Pastors' Conference 1972

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Chapter 3

James 5, chapter 4

Monday morning’s bright sunshine belied the cold temperatures and the wind whipping around the cracks in the ancient window frames had the entire Waterbury family reaching for jackets the moment they got out of bed. Glynn turned on the electric space heater in the small living room and gave it a moment to warm up before helping the kids out of their pajamas. Marve started a pot of coffee in the percolator that had been a wedding gift then made hot cereal for breakfast. The radio on the counter was tuned to the one local station they could get clearly, providing weather forecasts and livestock reports between upbeat country songs that kept Hayden dancing in his chair. Lita slumped forward, slowly spooning the cereal in her mouth, the scowl on her face showing her objection to the current arrangements.

Settling into the small, four-room house was going to take some time. Glynn and Marve tried hard to not complain in front of the children but with most of their belongings still in boxes, they felt as though they were missing something they needed at every turn. The toaster had not been among the kitchen items unpacked. Lita couldn’t find her favorite hair barrettes. Glynn was missing a brown shoe. Only a couple of Hayden’s toys were unpacked which inevitably resulted in tears every few minutes.

“Are you all ready to start at your new school this morning?” Glynn asked Lita, trying hard to sound upbeat and encouraging as he shivered at the kitchen table. 

“No,” was Lita’s emphatic answer as she scowled even harder.

Marve reached over and put her hand on her daughter’s arm. “C’mon now, honey, I know it’s a big change but you got to meet your teacher and a couple of girls in your class at church yesterday and they were nice, weren’t they? Everything’s going to be fine.”

Lita didn’t look up. Instead, she put another spoonful of cereal in her mouth and took her time swallowing before charging, “I thought Oklahoma was supposed to be warmer than Michigan.”

Glynn smiled. “It is,” he said. “It’s negative three degrees in Michigan this morning. The temperature here is a whopping 34! That’s practically a heatwave!”

“Sure doesn’t feel like it,” Lita said. “I hope the bus is warm.”

Marve looked quickly at Glynn, her expression letting him know to prepare for a negative response to the news about to be broken. “Oh, baby, I’m sorry, you’re not taking the bus. The school is only two blocks over. Hayden and I will walk you to school this morning.”

“WHAT?” Lita screamed. “I have to WALK to school?” She looked over at her father with pleading in her eyes. “Please, PLEASE let us move back to Michigan! Please?”

Glynn reached over and pulled Lita from her chair, setting her on his lap as she broke down crying with the massive, body-consuming sobs only a child can produce. “I know it’s not what you’d hoped,” he said softly as he held her close. “Things aren’t quite what we expected. But it’s going to get better. You’ll get to school, you’ll make new friends, and before you know it you’ll forget all about Michigan.”

Lita pushed back, gave her father a stern look, then slipped off his lap before yelling, “I’m never going to forget Michigan!” and running to her room.

Glynn looked at Marve who looked back at him sympathetically. “I need a user’s manual for her,” he said.

His wife stood and patted his shoulder as she headed for the children’s bedroom. “It wouldn’t do any good. They all come with too many customizations.”

The pattern repeated itself throughout the week. Mornings were cold and Hayden was the only one who didn’t seem to mind. Lita would throw a fit, Marve would walk her to school, and by the time Lita returned in the afternoon, she would be all smiles, babbling non-stop about her days’ adventures. During the day, Marve would try to balance unpacking and attempting to organize the house with keeping Hayden entertained, which was never easy. She was pleased that she would be able to walk almost everywhere in town, though quickly learned that walking to the grocery store with a 4-year-old in two was probably not her best option.

The small grocery store was a far cry from the supermarkets Marve had known in Michigan. The family-owned store was small, it’s concrete floors cracked and bare, its shelves dark and a bit dusty, and the selection limited. Cattle feed was sold from the back of the store and the butcher’s blood-stained white apron let everyone know he was cutting their meat fresh to order. Marve wasn’t too surprised to find that the owners were church members. So far, it had seemed that almost everyone in town was. What caught her off guard was what happened when she went to pay for her groceries.

“Oh, honey, put your money away,” Gladys Walker told her. “We put everyone on account here,” she explained. “We settle up once a month, based on what everyone’s able to do. Ya’ know, middle of the winter like this, not many folks are exactly flush with money right now so we’re fine carrying them a few months until the spring calving season kicks in. It also gives us the chance to help out a little bit, ya’ know? Takin’ a little bit off some people’s accounts when you know they’re runnin’ lean is just bein’ Christian. So you just don’t worry. You buy whatever you need, let me know if you need something we don’t have, and we’ll let you know when we need to settle up, ‘kay?”

Marve stared back in astonishment. She had heard of such arrangements back when the West was still being settled but found it hard to believe such a thing still existed in 1972. She managed a smile and a polite “thank you,” as Gladys handed Hayden a lollipop.

“Oh, and every once in a while,” Gladys added, “it tends to get a little icy around here. We don’t get all that much snow, but these roads ice over in a hurry. When that happens, just give me a call and I’ll have Bill bring you whatever you need, dear. He has them studs on his tires and can get just about anywhere in town.”

Marve walked back home wondering if she had somehow slipped into a time warp and had fallen back a hundred years or so. She was completely unprepared to have complete strangers smiling and saying hi as they passed. Housewives would step out on their front porch and wave. Even the gas station attendant yelled hi and waved at Hayden. If she hadn’t fallen into a time warp then almost certainly she was caught in a Frank Capra movie.

Glynn was finding it equally awkward settling into his new role as a full-time pastor. His study was a small room just off the sanctuary with its own outside entrance and a space heater so that he wouldn’t have to heat the entire building when he was the only one there. He didn’t have a lot of study books and after he put them all on the bookshelves he felt that his collection of Pulpit Commentaries and a couple of concordances was inadequate. 

He was delighted to actually have a desk from which to work. Marve had always complained when he took over the kitchen table in the evenings to work on his sermons. This gave him more room to think, to compile ideas, and to consult multiple sources, limited as they were. For Glynn, it wasn’t enough to be inspirational in his sermons, he also felt that he needed to be authentic and precise in how he interpreted scripture for his congregation. A seminary extension course he had taken emphasized the need to consult the original languages, languages he couldn’t read. Fortunately, he had books that helped with that challenge as well.

Monday passed fairly quietly. Unpacking his books hadn’t taken long and Glynn wandered through the church building wondering what he should do for Wednesday evening Bible study. He preferred these meagerly-attended meetings to be more focused on prayer and teaching, but he didn’t know the people well enough yet to feel comfortable with anything too involved. 

Tuesday was a little more involved as Buck Edmonds, who was also chairman of the deacons, dropped by with church treasurer Norma Little to go over the budget and the church’s finances.
“We want to do right by what the Bible teaches,” Buck said, “But people’s income around here fluctuates quite a bit from season to season. Winter can be especially lean.”

“How lean are we talking?” Glynn asked.

“We have arrangements with the utility companies, as most people do around here, to only pay half our electric bills from January through April,” Norma said. “We catch up then in May and June. July’s a little tight as folks are on vacation and giving takes a dip but August through November is usually strong enough to set us up nicely for the winter.”

“We don’t want you to have to worry, pastor,” Buck said. “We’ve been getting by like this for a long time and we’ve never missed paying who we need to pay, including you.”

Glynn shifted uncomfortably in his seat, certain that there was about to be an exception added to Buck’s statement. There was, coming from Norma.

“All that was before we had a parsonage payment,” she said firmly. “That extra $200 a month is significant, especially during the winter. Plenty of people pledged to increase their giving when we voted to buy the house, but it has yet to start showing up in the offering plate.”

“That does sound like quite a challenge, given your income variations,” Glynn said. “So, why did you decide to purchase a new parsonage now?”

Buck looked at Norma and pulled at the fingers on his farm-worn hands for a few seconds before answering. “To be honest, it was one of the reasons Pastor Harrell left,” he said softly, his head bowed. “We’re not proud of it. We passed by the house every day and it always looked good from the outside, but the heater didn’t work half the time, it was impossible to cool in the summer, his utility bills were higher than the church’s, the plumbing was a mess, and the roof was leaking somethin’ fierce. Tryin’ to fix everything just got too expensive, and, truth be known, that stirred some trouble in the church.”

“Trouble? What kind of trouble?” Glynn asked, his concern growing the more he heard. 

Buck looked at the floor. Norma sat straight up in her chair, pulled tightly at her floral-print dress, the sliver-blue in her hair catching the sunlight coming through the window. “He won’t tell you, pastor, but I will. It’s all Alan Mayes, chairman of the country cattlemen’s association. He’s a big mouth and thinks he knows everything and he stirs up trouble every chance he gets.”

Glynn mentally rolled his eyes. There was someone like this in every congregation he had encountered. “Is he a church member?”

Buck nodded. “Yeah, though he’s not here on Sundays too terribly often. He runs a heard of about 250 Charolais and Angus out West of town and with a heard that size there’s always a problem of one kind or another. He sometimes makes it in on Sunday nights, though he wasn’t here this week.”

“But he’ll sit down there at the diner at noon every day, holding court, actin’ like he’s the county boss, tellin’ people what they should do,” Norma added. “He’s our county commissioner as well and he seems to think that gives him power to run the whole town. Pastor Harrell wasn’t the first person he’s run out of town.”

Glynn sat forward in his chair. “Wait, he ran the pastor off?”

The tension in the air was palpable now. This clearly wasn’t a topic in Buck’s comfort zone. “He didn’t really run him off, in so many words,” Buck said quietly. “But he complained, loudly, that the repairs on the parsonage were costing too much and accused the pastor of pocketing some of the money. Attendance started dipping as did tithes. We reached a point where we had to tell Reverend Harrell that we couldn’t make any more improvements to the parsonage. Next Sunday, there was a pulpit committee from someplace in Arkansas sitting in the third row from the back. You know how it works from there.”

Glynn did know. There was no hiding a group of four or five well-dressed strangers showing up on a Sunday morning in a small church. When a church liked their pastor, the presence of a pulpit committee was a warning sign that he wasn’t happy and they needed to do more. When the church was feeling more ambivalent it signaled that change was coming and they needed to prepare.

Pulpit committees were unique among Southern Baptists at the time and are still widely in use in more rural areas. A church would select a group of five or six members to go out and listen to a prospective pastor, sometimes with notice, but not always. If they liked what they saw and heard, they would report back to their home church who would then, typically, extend an invitation for the pastor to come and speak in their pulpit, “in view of a call.” The pastor would preach, talk at length with the pulpit committee and sometimes other church members, then the church would vote whether to issue an invitation to the pastor. Careful pastors, like Glynn, would insist that the vote be unanimous—they didn’t need people publicly against them before they started. Others would accept a two-thirds majority if they felt the move would help their career.

“Tithes shot up the Sunday after he left,” Norma said. “It’s shameful and unChristian and there wasn’t a deacon in the church who would stand up to that bully.” Her voice conveyed her anger over the topic. She looked at Buck and added, “We’ve had this conversation, Buck Edmonds. You’re chairman of the deacons. You should have done something before it got out of hand.”

Buck’s posture reminded Glynn of how Hayden slumped when he was in trouble. 

“Let’s focus on where we are now,” Glynn said, retaking control of the conversation. “Are we behind on anything?”

Norma shook her head. “No, cattle prices have stayed surprisingly high this winter and corn futures are looking really good. This was the best January we’ve had in a few years.”

Glynn smiled. “Okay then, let’s run with a positive outlook for now. Perhaps we can draw some new people into the church and folks will start feeling better about the direction we’re going. Is Mr. Mayes still upset about the parsonage?”

“Oh no,” Buck answered. “He’s on the banker’s back now. Word got around that ya’ll are havin’ to live in that little house and Mayes is sayin’ the banker renigged on his deal. He’s got folks talkin’ about moving their accounts to the bank over in Washataug. Don’t think that’s likely to happen, though. Everyone’s cattle loans are with the bank here.”

Glynn nodded. “I can appreciate that,” he said. “Buck, can I ask a favor of you?”

The deacon looked up and nodded. “Why, sure, pastor! Anything you need!”

“I’m new to this whole area. I’m not up on cattle futures and crop prices or who’s who in the county,” Glynn explained. “Can you help me with that? Kinda keep me in the know when folks might be having a rough time, any community events I should attend, people that need attention, that sort of thing.”

“Why, sure!” Buck answered, enthusiastically. “You wanna do lunch down at the diner tomorrow? It would be a pleasure to have you as my guest.”

“It would be my pleasure,” Glynn said, effectively ending the meeting.

The rest of the week sailed by quickly. By Friday, Lita’s morning tantrum had lost its steam. Marve had the kitchen arranged the best she could. Everything was starting to fit into place.

Sunday morning, Glynn stepped into the pulpit, looking out over an eager congregation that seemed slightly larger than it had the week before. “You know, I’ve been learning a lot this week,” he said as he began. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to park in the middle of Main Street. I’ve learned that the blue plate special at the diner is a deal that can’t be beat. And I’ve learned that the Adelbert Tigers are sure to win the Class B state baseball championship this spring.”

The comment met with some chuckles and a couple of hearty Amens from some of the men in the congregation.

“As I’ve walked the streets and talked with many of you, it’s easy to get excited about the possibilities of what we can do. But when I open my Bible, I find there some very important instructions about being patient. Let’s look together at the book of James, Chapter 5, starting in verse 7 where we read:

7 Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it until it receives the early and the late rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the doors. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

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 

Glynn continued, following an outline and borrowing heavily from the contents of a sermon he had found by the 19th-century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, encouraging his congregation to not be discouraged when things didn’t happen exactly the way they had planned. “Living in a small house is better than no house at all,” he said. “Lesser profits are better than no profits. What seems to be a step backward, for now, may yet prove to have been God’s way of saying, ‘Hold on, I’ve got something better coming.’ It is God’s plan, not our own, that sets our course. Be patient, be patient, be patient. ‘You have heard of the patience of Job:’ imitate it. ‘You have seen what the Lord finally brought about:’ rejoice in it. ‘The Lord is full of compassion and mercy:’ Yield yourselves to him.”

At the end of the sermon, two families who had left the church two or three pastors ago returned to the congregation. Glynn took this as a sign of encouragement. Word was already getting out of his arrival and the small town was feeling excited.

On the way home from church, Marve said, “I met Alan Mayes this morning. Think he heard a word of your sermon?”

Glynn smiled. “He was there, which is apparently a big deal. I’m sure I’ll know by noon tomorrow how he took it. Perhaps he’ll find a different target than the banker to fuss about.”

“As long as it’s not you,” Marve warned. 

“I’m still new,” Glynn said. “He’ll give me a couple of weeks.”

Chapter 4

James 1, chapter 4

Glynn had barely walked into the church office the next morning when the phone rang. He reached across the desk to answer the phone. “Good morning, First Baptist Church,” he said, hoping his tone was the right mix of friendly and authoritative.

“Mornin’, Glynn! This is Emmit Watkins. How are things going this mornin’?” the overly-cheerful voice practically yelled through the phone.

“Good morning, Emmit!” Glynn returned, trying to match the positive tone without quite as much volume. “I’m having a pretty good day so far. I’m looking forward to coming over to the Pastor’s Conference this morning. Grace Church, correct?”

“That’s good to hear! I was hoping you’d be able to join us, and your lunch is on me this week!” Emmit said. “There has been a change in the location, though. We’ll be meeting over at Calvary Church on 34th street. Apparently, there was an incident at Grace following the evening service and the pastor there, Charley Edmonds, great guy, you’ll enjoy meeting him, suggested this might not be a good time to have a bunch of preachers in. I guess the police are involved and there’s some kind of investigation going on.”

“Oh dear,” Glynn said, immediately concerned for his fellow pastor. “No one was hurt, were they?”

Emmit paused for a moment and lowered his voice to what would be a normal level for anyone else. “As a matter of prayer, Brother Glynn, it appears that one of the young women in his church may have been murdered. From what I understand, her husband, who is not a church member and a known alcoholic, pulled into the parking lot soon after the service let out and confronted one of the deacons, claiming that the man was having an affair with his wife. Now, I happen to know the deacon involved rather well. He’s a fine family man with a precious wife and three lovely children. There’s no way he’s involved with any wife other than his own. Still, the accusation was made and the man’s wife naturally came to the deacon’s defense. Her husband started slapping her around, so the deacon and a couple of other men from the church stepped in to try and stop the scuffle. The man ended up throwing his wife into his pickup and driving off. The men had a few cuts and scrapes but nothing a little bit of mercurochrome couldn’t fix up so everyone went home.”

“Then, along about 4:00 this morning, the police call Charley, wakin’ up him and his wife, asking what he knows about the scuffle. Well, Charley was still in the sanctuary when all this happened so all he knew was what the deacon had told him. He repeated the story to the police and that’s when they told him the young woman was dead, lookin’ pretty much like she was beaten to death. They arrested her husband, but he’s claiming she ran off after they got home and he had nothing to do with it. So, now there are police all over the church and the parking lot, asking questions, looking for clues and all. I’m sure it will be in the paper this evening. Of course, it’s really upset folks over at Grace.”

“I can only imagine,” Glynn said, completely taken back by the incredible story. “That is so very tragic.”

“Anyway,” Emmit said, his voice returning to its normal volume, “Calvary is just off Highway 64 as you’re coming through town, a couple of blocks South of Jasper’s Farm Implement on your right. There are signs. You can’t miss it. The parking lot’s in the back and we’ll be meeting in Fellowship Hall. See you around 10?”

“I’ll definitely be there,” Glynn said. “I look forward to meeting everyone.”

“Wonderful!” Emmit yelled. “See you in a bit!”

“In a bit!” echoed Glynn. He hung up the phone and sat in his office chair, still trying to absorb the story he had just been told. He had assumed that Oklahoma would be free from the sort of domestic violence that continually plagued the cities up North. Obviously, he was mistaken, though he hoped that this was an anomaly and wouldn’t happen with any frequency.

Glynn putzed around the office for a while, typing up the Sunday attendance report to send to the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), located in Oklahoma City, then recorded the same numbers in the church’s record books. He was careful to take note of the numbers. 64 for Sunday School with another eight joining for the worship service. The numbers were twice what his church in Michigan had on their best Sunday. Yet, looking across this sanctuary, it still felt empty. He was sure there was more they could do to bring those numbers up. 

After a few more minutes of administrative detail, Glynn set everything to the side and left the office to make the trip to Calvary Baptist Church in Arvel, about 11 miles East of Adelbert. His departure time meant he was going to be early but he had not yet had an opportunity to explore the county seat for Mishawaka County and thought this would be a good time to do so. Arvel was closer and a bit more convenient to Adelbert than was their own Ridell County seat in Washataug, which was 20 miles to the Southwest. Between either town was nothing but pasture and farmland with hardly a house to be seen from the highway. 

Arvel was still a relatively small town by comparison with county seats in more urban areas. Its population of 3,200 was enough to dwarf Adelbert but was still several times smaller than what Glynn had known in Michigan. He drove slowly through the Main Street area, taking note of the different shops, including a Sears that he knew would make Marve happy, and a dime store that would be perfect for all the school supplies and office trinkets that one inevitably couldn’t find when needed. Arvel also hosted a small junior college that seemed to be bustling with students despite the cold temperatures.

Glynn finally pulled into the parking lot at Calvary Baptist Church at five minutes before 10:00 and, observing the other men stepping from their cars, immediately felt overdressed. He had worn a suit, assuming that this was a smaller version of the denominational conferences he had attended in Michigan. What he saw were men in blue jeans and heavy winter coats, some wearing western-style boots, none of them wearing a tie. Glynn quickly undid the tie around his neck and traded his suit coat for the parka he had sitting in the back seat. He still felt overdressed in his slacks and dress shoes, but he hoped he wouldn’t stand out quite as much.

Following the other men into the church’s Fellowship Hall, he was impressed by the large, open space. Built of concrete block with white patterned vinyl tile on the floor, the acoustics reminded Glynn of a gymnasium. Heavy sound-muffling curtains used to divide the space had been pulled back and four long folding tables had been pushed together with 30 folding chairs placed around them. The smell of freshly percolated coffee filled the room and Glynn’s eyes were immediately drawn to the group of men standing around a large six-gallon coffee pot. Before he could move in their direction, though, a massive voice pierced the chatter.

“Glynn Waterbury! Good to see you!” Emmit called across the room. The room went silent as everyone stopped to look at the figure standing in the doorway looking as though he’d just returned from an arctic adventure. “Gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Reverend Glynn Waterbury, the new pastor at First Church, Adelbert. He and his dear family just moved down from the greater Detroit area about a week and a half ago. I’ll leave it to you to introduce yourselves and make him feel welcome before we start.”

Glynn had taken advantage of Emmit’s introduction to move a few more steps inside and shrug off the heavy parka that had almost induced a sweat just walking from the parking lot. He was immediately besieged by the host of other men whose names he would never remember and whose questions he found stereotypically gratuitous.

“Detroit? I bet you’re glad to get away from all the crime up there,” said one.

“Have you adjusted to all this heavy traffic we have down here,” laughed another.

“What size church did you come from?”

“Why move all the way down here to the middle of nowhere?”

“You aren’t one of those seminary preachers, are you?”

“That certainly looks like a mighty warm coat. You likin’ the weather down here?”

Glynn did his best to answer the questions sincerely despite knowing his responses were already falling on deaf ears even as he spoke. They wouldn’t remember his answers any more than he would remember their names. Still, there was a universal protocol to maintain. He smiled a lot, kept his handshake firm, and laughed at jokes that were not remotely funny.

As the group began to disperse and take their seats around the tables, a smaller, dark-haired man with wavy black hair that almost looked greasy came up and offered his hand. “Jerry Weldon,” he said as an introduction. “Pastor over at Bluebird, your closest competition. I understand you got one of our families yesterday, the Billets.”

Glynn paused for a moment. Jerry wasn’t smiling. Instead, he looked weary. Dark circles surrounded his black and bloodshot eyes. His handshake was weak and his palm felt as greasy as his hair looked. Glynn fought against the instinct to wipe the moisture onto his pants leg. “The Billets, yes. I hadn’t met them before yesterday. I assure you, I’m not out to recruit your members.”

“Oh, I’m not concerned about that,” Jerry said. “I don’t think you’ll find the Billets the most faithful family in your congregation in the first place. They’ve not been in any of our services in over six months. They didn’t even make it Christmas. Rumor is that they’ve been attending that Full-Gospel church out County Road 16.”

Glynn felt relieved and concerned at the same time. “Full-Gospel? I didn’t realize there was one of those congregations in the area,” he said.

Jerry shrugged. “There are little churches all over the backwoods out here. None of them are very big, usually, a couple of families who got their feelings hurt somewhere else and decided to start their own church. All of them unaffiliated with any real denomination. They’re not a problem until one of their families decides to join one of our churches. Then, they bring with them a belief system that might sound good but is Biblically unsupported and the next thing you know they’re getting Sunday School classes divided over nonsense and causing a rift in the church.”

“Do I need to worry about the Billets, you think?” Glynn asked, suddenly feeling concerned about the potential growth of his congregation.

“The Billets? Nah, they’re the kind that just go along with whatever,” Jerry said. “Most Sundays they just stay home.”

Glynn nodded his understanding.

“Okay, if everyone will have a seat, we’ll get started here,” Emmit called. As the men filled the chairs around the table, he continued. “Now, Glynn, we’re all pretty laid back here. Our purpose is to share both the victories and the setbacks so we can rejoice together when appropriate and support each other through the trials. So, what we do is go around the table, everyone introduce themselves, and tell us how your Sunday went.” He paused and looked at the pastor seated to his left. “Brother Roy, why don’t you start us off and we’ll just go around the table.”

The pastor stood and wiped the perspiration from his balding head with his bare hand then wiped his hand on the checkered shirt he was wearing. His face was perpetually red and he seemed out of breath, almost struggling to speak. “I’m Roy Winston, pastor of First Church, Maseekwa. I guess the cold kept a lot of our people home this week. We were down to 42 for Sunday School and only had 18 for Training Union. There was a good spirit in the services, though, and we actually had a couple younger than 60 visit Sunday morning. I’m praying that they’ll join us and maybe help us reach some other younger families in the area.”

A soft chorus of Amens whispered across the table as Roy took his seat and the next pastor stood up, giving a similar report with slightly different numbers. As they circled the table, the only change was the numbers and the perceived problems. Older congregations with no young couples was a common malady. One pastor complained that three couples in his congregation had gotten divorced in the past two months, despite his fervent preaching against the sin. There was nearly unanimous agreement among the group when he blamed the influence of the “godless programming on television.” 

Another worried that he was having more church members die than joining the church. “I buried three church members last week,” he complained. “I can’t tell you the last time we had a wedding at the church. Unless God intervenes, the church is literally going to die.”

A third, from one of the larger churches in the association, posed a problem to the group. “We’ve got a new school superintendent who claims he’s a Christian but apparently he’s a Catholic or Episcopalian or something. Anyway, he’s told the Junior and Senior classes that they can have dances in the school gym as a way of raising money. Now, we all know where Southern Baptists and all the other god-fearing churches stand on the subject of dancing, but he’s got all our kids excited and they don’t seem to understand how those movements and that music leads to sins of the flesh. The next thing you know, we’re going to have a bunch of these girls in trouble. But no one seems to be listening to me, not even their parents.”

The response from the group was fierce. If one school in the area started having dances, that would put pressure on the other schools to do the same. All the youth in both counties were sure to be corrupted.

The furor eventually died down and in short order, it was Glynn’s turn to speak. “I think we’ve all met by this point, but we did have 64 for Sunday School and 27 for Training Union. I’d really like to see that Training Union number come up so if any of you have ideas that worked, I’m all ears.”

Around the table, the pastors nodded but no one said anything. Glynn sat down and listened to the next complaint, a congregation whose offerings were insufficient to pay the electric bill. He paid attention as best he could but found the perpetual depression mind-numbing. Even the “word of devotion,” delivered by the host pastor, seemed to serve the woe-is-me attitude as he spoke self-serving words to accompany James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”

The final 45 minutes of the meeting was spent in a “season of prayer.” Pastors whose bodies enabled them to do so piously knelt on the hard tile floor, a mistake Glynn realized only after he had followed the example and done the same. His knees were soon hurting, his attention pulled away from any spiritual intent as he wondered whether he could sit back up in his chair without looking both physically and spiritually weak. The audible prayers started simply enough, brief words of thanks, prayers for the sick, for missionaries, and the Church at large. As time passed, though, the prayers grew longer, the words more religious, and the details more elongated. Glynn found himself involuntarily yawning as one pastor droned on about the sins of his congregation, information that Glynn found too personal to be shared in such a public manner.

By the time the prayers had finished, Glynn’s knees had gone numb. He pulled himself up into the metal folding chair and waited for feeling to return to his legs. The meeting was effectively over, but there was still the matter of lunch. Of course, Glynn had already agreed to be Emmit’s guest, something the Director of Missions was not about to let him forget. He would have much rather gone home, though, both his body and his mind exhausted from the experience.

Conversation over lunch proved to be more light and hospitable, though rumors of the young woman’s death and possible murder fueled considerable gossip and postulating. Some were genuinely shocked at what had happened in the parking lot. Others voiced concerns over the effects the crime might have on the church body. Two older pastors, however, were quick to demonize not only the victim but all women in general, condemning them for “their flirtatious manner,” and “sexual innuendo” through things such as wearing pants, miniskirts, and open-toed shoes. Such behavior, they surmised, led men to do inappropriate things “because of their fallen nature.” Glynn felt disturbed by the direction the conversation took but decided that, as the new guy, it wasn’t his place to say anything. Not yet.

Glynn’s original plan had been to return to the office for the afternoon before paying visits to some church members he’d yet to meet. Instead, though, he headed home and dropped wearily into the recliner generally recognized as his appointed seat in the living room. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples wearily.

“Pastors’ Conference that rough?” Marve asked as she came in and sat playfully on Glynn’s lap.

“They’re going to take some getting used to,” Glynn said. “Definitely not the church-focused or even God-focused meeting I was expecting. I was hoping the meeting would be uplifting. Instead, it was exhausting.”

Marve leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek. “Are you sure some of that exhaustion isn’t because you’ve been running non-stop since we got here? You’ve missed dinner twice this week.”

Glynn leaned his head back and closed his eyes as he wrapped his arms around his wife. “I just want to do well here,” he said softly. “If this is truly what God has called me to do, called us to do, then we have no choice but to give it our all.”

Marve snuggled in a bit tighter. “Yes, but don’t forget God called you to be my husband and the head of this family first. That’s never been a problem before. Please don’t let it become one now.”

Glynn squeezed his wife tightly in response. With Hayden down for his nap and Lita at school, it felt safe to relax for a moment. It would prove to be the only moment they would have for a while.

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