back. Do you have Glynn’s room number?”
“Sure, he’s in room 211,” came the reply. “But they’re talking about moving him Friday.”
“Thanks, I appreciate the information,” Joe said, ending the call.
The Executive-Secretary stood there for a moment holding the phone’s received in his hand, considering whether or not to call the hospital. After a few moments’ thought, he hung up the phone and walked out to his secretary’s desk. “See if you can move tomorrow’s meetings to sometime next week, or perhaps have them go on without me. I need to make a run to Baptist Hospital in Arvel tomorrow. It’s rather urgent.”
“Glynn Waterbury’s not doing well?” she asked.
Joe shook his head. “They’re looking at a diagnosis of MS and his doctor’s wanting to move him to Tulsa, St. John’s I assume. I’m going to suggest they consider bringing him here to Baptist Medical Center. Not only do they have better resources, we can do more to make sure the bill is eliminated.”
Dr. Alton Guinn, the administrator of the 45-bed Baptist Hospital in Arvel, often complained they were the most underserved and overly ignored hospital in the group of eight hospitals the convention helped to fund across the state. Construction of two additional floors had strained the hospital’s resources and had caused some doctors in the area to send their more critical patients elsewhere. When he did get a phone call from Oklahoma City, it was usually to complain about spending exceeding the budget in some manner. While the state convention had to approve the hospital’s Board of Directors, rarely did anyone from the Baptist Building ever visit the facility.
The elderly volunteer at the front desk didn’t recognize the well-dressed man walking in on Thursday morning, asking if Glynn was still in room 211. Several preachers had been in and out to visit the ailing pastor and there was no indication he wasn’t another. When he signed the register, though, she noticed that he was from Oklahoma City and thought the name sounded familiar. As the visitor walked toward the elevator to the second floor, she picked up the phone and called Dr. Guinn’s secretary. “Deloris, this is Elly at the front desk. A Joe Ingram from Oklahoma City just signed in. He’s on his way to Rev. Waterbury’s room. That name sounds familiar.”
“He’s only the boss of the whole Baptist Convention,” the secretary said, over-stating Joe’s position. “I’ll let Dr. Guinn know he’s here.”
Joe knocked gently on the closed door to room 211.
Marve waited a few seconds, expecting a member of the medical staff who normally knocked and came on in. When the door didn’t open, though, she got up and answered it, trying to smooth out the wrinkles in her dress and straighten her hair as she walked across the room. She was surprised to open the door and see Dr. Ingram standing there. “Dr. Ingram! I didn’t realize you were coming!” she said as she opened the door wider.
“I thought about calling yesterday, but it’s been a while since I’ve stopped by the hospital anyway. It made sense to come on up, check on Glynn, see how things are going with the construction,” Joe explained. “How’s he doing?”
Marve looked over at her husband who was currently sleeping with the aid of a muscle relaxer. “He’s doing better, anxious to get out of here, of course. Always asking about things back at the church. He’s worried about what’s not getting done.”
Joe nodded. “I understand his doctor is talking about moving him to Tulsa?”
“That seems to be the plan,” Marve sighed as she returned to the chair beside the hospital bed. “I’m not sure how to handle that. Obviously, I want him to have the best care possible, but that’s too far for the kids to come and visit and he looks forward to them coming up after school in the afternoon. I don’t know whether to stay with him or stay here with the kids. I don’t want him to be alone over there. I’m just not sure what to do.”
The tears in Marve’s eyes were unmistakable. Joe pulled over the stool the doctor used for consulting purposes and took Marve’s hands in his as he sat down next to her. “Don’t worry, we’ll work something out, okay? That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to make sure he’s getting the best care, but I also want to make sure you and the kids are getting the care you need as well.”
There was another knock at the door and Dr. Guinn and Dr. Dornboss came in together. After exchanging the necessary greetings, Dr. Guinn said, “No one told me you were comping up today, Joe. I understand you want to check on Glynn, here. Is there anything else you want to see while you’re here? Is there anyone I need to call?”
Joes shook his head and then looked over at Marve. She had reached up and taken Glynn’s hand, petting it softly while he slept. He motioned toward the door. “Why don’t we step out in the hall a minute?” he suggested.
The two doctors followed Dr. Ingram and he shut the door behind him before speaking. “I’m concerned that you’re transferring him to Tulsa and not Oklahoma City,” he said, keeping his voice low. “Why the choice to take him out of the system?”
“I don’t have privileges at the Medical Center,” Dr. Dornboss answered. “Plus, Tulsa’s two hours’ closer. I don’t have to compromise my practice to check on him.”
“I appreciate the difference in distance,” Joe said, “but as a doctor with privileges here, you automatically have privileges at any hospital in the network. If there’s any question, Alton should be able to verify that with a phone call.” He looked at Dr. Guinn and added, “If the diagnosis I’m hearing proves accurate, the family is going to need a lot of help. He’s on the state insurance plan and I’m pretty sure coverage for critical disease drops to something like 60 percent. If we keep him within the Baptist Hospital network, then we can help mitigate that a little bit. I can’t help him a bit if he’s at St. John’s.”
Dr. Guinn stuck his hands in his trouser pockets. “That seems a little extreme, Joe. I understand your concerns, but we’ve had pastors in here before and I don’t recall anyone ever taking a position like this. Typically, we just let insurance and the local churches handle the cost.”
“This isn’t a typical situation, Alton,” Joe fired back. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t stress a primary trigger for MS?”
Dr. Dornboss interrupted, “We haven’t confirmed yet that it’s MS, that’s why we need more tests.”
Joe nodded. “I get that, but my point is that it’s convention-related stress, not pastoral-related stress, that’s likely responsible for the condition he’s in. He’s hurting because no one protected him from the bullies in the denomination. We kept it from bubbling up at the convention this week, but I know those guys, they’re not going to give up their cause any time soon. What they’ve done to Glynn they’ll do to others. I want to set a precedent right now that lets pastors know we’ve got their backs. We unwittingly set Glynn up for this and we’ve got to take care of him.” He turned back to Dr. Dornboss. “Obviously, this is a medical decision and if you say Tulsa’s best then that’s what we’ll go with. But please, I strongly urge you to consider the advantages of the Medical Center in the City. “
“Wow, the television reception here is especially lousy today,” Glynn said from inside the room.
The three men laughed. “Let’s go see how he’s doing, and perhaps talk the options over with him,” Joe said as he opened the door to the room.
Glynn looked up and saw who was coming to visit him and said, “Oh heavens, Dr. Ingram and Dr. Guinn? Look, if I’m dying just give it to me straight.” He smiled and gave Marve a wink.