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Pastors' Conference 1972

This is it. This is where our book ends. I want to thank you for sticking with us over the first half of this year. We’ll be back with a very different story on the first Sunday in July.


Chapter 49

Chapter 49

Tom found her less than two minutes before Glynn arrived. Claire was unconscious, huddled with her suitcase at the inset of the front steps to the high school, which provided minimal but critical protection from the snow. Tom unlocked the school door and the two men took Claire inside. Glynn removed his parka while Tom ran to the office and called Hub then called Linda. Getting her to the hospital in Arvel was going to be treacherous but it was the only choice if they were to save her. 

Hardly a word passed between the two men beyond what was absolutely necessary. Anger glared in Tom’s eyes as hot as guilt coldly contracted Glynn’s. When Hub arrived the men helped him put the teenager on the cot, covered her with warm blankets, and put her in the ambulance. Hub insisted that Glynn ride up front with him while Tom rode in the back with his daughter. While both men had been focused on Claire, Hub could see that neither of them had been fit to be out in the weather, either. All three would need medical care.

News of Claire nearly freezing to death made its way around town quickly. Word that Sunday services were canceled did not. As phone calls intended to notify members about the church were hijacked by concern and anger over Claire, it wasn’t long before the Sunday services were forgotten completely. As a result, come 10:00 there were five elderly women standing at the front door of the church wondering why they couldn’t get in. Rose could see them from the front window of the funeral home and had them come there to wait until she could arrange rides home for them. 

Hub was, for the time being, stuck at the hospital in Arvel due to the sheriff in Ridell County declaring the roads too unsafe for even an ambulance. Rose called Buck who, in turn, called Horace, who, thinking additional backup might be good, called Alan. More than an hour passed before the three deacons made it to the funeral home.

Alan was furious when he arrived. “Why didn’t anyone call these ladies and tell them there were no services today?” he shouted at Buck as he stomped up the ramp to the funeral home. 

“The chain was started,” Buck shot back firmly. “Obviously, you knew. Horace knew. Most of the church members knew. Somewhere, someone failed to continue the calling. There’s no way to know who it was, so let’s just get these women home and be done with it.”

“Had the preacher called off the services when I told him to, this wouldn’t have happened. There would have been plenty of time to get the word out,” Alan insisted, pushing his point. “The problem here is that the preacher doesn’t listen.”

“You mean he doesn’t listen to you,” Horace said sternly. “I told him to wait. I thought we’d be able to get some blades out on the street and I thought the county would have salt trucks out. Had those things happened, Claire would have made it home safely and we could have had church this morning. It’s the county’s fault as much as it is anyone’s.”

Alan clenched his fist and got in Horace’s face. “That’s horse pucky and you know it. When was the last time anyone’s seen county salt trucks on Adelberg streets? 15, 20 years at least! He was a fool if he listened to you and you were a bigger fool for suggesting it.”

“Glynn’s not been here long enough to know that the county ignores us,” Buck said, stepping between Horace and Alan. “And as pastor, he has an obligation to consider what’s best for the church as a whole. He’ll be as upset as anyone that the word didn’t get around.”

“By the way, where is he?” Horace asked. “I kinda figured he’d be the first one Rose would have called.”

Buck shoved his hands in his pockets to protect them from the numbness he was beginning to feel. “The hospital kept both him and Tom,” he said. “Neither of them needed to be out in the snow any more than Claire did. It’s a wonder they’re not all three dead.”

“That’s what ignorance and stubbornness will get you,” Alan said. “They’re all three book smart and think they know everything. We see where that got them.”

The three men delivered each of the ladies to their homes, being careful to walk them to the door so that they wouldn’t slip on the ice. Traveling anywhere, even short distances, seemed to take forever. While the snow had stopped falling during the night, the wind had taken over and blown the snow into massive drifts that blocked the road in some places and left the slick ice bare in others. Once the men had finished their deliveries, they each crept home with every intention of staying there no matter who asked for help. Being on the roads at this point was suicide.

Glynn had asked the hospital call Marve when they admitted him. She wasn’t surprised by the phone call. She also knew that they would have to keep him until the roads cleared up. If Hub couldn’t make it back there was no way she was going to risk making the trip. Instead, she sat by the telephone in the kitchen, answering one call after another. Everyone was angry and Marve understood but had no answers for anyone. 

Marve was confused when Roger, Clement, and Bill had all called in succession to ask if Glynn had seen the morning newspaper. She might have understood had their paper been delivered, but roads were so bad that even paper delivery had been canceled in Adelberg, though it had managed to arrive everywhere else. Instead, she told them what had happened with Claire and that Glynn was back in the hospital. “I don’t know if the cold caused the MS to flare up or if they’re treating a serious case of stupidity,” Marve told Roger. “It’s probably best that he’s there where he’s only getting limited information. I think everyone in town is upset with him right now.”

Each of the three preachers had a different response. Clement tried to be comforting and asked if Marve needed anything. Roger was more pragmatic. “These things happen and the bad news seems to come in waves. I’m sure we can work through this.” Bill showed a broader concern. “I’m worried for him, Marve, and I’m worried for our association. Nothing feels right this morning.”

Marve found Bill’s response curious but chose to not press for details. It was obvious something was up in the association and at this point, she really didn’t care what it was. She had enough to worry about with Glynn being back in the hospital and the focus of everyone’s anger. She thanked Bill for his concern and went hung up so she could answer the next call from yet another furious church member.

Glynn laid back in the hospital bed and tried to be thankful for the relative peace and quiet. The nurses had assured him that Claire was going to be okay, despite some frostbite and the severe cold essentially burning the inside of her lungs. What they didn’t tell him was that Tom now had full-fledged pneumonia and was on a ventilator. Had he known, Glynn likely would have tried walking down there and making peace with Claire’s father. Whether the omission was accidental or on purpose would forever be a point of speculation. As it was, he was lying there practicing the breathing techniques he had been given when Bill walked into the room with a newspaper tucked under his arm.

“Please tell me I’m not the only reason you’re here,” Glynn said as he sat up and shook the other pastor’s hand. “There’s no way the roads have started melting already.”

Bill shook his head and smiled. “Are you kidding? The old folks in my church are what keeps this hospital in the black. I always have a reason to be here. I talked to your wife earlier, though, and she told me they were keeping you until this mess clears up. I thought you could use some company.”

“Your wife got tired of having you underfoot, huh?” Glynn teased.

“Well, yeah, I’ve been pretty animated this morning, I’m afraid,” Bill said. “This landed on my front porch before I had my first cup of coffee. Roger said he’d called you yesterday when he found out.” He tossed the front section of the newspaper at Glynn whose jaw dropped when he saw the headline.

“LOCAL PASTOR ACCUSED OF DRUNK AND LEWD ACTS”

If Roger had spoken with the newspaper’s reporter, he had not succeeded in getting them to hold back on any of the details of the accident. The article, which completely occupied all the space above the fold, blamed Larry for almost everything short of driving the pickup that had hit him. The sheriff was waiting to arrest him. The district attorney was promising to prosecute the most severe charges he could. And there, in the middle of everything, was a damning quote from Roger that read, “If Rev. Winston has indeed done anything wrong, he will surely know the wrath of God.” 

Glynn put the newspaper down and looked at Bill. “Did he really say that?”

Bill nodded, his arms crossed in front of him, his expression stern. “He insists that the paper took him out of context, that he said that in the middle of a larger statement that they omitted. That’s irrelevant now. This is what every person in both counties woke up to this morning. It’s a good thing all the churches were closed or we might have had a riot on our hands. I’ve already run into a couple of Larry’s church members here in the hallway. They’re ready to lynch him.”

Glynn sat up a little more. “Crap, I hadn’t thought … He’s still here in the hospital, isn’t he?”

“He’s in intensive care,” Bill said, “and if God has any desire to show him mercy, he’ll just call him on home. There are police staked out just outside the unit, ready to arrest him the moment he’s conscious. The hospital has asked his wife to stay home to avoid there being any difficult scenes.”

Glynn looked at the newspaper again, shaking his head as he re-read the article. “What about the kid’s parents? This doesn’t say anything about their response.”

Bill pulled up a chair and sat down. “They’ve lawyered up and aren’t speaking to anyone. Roger tried to contact them to offer to pay for the funeral but they wouldn’t take his call. I can’t say I blame them. I know you weren’t here, but there was an Assembly of God pastor a few years back who was accused of raping a girl in his church. Their denomination got him out of town before charges could be filed, no idea whatever happened to him. There were a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of anger over that situation and this has brought all that back up with even more intensity. I’ve had a couple of church members ask if we’re all depraved sex freaks. If church members are thinking that, I’m not sure I want to know what those outside the church are saying.”

The two pastors sat there in silence as Glynn read the article again. While the reporter expertly guided his words to avoid making any deliberate and possibly slanderous charges, there was little doubt left in the reader’s mind that Larry Winston was a deplorable person who hid behind the cover of being a pastor while drinking heavily and doing unspeakable things to boys. That a truck had slammed into his car, killing the boy and severely injuring him was treated as an afterthought. The truck driver’s name wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. There was no police statement saying he’d been arrested. 

Neither of the men had any sense of how much time had passed when Dr. Guinn appeared in the doorway of Glynn’s room. “Brother Waterbury, I thought you’d want to know, Horace Lyles was just admitted a few minutes ago. For the moment it looks as though he’s had a heart attack brought on by being out in the cold. We’re doing the best for him we can but it’s too soon to make any more of a diagnosis.”

Glynn sighed and put his hands over his face. He felt dizzy but didn’t want to lie down. “Thanks for letting me know. Is his daughter here with him?”

The administrator shook his head. “It was a sheriff’s deputy that brought him over. He said the road was too slick for anyone to follow. I guess it took several minutes for him to get out to the farm after they got the call, and then over an hour to get him here to the hospital. In that respect, Mr. Lyles is lucky to be with us at all.”

“Let me know when he’s in recovery and awake. I’ll try to make it down there to see him,” Glynn said as though this were routine and he could hop up any time he wanted and leave the room.

“Hold on there,” Alton said sternly, walking over and putting his hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “I’ve seen your chart. You’re lucky I don’t have you in a hospital gown. If your oxygen levels aren’t better at the next check, I’m hooking you up to a bottle and probably an IV. I’m keeping Dr. Dornboss in the loop, of course, but for the duration of this ice, we’re pretty much limited to the staff immediately available. I’d appreciate it if you’d not give them more to do.” He smiled as he spoke, trying to mask the seriousness of Glynn’s condition by keeping the tone light. He turned and motioned for Bill to follow him into the hallway, closing the door behind them.

“Can you stay here and make sure he doesn’t leave his room?” Alton asked Bill. “We’ve got three of his church members here already and two other people from Adelberg he doesn’t know about. This isn’t the time for him to be playing pastor. The cold hurt him a lot more than he knows. I don’t really have any justification for hooking him up to anything yet, though. I need him to stay put, keep his blood pressure down. If you could help with that it would be much appreciated.”
Bill agreed to stay and used a telephone in the lobby to call his wife before returning to Glynn’s room. “Looks like they’re not letting anyone leave now,” Bill said as he returned to the chair next to the bed. “Hope you don’t mind being stuck with me for company.”

“Well, you’re not the prettiest guest I could hope for, but since my wife is stuck at home I guess you’ll have to do,” Glynn teased. The two pastors chatted casually for a while and eventually, Hub made his way down to the room, pulled up a chair, and joined the conversation. Hub’s stories did a lot to lighten the mood and kept both pastors laughing.

Marve called to check on her husband and everyone else around 3:00. She didn’t tell him that she talked with Claire before talking with him. The girl’s throat was still raw and her voice hoarse but she had managed to tell Marve she was sorry for over-reacting and causing so much trouble. Marve had done her best to console the girl, telling her that at any other time leaving would have been the right thing to do. Neither did Marve tell him that she’d talked with Dr. Guinn and knew that the odds for either Horace or Tom surviving the night were slim. By the time she talked to Glynn, she knew she needed to paint a picture that glossed over the severity of the entire situation.

“Don’t worry about anything here,” she told him. “With everything that’s happened, no one else is going anywhere. The county superintendent has already closed schools for tomorrow. The radio is saying it’s supposed to be a little warmer tomorrow and that maybe that will melt the ice a bit.”

“How bad were the phone calls this morning?” Glynn asked, knowing that few of his church members were likely to have withheld their opinions.

“You’re going to have some explaining to do, for sure,” Marve warned. “Even your own children want to know why Daddy made Claire cry. You’d best start practicing your humility now. Be glad that news about that Larry Winston guy is distracting everyone.”

Glynn gulped hard. He had assumed no one in Adelberg had seen the newspaper. “So, you know about that?”

“Yeah, it’s been on the radio all day. Alan’s making a lot of noise, saying he wishes he’d killed him at the annual meeting and not many people are disagreeing with him. He’s also suggesting that there needs to be a board or committee to oversee pastors, but you know Alan, he likes talking big.” Marve stopped, wondering if she’d said too much. The last thing she wanted to do was get Glynn more upset than he already was. She carefully brought the conversation to a close, told Glynn she loved him, and hung up hoping that things wouldn’t get any worse while knowing instinctively that they would.

As the afternoon ceded into darkness, the hospital stayed busy. From inside Glynn’s room, the sound of multiple alarms and code alerts made it clear that the small staff was being pushed to their limit. There was no shift change. The same staff that had been on duty when Glynn arrived the night before was still working. The reality was that they needed at least three more doctors and a dozen more nurses. Dr. Guinn knew better than to issue that order, though. Every emergency case they had received that day was tied to the weather in some form. Calling in additional help, risking the lives of doctors and nurses he needed, was out of the question. 

Eventually, a nursing assistant came through handing out trays of food. “Since no one can leave, everyone gets to eat,” she said, apologizing for the lack of selection. She looked weary, her smile forced, half-hearted at best. Everyone needed a break but there seemed to be no break coming. A nurse came and checked Glynn’s vital signs. She then left for a few minutes only to return and hook him up to oxygen, start an IV, and a heart rate monitor, forcing him to lie back in the bed and limit his talking. 

As the hour grew late, Bill figured out that the chair he was in reclined. An orderly brought in a similar chair for Hub along with some blankets. The men felt guilty for relaxing when the staff was getting by on 30-minute naps between emergencies. When Bill asked if there was anything they could do to help, Dr. Guinn had sent back the message that staying out of the halls and keeping Glynn calm was sufficient.

All night long, bells dinged, alarms sounded, code alerts were announced. With each one came the sound of nurses and doctors running back and forth along the hallway. As the night progressed, there was one death, then another, and just before dawn, a third. 

When a nurse checked Glynn’s vital signs the next morning, she took him off the oxygen and IV. An orderly brought them coffee, scrambled eggs, and dry toast. Bill jokingly remarked that this was the worst camp he’d ever attended. Eventually, Bill and Hub both left the room, Hub to check on his ambulance, Bill, ostensibly, to stretch his legs and make some phone calls. 

No one but Glynn was in the room when the door seemed to open by itself. There sat Claire, unescorted, in a wheelchair, her hands and feet still bandaged from the frostbite. She rolled the chair as close to Glynn’s bed as she could. 

He could see that the girl had been crying. He sat up in bed and reached over to take her hand. “I’m so sorry, Claire,” he started.

“My Daddy died last night and they didn’t even tell me,” the girl said in a rough whisper. “I didn’t get to say goodbye. No one got to tell him that he was loved. Mom can’t even get here. And it’s all my fault.”

Glynn got out of bed and knelt beside the wheelchair. “No, Claire, it’s not your fault. If you need someone to blame, blame me. I shouldn’t have talked to you like that. I should have stopped you from leaving.”

Claire shook her head as more tears streamed down her face. She tried to speak but no sound was coming out of her frost-burned throat. 

“I’m so very sorry, Claire,” Glynn said, choking on the lump in his own throat. 

A nurse walked into the room at that moment, interrupting the conversation. “There you are, young lady. You had half the staff panicked because no one saw you leave your room. Come on, let’s go back now. You can talk with Rev. Waterbury later.” 

Claire bowed her head and sobbed hard, giving into all the grief inside her as the nurse pushed her out of the pastor’s room. Glynn wanted to chase after them, wanted to continue apologizing. If anything, the whole matter was his fault.

“Get your backside back up in that bed,” Dr. Guinn said sternly as he suddenly appeared in the doorway. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you earlier. It’s been a rough night. Rev. Winston passed around 11:00 and that was a mess to deal with. Then, Mr. Lyles died around 2:00. It took so long for him to get to us, there really wasn’t anything we could do to repair the damage. Mr. Huddleston passed just before 6:00 and before you and Claire both go off on some guilt trip, he almost certainly had pneumonia at least a day, maybe two before. His lungs were weak from smoking. Even if he hadn’t been out in the cold I doubt we could have saved him.”

The report was a lie, one of those doctors would tell to ease the pain from an unexpected death. The administrator understood the signs of depression and knew that the truth, that yes, Tom had pneumonia from being out in the ice and snow on Friday but would have recovered, could send either Claire or Glynn spiraling into a tomb of self-doubt from which they might not recover. The death certificate would have listed the same cause of death either way. 

“I know you’re anxious to get up and be the great pastor who comforts everyone,” Alton said as he helped Glynn back into bed, “but not today. And if you’re not careful, you won’t be able to help anyone at all. A lot of people live a long time with MS, but you’ve got to respect it and not push or it will kill you.”

Glynn dropped his head back on the pillow, consumed by a grief and darkness he had never known. Questions filled his mind. Where was God? Why was this happening now, right before Christmas? How was he supposed to handle not just one but two funerals of men who were critically important to the community? What was he supposed to say to Claire and Linda? What was he supposed to say to anyone?

There were no answers coming. He prayed, and prayed, and pleaded with God, but all he got for his efforts was the steady beep of the heart monitor.

Our story continues below this break


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Chapter 50

Chapter 50
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Winter funerals are mercifully short. Even packed gymnasiums are still drafty. No one stands around to exchange memories of the deceased. Graveside services are as brief as possible. In almost every instance there is a dominating but unspoken sense of “let’s just hurry up and get this over.” Bereaved families mourn more internally, less expressive, and with greater inward contemplation. 

Glynn managed to preach both funerals without any physical incident, though everyone was certainly watching to see whether the pastor would hold up under the strain. Horace’s service was on Thursday afternoon in the church, every bit as packed as Joanne’s had been a few months earlier. His daughters, sitting on the front row, cried just enough to be respectful but they had already decided between them to put the farm up for sale after the holidays and let Adelberg become a memory in their still-young lives. 

Tom’s service was held in the school gymnasium on Friday. School was canceled for the day and educators from across the region were in attendance. There were some, sitting at the top of the bleachers as far removed from actual mourners as possible, who anxiously watched to see if the preacher would crack, rubbing their hands together not so much to keep warm but in gleeful anticipation that he, too, might become a victim of the grim reaper’s scythe. 

Claire was still in a wheelchair and would be for a couple of weeks as multiple treatments were needed to repair her lungs and throat. Linda hung tightly to Marve as both women still held that it was their own husband’s thoughtlessness, not the other’s, that had brought them to these circumstances. Together, they sat in the cold metal folding chairs placed on the gymnasium floor, realizing that it was the fault-filled nature of humanity that complicated their perspective of the day. Words rushed past their ears without being heard or having any meaning. They left the gym, sad for the necessity of the event, thankful that it was over, hopeful that they would now be allowed to mourn in peace.

Glynn preached short sermons the next two Sundays to a half-empty sanctuary. Not everyone stayed away for the same reason. Some feared a cold rain might turn to ice and bring a repeat of the same deadly conditions. There was also a handful of elderly church members for whom venturing out on cold weather was simply not an option. Among the others, however, lied a blanket of resentment, anger, and mistrust that would never go away. Watching the difficulty with which Linda pushed Claire’s wheelchair into the sanctuary and the manner in which the device partially blocked the center aisle was, in many minds, symbolic of the effects of carelessness. That the pastor’s condition was frail seemed to many to be a just consequence for his part in all that had happened, however small it might have truly been.

In between Sundays, there were many conversations, some hushed, others shouted. In the monthly deacon’s meeting, Alan was not hesitant to charge Glynn with gross negligence and pushed for a vote of no confidence at the next business meeting.

“You’re full of cold dishwater if you think I’m going to let that happen,” Buck charged. “We need to unify this church right now, not split it further apart!”

“Then let the church unify around justice for Tom and Horace and Claire,” Alan pushed back. “Don’t you realize what we’ve lost here? Seat cushions aren’t going to soften the blow to this church’s ability to trust and follow this pastor. He has exhibited a severe lack of judgment and I’m not convinced, nor are many other church members, that he is capable of leading us forward!”

Buck stood and leaned over into Alan’s face as close as he dared, putting a hand on Alan’s shoulder in case he should think of taking a swing. “If anyone other than you is thinking such derogatory and sinful thoughts it’s because you put them in their head, Alan Mayes. We keep finding ourselves on opposite sides of this barbed-wire fence because you are an aggressively power-hungry big mouth who gets off on telling other people what you want them to think. It’s not going to work this time, Alan. I’m standing up to you right now and I will continue to do so. You’re wrong, what you’re doing is sinful, and if there’s anyone who has exhibited a severe lack of judgment here it’s you!”

Alan attempted to stand but with Buck’s hand on one shoulder and Roger Sutherland holding the other, he quickly realized he was overpowered and angrily pushed them both away from him. He was about to fling a bucket of insults at both men when Marcus spoke up from across the room.

“I’ve been in this church longer than either of you,” the elder deacon said quietly, “and I can tell you right now that the greatest damage that has ever been done to this church has been because of this group right here, the deacons, the men who are supposed to be the spiritual foundation of this church, getting into fights and not once thinking of what’s best for the church or considering what God might have intended. I don’t know what you three think we’re supposed to be doing right now, but I can promise you that yelling at each other isn’t going to accomplish a dad-burned thing.”

Buck sat back down in his chair and Roger moved his chair slightly away from Alan’s. Glynn, who had been sitting quietly in his office chair letting the deacons control the meeting, was wishing that he could be completely invisible or, preferably, not present at all. 

Marcus continued. “Look, nothing we say or do is going to change a cotton-pickin’ thing that happened. Yes, mistakes were made by multiple people but the consequences of those mistakes were sufficiently severe that any further action does nothing more than make a bad situation worse. It seems to me that if we can’t stand behind our pastor right now as a united body then we really have no church at all. We’re just playing.”

After several more minutes of tense conversation, the group finally decided to issue a statement of support for Glynn that would be read at the conclusion of the next Sunday’s service. Buck was tasked with typing it up and the other three would sign it before the service. When Glynn finally sat forward in his chair to say something, the men were startled, having all but forgotten that the preacher was still in the room.

The reaction from the church to the deacon’s statement was pallid, though, and did little to sway general opinions in the town. No longer able to take casual walks around to chat with everyone, Glynn felt distanced from his congregation which made his assessment of their response more negative than it needed to be. As the community saw less of the pastor, they less frequently considered him as someone to seek out and their opinions tended to remain negative. 

Cautioned even more about attending potentially emotional events such as associational meetings, Clement would instead drive over and visit with Glynn, letting him know what was happening and trying to pull the pastor’s opinions out of him. Response to Larry’s Winston’s death had been muted. Roger had let everyone know that this was not the time to be speaking ill of their late colleague even if the circumstances did appear damning. Larry had died without any opportunity to defend himself. The whole situation would be allowed to pass quietly away and never spoken of again.

Clement found it interesting that on the same weekend, a pastor down in the Southwestern part of the state, a James Swathmore, had been driving on rain-slickened roads late that night and apparently skidded off the road, down an embankment, and ended upside down in a creek. No one seemed to know whether it was the accident or the cold or the water that had killed the pastor of First Baptist, Latimore. This was just one of those tragic things that had happened. Most of the pastors in the state didn’t find out until after the funeral.

“It’s that time of year when everyone’s swapping churches,” Clement told him. “No one’s really paying attention to anything else going on in the convention. Dr. Hobbs resigned at First, Oklahoma City, but Gene Garrison seems already positioned to take that spot. Jackie Draper’s leaving First Southern, Down City for someplace down in Texas, one of the Dallas suburbs that’s growing really fast. I’m thinking about putting my name in for that one. I think I’ve had about all the closed-mindedness I can handle. What about you? You going to stick it out here?”

Glynn shook his head. “I’ve not even thought about it, really. Until the MS settles down and I know what life is going to be like I don’t think I can consider doing anything different. I’m damaged goods.”

Calvin called a couple of times to check on Glynn’s progress. The calls seemed more formal and obligatory than they had been, though. There were no offers for any kind of additional assistance beyond the assurance that the hospital bill was handled by the convention.  Even Calvin’s seasonal “Merry Christmas” sounded hollow. 

Frances and Marve managed to cobble together a children’s Christmas pageant for the Christmas Eve service. The decision had been made to forego Sunday school that morning and start the service at 10:30, allowing it to be a bit longer yet not slip over much past the noon hour. Richard had the meager choir prepare a couple of seasonal songs that would be presented in a most ear-cringing manner. The sanctuary was decorated with plastic poinsettias and strands of holly that were dusty from having set in a box in a storeroom since the previous Christmas. Brown paper bags were filled with nuts, fruit, and hard ribbon candy to hand out after the service.

Glynn stood in front of the bathroom mirror that morning, attempting to shave while Marve and the children scurried around him. Lita was looking desperately for her white shoes, proclaiming that an angel could only wear white, referring to her role in the Christmas pageant. Hayden was roaming around the house practicing bleating like a sheep. Marve regularly reached around her husband to retrieve something from the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. The accidental bumps and shoves were enough that Glynn was thankful he wasn’t trying to shave with a straight razor. 

“I’m told Christmas is the biggest Sunday of the year,” Marve said as she dried her hands on a towel. “Think it will hold up?”

“There are children in a pageant, right? We may not set any records, but we’ll do okay,” Glynn said. “The kids are the draw this morning, not me. By the time we get to the sermon, half the congregation will be ready to leave. I’ll keep it short, don’t worry.”

Even with the service not starting until 10:30, the Waterbury’s needed to be there by 9:00. There were still decorations to set up, stage props tp get ready, and costumes to fit as children slowly trickled into the fellowship hall. Everyone seemed jovial with Merry Christmases on their lips. 

Claire was out of her wheelchair now, walking carefully in special shoes that helped balance her weight. Two fingers on her left hand were still bandaged but that didn’t stop her from jumping in to help put little ones in costumes. Her voice was still hoarse and raspy, something the doctors assured her would go away over time. She had decided she didn’t mind so much, though, as it made teachers less likely to call on her in class.

The pageant went as small-town pageants do. Some of the “sheep” were mooing. Some of the “cows” were neighing. Of the “host” of angels, only two were singing, Lita being the loudest, proud that she knew all the words to all the songs. “Baby Jesus,” who was nearly two years old, hopped down from “Mary’s” lap when he spied his mother sitting in the congregation. Many pictures were taken. Most of the spoken lines were butchered. No one really cared. Their kids were in the pageant. That was enough.

The pulpit had been moved to provide room for the pageant, so Glynn was a bit nervous about not having anything to hold onto or lean against as he began his sermon. Luke’s account of the birth of Christ had been read twice already, so he skipped any additional scripture reading and jumped straight into his homily.

“Merry Christmas,” he started.

“Merry Christmas,” the congregation replied.

Glynn looked out over the packed congregation, seeing many faces for the first time, almost everyone smiling as though everything was completely normal. “Isn’t it wonderful how practically everyone loves a newborn baby? We love that smell of powder and baby oil. We love the innocence they project. We love the potential they bring for doing something great. Babies are a symbol of the newness of life, a chance for humanity to try again, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, we’ll get it right this time.

“But as we all know, babies don’t stay small and cute forever. They grow up, they develop minds and opinions and wills of their own and as Mary looked down into the wrinkly, reddish-brown skin of the miracle to which she’d given birth, she cherished those simple moments of his childhood. There, in that stable, Mary became Christ’s first disciple. Looking down into that precious face, she believed as only a mother can believe. She knew her child would change the world.

“From that very moment of his birth, however, that child, that little baby, was a challenge to authority. Herod knew it and slaughtered thousands of baby boys in an attempt to silence the message Jesus brought to the world. Even when Mary and Joseph brought their family back from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth because bringing a message that saves the world is not always popular. 

“Jesus, however, didn’t come to be popular. The birth of Jesus Christ represents, more than anything, a new chance for the people of this earth to start over. They had messed up the system of religious laws so badly, they had created such an amazing tangle of nonsense, that God had to either destroy them or forgive them and through the birth of Jesus, he offered us forgiveness.

“We like the sound of that, don’t we? Forgiveness? We are all happy to embrace God’s willingness to wipe our slate clean, let us stand before him pure and blameless. But Jesus didn’t package that forgiveness in a box with pretty ribbons and a cool tag that said, ‘To Glynn, From your favorite Savior.’ The salvation that Jesus offers came packaged in a baby who grew to become a young man who caused a lot of trouble. 

“Jesus was only twelve, still in many ways a child, when he sat in the temple and challenged the religious leaders. Right then, they knew this boy was going to be trouble. As he grew older and began to draw an entourage of rough men and women of questionable reputations, the forgiveness, and healing, and unconditional love Jesus offered became a threat to the religious community.
“Who knew that love and forgiveness could be so controversial?” Glynn paused and looked at Claire as he continued. “Still, today, we’re struggling to figure out the fullness of Christ’s message because it doesn’t always fit comfortably with the structures that we’ve built in our worship of him. We’re just now figuring out that Jesus was all about equal rights. He was practicing and preaching equal rights long before there was a proposed amendment, long before there were feminist magazine articles, and long before there was a civil rights movement. 

“We’ve gone so far in trying to make the story of Jesus fit our own narrative that we’ve eliminated the fact that the twelve disciples we so frequently refer to was a mixed bag of ethnicities whose attachment to Judaism was sometimes more a matter of business than belief. And we’ve all but omitted the role of women in Jesus’ ministry because that doesn’t play well with our concept of patriarchal dominance. 

“In his birth declaration of peace on earth, Jesus brought trouble and conflict to the status quo. The life of that little baby whose birth we celebrate was not comfortable, was not conformative, and often challenged authority. Imagine the brazen audacity of someone who stood up and said, ‘You have to listen to me because my Daddy gave me all authority in heaven and earth and He told me to do this and my Daddy is bigger and better than your Daddy.’ Can you perhaps see why that didn’t go over so well? 

“We come to church this morning enjoying the festivities of the holiday spirit. We enjoy watching the children and we like this simple, rural picture of Christ that we’ve created. We see a baby born in a barn and it feels like he’s one of us. 

“But if we fully embrace the baby in the manger, we have to equally embrace the adult he became and that means we have to embrace the possibility that the way we’ve always thought about God and about the Bible might not be correct. The Rabbis, Sadducees, and Pharisees that Jesus challenged represented thousands of years of study, and there he sat telling them that they were getting it all wrong. If we’re going to embrace the baby in the manger, we have to accept the likelihood that Jesus would tell us the same thing. We’re getting it all wrong.

“Fortunately, for us, there is forgiveness and this baby brings us salvation and a chance to look at the new year with the hope that maybe we’ll do better this time. Maybe we won’t be so quick to judge. Maybe we’ll listen when a teenager challenges our spiritual world view. Maybe we’ll see that sometimes, peace is a revolution.”

Glynn looked out across the congregation and could see that only a handful were still paying attention. Among those, Claire was smiling her biggest smile, Buck was nodding his head in agreement, and Alan Mayes sat on the back row, his arms folded in front of him, an unseasonal scowl on his face. 

The pastor knew that he had not created a smooth path forward for himself. He was painfully well aware of the physical stress and trouble that would come with standing behind what he had just preached. 

As they drove out to Buck and Frances’ house for dinner, the kids in the back seat comparing and trading the contents of their goody bags, Marve reached over and took Glynn’s hand. “That was quite a package you delivered this morning,” she said softly. 

“Merry Christmas,” he said, smiling.


Pastors' Conference 1972

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Pastors' Conference, 1972

We’ve reached the penultimate entry and next week the whole story ends! If you’re just now joining us, there’s a lot to read. Click here to start from the beginning.


Chapter 47

Chapter 47

For the next two weeks, Oklahoma City was the focus of conversation for almost everyone in Adelberg. While Glynn was undergoing sometimes painful and stressful tests, the town occupied itself with attempting to diagnose his illness on their own with polio being the leading favorite. That the BGCO continued to send its top people to fill Glynn’s pulpit, with Assistant Executive-Secretary Lyle Bastion driving up one week and the convention’s Director of Evangelism, James Turner, the next, was barely a matter of concern for anyone who lived in the small town or attended its otherwise-insignificant Baptist church.

Every other pastor in the association noticed, though, and it was a topic of conversation at the pastors’ conferences in both counties. Predictably, it was a different set of concerns voice in each meeting. 

“There are pastors in Ridell County that honestly, fervently, believe that the state convention is going to swoop in and take control of their churches,” Roger told the group assembled at Emmanuel Church in Washataug. “Theirs was one of seven resolutions submitted to the resolutions committee at the convention addressing either the broader topic of heresy and disassociating with those churches, or Adelberg and the two Grace churches here specifically. That the resolutions committee saw to not bring any of those resolutions to the floor is something they see as a sign that either the convention doesn’t care or has already been consumed by its own heresy. Larry Winston is talking about pulling his church out of the convention altogether.”

“Let them go,” Carl said rather grumpily. “What bothers me is the way the folks in the Baptist Building are playing favorites. I called up there and asked Calvin to send someone to cover for me while I went home for my parent’s 50th anniversary and you know who they sent? Some wet-behind-the-ears string bean of a fellow who’s never pastored a church in his life and came in with some strange idea about splitting up the sermon, putting part of it right after the first hymn, and by the time I got back my congregation was as angry as a bunch of hornets. I’m supposed to be gone again after Christmas but I guess I’ll find someone myself.”

“That raises another question,” Roger said, jumping into the conversation to keep Carl’s melancholy from spreading to the rest of the group. “How many of you are doing both services on the 24th? Most of the Ridell churches are only having a morning service.”

A quick poll of the pastors present showed that, for the most part, they too were only holding Sunday morning services on Christmas Eve. Clement was the only one doing anything different. 

“We’re trying something unusual,” the host pastor said. “Since Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday doesn’t happen very often, we’re opting to have just a brief, chapel-like service in the morning for those who insisted, then we’ll have a fuller, extended service starting at 4:00 in the afternoon. The kids’ pageant will start, which pretty much guarantees a packed house, then the youth will do a couple of songs, then we’ll have a candle-lit service starting about the time it gets really dark.”

“That sounds interesting,” Roger said. “I may have to drive over for that.”

Bill’s chair squeaked across the linoleum floor as he leaned back in feined boredom. “I tried talking with my deacons about doing a candle-lit service. They said it sounded too catholic, as if any of them have ever set foot in a Catholic church in their lives.”

One of the newer pastors to the association, Phillip Winetraub, pastor of Washataug’s Olivet church, spoke up. “It is a narrow line, attempting to preserve the faith and message we have as Southern Baptists and still not be so closed-minded that we don’t appear cult-like in our actions. I keep telling my church we need to be more creative in our thinking to draw more people, but every idea that comes up is either too catholic, or too Church of Christ, or too Espicopalian, or something. And I’m with Carl on getting any help from the Baptist Building. I call down there and either get passed around from one person to the next or ignored completely. I’d love just a fraction of the attention Glynn’s getting. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but the rest of us could use some, too.”
“Call Oklahoma City and tell them we’ve all come down with a case of the Bafflement,” Bill said, intentionally injecting some humor into the conversation to keep the conversation from enough tension to ignite any level of anger that might be lurking.

“I’m going down there tomorrow,” Roger said. “I’m checking on Glynn and Marve, seeing as how they won’t be home for Thanksgiving. The medical center isn’t too far from downtown. I might swing by and put a bug in a few ears about them being more generous with their time.”

Clement chuckled as he leaned back in his chair, his posture matching Bill’s. “Good luck with that. If your church’s name doesn’t start with ‘First,’ you’re automatically second tier. I’ve been fighting that battle since I got here. They’ll come up for some big whoop they’re doing over at First church, then when we try to do something similar, they’re suddenly out of resources. That’s why I think the association is so important. We need to not look to Oklahoma City for all our answers and find the support we have, or should have, in each other.”

Roger smiled, glad that Clement had turned the group’s disappointment into an endorsement for the association. While it didn’t take the base issue off the table, it focused attention on the need for them to work together rather than trying to do everything on their own.

Thanksgiving felt as though it was coming early. November 1972 had five Thursdays, which meant that celebrating on the fourth Thursday, as was dictated, had the odd perception it was happening in the middle of the month rather than at the end. Tom and Linda had promised Marve they would bring the kids down to the medical center to see them, but as an early ice storm brought less-than-safe driving conditions to Oklahoma roads, those plans had to be canceled, leaving Marve and Glynn alone in a nearly-empty hospital for the holiday.

Once again, Glynn was feeling better. He could get up and walk around the room, hold conversations for a couple of hours at a time, and not seem to be ill at all. Eventually, though, the energy would leave him, his legs would go weak, he’d begin to feel dizzy, and he’d have to spend the next several hours in bed.

Late Wednesday evening, after nearly everyone except the night-shift nurses had gone home, Dr. Alamin Teller, a specialist in autoimmune diseases, had come to the room and confirmed the MS diagnosis. “At least, that’s what the tests seem to indicate,” he said. “We’ve eliminated every other possibility. There’s still a lot we don’t know. If I could have a look at your brain, that might help, but that kind of technology is still several years away if it ever happens at all. You seem to have a mild case, though, which means that with medication you should be able to return to a fairly normal life. You’ll simply have to learn the warning signs of when you’re about to have a flare-up and make sure you’re someplace safe when that happens. And you should avoid severe stress. Stress makes the flare-ups happen more often.”

Before leaving for the weekend, the doctor prescribed a new batch of medications so that by the time every one returned to the hospital on Monday, Glynn was already showing signs that the medicine was working. The medical center team would spend most of the next week teaching Glynn and Marve how to tell when a flare-up was about to happen, how to increase the time between flare-ups, dietary and exercise adjustments, and how to treat the flare-ups without having to go to the hospital every time. 

As Glynn improved, though, Marve was growing more exhausted. While his private room, paid for by the state convention, included a couch where Marve could sleep, the constant coming and going of the nursing staff prevented her from getting any real rest. She was also missing her babies. Each evening’s phone call tugged strongly at her maternal instincts, telling her that she should be home with them. 

Glynn tried to convince her to take a few days and go home. He insisted that he was doing better and that the nurses were more than sufficient to handle anything that might come up. Each time he almost had her convinced to make the drive home, though, he would have another flare-up, removing any sense that it might be safe for her to leave his side.

“This is going to change the way we do everything,” she told him after a particularly challenging session with a physical therapist. “I don’t know that I’m going to feel safe letting you go anywhere alone now, no matter how innocent it might be. What would you do if you were in an associational meeting and had a flare-up?”

Glynn sighed. “I don’t know that I dare attend associational meetings after all this,” he said. “I mean, Roger’s not going to ban me or anything, but he’s already split the pastors’ conference into two locations. That tells me he’s concerned that the whole thing could blow up again. Associational meetings and those damn pastors conferences were what got me into all this mess in the first place. If I’d just stayed home and minded my own business, we’d be fine.”

Marve reached over and held Glynn’s hand. She could tell he was agitated and given that he’d been having a relatively good day she didn’t want their conversation to mess up his progress. “You’ve made friends, too,” she reminded him. “Clement, Bill, Carl, all those guys have been down to see you. Calvin’s been here almost every afternoon. Several of the Oklahoma City pastors have been here more than once, also. You’ve been in the state less than a year and have already made a big impact, a good one, something you can be proud of.”

“I’ve caused more than my share of trouble, too,” Glynn said, not giving up the argument. “I’m still a Yankee to a lot of these people and a lot of the old animosities that have been in this denomination since its beginning have flared back up.”

“That makes absolutely no sense,” Marve said. “You told me a long time ago that the Southern Baptists split off from the North over slavery. How is that even still relevant?”

“Because the argument then came down to a matter of biblical interpretation. Those pastors from the Southern states were unbelievably finding ways to twist scripture to support their view. They were deplorably wrong but they were also stubborn as heck and refused to back down, so they split, years before the Confederacy took hold. In fact, Southern Baptist pastors of the mid-nineteenth century were some of the biggest traitors since Judas.”

Glynn reached behind him and readjusted his pillows so that he could sit up better. “One of the great challenges to preaching today is that we still understand so little about the original languages and the original texts. The best copies we have are centuries away from when they were first written and we can tell by the difference between one copy and the next that they were tampered with. Catholics still argue with everyone else over which books belong in the Bible and there are people who will challenge whether some of the minor prophets or all of Paul’s epistles should be in there. Almost every page in the Bible has something that Southern Baptists will fight over. They’ve always been that way I don’t see them ever changing.”

“Then maybe being Southern Baptist isn’t what’s best for us,” Marve suggested. “Those Methodist folk seem rather nice and outside the music thing, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of difference between us and the Church of Christ. Perhaps its time to consider our options.”

Glynn shook his head, a movement he had to be careful to not engage vigorously. “I’m damaged goods at this point,” he said quietly. “You heard the doctor the other day. He made it pretty clear that I can only preach one sermon a week, and even those have to be restrained. How’s the church going to handle that? Do we cancel Sunday and Wednesday evening services? Do I let the deacons take turns, because you know that wouldn’t end well? We’re too small to take on an assistant of any kind. They barely pay my salary and expenses. There’s no way they can add to that.”

“They wouldn’t necessarily have to,” Joe said as he let himself into the room. He paused and smiled before continuing. “Good evening, Marve, sounds like he’s feeling better today.”

“If by ‘better’ you mean ornery and cantankerous, then yes, definitely,” she answered, smiling back. 

“And how long have you been standing out there listening to me throwing fits?” Glynn asked, more teasing than not. He didn’t mind that the Executive-Secretary might have heard him complaining. Certainly, he, of all people, could understand the situation.

Joe reached over and shook GLynn’s hand before answering. “Just long enough to confirm that you’re doing exactly what Dr. Teller warned me you’ve been doing. He’s worried that you’re worried and asked if there was anything we could do to help. And the answer is that there might be.”

“Joe, there’s no way you can keep sending people from here all the way up there,” Glynn objected. “I’ve appreciated everyone filling in, but especially with this winter weather trying to pretend it’s Michigan, it’s just not safe.”

“I think we may have a better solution,” Joe said, “And I want you to think about it a couple of days before we mention it to anyone at your church. I’ve talked with Roger, and Floyd Lockman in our state Missions department, and with a couple of people at the Home Mission Board in Atlanta, and I think that we might be able to cobble enough support together to pay for a part-time associate pastor for the church; someone who can fill in those gaps you’re not going to be able to do for yourself.”

Glynn leaned back into the pillows on the bed. His mind was instantly swirling with objections. “I don’t know, Joe. I can see all kinds of problems there. Having to manage a staff member could be just as stressful as doing everything myself. And to whom would he report, me or you guys or the Home Mission Board?”

“We’ve talked about that,” Joe said calmly. “And I think the right person would be more help than hindrance. There’s a retired, widowed pastor who lives in Washataug, his name’s Gordon Winsockit. Clement knows him well. In fact, he’s Clement’s default fill-in any time he has to be gone. He could come over on Sundays and Wednesdays, maybe take care of hospital visits in Washataug for you, and wouldn’t need or likely want to be involved beyond that. He’d still be a church employee and his salary wouldn’t need to be all that much. We’d funnel the collective funds directly to the church so that they stay in control. I’d like you to meet him, maybe give him a turn in the pulpit. Consider the option.”

Glynn considered the offer for a minute. Doctor Teller had warned him repeatedly that trying to return to a normal, busy schedule could have devastating, perhaps even fatal effects. Still, he worried that multiple pastors might result in divided loyalties among the congregation. Would they still want him if the new guy could do just as well without all the health expenses? “Do you think he’d handle the controversy?” Glynn asked. “I mean, to some extent being my assistant is rather like stepping into a powder keg with a lit match.”

Joe smiled in what seemed like a fatherly way, warm and caring yet slightly impatient. “First off, the controversy is about to go away. I was talking with Jackie Draper at First Southern, Down City just yesterday. Some of the same people had been after him over some nonsense about marrying people who’d been previously divorced. This had been going on for over a year, really raising a ruckus among the church down there, and he finally took a full week, last week, and went and visited directly with every one of those guys that’s been causing trouble. Only two of them wouldn’t talk to him, the two who are causing you trouble as well. But he’s effectively dismantled their network. Most of these guys are basically good, trying to do their best, but they don’t have the education and are easily influenced. Jackie’s a gentle educator and was able to get through to them that they’re hurting more than helping. Jerry and James are isolated. They don’t have the support they once did. I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about them after the first of the year.”

Marve leaned in and put her head on Glynn’s shoulder. “I think you should really consider it, honey. This could be the answer you’ve been looking for. I think it would be a good thing.”

Glynn closed his eyes. “Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe he could fill the pulpit this Sunday, see how the people react.”

“I think that’s a good move,” Joe answered. “I’ll talk with Gordon and with Buck, let them both know what we’re thinking. One step at a time, Glynn. We’ll get you there.”


Chapter 48

Chapter 48

Winter in Oklahoma is rarely troubling. Out-of-season tornadoes are more likely than below-freezing temperatures and snowstorms, especially in the Northeastern part of the state. When a super-cold snap does come along, it rarely lingers for more than a couple of days. Ranchers, especially, rely on these mild winters. Cattle are allowed to roam more freely, spend less time in barns, meaning less fat and more meat in addition to lower costs. This was not going to be one of those winters, though. 

Eventually, after tempers died down and a couple of people died, most of those who survived the ordeal admitted that it all could have, should have, been handled differently with deeper consideration all the way around for the feelings and needs of those involved. At the time, though, it was one disaster piling on top of another, some natural, some inevitable, and some born of pure stubbornness. 

Marve brought Glynn back home on the morning of December 1. Knowing the length of the trip and with inhospitable weather in the forecast, Dr. Teller made sure that Glynn was discharged by 8:00 that morning, not an easy feat with all the insurance and medical records that had to be prepared by an overnight staff that wasn’t accustomed to the pressure. The doctor was more concerned with getting the Waterburys on the road before it got too cold than he was with making sure that all the necessary paperwork was complete and correct. Paperwork, he assumed, could always be re-done. Lives couldn’t.

Frances and a couple of other women from the church, along with Ellen Stone next door, had made sure the parsonage was ready when the pastor and his wife arrived a little after 12:00. Having been practically unlived in for the past three weeks, there was plenty of dusting and routine cleaning that needed to be done. Beds were made with clean sheets, the few dishes that had been left in the sink were washed and put away. The refrigerator was stuffed with enough ready-to-eat meals for a week and Frances knew there were more planned for the rest of the month. Irene Hendricks spent the morning insisting everything had to be sanitized, which was largely impractical in such a short time. The women hardly noticed when the rain started. 

Marve thought she felt the back tires of the car slip a couple of times as she drove up the hill to the house but didn’t say anything. There was always enough loose gravel on the street to make a little slipping a rather common occurrence. She was more concerned that there were so many cars in front of the parsonage and that their personal space had been violated without their permission. She tried putting on her happy face as Glynn reminded her that surely everyone’s heart was in the right place and they didn’t have anything to hide in the first place. 

Everyone was excited to see the preacher home and walking without help, even if he was still a little shaky and frail-looking. Glynn settled into his recliner and tried to answer the influx of questions that were being flung at him by the assembled women. He assured them that, yes, while MS is often fatal, that no, he wasn’t dying just yet and that he’d be able to continue being their pastor. He secretly wondered how severe the rumors of his impending death had gotten but decided it was probably better to not ask.

Marve would remember that it was around 1:15 when Buck bounded up the front steps and entered the house as he knocked on the door. “I’m sorry to break up the party,” he said, slightly out of breath, “but the roads are starting to ice. Ya’ll best be gettin’ on home while ya’ can. None of ya’ want to be slidin’ down this hill. Ms. Irene, if you can hop in the truck I’ll take you to the house.” He then turned and warned Frances, who had her own car to drive home, “Be careful ‘bout that turn there at two-mile junction. Between the ruts and the ice you could ruin a tire.”

While the women gathered their assorted cleaning supplies, Buck sat down next to Glyn to confirm that Gordon Winsockit had agreed to fill the pulpit that Sunday, essentially coming in view of a call as associate pastor. The details needed to be worked out and Buck warned that Alan wasn’t completely gung-ho on the idea. Still, he felt sure that the church would agree to Gordon taking the position since it wasn’t going to directly cost them any money.

On his way out the door, Buck looked up at the unusually dark sky and said, “I think I’ll stop by the school and suggest Tom call the buses to take those kids home. This storm’s lookin’ like it’s gonna cause some trouble.” 

Later, Tom would tell the school board that he hadn’t heeded Buck’s advice because it was less than two hours before the busses would run anyway. By the time he called all six drivers and got them into town, it would have only made 10-15 minutes worth of difference. His assessment was almost certainly correct but not popular. School let out at the normal time with parents carefully inching along slick roads to pick up children who would normally have walked. The incidence of a couple of small fender-benders was a bit of a nuisance, perhaps, but Tom insisted that all six drivers felt confident they could get their kids home safely.

By 3:40, the sky was dark enough it felt like the evening had arrived early. Claire and Linda had dropped off Lita and Hayden but hadn’t stayed owing to the weather. The kids were, naturally enough, excited that their Daddy was home and Marve found herself repeating warnings that jumping on Daddy was not going to be acceptable. Neither child was inclined to listen, though, as each little body contained volumes of information that had been stored under pressure, waiting to explode in a torrent of chatter so severe all Glynn could do in response was nod.

The couple had already decided that Marve was to answer the phone exclusively for the foreseeable future. She was to use her discretion in determining which messages were important enough to be passed on to Glynn. When Rose called, however, Marve had to take a moment to decide how, exactly, to break the news in a way that wouldn’t have him wanting to jump up and run out the door.

“Who was that?” Glynn asked as Marve walked into the living room and sat down.

In the distance, the sound of the siren on the ambulance echoed through the town, its long wail piercing the quiet that inevitably comes with a winter storm. Everyone in town heard it, but only three people knew what the emergency was and where the ambulance was going. Had more people know, they would have done their best to respond.

“That was Rose,” Marve said as nonchalantly as she could. “She knows you’re in no condition to really do anything, but wanted you to be aware that apparently, a bus slid off the road out toward Bluebird.”

Glynn sat up in his chair and leaned forward, a dozen questions rushing to his mind. “Did she say which bus? There are two that go out that way, Gary’s and Norman’s. Gary’s route splits off at the old feed silo and goes north. Norman’s goes on down to Bluebird Road then heads south. Were any of the kids hurt? I mean, I guess someone was if Hub is going out there. She didn’t say how many kids were still on the bus, did she?”

Marve reached over and put her hand on Glynn’s arm. “She didn’t tell me a thing other than Hub’s on his way. This is one of those situations we talked about, honey. You can’t do anything but wait for more information. If anyone actually needs you, then maybe the kids can go next door to the Stone’s a play while I take you. But until then, just sit back and try to not let it get to you.”

No one ever called to say that Glynn was needed, though perhaps had he been out there, he might have helped cool tempers who were blaming Tom for the injuries. Norman Reed’s bus had slipped off the narrow dirt road and turned over in the four-foot-deep ditch. Norman broke a leg and his right shoulder. Two children, high school students, both boys who had been standing up at the time, waiting for their upcoming stop, had broken arms. Almost all fifteen of the remaining students had cuts and gashes from the glass, a few of which needed stitches.  

Hub wished that he could have gotten Norman and the kids to the hospital faster, but the roads wouldn’t allow it. The last thing he needed was to slide off the road himself and perhaps make the situation worse. He had no choice but to drive painfully slow, Norman on the gurney in the back with one of the teens sitting next to him, and the other teen sitting up front with Hub. The only sound other than the constant, annoying wail of the siren was an occasional groan from Norman. What would have normally been a 12-minute drive took almost an hour. 

By 5:00, it was not quite dark but it was close enough that one couldn’t see much without a light of some kind. A half-inch of ice coated everything, which doesn’t sound like much until one tries to walk on it and suddenly finds themselves sprawled out in the middle of the road. The ice was practically invisible in most places, making the danger even worse. Parents retrieved their children from the overturned bus, shouted obscenities at Tom for not having acted sooner, then took their kids home to bandage. While some would have benefited from going to the hospital, no one was worried enough to risk the trip. There wasn’t a farmhouse in the county that didn’t have quinine and bandages at the ready. Parents would take care of their own.

Marve pulled the first casserole out of the refrigerator and put it in the oven to heat. As much as she loved cooking, she was thankful to not have that obligation in front of her for the moment. The kids were always excited to try something different, though, in this case, their excitement was dampened when they discovered the casserole was all vegetables, especially heavy with carrots. Still, there was rhubarb pie for dessert and everyone left the table happy. Lita helped her mother clear the table while Glynn and Hayden retreated to the living room. Hayden played with his toy cars in front of the television he was ignoring. The national news broadcast was on now, serving merely as background noise as Glynn watched out the front window. 

Snow was falling. Perhaps, under some other set of circumstances, Glynn might have been thankful for the large, fluffy flakes that quickly placed a white blanket over the small town. The snow reflected the light from street lamps and sparkled enticingly in the darkness. The pastor knew from experience, though, that this snow was dangerous. If the ice had been difficult to see before, it was completely hidden now. Any traction one might have in a normal snowfall was gone when there was ice underneath. Anyone with any sense would stay inside until the county sent out salt trucks to help melt the mess. There was no chance of that happening before morning. 

The phone rang four more times that evening. The first was Frances letting Marve know that they were expecting the Waterburys to have Christmas dinner with them. She was making the call early so that Marve wouldn’t need to worry about buying additional food. Marve asked multiple times if she could bring anything but Frances insisted that all they needed to do was show up.

Two minutes later, Buck called back, upset that Frances hadn’t bothered to ask how the pastor was doing. Marve assured him that all was well except for the fact Glynn was frustrated at feeling helpless given the weather. Buck assured them that most everyone was feeling that way and went ahead and floated the idea that if the county didn’t get the roads salted on Saturday that they might want to cancel Sunday’s services. They all knew that if the doors were open, there were a handful of older church members who would insist on being there or at least trying. They didn’t need to be responsible for anyone else getting hurt.

Claire called next, upset with something she had read in a book she had gotten on interlibrary loan. Marve conferred briefly with Glynn and they agreed that Claire could come over, and bring the book, Saturday morning on the condition that she walked for her own safety. The teen was excited to have the pastor’s attention for a while. Glynn, on the other hand, dreaded the distinct possibility that he wouldn’t have the answers she wanted. Claire wasn’t yet in college and already her level of religious studies exceeded his.

Gordon Winsockit was the final call for the night. Roads in Washataug were as bad as those in Adelberg and Gordon was concerned as to whether he would be able to make the scheduled visit with Glynn on Saturday afternoon, especially if weather forecast held true and the snow continued through the night. They agreed that if such was the case they would talk instead by phone, each thankful that calls within the county were not considered long distance. 

By the time Glynn finished the conversation with Gordon, Marve had put the kids to bed and made hot tea for them both. They sat together on the sofa watching the late local news from Tulsa as best as they could, primarily for the weather forecast. The wind kept playing with the television antenna on the roof of the house, though, making the reception almost as snowy as the conditions outside. When they finally made their way to bed, thoroughly exhausted, that had little hope of Saturday being the least bit productive. 

Sleeping in would have been nice and appreciated, but with two children in the house anxious to watch the very first cartoon that showed up on television, that was impossible. Marve tried to convince Glynn to stay in bed and rest while she got up and fixed the kids’ cereal for breakfast, but he was too restless after a night of worrisome dreams that challenged his adequacies on every level. Besides, the aroma of fresh coffee was too enticing to ignore. The pastor got up, slipped on a loose-fitting shirt, old slacks, and a pair of slippers that had barely been worn. 

The first phone call came at 7:30. Alan’s message that the county was not going to be able to get over to Adelberg until after noon could have easily enough been relayed through Marve, but he insisted on speaking with Glynn directly. His reasoning soon became clear. Alan wanted to be the first to suggest that the church cancel the next day’s services. He felt certain that the late arrival of salt trucks would mean that little would melt and that what did would likely turn back to ice overnight, making the roads just as dangerous. The deacon also expressed doubts as to whether a person as old as Gordon needed to be driving in such cold and hinted that perhaps the pastor himself could return to the pulpit if they waited a week.

Glynn took the call relatively calmly at first, but the longer Alan talked the more agitated the pastor could feel himself becoming. Finally, after listening to Alan’s negative reasoning, Glynn snapped, “Look, I have to consider what’s best for the entire church, not what’s best for Alan Mayes. I appreciate your opinion but I’ll talk to others as well and we’ll ultimately do what’s best for the entire congregation.” He knew the moment he hung up the phone that he’d been too brusk but he ignored the voice in his head that urged him to call back and apologize.

Horace called shortly after 8:00, urging the pastor to postpone any decision about morning services. The farmer was convinced that he could marshal enough tractors with shovel blades attached to the front to scrape the town’s streets once they’d been salted. He told Glynn that the country roads weren’t as bad since the ice didn’t have the same effect on mud as it did on asphalt. Glynn agreed to wait and give Horace a chance to address the roads before making a decision. Glynn was the only one in town, however, who would give Horace such a positive response. 

The telephone refused to stop ringing. Marve was able to handle most of the calls. Yes, Glynn was feeling better and enjoying being home. No, Sunday services hadn’t been canceled yet but could be later in the day. Yes, they had sufficient food and supplies to get them through the snap of bad weather. 

When Roger called a little after 9:30, he was careful to press Marve as to whether Glynn might be up to handling some difficult news. The Director of Missions was hesitant to give Marve any details, telling her only that one of the pastors had been involved in an accident and the circumstances were raising some questions. When Marve handed the phone to Glynn, Roger still did a verbal dance asking Glynn how he was feeling and how the church was responding before getting down to the purpose of his call. 

“Listen, I called primarily because I wanted you to hear the news from me before it likely shows up in tomorrow’s papers,” Roger said, his voice quiet and somewhat conspiratorial in tone. “Larry Winston was in a car accident last night and is in critical condition at Baptist Hospital. The accident itself wasn’t his fault. He was parked along the street there in front of the Five and Dime when a guy in a pickup, driving too fast on the ice, slammed into him pretty hard, squashing his car up next to the building.”

Glynn hoped his voice sounded somber enough when he said, “I’m truly sorry to hear that. Is he going to be okay? Was his wife with him?” He wanted to sound concerned but he was having trouble holding back the thought that the trouble-making pastor was getting what he deserved.

Roger hesitated before continuing, knowing that what he was about to say could be taken as a form of character assassination if it proved untrue. “That’s just the trouble, Glynn, his wife wasn’t with him. This was a bit after 10:30 last night and there was a 14-year-old boy in the front seat with him.”

“What?” Glynn exclaimed loud enough that the kids looked up from their cartoons. “You’re not suggesting…”

“Hold on, it gets worse,” Roger said, interrupting. “The boy died at the scene. His body is completely smashed.”

Glynn felt his stomach turn. He didn’t like where this story was going. “Oh dear…” he said softly.

Roger continued, “To make matters worse, Glynn, the police are saying Jerry was drunk. There was a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the car and his blood-alcohol level was so high the hospital had to start a transfusion before they could treat his injuries. Then, they’re telling me, almost joking about it in fact, that Jerry has his pants down around his ankles. They’re laughing about it, but Glynn, you know as well as I do what’s going to happen if this hits the papers.”

Glynn fought back the urge to throw up. “Any chance you have enough influence at the paper to get them to hold off on the article? Sunday morning is a bad time for that to hit.”

“Only if something more sensational comes along,” Roger said. “I know some of our churches have already canceled services tomorrow because of the weather and I am tempted to look at that as a good thing, but at the same time, if they’re all home reading an article like this, that may or may not have its facts straight, they’re going to leap to conclusions that may not be true and it could be another week before we have a chance to address them. By then it will be too late. The damage to our reputations as pastors and as a denomination will be severe.”

Glynn didn’t want to hear this. As much as he personally disliked Larry, this stood to become an issue that would plague the church for years if it wasn’t tamped down. They would all be painted negatively and regarded with suspicion. “What about the boy’s parents? Have you talked with them? How are they reacting?”

“They’re understandably devastated,” Roger replied. “He was their younger of two sons. They said he had been in trouble a bit earlier in the year and that Larry had taken a special interest in him over the past couple of months. They said his behavior had changed in that time, that he had become more reclusive, but they didn’t mind much because at least he wasn’t in trouble. They’re a poor family. Dad drives a truck, isn’t home much. They’re worried about how to pay for the funeral. It will have to be a closed casket, though. That poor kid’s body is hardly recognizable as human.”

“Maybe we can pay for the funeral,” Glynn suggested. “Not the association directly, of course, but maybe the pastors pool their money. Let the family see us as good guys and perhaps they’ll not look too deeply into what Larry was doing with their son.”

Roger gave the idea some thought. “That might work. Let me talk with Bill and some of the other pastors over here. Let’s try to keep the whole matter quiet for now. If you hear any rumors, try to play them down. I’ll see if I can contact the reporter at the paper. I can’t ask them to lie, but maybe they could leave out some of the more damning issues. Get them to focus on the guy who was driving the truck that hit them.”

Glynn agreed that sounded like a good approach to take. After a little more “how are you feeling” chatter, the call ended just as Claire knocked on the door. She was carrying a rather large suitcase and both she and the suitcase were covered in snow.

Marve answered the door with, “Good heavens, Claire! I didn’t know you are moving in!”

The teenager shook off the snow before stepping inside then answered. “I didn’t know any other way to safely bring the books with me. They’re old and I didn’t want them to get wet. But yeah, Mom had me bring some spare clothes in case the weather gets too bad for me to walk home. Neither she or Daddy want to drive up the hill to get me and after the bus thing yesterday, I’m not sure Daddy should be out at all. He came home coughing and sneezing and I’m pretty sure he has a fever.”

Marve helped Claire get her coat off then laughed at the half-dozen additional layers of clothes she had worn. “How did you even walk in all that?” Tea was made. Friendly chatter was exchanged. Both kids had to have their turn at talking to Claire. Finally, Claire opened the suitcase and pulled out two ancient-looking volumes, neither of which were in English. 

Glynn looked at the books and warned, “I hope you’re not expecting me to translate those for you.”

Claire laughed as she opened the books to pages she’d bookmarked. “No, it’s simple German so the translation isn’t that big of deal. You remember Junias who was in prison with Paul?”

The pastor had to stop and think. The name was certainly familiar but had she pressed he couldn’t have told her exactly where the person was referenced. “I think so,” he said cautiously. “Refresh me.”

“Romans 16:7. Paul tells them to salute Junia and Andronicus, who had been in prison with him and were apostles before him,” she explained. “For the most part, everyone seems to treat that as a throw-away verse. But then I came across a place in a book I was reading a couple of months ago that referred to Junia as actually being Junias in the oldest manuscripts and that kinda changes things because Junias is feminine. How could there have been female apostles, right?”

Glynn simply nodded and let the girl talk as she went on about the evidence that existed that there had not only been female apostles but disciples as well, that Peter’s wife and several others were just as large a part of Jesus’ ministry and the growth of the early church as were any of the men involved. Her argument was detailed and involved and all Glynn could do was try and keep up. There was little of it that he understood.

“I guess maybe this could explain why Paul felt he needed to go all-in with the ‘men are the head of women’ thing in Timothy,” Claire continued. “I think he was threatened by the fact that the women were staying more true to the original cause of Christ while Paul and Peter and the others were getting distracted by the whole power structure, which was probably what eventually got them all killed.” She paused and looked up for a second before asking, “So, what am I supposed to do with this? I don’t have to keep reading a bunch of reference books to know that the Church has gotten this wrong. Paul said himself that there is no male or female, jew or greek, but I’m afraid if I say anything I’m just going to get talked down at, told I need to shut my mouth and listen to the men, and honestly, Pastor Glynn, I think the Church needs a feminist movement but I don’t know how to start one.”

Glynn leaned back in his recliner and sighed. “You’re not going to like my response, Claire. First of all, I’m not sure you’re right. I’ll admit that I haven’t studied the matter nearly as much as you have, but basing your argument on a couple of hidden statements in 19th-century books hardly seems conclusive. I mean, how do you know that the authors of those books were even legitimate scholars themselves?”

He leaned forward so that there wouldn’t be as much distance between them and added, “Look, Claire, I love how excited you are about the Bible and going to Princeton and everything. You’ve already got me beat by a mile. I can’t even keep up with you anymore. But the reality is that you’re going up against centuries of tradition and study, and you’re a girl. I’ve been yelled at for the past four months because I dared to say that death is an absolute. How do you think they’re going to respond to the idea that there were female disciples or a feminist re-writing of the Bible? They’re going to tear you apart, Claire. They’re going to tear you apart and they’re going to enjoy doing it because it makes them feel righteous.”

Tears welled up in the teen’s eyes. She closed the books and put them back in the suitcase. “So, you’re telling me I’m wasting my time, that I should just shut up and not rock the boat.”

“No, not at all… “ Glynn started, but Claire wasn’t paying any attention. 

“I’ll just go before the weather gets any worse,’ she said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry to have bothered you. I thought maybe you’d be different.”

Marve tried to convince Claire to stay. Another inch of snow had fallen since the girl had arrived. There were no signs of salt trucks or plows. No one else was out. Claire refused to listen. With all her layers of clothes back on and her coat fastened tightly around her, she kissed each of the kids good-bye and headed out the door into the cold.

Marve turned and glared at Glynn. “You couldn’t have humored her just a little, could you? You just crushed that little girl’s dreams. If something happens to her on the way home, it’s your fault.”

Barely a word was spoken between the couple the rest of the day. Marve’s anger only seemed to grow as the day wore on. Glynn, not feeling up for the fight, simply stayed quiet, making the situation worse in doing so.

Gordon called at 3:00 and Glynn answered the phone himself. “The roads are horrible and no one seems to be doing anything about it,” he said. “There’s no way I can make it over there tomorrow.”

“That’s understandable. Would you like to push it out a week?” Glynn offered. 

There was a long silence on the other end of the phone line. The older preacher finally said, “No, let’s wait until after the holidays. I think your church needs to hear from you. If I have my timeline correct, it’s been what, nearly a month? You’re their pastor. They need a sound of hope. They need a reason to rejoice this Christmas season. I think I’d rather wait and after the first of the year we can talk about whether you really need an associate.”

“If I can make it through the stress of Christmas events and services, I doubt we’ll need to have a conversation at all,” Glynn fired back a little more roughly than he intended.

Again, there was measured silence before Gordon responded. “You’re probably correct. You know where I am if you need me.”

The line went dead and Glynn stood there holding the phone not quite sure what had just happened. He hung up the phone and almost immediately it rang.
“We have to cancel services,” Buck said the instant the pastor answered. “One of the county’s salt trucks slid into a ditch and now they’re not sending out any of the others. We’re stuck.”

“What about Horace?” Glynn asked. “I thought he was going to try and …”

“Yeah, that didn’t work,” Buck said, interrupting. “No one wanted to risk their tractors in this mess. I think he tried getting his tractor out, but I’m not sure he made it very far.”

“Okay, then,” Glynn conceded. “Let everyone know.” He sat down in his recliner and barely moved until dinner time. Even then, the table was mostly quiet. Even the kids picked up on the level of stress in the house and kept their chatter to a minimum. 

Marve was clearing away the dinner dishes when the phone rang one last time. It was Linda. “Is Claire spending the night with you guys?” she asked. “She was supposed to call me by 3:00 if she was and I haven’t heard anything. Just wanted to check.”

Two minutes later, Marve came to the living room door and tossed Glynn’s parka at him. “Put that on and find your boots. I don’t care how sick you are, you need to go find Claire.”

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Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 45

Chapter 45

“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.”


Chapter 46

Chapter 46

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.


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Pastors' Conference, `971, ch. 41-42

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Chapter 41

By the time Sunday came around, Glynn’s anxieties were showing in ways only Marve noticed. The tone of his voice wasn’t as bright as normal. He paused more when talking. He relied more heavily on his sermon notes than usual and lost his place more than once. He cut the invitation so short that he caught the entire congregation by surprise. 

Anyone who might have known what was going on would have excused Glynn’s behavior. Hayden’s eye surgery the next morning was enough to make any parent anxious. Adding to that, however, was the looming arrival of Marve’s parents and that was enough to make the pastor forgetful and seem unattentive. Glynn was good enough at maintaining his composure in public that no one seemed to notice. They were caught up in their own lives with plenty of worries to keep them from noticing the few anxious tics of their pastor.

Marve noticed, though, because she was as anxious as her husband, if not more so. As the weekend had progressed, Hayden was asking more questions about the surgery, and the more questions he asked the more anxious she became. It didn’t matter that the doctors boasted a 90 percent success rate with the surgery nor that the team was widely considered to be one of the best in pediatric ophthalmology surgery across the United States. What mattered was whether her little boy would be safe and if Marve could contain her anxieties through what was expected to be a two-hour long surgery. 

Lita seemed excited to see her grandparents again, but she was the only one who felt that way and her bubbly attitude about everything, including getting to ride to school with Claire and Linda, was the dominant noise over lunch. Hayden finished his chicken leg and mashed potatoes then went to his room to play with his cars. So much was happening that he didn’t understand. His visual world was getting fuzzier but the concept of cataracts was more than he could comprehend. How could he have something in his eye that he couldn’t see when he looked in the mirror? Why couldn’t Mommy take it out? Playing with cars was an easy way to avoid those questions and Lita’s annoying babbling.

Glynn helped Marve clean the lunch dishes then made one final inspection of the house before her parents’ arrival. They had decided to let the Roberts use their bedroom and Glynn and Marve would sleep on the sofa’s pull-out bed. Fresh sheets were on both beds, clean towels were laid out, everything was precise, and in order. All they had to do was wait. 

The trip from the Roberts’ home in Hadelsville in the Southeastern corner of the state to Adelberg was a little over three hours long, depending on how many times one needed to stop. Being a Sunday, there weren’t many options for stopping in the first place so Marve was expecting her parents to show up somewhere around 3:00. They didn’t. 4:00 passed and still no sign of them. By 5:00 Marve was beginning to worry. She called their home to make sure they were still coming and got no answer. She assumed they were on their way. She worried that their car might have broken down or had a flat tire. There were long stretches of highway with no shoulder and no pay phones closeby to call for help. 

Glynn had to leave for Training Union, the denomination’s Sunday-evening emphasis on teaching doctrine, at 5:45. Marve had said she’d bring her parents with them for the evening service. Surely they’d arrive by then. They didn’t. After the service, for which Glynn’s sermon was even more disjointed than the morning’s had been, the pastor called the parsonage to see if they’d at least called. Marve had heard nothing and was beside herself with worry. Glynn talked briefly with Tom and Linda to make arrangements for Claire to spend the night at their house. 

Hayden was sound asleep, his small suitcase packed and sitting ready at the foot of his bed, by 9:00. The girls were in bed even though their excited whispering could be heard clearly in the living room. Marve was certain that something horrible had happened to her parents and was pacing frantically. 

The evening news was ending and Glynn was about to suggest they go on to bed and try to sleep when headlights poured through the living room window as the Roberts’ car pulled into the driveway. Marve ran out to greet her parents, tearfully excited that they were indeed safe and extremely curious as to what had caused the delay.

“Your father, you know how he is about not looking at maps and not asking directions,” Mrs. Roberts explained, “got us so very lost that we ended up in Arkansas and didn’t know what to do but turn around and drive back the way we came. Then we had trouble finding a gas station that was open. And it got dark and we still weren’t sure we were on the right highway, so we got lost a couple of more times though not as bad.”

“Why didn’t you at least call?” Marve asked, as her worry began to be replaced with anger.

“We thought about it a couple of times and I guess we should have, but you know, your father and I don’t either one carry that much change and we didn’t want you to have to pay for a collect call,” her mother said. “I’m sorry if we caused you to worry, but at least we made it here safely, right?”

As Marve showed her mother into the house, Glynn helped his father-in-law with the luggage. Despite the brevity of their trip, they had packed four large suitcases and two overnight bags, all of which were extremely heavy.

Edward and Virginia Roberts were a near-perfect example of how opposites attract. Edward, who as always called Edward, never Ed nor Eddie, was tall and thin to the point of being lanky. He tended to be quiet and soft-spoken, wearing blue and white striped Roundhouse overalls with black round-toed boots everywhere except to church. He could sit in a room and go completely unnoticed until he lit his pipe, which only happened when he was bored. 

Virginia, on the other hand, was shorter than Marve by about an inch and round in a happy sort of way that made it easy to assume that she enjoyed cooking, which she did. Known as Ginny to her friends, Mrs. Roberts could hold a conversation totally on her own for over an hour without actually saying anything of value. She was the type of person who had opinions about everything and was quite certain that everyone else in the room was interested in hearing them even if the topics were not necessarily appropriate for the audience present. She had insisted that they pack extra clothing in case something happened and they needed to stay longer, though she insisted, they really couldn’t stay past Thursday because she was the secretary of the flower club and absolutely could not miss their meeting on Friday. 

Marve and her mother were in the bedroom by the time Glynn and Edward managed to wrangle the suitcases into the house. The sudden increase in volume from Ginny’s talking had awakened both children, who had run excitedly to see their grandmother, while Claire stood off to the side, observing. Another 30 minutes would pass before Marve could get the kids back in bed. Claire pulled her to the side and suggested giving her mother a call, asking her to arrive a few minutes early in the morning for fear that Ginny’s neverending conversation might otherwise make them late for school. 

Only when he looked at his watch and saw that it was nearly midnight did Glynn insist that everyone needed to go to bed. Making the day-long trip was hard enough and only getting three hours’ sleep was going to make it all the more difficult. Not that he nor Marve could get any rest. Marve worried whether she had given her mother enough instruction to be able to find everything she would need to prepare meals. Glynn kept going over the route to Oklahoma City, wondering which truck stops and service stations would be open along the way. He knew they would have to leave promptly by 4:00 in the morning to make it to the hospital in time to get Hayden checked in and ready for surgery. 

As it turned out, the couple’s mutual anxieties helped provide them with more than enough energy to get up early and be on the road by 3:45. Hayden, of course, immediately fell asleep in the back seat and one she was confident that Glynn had the driving well in hand, Marve was able to nap for a few minutes. They arrived in Oklahoma City with time to spare, checked in at the hospital, and then helped Hayden change into the hospital gown and get ready for his surgery.

Marve was caught by surprise when they wouldn’t let her go with Hayden into the surgical prep area where he was given a light general anesthetic. Instead, she was ushered into a separate room where she was given a surgical gown and mask with instructions on how to scrub her hands, all the way to the elbows, in the same manner as the surgical staff. She was then taken to the surgical center where the nurse explained everything that would be happening during the surgery, where Marve was to sit, and the importance of her not moving from that spot unless her presence was requested by the doctor. 

Glynn was taken to an office where he filled out what seemed like an endless amount of paperwork then was shown to the waiting area. For the moment, he was the only one there. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the 20-gallon pot provided by the hospital auxiliary, picked up a newspaper, and sat down to wait. He never had been all that consumed with politics, which is all the front section seemed to contain, but at least the Sooners were having a good season and the comics were amusing.

As additional people came into the waiting area, Glynn fought back the urge to pastor them. He had to remind himself with each new occupant of the white-tiled space that he wasn’t their pastor, they didn’t know him, and no one had asked for his services. He wasn’t there as a pastor, but as a Daddy to a very frightened little boy. Being a pastor was a lot easier, he decided, as the anxiety of waiting and the slowness with which time seemed to pass created a sense of tension and worry where every possible negative outcome was imagined and had to be pushed down.

An hour into waiting, Glynn was on his fourth cup of the stale coffee, trying to make sense of the articles in the business section of the paper, when a man about his own age walked in, looked around as if expecting to find someone he knew, poured a cup of coffee, and then, because it was the only seat left, sat down next to Glynn. Glynn smiled and nodded politely and perhaps wouldn’t have given the man’s presence a second thought had it not been for the fact that, like Glynn, and unlike everyone else in the room,  the man was wearing a suit. Marve had tried to get Glynn to dress more casually for the day, but he had insisted that he was more comfortable in the tie and jacket and that it would be more appropriate should the need arise to minister to someone in the room. 

A few minutes passed before the man, likely desperate for some distraction from the boredom, glanced at the section of newspaper Glynn was reading and said, “Domestic crude is really taking a beating, isn’t it?”

Glynn nodded. “I guess so. I really don’t understand the whole 30-day, three-month, six-month thing. I know I’ve never seen gas at forty cents a gallon until this morning.”

“It’s all a calculated guessing game designed to maximize profit in an unstable environment,” the man said. “We produce a lot of oil in Oklahoma and that comes at a calculated cost. When we go to sell that oil, though, we have to compete against foreign providers and increasingly, especially with changes in politics, providers like OPEC have been able to beat our prices by quite a bit, forcing us to drop prices considerably if we want to compete. No one in Washington seems to understand that it’s already putting a number of smaller oil companies out of business.”

“I thought the oil business was one of the most lucrative in the state,” Glynn said, surprised by what he was being told.

The man shifted his position in the chair so that it was slightly less uncomfortable to engage in conversation. “It’s lucrative if you own the land or own the company. Right now, we’re producing more oil than we can sell. Companies are starting to cap new wells rather than pull the oil from them. Too much oil drives the price down and OPEC has been producing double what they were and now the market’s flooded.”

Glynn nodded as though he understood. He wanted to understand, but numbers and corporate business had always been concepts he found it difficult to grasp. He looked at his watch anxiously, knowing that the surgery should be over soon if everything had gone well.

“Waiting’s never easy, is it?” the man commented.

“I guess not. The last time I was in a waiting room like this was when my son was born,’ Glynn responded. “Now, he’s in there having surgery and it’s taking everything I have to not let the worry drive me crazy.”

“That’s probably true for pretty much everyone in here,” the man replied, crossing his legs and pulling a pack of cigarettes from his suit coat pocket. “You mind if I smoke?”

Glynn shook his head. He didn’t smoke cigarettes, never had found a taste for them, and he particularly didn’t like being in a room like this where the smoke hung thick around the ceiling. He didn’t feel as though he had any right to object, though. While he felt that smoking and drinking both violated the Biblical mandate for keeping one’s body “clean before God,” smoking was the less obvious of the two sins and one that even a number of preachers did with no apparent thought to paradox. The concept that smoking was dangerous was still relatively new and not a warning many people in the Southwest took seriously. 

The preacher walked over and refilled his coffee cup yet again. He was about to return to his seat when he saw Marve coming down the short hallway. He hurried over, catching her well short of the waiting room. “Well, how’d it go?” he asked anxiously.

Marve gave him a big hug and said, “It was just fine. One of the nurses kept telling him silly jokes so he giggled all the way through it. And he asked a lot of questions. He got a little impatient toward the end and kept asking how many more pieces they had to remove. But he likes the eye patch he has to wear. He’s certain that he’s a pirate now.”

Glynn laughed as much from relief as with the thought of Hayden playing pirate. “So, what happens now? Are they taking him to a room?”

Marve nodded as they walked to the waiting room. “They told me to come down here while they get him in a room and get everything set up. They want to monitor him coming off the anesthesia. They said sometimes there can be some lingering pain and they want to address that. We should be able to see him in a few minutes. How have you done out here? Did they have enough coffee?”

“Yeah, just sitting here talking with a guy about oil prices,” Glyn answered. “Not like I know what he’s talking about.”

Marve stopped walking. “Wait, you don’t know anything about oil prices. Is this guy a couple of inches taller than you, good looking, probably wearing a suit and acting like he owns the building?”

Glynn started, “Well, he is wearing a suit, but…”

Marve ran the rest of the way to the waiting room and began looking through the crowd of people standing around. She found him quickly. “Doug!” she nearly shouted. “You came! You never said for sure so I wasn’t expecting you!”

As the two embraced tightly, Glynn calmly walked over and extended his hand. “I guess I should have introduced myself. I’m Glynn Waterbury.”

Doug shook Glynn’s hand. “Doug Carmichael. Nice to finally meet you.” Turning to Marve he asked, “Did everything go okay?”

Marve nodded. “He did just fine. Can you stay long enough to meet him? He’d be so excited!”

“Sure! I took the day off to ‘do some field research,’ so we have plenty of time to catch up. It’s been so long! You grew up good, baby sister!” Doug looked back at Glynn. “You know, the last time I saw her was at her high school graduation, and that was only because I snuck into the back of the auditorium and left before our parents could see me.”

“Oh, I’m sure nothing’s changed,” Glynn teased. “She’s still as spry and lively as she was when she was 17.”

“Sure, with a few more wrinkles and a lot more weight than I had then,” Marve said. “How are Barbara and the kids?”

“Spoiled,” Doug said with a big smile. “Barb will be up here around noon. She’s anxious to meet both of you. I’m afraid we’ve gotten so accustomed to staying away from both our families that we’ve neglected the ones we still care about.”

“You don’t see her family, either?” Glynn asked, hoping that he wasn’t prying too much so early in getting to know his brother-in-law.

If the question bothered Doug he didn’t show it. “No, her parents divorced when she was six. We don’t know even know if her dad is still alive. He’s a raging alcoholic, spent some time in jail, and the last anyone heard from him he was in Arizona. Her mom drinks almost as much, has a number of health problems, and the temper of a woman who blames her children and the world for her life not being perfect. Barb has three older brothers but we’ve not seen them since we got married. One’s in Seattle, one in Texas, and the other in Philly. We exchange Christmas cards but other than that there’s no one anxious to have a family reunion.”

The rest of the day was spent exchanging all the information and details of the past several years. Hayden was recovering well and enjoying the fact that the hospital would give him all the cherry gelatin he could eat. Meeting his Uncle was nice but not as exciting as having a television in his own room and being able to watch cartoons.

Glynn drove back home safely enough but was frustrated to walk in and find that Claire and Lita were up late, still doing the dishes from a dinner that hadn’t been served until after 7:00. He tried to be gentle in reminding his in-laws that Lita’s bedtime was a strict 8:00 and that staying up late on a school night was not permissible. 

When the same thing happened Tuesday night, though, he was intentionally more brusk in his response. The house was a mess with newspaper and clothing strewn around the house, dishes piled high in the sink, and dirty pans still on the stove. Glynn called Tom and got permission to take Lita out of school the next day, then drove Claire home. When he told Ginny and Edward that he was taking Lita with him the next day and that their services were no longer needed, they went to bed in a huff, complaining that their “sacrifice” wasn’t being appreciated.

Lita, however, was thrilled to miss a day of school. She was excited to meet her aunt and uncle and was full of questions about the hospital. She also enjoyed getting to ride in the front seat of the car, peppering her Dad with all kinds of questions about everything they passed. 

Glynn was concerned about what the house would look like when they returned. He had done his best to clean up what he could before falling asleep, exhausted, in the recliner. He knew that, without anyone there to provide oversight, Ginny and Edward might leave the house in a terrible mess. Much to his surprise, however, the house was perfectly clean when the family returned home just in time for Glynn to run to the Wednesday night service. 

Ginny did leave Marve a letter, complaining about how rude Glynn had been to them and that they would not bother to offer their child-sitting services again. Marve tore up the letter and dumped it in the trash.

Hayden would have to wear a patch over his eye for the next week, which not only made him the most popular kid in Kindergarten but all of the lower elementary. He was thrilled with all the attention. 

By the time Friday rolled around, everything seemed back to normal. The family went to the last football game of the season, happy that the team ended with a win while shivering in the suddenly cold evening temperatures. Years would pass before Marve would mention her parents again and the promises of keeping in touch with Doug would fall flat as other stressors demanded attention. What had started as a dramatic week ended in a whimper that would eventually be lost to other more pleasant and important memories. It was almost as if the week had never happened at all.


Chapter 42

Glynn could feel the tension in the air Sunday but wasn’t able to exactly place the source. Emotions were running high as evidenced by the lack of conversation between Sunday School and the morning’s worship service. There were no smiles, no warm greetings. Everyone took their seat and waited. Quietly. The music was lackluster. Some were already squirming in their seat before Glynn started his sermon. 

Looking out over the congregation, he noticed there were some not in their normal seats. Buck and his family normally sat on the right side of the sanctuary. Today, they were on the left, directly in front of Horace. Alan, who normally sat on the left side, directly behind Horace, was now on the right. The same applied to a half-dozen others.

Glynn made a point of asking if everything was okay as people left the service. “Sure, pastor, everything’s fine,” they would say with a forced smile. Even Alan, who was usually quick to identify even the smallest problem, was dismissive with, “Just another Sunday morning, pastor.”

He checked with Marve, who normally was aware of changes in the community before he was. “I can’t say that I’ve heard anything,” she told him. “I wouldn’t worry about it. We’re at that strange time of year where there’s nothing really going on and I think it makes people uncomfortable.”

The pastor wasn’t so convinced but also knew better than to go poking around. No one liked a nosey preacher. He knew any serious problem would eventually bubble up to the top but he would much rather find a solution before it reached that point.

When three more disgruntled letters arrived in Monday’s mail, Glynn decided it was time to call Calvin. While he still wasn’t concerned about the comments in any one letter, the volume of them was disconcerting. More than a month had passed since his sermon on death had rattled the pastor’s retreat. He thought pastors would have turned their attention back to their own congregations by now. 

Calvin sounded genuinely surprised to hear that Glynn was still getting letters. “We only got feedback here for a couple of weeks and then it dropped off. Do you mind telling me who some of the negative letters are from?” he asked.

Glynn reached into the bottom desk drawer where he had tossed the negative letters and read some of the names from the return addresses on the envelope. Glynn found it interesting that none of them had written anonymously. They were willing to take on a fight if he chose to engage it. 

“Interesting, more than half of those are from pastors out in Telleconix Association, out along the western border. Sounds like someone out there is keeping them all riled up,” Calvin said. “That’s usually a pretty quiet association. Most of the pastors out there are bi-vocational and either teach school or ranch as a profession. We rarely see any of them at state gatherings because of the distance and their inability to get away. Let me see who from out that direction was at the retreat. If I can, I’ll reach out to their Director of Missions and see if he can put a lid on the problem.”

Glynn thanked him and hung up the phone hoping that the whole matter would go away. He was trying to focus on his sermon for the associational annual meeting. This was being yet another example of trying to find words to greet an audience at an event he had never personally experienced. Sure, Baptist Associations in Michigan had annual meetings, but he had never had the time, nor actually the desire to attend one. 

The concept of an annual meeting was that since the association operated on the collective donations of churches in that association, they needed to be accountable for what they did with those donations. The same thing was true of the state convention’s annual meeting in November and the Southern Baptist Convention in June. At their essence, they were little more than business meetings intended to demonstrate some level of accountability for the funds and responsibilities with which they were entrusted. That they were treated as more than that was, in Glynn’s opinion, a heaping shovel full of religious pomposity. He did not need someone to preach to him on the power of mutual cooperation when the biggest argument he’d heard so far had been over the autonomy of the individual church. Yet, that was the topic Clement had taken. Neither did he need someone to spend 30 minutes dramatizing the need for evangelism when he was daily made aware of the degree to which Christianity had over-saturated the local market, leaving only a handful of sinners for which they all clamored so aggressively as to convince the uncommitted that they were probably better off with the reliable spirits found in a bottle than the schizophrenic Spirit presented by 14 different denominations all bent on saving their soul. He would listen to Bill’s sermon politely, but he expected no lasting benefit from it.

His own topic was supposed to be the Importance of Building Strong Youth Programs. He had borrowed books from both Clement and Bill again and read all the articles in the current denominational and general conservative Christian literature but still felt as though the entire topic was something that existed in someone else’s reality. His church had only a smattering of “young people,” those between the ages of 13 and 18. Besides Claire, only Roland Hughes could be considered a regular and the difference between the two teens could not have been more stark. Claire was deeply involved in her independent religious studies that far outstripped the meager preparation that Frances Edmonds attempted late on Saturday nights. Russel Daniels would show up about half the time, but neither of his parents was especially regular and when he was there it was more likely because Roland had some other topic of interest on which the two would spend the morning service passing notes back and forth. There were others who came and went, of course. On any given Sunday there were five or six people in the classroom. Yet, the church had no official youth leader. Even among the teens themselves, there was no one who could unify the group all that well. Claire was the most popular but even she wasn’t prone to getting everyone together. Each one tended to do their own thing. Glynn would do his best with the sermon, but he didn’t expect anyone to be inspired by his words.

The association’s annual meeting was held at First Baptist, Arvel, whose large sanctuary and high ceiling felt both impressive and imposing. This was the largest church in the association with a budget larger than the association’s which meant that they tended to do their own thing and leave the association to the smaller churches. Dr. Harold Bennet was the pastor here, a well-dressed, well-educated, gray-haired preacher whose voice ranged from gentle words of wisdom to thunderous indictments of eternal damnation. He made the necessary greetings, gave the opening prayer, and then promptly disappeared into his office. 

For most of the pastors in the association, this was their first time seeing each other since Emmet’s dramatic exit. They greeted each other cordially enough, though there was still some trepidation among them as to who might have done what. There were also several new faces in the crowd, mostly younger pastors who had stepped into the pulpits of those churches whose pastors had left abruptly and under questionable circumstances resulting from Emmet’s letter to the state convention. 

Dr. Bennet’s prayer was followed by a couple of requisite hymns, another prayer, and then Clement called the meeting to order. The speed with which chaos ensued was mind-boggling. Immediately, Larry Winston stood up and shouted so everyone could hear, “Point of order, Mr. Moderator. I would move that the messengers from Grace Church, Arvel, Grace Church, Washataug, and First Church, Adelberg not be seated as their churches are out of fellowship with the association.”

There was a second to the motion from someone toward the back of the sanctuary, though no one was certain who that might be. Immediately, Clement countered with his own parliamentary maneuver. “The motion is denied given that none of the messengers have yet to be seated, therefore there is no one in standing to make the motion.”

Grumbling and confusion scattered across the assembly and Alan leaned over and asked Glynn, “What does he mean that we’re out of fellowship. We’ve been sending our checks, haven’t we?”

Glynn shrugged. “As far as I know. This is the first I’ve heard about anything. I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Bill stood up and made the more customary statement. “Mr. Moderator, I move that all the messengers who have presented themselves as duly elected representatives of the stated churches of this association be seated as voting delegates of this annual meeting.”

Again, there was a second, though Glynn recognized Carl’s voice this time. Still, the second had hardly left Carl’s mouth before Larry was on his feet again.

“Point of order, Mr. Moderator. I would move that the messengers from Grace Church, Arvel, Grace Church, Washataug, and First Church, Adelberg not be seated as their churches are out of fellowship with the association,” he insisted.

This time, there was a gap of several seconds before Roy Moody reluctantly seconded the motion after Larry had turned around and given him a harsh look.

Bill had waited until the second had been given before he shot Larry’s motion down again. “Mr. Moderator, said motion is out of order insomuch as associational bylaws state in section 14, paragraph six, that churches continuing to participate in the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention cannot be removed from the association nor can their messengers be denied without the recommendation of the Executive Committee following a public examination of the charges against them.”

Glynn looked at Marve, then at Buck and Alan. “That was awfully specific,” he said quietly. “No way he knew that off the top of his head.”

“Sounds to me like we’re being set up for something,” Buck replied.

“Motion denied,” Clement said quickly. “All in favor of the motion to seat messengers say aye.”

A thunderous “Aye,” rose from the assembly.

“All opposed say, Nay,” Clement continued.

Larry shouted his Nay but the few voices joining him were meager to the point of being reluctant. 

“And the motion carries,” Clement said. “You should have been given upon entry a copy of the minutes of the 1971 annual meeting. Do I hear a motion…”

“NO!! I will not allow this meeting to continue!” Larry shouted. “We cannot sit here and tolerate the presence of murderers and adulterers and that heretic over there!” As he said “over there,” he pointed hard in Glynn’s direction as though attempting to jab at him from across the sanctuary. 

Alan looked sternly down the pew at Glynn, then back at Larry and before anyone could move fast enough to stop him he was on his feet and moving out into the aisle. “Who the sam-hill are you calling a heretic?” he shouted at Larry. “I don’t recall seeing your face in any of our services. You don’t know what you’re talking about and I demand an apology to our pastor and our church!”

Buck stood up and touched Alan’s shoulder but the deacon pushed him away.

“And you don’t have any control over your own pastor!” Larry shouted back. “He’s running around all over the state spreading heresy!”

Alan threw his Bible onto the pew and stepped aggressively across the aisle. “You will take that back and apologize right now!” he shouted.

Clement banged a gavel on the pulpit. “Order! Gentlemen, we will have order in these proceedings!”

No one was paying any attention. “I will do no such thing!” Larry shouted back.

As Alan was moving, Buck was reaching to stop him but was half a second too late. Even if he had managed somehow to catch Alan’s elbow it is unlikely that he could have stopped him. The full force of the rancher’s fist connected with the soft tissue of the preacher’s face, instantly breaking his nose and causing blood to spurt onto everyone around him. Larry fell backward, hitting his head on the back of a pew before landing on the floor with a hard thud.

Naturally, men from Larry’s own church came after Alan as Buck and Glynn both struggled moving past their wives to reach him and pull him back. Alan was ready for the fight, though, and two more men went down before Glynn could get around in Alan’s face and yell at him to stop. As Glynn and Buck pulled Alan from the fray, though, others joined, punching and pushing each other, no one really knowing which side anyone else had taken but determined to come to the defense of one or the other. All the while, Clement stood banging his gavel, screaming for order.

The actual fight lasted less than three minutes. Glynn and Buck wrestled Alan out the door and into the parking lot where Glynn told Alan to go home and not bother returning. “You are a disappointment to me, a disappointment to your church, and most importantly a disappointment to God,” he said. They would be words he would come to regret but at the moment they felt necessary. He watched Alan storm to his pickup and drive off then turned to Buck and asked, “What in the world do we do now?”

“You got me, preacher,” Buck said, his hands shoved in his pockets. “I can tell you that having Alan Mayes angry is never a good thing. I’ve not seen him this mad at another person in years and never at a preacher like that. He’ll cool down in a couple of days, I suppose, but I’d give him some distance.”

Glynn and Buck turned to walk back into the church building just as the ambulance pulled up along with a couple of police cars. People were hurriedly leaving through another door. For all practical purposes, the day’s meeting was over. Inside, Buck went to talk with Marve and Frances while Glynn found Clement and Bill talking with Roger Gentry who was now, technically, Director of Missions.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t see that coming,” Glynn said as he approached the group, feeling somehow responsible for Alan’s actions.

Roger shook his head. “It’s not your fault, Glynn. We underestimated how volatile Larry’s disruption would be. One of the messengers from Grace Church here was headed that direction as well. Yours just beat him to it.”

“Wait, you knew Larry was going to say something?” Glynn asked. He felt a sudden surge of anger at the possibility of being betrayed.

“Sort of,” Clement admitted. “He called me when we mailed out the schedule and he saw your name on it. He wanted you off the roster and when I refused to do so he started getting nasty, calling me names and such. He didn’t say for certain that he’d do anything here, but we were anticipating some kind of challenge.”

“Why didn’t you call me, at least give me some kind of heads up?” Glynn charged. “I would happily give my speaking spot to someone else to avoid a disaster like this!”

“That’s my fault,” Roger said. “I thought we’d be able to nip the whole thing in the bud, save all three churches from any sort of public embarrassment. Since neither of the other churches have pastors, there really wasn’t anyone there we knew to contact. And I was afraid you’d back out of speaking if you knew.”

“I definitely would have backed out!” Glynn said, trying to keep some hold on his temper. The four men watched as Larry was taken out to the ambulance, followed by his wife and the other messengers from his church. Glynn looked around at the near-empty sanctuary. “So, what do we do?”

“I think this meeting is over and everyone needs to leave,” Harold Bennet said as he walked up to the group. “I never thought I’d see the day when anything like this would happen. This is a disgrace. We’ll be sending the association a bill for the cleanup, of course, and at this point I’m not sure we’ll continue our giving. That it happened at all is embarrassing. That this happened in my church is unconscionable.”

The senior pastor turned to Roger and continued, “I would strongly suggest that you look at ways you might mute some of the more ignorant pulpit robbers among us. We might not be able to stop churches from hiring uneducated and illiterate men like that but we don’t have to let them participate and poison the waters for the rest of us.”

Looking at Glynn he added, “Young man, don’t think I’m not aware of the melee you caused at the pastors’ retreat. I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but know this, there’s a price that comes with speaking the truth to people who don’t want to hear it. We hedge the gospel, all of us do because in its raw form it’s insulting to people’s lives. If we were honest, we’d have to tell people how wretched and miserable their lives are. We can’t run churches like that, though. We have to finesse Christianity so that people see it as a way to feel better about themselves, not a means for wrestling their own pathetic nature. Never forget that truth is a game for martyrs.”

He looked at Clement, “You’ll wrap this up and get everyone out of my church, correct?”

Clement nodded in agreement, not daring to meet Harold’s harsh gaze.

Dr. Bennet took a couple of steps away before finishing with a final warning. “Don’t ask me to use our facilities for associational gathers ever again. The answer will be no.” He walked back toward his office, leaving the four preachers looking at each other in silence.

There wasn’t much left to do. After some brief discussion, it was determined that being well short of a quorum, the meeting was automatically adjourned and required no further parliamentary action. 

Glynn walked back over to where Marve, Buck, and Frances were waiting. Marve knew the look on Glynn’s face and was concerned as to what could have him so angry. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“They knew,” he responded.

“What?” Marve and Buck asked in unison.

“They knew that Larry was going to try to get us kicked out. They thought they could stop him before it got to the floor,” Glynn explained. “I don’t know what to think. I’ve never seen a fight like that in church before.”

Buck reached over and put a hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “Look, pastor, none of this is your fault. That yahoo insulted the entire membership of three different churches. I don’t know of anyone in Adelberg that’s likely to take that sitting down. I know what Alan did was wrong, but its what every one of us wanted to do. Where’s that tallywhacker from, anyway?”

“Small church here in Arvel, over there east of the junior college. Pretty small group form what I understand, 30-40 people in Sunday School,” Glynn said. 

“And they couldn’t keep him from standing up and calling you a heretic?” Marve asked, sharing some of Glynn’s anger. “I mean, had we known we wouldn’t have come at all, would we?”

Glynn shrugged. “I don’t know. Right now, I’m so angry I can hardly see straight. We need to go, though. Dr. Bennet’s more than a little upset and has asked everyone to leave.”

“I can’t say I blame him,” Frances said, speaking up for the first time. “Someone makes a mess in your house, you kick them out.”

Marve looked at Glynn. “You know, we have a baby sitter until late tonight. Why don’t we drive over to Joplin for dinner? Get away from this nonsense for a while.”

Buck reached in his back pocket and removed his wallet. “I think that’s a good idea, pastor. You two drive over to Joplin and catch your breath a bit. I’ll even pay for it.” He removed a twenty-dollar bill from his wallet and tucked it in Glynn’s shirt pocket. “Don’t even think about arguing with me. You guys go. I’ll check on Alan and talk with you tomorrow.”

Glynn and Marve thanked Buck and Frances then walked out to the parking lot where only a few cars remained. “I wasn’t all that excited about sitting through two days of boring reports in the first place,” Marve said and Glynn started the car. 

Glynn sighed. “This isn’t going to blow over, you know. I’m sure the rumor mill has kicked into overdrive. Maybe we should call Claire and tell her to not answer the phone this evening.”

“She’s not out of school yet,” Marve reminded him. “We can call when we find someplace to eat. Just drive.”

Glynn followed the road to the highway then turned East instead of heading toward home. The mixture of anger and embarrassment resulted in a heavy foot on the gas pedal. He wished he could drive straight to Michigan and never look back.

Reading time: 37 min
Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 39

chapter 39

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.


Chapter 40

Chapter 40

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.


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Reading time: 36 min
Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 31

chapter 31

Starting school proved to be more challenging for Hayden than the Waterbury’s had expected. Lita loved school from the first moment and tended to do very well. Hayden was excited about school but almost immediately had difficulty adapting. He didn’t like the idea of staying in the same room all morning. He would get upset when his teacher, Mrs. Emily Strassburg, asked him to do something he didn’t want to do. During reading time, he would frequently get up from the circle and wander around the room looking for a block or toy with which to play. 

For the first week, Mrs. Strassburg didn’t seem to mind that Hayden was more of a “free spirit.” After all, many children had trouble adapting to the restrictions of school after having few restrictions prior to that experience. But when Marve went to the school to pick Hayden up on Monday, the teacher suggested it might be beneficial for her to sit in on the next day’s class to see if she might be able to help him adapt a bit better.

While that seemed like a good idea at the time, when they got to the classroom on Tuesday, Hayden refused to leave his mother’s side. He clung to her skirt if she were standing. He sat in her lap if she were sitting. The entire morning was an exercise in frustration as nothing Marve or Mrs. Strassburg could say seemed to work. Hayden’s behavior was worse than it had been yet.

At Mrs. Strassburg’s request, Marve and Hayden stayed after class so the two women could chat. Hayden sat quietly on the floor playing with blocks while they talked.

“I’m struggling to understand why he’s not liking class,” Mrs. Strassburg told Marve. “He’s certainly bright enough. He already knows all his letters and numbers and usually gets his colors correct. But he doesn’t want to participate or do what the rest of the class is doing.”

Marve watched her son playing for a moment before replying. “My being here certainly didn’t seem to help. I’ve rarely known him to be that clingy. He’s not typically timid at all. If anything, we have to stop him from trying stunts on the playground. He’s always played well with other kids. I’m not sure what to think.”
“Well, watch this,” Mrs. Strassburg said as she walked over to a shelf and retrieved a book she had read to the class. Holding up the book, she said, “Hayden, come here and look at the book with me.”

Hayden left the pile of blocks and walked over to Mrs. Strassburg who had carefully squatted down so that she was on his eye level. She opened the book and began reading. “This is Spot. Spot is a dog. Spot likes to play.”

The little boy looked at the picture, pointed at the dog then looked at his mother and said, “Spot is a very fuzzy dog.”

Marve looked quizically at Mrs. Strassburg. The dog in the picture was not fuzzy, it had very short hair. “What color is the dog?” she asked.

“He’s yellow, and brown, and whooooosh!” Hayden answered as he twirled around in a circle.”

“What color is whoosh?” his mother asked, perplexed by the answer.

“All of them!” the boy giggled as he took the book from his teacher and set it back in its place on the shelf.
“And he’s done reading,” Mrs. Strassburg said. “He’s done that to me almost every time. He’s not mean about it, but he’ll take the book I’m reading and put it back on the shelf before I’m done. Sometimes he does it after only the second page.”

“Does he do that with other things?” Marve asked, the worry obvious in her voice.

The teacher tried to reassure her. “No, he’s very good with his numbers and he loves to color. I’m starting to wonder, though, if maybe his vision is just a little off. Have you ever had it checked?”

“Nothing more than what the doctor does in his office,” Marve answered. “He had a checkup just before school started and nothing came up.”

“Do y’all use Dr. Dornboss here in town?” the teacher asked.

Marve nodded as she watched Hayden playing with the blocks. “Saw him just a couple of weeks ago.”

“Would you mind if I talked with him?” Mrs. Strassburg asked. “If nothing else, maybe he’ll have some ideas for helping Hayden get the hang of school.”

“Sure, that’s fine with me,” Marve said. “I’m okay with whatever we need to do. I just want him to be happy and well-adjusted.”

Marve and Hayden left the school and decided to drop by the church office to let Glynn know about the day’s failed experiment. “It was embarrassing,” Marve told him. “Hayden would not let go of my skirt, not even when the class was on the playground! I’ve never seen him behave like this!”

Glynn leaned forward in his chair and smiled at Hayden. “Come here, big guy,” he said cheerfully. “Talk with Daddy for a little bit.”

Hayden ran over and climbed up into his father’s lap, pulling at the pastor’s tie for support. 

“How is kindergarten going for you?” Glynn asked. “Did you have a good time today?”

Hayden nodded. “Mommy was at school today! She got to be my special friend!”

Glynn chuckled. “That’s good! Are you liking Mrs. Strassburg, your teacher?”

The little boy nodded again. “She’s fun! She plays fun games with us and then she lets us have milk!”

Glynn hugged him closely and looked at Marve. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve not noticed anything different at home. He’s been sitting on the floor watching the Olympics the past couple of days. He seems to really like the swimming. They’re saying Mark Spitz could win five or six medals.”

Marve watched as her little boy played with his daddy’s tie, crumpling it into a ball and then twisting it into different shapes as he sat in Glynn’s lap. “I don’t know, either,” she said softly. “Mrs. Strassburg is going to talk to Dr. Dornboss. She said something about maybe checking his eyes. I don’t know, though. I’ve not seen any sign of him having trouble seeing anything.”

Glynn set Hayden on the floor. “I guess it doesn’t hurt to check. We can take him to the doctor if we need to. I’m sure the insurance will cover it.”

“I hope so. The last thing we need is a big medical bill,” Marve said quietly. “We’ll just have to see what Dr. Dornboss says.”

Marve walked Hayden home and Glynn returned to working on next Sunday’s sermon. With all associational activities having largely shut down, for the time being, there was little outside Adelburg to distract him except for the Olympics and the 7-hour time difference meant that he’d have to wait for the evening’s summary of everything that had happened. He returned to his Bible and attempted to focus on something that he hoped would be motivational. Emmit’s charge about people leaving church exactly the same as when they entered had hit a point of conviction for Glynn as well as many of the other pastors. 

Glynn knew his chosen passage of scripture, Psalm 84, quite well. The problem was he knew it more from a recording his mother had of the Brahm’s Requiem that used the verses as a centerpiece. It was almost impossible for the pastor to read the verses without hearing the music in his head. He wished, somewhat enviously he would admit, that the church had a choir with the musical talent to tackle such a piece. While there were many songs he didn’t mind listening to the small choir butcher, this wasn’t one he could even suggest. He giggled to himself as he thought of Buck and Allen, both baritones at best, struggling with the opening tenor line, “How lovely is thy dwelling place, Oh Lord of hosts… “ with “dwell” coming on a particularly high note he knew they could never reach.

As a pastor, Glynn’s intention was to motivate his congregation toward more faithful attendance as they entered the fall months, to encourage participation in activities beyond Sunday morning. He longed to instill in them what John Keats, another of his mother’s favorites, had called “Negative Capability,” that desire to do what one had been called to do even when they were unsure of the calling. He would dovetail that into the concept that when the psalmist had written, “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere,” the meaning had not been that one needed to hang out in the church building all the time in order to be holy. Rather, that holiness was found in carrying the transcendent hope and love of Christ that they found at church into the normalness of everyday activities. In doing so, he would insist, they weren’t farming or teaching or raising cattle for their own benefit, but they were doing those things to achieve a higher calling from God.

He knew it was a lot to try and cram into a twenty-minute sermon and Glynn struggled to find a vocabulary that would keep the homily from sounding too much like a classroom lecture, putting his congregation to sleep rather than motivating them to get on their feet. As a result, the crumpled and discarded attempts at phrasing and manipulating the language were beginning to pile up on the desk. Lunch came and went without the preacher bothering to look up from his work. Neither was he aware of the perspiration that was covering his entire body. The outside temperature had again topped the 100-degree mark and he had yet to pause long enough to turn on the small window unit that would marginally, with great effort on its part, keep the room’s temperature tolerable.

Glynn was so preoccupied with his study that he was startled when, shortly after 2:00, there was a knock on the office door. He looked at his watch, surprised by the amount of time that had elapsed, and then quickly realized the extent to which his current physical condition left him ill-prepared to greet the guest he knew was waiting at the door. He pulled a slightly damp handkerchief from the back pocket of his slacks and blotted the sweat from his face as he walked around the desk to the door.

“Dr. Cain, come on in,” Glynn said cheerfully as he opened the door. “I apologize for the uncomfortable temperature this afternoon. I got busy and forgot to turn on the air conditioner.”

The Associate Director of Pastoral Ministries chuckled, shaking Glynn’s hand as he entered. “You know, they say after the devil visits Oklahoma in summer he runs back to hell to cool off.” 

If there had been a catalog describing what a pastor looked like, the picture would have been Calvin Cain. At 38, he was one of the state convention’s youngest staff members but also one of its most educated and well respected. At six feet tall, he stood above most of the pastors he met with. His brown hair was combed back and cut short, seemingly perfectly in place no matter what the weather conditions. He was impeccably dressed, his starched white shirt showing no sign of fatigue or distress from his travels, his chocolate-brown suit hanging perfectly on his trim body. Even his glasses were perfectly positioned at all times. His quick smile and perpetually calm demeanor gave the impression that absolutely nothing one might say could possibly disturb him.

“How did things go in Arvil?” Glynn asked as he squeezed past his guest and back around to the other side of the desk. He wished the office was larger and more accomodating for guests, but he knew he was lucky to have any space at all.

“A little bit rough to start,” Calvin answered as he sat carefully on the folding chair nearest the desk. “The executive committee is supposed to have five people, but two of its members have recently resigned and replacing them is going to be a challenge because the association has lost or is about to lose around twenty percent of its pastors.”

Wow! That many? Is this because of that list Emmit sent?” Glynn asked, shocked by the number.

Calvin nodded. “I’m afraid so. He was very careful and detailed in what he sent us and because of that, as we’ve contacted church leaders and explained to them what was going on, all but one have quickly stepped up and done what was right. From the perspective of keeping our churches pure, it’s a good move, one that probably should be taken in almost all our associations. From a personnel perspective, though, it leaves some gaping holes in a number of important places. In fact, while I’m here, I’m supposed to ask if you would consider filling one of the positions on the executive committee. They need to be able to move quickly in their search for a new director of missions.”

The request caught Glynn off guard. “That … I don’t know, Calvin. I’m not sure that seems appropriate. I’ve been here less than a year. I’m still learning all that associations do down here. Surely there must be other pastors who are better qualified.”

“I can appreciate your hesitation, but the other members of the committee are concerned that someone is chosen who does not drag the association backward theologically or doctrinally and there are plenty of pastors up here whose opinions would sway that direction.” Calvin paused and crossed his legs in the opposite direction. “Clement Garner over at Emmanuel, Washataug is the committee chair and he pushed pretty hard to add you and Carl Roberts at Liberty Creek to the committee. Bill Moody and Herb Stanley are the other two members. Herb hasn’t been at Ochillie much longer than you’ve been here, so he didn’t have a lot to say, but he’s been in the state quite a while. I think you’d make a good addition and, speaking somewhat selfishly on behalf of the state convention, we’d like to see the committee staffed by men we know are going to be supportive.”

Glynn shrugged, not sure exactly how to respond. He knew the position was important, but he also suspected that it might make him a lightning rod for the opinions of other pastors in the association who didn’t view the Bible nor the church in quite the same way that he did. The last thing he wanted was to become the target of one of Jerry Winston’s loud diatribes. “I just don’t know. I’ve seen how riled up some of these guys can get over relatively unimportant things like a picture in a Sunday School quarterly. This is an important decision and I’m not sure I want to get mixed up in the inevitable argument that’s going to happen somewhere down the road.”

“Well, I think there are things we can do to help offset that argument, and possibly keep it from happening at all.” Calvin shifted his weight again, his expression still calm and confident as he spoke. “I expect we’ll have some new pastors in the association by then and we’re working with the pulpit committees in those churches to lead them toward better pastors so hopefully they don’t end up with the same situations they have now. And we’ll have private conversations with anyone we anticipate being problematic. We want to keep the external pressure off the executive committee and give them the ability to find someone who is really going to be best for the churches in this association.”

“You can do that?” Glynn asked, surprised by the level of involvement being inferred.

Calvin smiled. “We try to stay behind the scenes and out of the way as much as possible, but we do have a vested interest in keeping things at this level running smoothly. And that’s the primary reason for my visit this afternoon. Emmitt hadn’t mentioned anything about you in his notes but in other conversations, and in a phone call after he last visited with you, he voiced some concern that you might be feeling discouraged and uncertain about how things are going here. I wanted to chat with you, see where you’re at, and perhaps if there’s anything I can do or someone else at the state level can do to help since you don’t have a director of missions to support you at the moment.”

Glynn leaned back in his chair slightly, not because he wasn’t interested but more to express his comfort level with the topic. Being on the executive committee was a bothersome matter. Everything he had heard about Dr. Cain, however, allowed him to feel more comfortable discussing personal pastoral issues with him. “I’ll admit, Emmit’s sudden resignation hit me right in the middle of an existential crisis of purpose and whether I’m the right person for this church, whether I’m doing the right thing for my family by being here. There have been too many days over the last two months where I’ve felt as though God were throwing my work right back in my face as if to say, “This isn’t good enough.”

“Can you fill me in? What all has happened besides Emmit’s leaving?” Calvin asked, his expression now one of concern mixed with compassion.

Glynn recounted the events of Lita’s questions about death and the wedding and murder of the young couple, the church’s stagnation during the summer and how they all fueled his own doubts. “As I’ve focused more directly on the things right here in Adelberg some of those worries seem to have been placated to a degree, but every day, every sermon, every conversation seems to bring a new set of questions people expect me to answer and I find myself endlessly second-guessing whether I’ve told them the right thing, or the best right thing in some cases. And while it was enough to be doubting my own situation, when Emmit said what he did at the pastors’ conference a couple of weeks ago, revealing the depth of deprivation among men who have been pastoring these churches a lot longer than I have, I had to wonder if we’re all somehow misguided, wasting our time, totally misunderstanding the very purpose and reason for churches to exist in the first place. I’m looking for answers and too often it feels as though I’m only uncovering more questions.”

“I think we all find ourselves with struggles similar to what you’re describing,” Calvin said calmly. “When Solomon writes in Proverbs 3 to trust in the Lord with all our might and don’t depend on our own understanding, I think he may be addressing situations just like this. We think, we expect, that certain things within God’s kingdom should happen a specific way and when they don’t happen that way we question what went wrong. Were we interpreting scripture the wrong way? Did we misunderstand what it is we’re supposed to be doing?

“What I think Solomon is doing is telling us to check our perspectives. If we do something with the expectation that God is going to bless the action because we are the ones doing it, then we’re going to be disappointed. Like with the wedding of the young couple, just because they were murdered the same day does not mean that God had not already blessed your action. Your action is not related to the action of the person who murdered them. Rather, you honored God by joining them together as a couple, an eternal bond that no human act can ever separate. That was your job, your responsibility. Everything else that happened is separate.

“The same applies to almost everything else we do. We act expecting specific results when, if we’re honest with the Bible, God does not always connect actions with results. Living by faith means that we act, in love, in compassion, in caring, not for the results of those actions but simply because God told us to act. Even if there are no visible results at all, when we faithfully administer the actions, the responsibilities that God has given, then he can provide to us the healing and refreshment we need to continue.”

The two men continued talking for the better part of an hour, Calvin carefully meeting Glynn’s questions and challenges with the encouragement to place his hope and faith in something other than the activities of people who were inherently fallible. By the time Dr. Cain left, Glynn was feeling more upbeat and ready to tackle what he thought lied ahead. 


Chapter 32

chapter 32

Any worries Glynn might have had that the Labor Day weekend would detract from Sunday morning church attendance were unnecessary. After a week of excessive heat across the state, most people in and around Adelberg had decided to forgo making any trips and stay home in the air conditioning, primarily watching broadcasts of the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. The games had been a topic of conversation around town for some time as many World War II veterans still remembered the 1936 games in Berlin while others claimed some connection to the many Oklahoma-native wrestlers on the team. Oklahoma State University’s head basketball coach, Henry Iba, was coaching the US men’s basketball team, who was the favorite to once again take the gold in that sport. Conversations before and after the services tended to center around US swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals and whether the Soviets had intentionally underplayed gymnast Olga Korbut’s abilities prior to the games in order to fuel her popularity as she won three gold medals. 

The pastor’s sermon had seemed to go over better than he had expected as well. There were fewer “good sermon” comments and more along the lines of “I’d never looked at it that way before.” While he knew the sincerity of some comments might be questionable, he was pleased when Claire pulled him to the side to challenge his assertions.

“I’m going to have to think this through,” the teenager admitted, “but it seems to me that there has to be some connection, at least on a spiritual level, to the things we do and the results of those actions. I mean, are you saying that God doesn’t care about the consequences?”

Over the summer, Claire’s questions had grown more thoughtful, often reflecting whatever she was reading at the moment. As a result, Glynn had grown to see them as a welcome challenge rather than the nuisance they were at first. He smiled, not realizing that such a response came across to her as condescending. “It’s not that God doesn’t care about the consequences, but that the consequences are, for us, separate from the actions themselves. God knows everything is not going to go as we planned. He knows that when we show love to someone they may not always respond in a positive manner. What matters, however, is that we were obedient, we showed love even in the face of a negative response. What matters is that, despite that response, we continue to show love again and again. The results are a separate entity. We are not held responsible for someone else’s actions.”

“Okay, but that can’t be true in every scenario,” Claire challenged. “For example, I was a counselor at softball camp a couple of weeks ago. I had eight 12-year-old girls in my cabin and a couple of them were from poor families. Neither of them had any extra money to spend on snacks or anything at the canteen. So, I bought them each a soda and a candy bar. One girl took them and said thank you but the other one just let them sit on the table and threw them away when it was time to go to the next activity. That kind of hurt because, you know, it was my money that she was wasting. So, I didn’t buy her anything the next day because I didn’t want her throwing it away again. I had to alter my actions because of her response.”

“Claire, stop and think about why you bought those girls the candy and soda in the first place. Really search your heart on this one. Were you doing it because God commands us to care for those who are poor and less fortunate or could it have been for some other reason? Maybe you wanted them to like you. Maybe you wanted the ‘best counselor’ award. But you let their response dictate your action the next day, not God’s command. Tell me, did you ask the girls if they wanted the pop and candy before you bought it?”

Claire instantly blushed and looked at the ground sheepishly. “No, I just got them the same thing the other girls were getting.”

“Okay, then, consider why the one girl may have not wanted your gift,” Glynn said. “What if she was diabetic? Drinking the soda or eating the candy could have made her very sick. If there were peanuts in the candy, she could have been allergic to those.”

The teenager’s expression turned to one of horror. “Oh no! You’re right! I think maybe she was diabetic! She had medicine she had to get from the nurse every day and now that I think about it, she never ate dessert. I was so stupid!”

Glynn carefully put his hand on her shoulder. “God’s commands are absolute and true but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to think about how we apply them. The scribes and Pharisees fell into the same trap. They took the words of Psalm 84 literally and thought that their holiness was connected to how much time they spent at the Temple. They then were offended when some Jews felt that they should be out taking care of the poor and sick. The actions and our motivation and reasons for doing them are our responsibility. Your heart was in the right place, but perhaps you should have checked that your action was the best way of demonstrating compassion.”

Claire bit her lower lip, trying to hold back the emotions she was feeling from realizing her error. “Thank you, pastor Waterbury,” she said softly. “I obviously need to think through this a lot more. Would you mind if I ask more questions later?”

“Anytime, Claire,” Glynn assured her.

The heat had done a good job of wearing everyone down and by the time the Waterbury family was finished with lunch, there was no one arguing about taking a nap. Even Hayden went to bed without any fuss. The evening worship service couldn’t have been any more low key as it was “favorite hymn night,” where church members called out hymn numbers and the congregation sang them, meaning Glynn didn’t have to do much more than say a prayer at either end of the service. There was homemade ice cream after church, but the lingering heat and humidity made being outside feel oppressive.

An early morning rain shower did little more than increase the humidity and provide yet another reason to stay inside, protected by the air conditioning. Neither of the kids was enthused about playing outside. Lita sat on the front porch for a while, contemplating everything from which boy she liked best at school to why cereal went soggy before she could finish her bowl. Hayden declared outside too hot and chose to stay inside, playing with his cars. Glynn and Marve appreciated the chance to relax but in the absence of having anything specific to do, they too fell into a sense of boredom and didn’t mind when the day was over.

Tuesday, however, was a different matter. An overnight thunderstorm had caused the power to blink just enough so that the morning alarm didn’t go off. While Glynn woke up only 15 minutes late, it was still enough to make the morning feel hectic and rushed. Marve fixed a quick breakfast. Glynn helped the kids get ready for school. The morning paper went ignored. The radio stayed off. 

“Do you want me to go with you and Hayden to see Dr. Dornboss this afternoon?” Glynn asked as he tied Hayden’s shoes for the third time.

“No, I think we’ll be okay. He’s just going to check his eyes a little more closely,” Marve answered. “You may need to be home when Lita gets out of school, though. You know how crowded that office gets after lunch.”

“Or I could stay by myself,” Lita offered, hopefully.

Glynn chuckled, “Or you could come and spend some time with me at church.” 

Lita rolled her eyes in the way only an 11-year-old can do, her eyes lingering a split second too long at the top of her eye socket, increasing the adult annoyance factor by 100. “The church is spooky when it’s empty, Dad. Besides, I want to watch the Olympics this afternoon.”

“Fine, we’ll watch the Olympics, I guess,” her father said in an overly-sarcastic tone that was meant to be humorous but only succeeded in eliciting another eye roll from the young girl.

Glynn and Marve stood on the front porch watching as the kids walked the short distance to school. “Do you think they know we’re watching?” Marve asked as she leaned against her husband.

Glynn put his arm around her, pulling her closer. “If they do, they’ve forgotten about it by the time they turn the corner at the bottom of the hill. By the time they cross the playground they’ve forgotten we exist at all. They’re in a totally different universe.”

“I’m a little worried about Hayden,” Marve confessed. “He’s not getting off to as good a start as I’d hoped.”

“Maybe this week will be better,” Glynn answered, somewhat dismissive of her concern. He didn’t consider Hayden’s behavior especially unusual for a little boy who had just turned five. Neither did he expect the afternoon’s doctor’s appointment to yield any helpful information.

The couple stood quietly for a moment as they watched the kids meet up with others from the neighborhood and cross behind the high school onto the elementary playground. Lita dutifully walked Hayden over to his teacher then ran off to find her friends. “Busy week ahead?” Marve asked, convinced her kids would be safe for the day.

“No more than usual,” Glynn answered. “Mrs. Pompernock, the older lady who lives there a couple of houses behind the store, wasn’t doing especially well when I stopped by the hospital on Friday. I need to check on her. The associational executive committee is meeting in Washataug tomorrow at Emmanuel. Clement said they finally have resumès for all the men we’re considering. That will take up most of the morning I suppose. Other than that, just normal stuff.”

“I should confirm Claire to babysit on Thursday, then?” Marve asked. There had been too many interruptions to their date night for her to assume their evening together was a given.

Glynn smiled and squeezed his wife a little more tightly against him. “Yeah, there’s that new steak house that just opened in Arvel. I thought we might try that.” He looked at his watch before continuing. “I should get moving if I’m going to be back when Lita gets home,” he said before reaching down and giving Marve a kiss. “I’ll go ahead and visit the hospital first, get that out of the way, make sure there are no surprises.”

“You know Hub would have called you if there had been,” Marve responded as she slipped back into the house. One of the advantages of living in a small town is that there were rarely any surprises.

Glynn grabbed a necktie from the closet and brushed off his suit coat on his way to the garage. “Have a good morning! I’ll call when I’m back from Arvel,” he said as he opened the garage door, then added, “Need anything while I’m over there?”

Marve walked to the door with a dishtowel in her hands. “Nah, just bring my husband back in one piece,” she said, smiling. “I love you!”

“I love you!” he replied as he got into the car. A commercial blared loudly on the radio as the motor started, prompting Glynn to instinctively reach over and turn it off. He wasn’t especially interested in another predictable weather forecast or the music that seemed to have gotten predictable as well. Driving the few miles to the hospital in Arvel gave him time to think through sermon ideas for Sunday and mentally work through some possible outlines.

Arriving at the hospital, the pastor checked in at the front desk and was told that Mrs. Pompernock was still in surgery and probably wouldn’t be available to take visitors until tomorrow. Glynn sighed at having wasted a trip and asked if there was anyone else there from Adelbert he might need to visit. The hospital auxiliary volunteer checked the admissions sheet and confirmed that there was no one else. Glynn thanked her and was about to leave when the older woman added, “It’s so horrible about the Olympics, isn’t it?”

Glynn stopped short. What could possibly be horrible about the Olympics? He turned around. “Excuse me?”

“You know, with those hostages and the men in masks. It’s all just so horrible!” came the reply.

“Yes, it is,” Glynn responded not having a clue what was actually going on. “Definitely a matter needing a lot of prayers.” He smiled and then walked hurriedly back to his car. As soon as the motor started he turned on the radio. 

“… officials have confirmed at least 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team have been taken captive, possibly 16, we’re not sure. All men, captured in the middle of the night. There are rumors that one of the men has been shot but we’ve not yet been able to confirm that. What we know is still a bit sketchy…”

Glynn backed out of the parking space and rushed home as quickly as possible. The more he heard, the more frightened and concerned he became. Black September, a splinter group of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), had somehow managed to get into the Olympic Village where athletes stayed and take captive several members of Israel’s team without any opposition from German security. Void of enough facts to sufficiently fill the air time, commentators were rehashing other PLO actions and speculating as to whether this might be the start of a global terror operation aimed at bringing down the nation of Israel.

Arriving home and walking into the kitchen, Glynn wasn’t surprised to find Marve sitting on the edge of the couch watching the television. She normally enjoyed listening to the game shows as she worked around the house. Instead of the new game shows, though, ABC television sports anchor, Jim McKay, was talking with Middle Eastern news correspondent Peter Jennings as a shaky camera showed pictures of a man in a mask standing on the second-floor balcony of an athletic dormitory. He was holding a military-style rifle. Glynn sat on the couch next to her without saying anything.

Over the next several minutes, it became clear that the armed men, being called terrorists by both government and Olympic officials, had demanded that 250 PLO members be released from jail or else they would kill the Israeli team members. Both German and Olympic officials had been caught completely off guard. Determined to make these games a stark comparison from the 1936 games under the Hitler regime, security was lax. Armed police officers were few. Rumors were that other athletes had unwittingly helped the group get into the Olympic Village. No one knew what to expect.

Nothing had changed by the time Marve left to take Hayden to his doctor’s appointment. Glynn stayed on the couch, watching in disbelief. Shortly after noon, Buck called to make sure the pastor was aware of what was going on. Farmers and ranchers who had gone out to the fields early to escape the heat were just starting to come in and hear the news. 

Hours passed slowly. Lita arrived home from school anxious to watch the games and was disappointed to find that the news had taken over every broadcast channel. “Stupid news,” she fussed. “Why do people have to be so stupid and do stupid things all the time?”

“Because we are all sinners,” Glynn said automatically. He knew Lita’s question had been rhetorical but his brain answered the question before his mouth could stop the words from coming out.

Lita huffed. “Then they all need to stop being sinners and be Christians.”

It took Glynn a couple of seconds before realizing what his daughter had just said. Carefully, he responded. “They’re not going to be Christians, sweetheart. They’re Muslim. They don’t believe the same thing we do.”

“Then what they believe is stupid. Only stupid people believe in hurting other people. This is all so very stupid!” She plopped angrily into the recliner, crossing both her legs and her arms in a show of defiance at the emotionless television.

Glynn tried to correct her. “We don’t call other people’s religions stupid, Lita. They still worship God, they just don’t believe Jesus was the Messiah. They follow the teachings of someone named…”

“I don’t care!” Lita interrupted. “They’re interrupting the Olympics! They should all be kicked out and made to go to someplace else. They can go someplace where there aren’t Olympics. They can go to Texas!”

Glynn struggled to not laugh at his daughter’s unintentional humor. Anti-Texas sentiment was strong this time of year because of a longstanding football rivalry between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas. Apparently Lita had picked up the fervent dislike of all things Texan from her friends at school. “I don’t think they want to go to Texas,” he told her. “They want their friends out of jail.”

Lita wasn’t in the mood for international negotiation and its subtle nuances. “Then give them their friends and send them all to Texas or some really hot place. I don’t care. They just need to stop interrupting the Olympics!”

Glynn let the girl’s tirade go unanswered, knowing that nothing he said at the moment would soothe her anger enough for her to understand the true gravity of the situation. Marve soon returned home with Hayden. “How’d things go?” he asked, not expecting a substantial answer.

“Oh, okay I guess,” Marve answered. “I have the name of an ophthalmologist in Bartlesville he wants us to see. He said he doesn’t really have the tools here to make an accurate diagnosis but he sees enough to be concerned. How are things here?”

“Not much change,” Glynn said, still looking at the television screen. “They said something a while ago about moving them to an airport somewhere. I’m not sure. They showed some helicopters but I don’t really know what’s going on.”

“It’s all anyone was talking about at the doctor’s office,” Mave said and she sat on the sofa next to Glynn. “Even Dr. Dornboss seemed distracted. That may be why he pushed us off to this guy in Bartlesville.”

Glynn nodded. Several more minutes passed quietly without much conversation. Lita was upset that Hayden had gotten candy from the doctor’s office and she hadn’t gotten anything. Hayden brought some toy cars out from his room and played with them in front of the television.

Marve fixed a quick dinner of macaroni noodles mixed with ground beef and tomato sauce. Typically the television was turned off during mealtime but Glynn opted to leave it on in case something significant changed. Constant banter between the kids made it difficult to hear, though, and Glynn rushed through his meal so he could return to the living room. Marve fussed lightly at the kids and soon joined Glynn on the couch.

For a moment, it seemed that everything was going to work out without any severe incidents. A German official announced that all the hostages had been freed and the terrorists killed. Announcer Jim McKay expressed doubts about the validity of that message, citing German news sources saying the situation at the airport was not over. As reports of intermittent gunfire were shared, the tension increased. Marve moved closer to Glynn, taking hold of his arm as she grew more fearful. 

As the evening grew later, Marve put the kids to bed. “Will the Olympics be back tomorrow?” Lita asked as her mother tucked her in.

“I don’t know, baby. I hope so,” Marve answered. Walking back out into the living room and seeing no obvious change on the television, she decided to wash the dinner dishes and put them up before returning to her seat on the couch. The situation in Munich was proving to be emotionally exhausting. Certainly, she thought, they would find a way to resolve the situation as peacefully as possible. 

Marve had barely resumed her seat on the couch when the television camera zoomed in close on the announced and Jim McKay delivered the fateful words, “I’m being told it’s over… They’re all gone.” She collapsed into Glynn’s arms, sobbing. He held her, stroking her hair, fighting with his own tears, neither of them believing what had happened. 

Finally, after several more minutes, Glynn got up and turned off the television. The couple dried their tears and went to bed, knowing that the world had just taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Things would never be the same.


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Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 29

chapter 29

“When people leave our churches feeling good about themselves without ever having felt convicted, we have failed to do our jobs,” Emmit said as he spoke before the assembled group of preachers. The dull, humid Monday morning was already plagued with a misty grey sky that made everything feel uncomfortable. The Director of Missions had not bothered to explain why he was taking the group to the proverbial woodshed this morning, but he had their attention and he showed no sign of easing off the pressure.

“When people leave our churches without a sense of hope, without a glimpse of forgiveness and mercy, we have failed to do our jobs,” Emmit continued. “When people leave our churches more concerned about what’s for lunch than their personal responsibility to God, we have failed to do our jobs. When the last person walks out the door after any service and the most common comment has been, ‘Good sermon, pastor,’ we have failed to do our jobs. We are not here to satisfy the sanctimonious. God did not set us here to placate the pious. Christ did not suffer and die on the cross so that we might soothe the minds of those scrupulously adhering to dogma. 

“If Jesus were sitting here around this table with us this morning, and as much as we might like to piously claim that the Holy Spirit is with us always, it’s not, but if Jesus, in physical manifestation were sitting in one of these metal folding chairs and given the opportunity to speak, do you think he’d congratulate you on what you’re doing? Do you think he’d pat you on the back and say, ‘Hey, you’re doing the best you can under difficult circumstances?’ Do you think that, when cumulatively, between both counties, we’re reaching less than ten percent of the unchurched population? Dare we think that Christ would be pleased that we’ve not planted a new church in this association in over 17 years? 

“Look at us! Look at what we’ve become! Our young people enjoy singing, ‘It only takes a spark to set a fire going,’ but the instant we see any spark of creativity, anything that would bring new and, perhaps, different people through our doors, we immediately toss water on it while arguing that the fire our young people are trying to set could burn down the whole church. Look at us! Our egos are fragile, our theology is shallow, our motivation is self-serving, and our conduct is unbecoming a servant of God. 

“Want to know what Jesus would have to say to us? Fortunately, Matthew wrote down exactly what he would say to us because it’s exactly the same thing he said when he was here the first time and no one paid much attention to him then, either. Chapter 23, and you’ll excuse me for cherry-picking the parts that apply to us the most. He’s speaking of the scribes and Pharisees when he says:

…you must not imitate their lives! For they preach but do not practise. They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders—yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them. Their whole lives are planned with an eye to effect. They increase the size of their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their robes; they love seats of honour at dinner parties and front places in the synagogues. They love to be greeted with respect in public places and to have men call them ‘rabbi!’ Don’t you ever be called ‘rabbi’—you have only one teacher, and all of you are brothers.

“I shouldn’t need to explain to you what’s going on here. Replace ‘rabbi’ with reverend and we are exactly the same. We love the way people defer to us on topics we have absolutely no authority addressing. We enjoy being invited to the best banquets, given seats at the dais and asked to say a prayer blessing what is, without question, the most unworthy of civic events. We love to grandstand, to offer ten-minute prayers over food that takes only five minutes to eat. And Jesus isn’t done. Picking up in verse 13, you might want to actually follow along in your own Bibles. You need to see with your own eyes what Jesus is saying to you.

But alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play-actors that you are! You lock the door of the kingdom of Heaven in men’s faces; you will not go in yourselves neither will you allow those at the door to go inside.

15 “Alas for you, you scribes and Pharisees, play-actors! You scour sea and land to make a single convert, and then you make him twice as ripe for destruction as you are yourselves.

“Jump on down to verse 23 and ask yourself how honestly this fits:

Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you utter frauds! For you pay your tithe on mint and aniseed and cummin, and neglect the things which carry far more weight in the Law—justice, mercy and good faith. These are the things you should have observed—without neglecting the others. You call yourselves leaders, and yet you can’t see an inch before your noses, for you filter out the mosquito and swallow the camel.

25-26 “What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and the dish, while the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Can’t you see, Pharisee? First wash the inside of a cup, and then you can clean the outside.

27-28 “Alas for you, you hypocritical scribes and Pharisees! You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness. For you appear like good men on the outside—but inside you are a mass of pretense and wickedness.

29-36 “What miserable frauds you are, you scribes and Pharisees! You build tombs for the prophets, and decorate monuments for good men of the past, and then say, ‘If we had lived in the times of our ancestors we should never have joined in the killing of the prophets.’ Yes, ‘your ancestors’—that shows you to be sons indeed of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead then, and finish off what your ancestors tried to do! You serpents, you viper’s brood, how do you think you are going to avoid being condemned to the rubbish-heap? 

The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.

The pastors looked at their Bibles as though they were reading the passage for the first time. None of them dared look Emmit in the face. He was uncharacteristically charged and as difficult as it was to hear what he was saying, none of them could deny that his accusations were valid, though most assumed he was talking about someone other than them. Each was thinking of his own excuse, his own reason for why his actions might appear to be less than righteous, something other than sincere.

Emmit continued. “I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve been embarrassed in recent weeks simply by being associated with you guys. I was in the pharmacy on Saturday and the woman behind the counter told me how one of you manages to slip something into your suit pocket without paying for it every time you’re in the store. I won’t be joining you for lunch today because I’ve been told that the tips you leave, as a group, amount to less than five percent of your bill. And yet, you sit there and laugh and make noise, and act as though you own the place. 

“Your reputation in both counties is disgusting. I was visiting one church member in the Washataug hospital because her church is without a pastor. She told me that for all the time she’s been a member of a Southern Baptist church, I was the first minister to pay her a visit, despite the fact she has a chronic condition that requires frequent hospitalization. I was standing at the nurse’s station and was told how inappropriate some of you are, acting as though you know more than the doctors, questioning medical decisions, and apparently a couple of you are fond of slapping young nurses on the bottom! Who do you think you are? College frat boys?

“We have people visit us from Oklahoma City, trying to share with us ideas and concepts that could possibly help our churches grow and you guys treat them as though they are some kind of lower-class servant, questioning or discounting everything they say, to their faces! When Bruce Haggard left here two weeks ago he was completely and utterly discouraged by the way you responded to him and the Sunday School literature. No, he didn’t stay for lunch, he didn’t feel remotely welcome! One of you even shoved a packet of literature at his chest and told him that he’s wasting his time! How dare you! How dare you even call yourselves Christians let alone pastors with that attitude?

“I am ashamed of you. God is ashamed of you. The world is ashamed of you. The only people who like you guys right now are the ones sitting comfortably in your congregations thinking that their souls are safe and they don’t need to do anything more to help anyone else because they’ve given their tithe which means the church will take care of the poor and the homeless and the orphans and the destitute. Who do they think the church is? Our congregations think that God’s work is going to magically happen without them ever having to leave their cushioned pews and we have continually, fervently, reinforced that attitude with our preaching and setting examples that give the incorrect impression that since Jesus saves us from our sins, we can roller skate right on through the rest of our lives without ever having to worry about falling.

“Brothers, I have some bad news: We’ve fallen. We have fallen hard and we’re taking our churches with us. We have fallen so hard that I’m no longer surprised when the police come knocking at my door asking for information about one of you, attempting to verify your whereabouts in connection to some crime that has been committed. We have fallen so hard that only the blind assume your innocence. 

“Take a look around you and notice who’s missing. I specifically asked many of you to be here this morning so that you would not be suspect. As we are meeting here, police are over at Grace Church arresting Charley Edmonds on suspicion of murder. You’ll remember the incident back in February where a deacon in the church was confronted after an evening service by a man claiming that his wife was having an affair. The man’s wife was murdered later that night and police originally arrested her husband for the crime. The chaos of that initial investigation is what brought us here to Calvary church for our meetings.

“What has come to light in the following months is that it wasn’t the deacon the young woman was having an affair with, it was Charley. When he heard what had happened in the parking lot, he got scared. He waited until everyone was gone then headed out toward the couple’s house, hoping to make sure the young woman was going to be quiet. He was almost there when he found her running alongside the road. He stopped, they had an argument, and he allegedly killed her. 

“I’ve little doubt that he will be convicted. The police seem to think that I have some form of control over you guys and keep showing up at my office with evidence. I don’t know that I’ve seen it all but I’ve seen enough to be sickened by the whole matter. They’re arresting him now and it will be in all the papers this evening.”
Emmit paused for a second and looked down at the table. The room was quiet except for the creaking of strained metal as various pastors adjusted their weight in the chairs. They could tell by the pained expression on Emmit’s face that he wasn’t done.

“I was made aware of this action this morning,” Emmit continued, “not more than ten minutes after receiving a call from Oklahoma City informing me that the former pastor of Grace, Washataug, Merle Clinton, bought a gun on Saturday, took it home and shot his wife and himself in front of their children.”

Gasps and murmurs filled the room. Emmit waited as the group expressed their shock in the quiet and subdued tones men used when they felt the need to say something but didn’t want to be heard saying it. After a few seconds, he added, “That both of these pastors were at churches named Grace is not lost on me. Grace is the ultimate gift from God. Grace is the very reason Christ came to earth in human form. Grace is what saves us and right now brothers, grace is what we all need more than anything. Yet, as we’ve seen in both these events this morning, we’ve taken God’s grace and squandered it. What has been manifested through these two pastors is sin of which we all are guilty. We have taken the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from sin and used it as a cover for doing all the things we preach against.

I am tempted to call out at least half of you this morning because what you’ve done in your communities is already so public that you’re the only ones who seem to not be aware of how much the people in your churches already know. One of you has embezzled over $5,000 from your church. Your wife is helping to build the case against you so there’s no point in trying to run. One of you has been caught in your office on multiple occasions with young boys. The only reason you’re not in jail already is that the parents involved don’t want to drag their children through the trial process. Another pastor here lied about his credentials. Not only have you not been to college or seminary as you led your church to believe, you were never ordained at all. You are not legally a Southern Baptist minister and all the weddings you’ve performed are now being called into question.”

The quiet was disrupted by the sound of a metal chair being pushed back across the hard tile. Marshall Huffman, pastor of Trinity church in Washataug, got up and left the room without speaking.

“No, before you ask, Marshall was not among any of those I’ve mentioned,” Emmit said, knowing what the pastors were likely assuming. “You each know who you are and what you have done. I, for one, am done covering for you. I’m sick and tired of attempting to defend the indefensible. I took this position in the hopes that I would be able to support the pastors here and in doing so help grow the churches as well. I’ve obviously failed in that job. You are the most corrupt and malicious group of so-called Christians I have ever known. 

“I had planned on waiting until our Annual Meeting in October to do this but I simply cannot, in good conscience, go on any longer. I’ve called Dr. Ingram and submitted my resignation. I can no longer be your Director of Missions or hold any affiliation with this association in any way. I’ve made a thorough and detailed report of exactly who has done what and mailed it to the ministerial services office in Oklahoma City. They’ll be reaching out to law enforcement where necessary and directly to churches where it is appropriate.

“I cannot begin to express my level of dismay in doing this. I look at your many failures and wonder what I could have done to stop it all, how I might have directed you away from so many sins. Perhaps I failed to inspire you sufficiently or it could be that I should have been more of a disciplinarian, pushing you to a more rigid discipleship. I don’t know. What I know is that I cannot continue.”

Emmit’s face showed the pain with which he was speaking. He closed his Bible and tapped it with his fingers, looking for the words with which to finish. Finally, he said, “There is a handful of you who, at least for now, appear to be faithful. I will reach out to you before I leave, let you know what you need to know to protect yourself from the sin that surrounds you. The rest of you… what happens next is between you and God and your churches. God may yet offer you forgiveness but I wouldn’t expect the same from your congregations.”

He picked up his Bible and walked toward the door. Seeing the still-shocked expression on Glynn’s face, he paused long enough to pat him on the shoulder before leaving, a move everyone noticed and questioned its meaning. The pastors waited quietly, some unsure whether to say anything, others quite certain that they needed to leave before more questions were asked, squirmed in their chairs, not wanting to be the first to stand. Disbanding slowly under a cloud of hushed questions and accusations, they each left with no mention of what to do next.

Glynn drove home in silence, the radio off, the windows rolled up and the air-conditioner doing its best to overpower the humidity. He felt as though he had his feet kicked out from under him. Emmit was his friend, or at least Glynn had always seen him as such. He’d been supportive and encouraging at every turn, offering sound advice when it was needed. The suddenness of his departure was a punch that compounded the angst and worries he’d felt over his own position. Now, given the broad brush strokes with which every pastor in the association had been painted, Glynn was no longer sure who he could trust. Was there anyone in whom he could confide?

The pastor arrived home to find Marve watching over the kids from the kitchen window as they played outside. She smiled at him as he came through the door. He walked up behind her, put his arms around her waist, and kissed the back of her neck.

“I take it this was another one of those meetings that left you worse than when you got here?” Marve asked softly as she leaned into her husband.

“Worst one yet. Emmit resigned, among other things,” Glynn said.

“That explains the phone calls,” Marve said as she reached for a piece of paper on the counter. “Both Joe Ingram and Calvin Cain said to give them a call if you need to talk.” She slipped the paper into his shirt pocket and then reached up to give him a kiss. “Of course, you could always talk to me. I don’t come with long-distance charges.”

Glynn held his wife close. “I’m not sure how much of this mess you want to know. Although, maybe it’s best you know before it hits the papers this evening.”

“Oh, God, is it that bad?” Marve asked as she looked out the window.

“Charley Edmonds was arrested for murder this morning,” Glynn said softly as he took a seat at the kitchen table. “The former pastor at Grace, Washataug killed himself and his wife. Some other things but Emmit didn’t name names. Just a lot all at once.”

“How’s all that going to affect you?” his wife asked. “I mean, why did Emmit have to resign?”

“I don’t know that he would have had to before this morning. He was tired of police showing up at his office all the time asking about different pastors in the association.” Glynn leaned on the table with his elbows, his head in his hand. “He was pretty heated in his delivery this morning, made it clear that, collectively, he considers the pastors in the association as bad if not worse than the scribes and Pharisees. He mentioned some things without naming names that are pretty bad. There’s no way he could be an effective leader after that and he made it pretty clear that he doesn’t want to be that leader anymore.”

Marve walked around the table and put her hands on her husband’s shoulders, gently massaging his back. “I’ve not felt you this stressed since the last time the plant had layoffs. What happens next?”

Glynn shook his head. “I don’t know. I guess the state convention steps in, finds someone to fill the position? I’m not sure. For us, for this church, it means we focus on right here, right now. Our community. Try to stay away from whatever trouble is brewing in other churches.”

Marve leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Glynn’s shoulders and leaned into him. “So much for the joys of being full time.”

“After this morning, I’m wondering if there’s any joy in being a pastor at all,” he sighed. “I’m feeling like I bought into a massive lie.”


Chapter 30

Chapter 30

Over the course of the rest of the week, Glynn poured all his energy into the church. He went down the membership roll and made sure he had some form of contact with everyone, even those who he saw on a regular basis. Some were normal enough, saying hi as he walked to the store and back. Others required traveling out to farms and occasionally into the middle of cornfields being actively harvested. Those he couldn’t get to he called and those who no longer lived in the area received a hand-written letter. He wanted to make sure that everyone in the church knew that he was focused on them.

The pastor’s most effective method, unsurprisingly, was to walk into the diner and stay through the entire lunch rush. By Friday, Alta Groves didn’t even bother taking his order. She’d greet him with a cup of coffee and bring out the day’s special as soon as it was ready. Those who were regulars at the diner took notice. 

“Preacher, you keep this up and we’re going to have to get you a John Deere hat of your own,” Allen teased him. “We’re not used to having a preacher pay this much attention to us. It’s kind of like God has suddenly decided he wants to be your best friend and now you’re second-guessing everything you do.”

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Glynn asked, smiling. He hadn’t pushed Allen or any of the other farmers about their church attendance over the summer but he could tell his presence at the diner was causing some to feel a bit guilty.

The deacon laughed as he pulled up a chair and took a seat. “A little suspicious, maybe? I mean, you’ve not asked a single person if they’re coming to church, but how many of these guys have promised to be there this Sunday?”

Glynn took a sip of the coffee Alta had just refreshed. “There’ve been a few, but that’s their call. I’ve tried to give all y’all some space over the summer. I know you’re busy and there’s a lot to do. God’s not going to get upset because you didn’t drop everything for a couple of hours on Sunday.”

“Yeah, and that’s different from other preachers we’ve had. And personally, I appreciate you not taking a heavy-handed approach, I really do.” Allen paused as Alta set the plate of food in front of him. “But you’ve gone from being in here maybe once every other week when you needed to chat about something, to every day just because. And I can’t help but notice this is coming at the same time as that preacher over in Arvel is being arrested for that girl’s murder, and three other pastors have suddenly resigned, didn’t even wait for Sunday, and that Director of Missions fellow quit as well. Now, tell me if I’m wrong, but ya’ don’t have to be one of those TV detectives to think something might be up.”

The preacher leaned forward on the table and spoke softly. “Yeah, there’s a lot going on in the association right now, and I honestly won’t be surprised if we don’t see a couple more pastors resign on Sunday. As I think I’ve heard you say on occasion, the cow manure can only get so high before you have to start shoveling and it would seem that God’s doing some shoveling.”

“And you’re making sure we know you’re not one of those being shoveled,” Allen said slowly, not sure he was picking up on the pastor’s metaphor. 

“Sort of,” Glynn answered. “But one of the accusations going around over in Arvel, and perhaps Washataug, too, is that all Southern Baptist preachers are either crooks or liars and that none of us can be trusted. If there’s anyone in Adelberg that’s feeling that way, I want to be able to address the matter before it gets out of hand.”

Allen was nodding his head as he ate his food. He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve before responding. “I’ve heard that talk. I was over at the tractor supply place yesterday and it’s not just Baptist preachers but all preachers that are gettin’ dragged through the mud a bit. But it seems to be more of an Arvel thing. I can promise you that no one around these parts feels that way. Same for, what’s his name over there, Carl something? Folks over in that part of the county just love him. I’ve not been into Washataug that much of late. I know when the stuff went down at Grace church it was kind of a big thing, but I think it’s blown over pretty much now.”

“The pastor involved there killed himself and his wife last weekend,” Glynn said gently. “That might stir things up again.”

Allen dropped his fork on the table. “You’re kidding me! Merle Clinton did that? I never would have taken him for that kind of person.” He picked up his fork and took another bite, not quite waiting until he had swallowed before continuing. “You’re right, that’s going to stir up the dust. You know, preacher, maybe it makes a couple of guys uncomfortable for you to be in here all the time, but maybe that’s a good thing. You’re visible, not hiding out and giving folks a reason to wonder what you’re up to. Keep on keepin’ on, as the kids say. School’s about to start, football season’s just around the corner, and folks’ll be back to worryin’ about normal stuff. This other nonsense will blow over.”

Allen’s words were what Glynn wanted to hear. By Sunday, the preacher was feeling more enthused than he had in over a month and the energy with which he delivered his sermon to the full sanctuary was abundant. His sermon on the never-ending grace of God was welcome and reassuring. He couldn’t help but notice that people lingered longer after the service, visiting and catching up with people they’d not seen much over the summer. This Sunday felt good for a change.

By the time 9:00 on Monday rolled around again, Glynn wondered if maybe the destruction of the association and with it the pastors’ conference was maybe a good thing. He didn’t feel the need to rush off. He wasn’t going to miss the negative attitudes. He could get his week started off well, maybe even get a little ahead of the curve with his sermon preparation. 

Having a more flexible schedule also meant that he had time to go with Marve to enroll Hayden in kindergarten. Glynn hadn’t given any prior thought to how emotional the event would actually be. His little tow-headed boy was growing up quickly, being more independent and developing a personality separate from his parents, for better or worse. When Glynn and Marve left the school, they sat in the car, holding hands, and wiping away tears of both joy and sorrow that both kids were now in school.

It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that there was a soft knock on the church office door. Glynn answered, surprised to see Emmit there wearing blue jeans and a faded checked shirt. 

“I was wondering if you’d have time to chat a bit,” Emmit said, his smile less enthusiastic than normal. “I didn’t have any chance to warn you before everything happened and I could tell it was all a bit of a shock.”

Glynn opened the door fully and motioned for Emmit to come in. “I’ll always have time for you, no matter what else is going on. How’ve you been? You’re right, that was a lot to take in last week, but for you, I can only imagine how much more difficult it had to be.”

Emmit took a seat in one of the folding chairs across from the pastor’s desk. “It wasn’t easy, but it was a long time coming,” he said firmly. “And I probably could have handled it better. I was feeling so very frustrated. You know, there were three different police detectives working five different cases in my office that previous Friday, all looking for answers that I didn’t have about pastors I didn’t control. They don’t understand how Baptists work, that the churches are autonomous. They kept insisting that I had to be able to order them to do things, or that I could affect their employment. When those calls came in Monday morning, that was the end. I couldn’t handle anymore.”

Glynn shook his head, not wanting to believe what Emmit was telling him but knowing that it was all likely true. “I… I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around there being so many pastors doing so much wrong in one association. I mean, this is an anomaly, right? This doesn’t happen elsewhere, does it? Or am I just in the dark?”

“There’s more than anyone cares to admit,” Emmit said. “In addition to those I mentioned last week, I’m aware of two pastors who are cheating on their spouses with their church secretaries. I don’t know if you noticed at camp, but there were some pastors who were never asked to teach a class. You were given a pass because of being so new, but most of the others who weren’t teaching can’t be trusted with children, even in a reasonably public setting. 

“One of our older pastors, and this one really bothers me, but he goes to lunch or dinner at a diner near his house almost every day; doesn’t get much, maybe a bowl of soup or a sandwich and chips if he’s especially hungry, then just gets up and leaves without paying. Every time. They’ve stopped even bothering to bring him a check. I go by once a week and pay the bill for him. Between you and me, and the guys in the Ministerial Services office, he needs to be in a home. His house is a mess. If you say anything about it, his excuse is that his wife’s been working and hasn’t had time to clean. His wife died 14 years ago! He showed up for Sunday morning services a couple of weeks ago wearing his gardening shorts. Back last winter, there were a couple of Sundays he forgot to show up at all. I’ve talked to the deacons and other church members and they all agree that he needs help and needs to step down, but they feel like it would be mean to ask that of him and, of course, no one can make him resign or retire. So, we’re stuck. What’s he going to do? What’s the church going to do?

“And no, Glynn, it’s not just here. If it were, we might could do something, look at the common factors, see what the problem is. But it’s everywhere. When I talk to the other guys in the other associations, it’s as bad if not worse. Pastors who beat their wives and kids, pastors who are alcoholics and try to hide it, pastors who exaggerate or lie about things they’ve done, pastors who cheat, steal, extort money and favors from their own church members… There are times I think we could fill a prison with just preachers. And don’t even get me started on the evangelists that pass through here. Have you ever noticed that not many of them ever return to the area? Okay, you’ve not been here long enough I guess, but they don’t because they can’t. They’d be arrested or in trouble with someone’s husband.”

Glynn didn’t realize that his mouth was open as Emmit spoke. With each addition to Emmit’s list, his stomach turned another knot. He had never suspected such things from his colleagues. Perhaps there might be some slight exaggeration of a story for the sake of illustrating a point, but never anything beyond that. He felt painfully naive. He dropped his head. “Is there anyone I can trust?” he asked softly.

Emmit leaned forward, resting his arm on the desk. “Yes, even as bad as all this sounds, the majority are still good men. Clement, Bill, Carl, Ted over at Short Springs is a wonderful guy, Harold Waters, and plenty of others. But we’re in a profession where the churches and the communities expect them all to be good men. Even one straying is a problem, and when there are several it’s discouraging because a sin against God isn’t necessarily a crime against man. We don’t have a pastoral police force we can call. Other denominations have a process for handling these things outside the individual church, but not us. If the church chooses to look the other way, and they often do, there’s nothing that can be done. You just have to watch, pay attention to how pastors behave when they think no one’s watching. Choose your friends carefully.”

Glynn let out a long, slow sigh. He didn’t like what he was hearing. All the anxieties and doubt he’d had the weeks before came rushing back with more force than ever. What in the world had he gotten himself into? How could God allow such sin among his own messengers? There had to be a solution here somewhere or else everything he was doing was a fraud. “So, what’s next? Where are you going? What happens to the association?”

“I had already been talking with the folks at the Home Mision Board about going to Minnesota as a church planter,” Emmit said. “We’ve accelerated those conversations over the past week. I was going to wait until the Annual Meeting to announce anything and start up there the first of next year, but now it’s looking more like October. My wife’s not especially happy, but she understands that staying around here would only stir more trouble.” In a fake Italian accent, he added, “Knowing too much about pastors is kind of like snitching on the mob, you know?”

Glynn smiled at the reference to The Godfather, a popular movie that had been released earlier in the year about a crime family. He hadn’t seen the movie but he understood the inference. 

“The association’s executive board will have to meet within the next week or so,” Emmit continued. “Someone from Oklahoma City will come up to help guide that. They’ll select a search committee, much like a church would do when looking for a pastor. The guys from Ministerial Services will make some suggestions but the committee isn’t bound to consider any of them. They’ll look for someone they think is qualified, make a recommendation, and then the executive committee either accepts the recommendation or tells them to keep searching.”

“The churches don’t get a voice?” Glynn asked, surprised by how closed the process was.

“Not really,” Emmit said as he shook his head. “If you stop and think about it, that would probably be a bad idea. There’s not much chance you’d get a consensus on anyone. We have enough trouble passing simple things like a budget at the Annual Meeting. No, treating this more as an administrative position rather than a pastoral one is best. It’s not like the Director of Missions has any real authority. We’re just here in a support role. They just need to find someone quickly or else the Annual Meeting will be chaos if it can happen at all.”

Emmit paused and looked at his watch. “I’ve taken up enough of your time, Glynn. I need to get back to Arvel and finish getting my things out of the office this afternoon. The secretaries will still be there of the morning if you need anything, of course.” He stood and extended his hand, clasping Glynn’s hand in both of his as they shook. “Stay the course, brother. I know this is hard and confusing for you. I assure you, God is still in charge. We come out of the fire refined and purified. Call Calvin. I think he’s coming up next week to meet with the executive committee. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind stopping by. He’s a good encourager.”

”You’ll stay in touch, right?” Glynn asked. 

“You know it,” Emmit said, knowing full well he probably wouldn’t.

There was a short, obligatory prayer; the kind that seemed necessary because of who they were, neither of them expecting it to change anything on any level. Glynn stood in the parking lot and watched as Emmit drove away for the last time.

Reading time: 32 min
Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 25

chapter 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Chapter 26

chapter 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading time: 32 min
Pastors' Conference, 1972. ch. 23-24

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Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Independence Day landed on a Tuesday and being in a small town without any civic organizations to fund large fireworks displays meant celebrations were limited to what one chose to do in their own front yard. Not knowing how the kids might react, Glynn bought a small number of firecrackers, bottle rockets, sparklers, and Roman candles from a roadside vendor to see how they would go over. He had enjoyed fireworks when he was young, but both his children tended to be more gentle. 

Lita quickly declared the whole bag too dangerous and went back inside the house. Hayden liked watching everything pop and bang but was still too small to handle anything himself. Other children in the neighborhood, however, were not so reluctant and were thrilled that the new preacher would let them join him in setting off the fireworks. A line of six children queued to take turns launching bottle rockets down the street from the top of the hill. For nearly an hour, Glynn was the most popular person in the neighborhood. Even those too reluctant, or perhaps too old to feel like joining in the activity sat or stood on their porches and watched, smiling at the simplicity of it all. 

Relaxing in the comfort of air conditioning allowed the afternoon to pass in comfort as outside temperatures surpassed the one hundred degree mark. Marve spread a blanket on the living room floor to accommodate an indoor picnic of hotdogs and potato salad. Since both kids took long naps they were allowed to stay up past their bedtimes, which delighted Lita but resulted in mild fussiness on Hayden’s part.

As darkness fell, the dads in the neighborhood decided to pool their accumulative fireworks and put on a group show from the top of the hill. There were plenty of sparklers to go around for the kids who wanted to participate and enough ariel explosions to satisfy the children anxiously trying to act older than they were. Humor and laughter filled the air as, for a moment, everyone in the neighborhood was able to relax. There was also palpable relief as neighbors discovered that the new pastor and his family could be social without making everyone feel judged or uncomfortable, something that hadn’t happened with previous pastors. There were no forced acts of patriotism. No one talked about Vietnam. Everyone enjoyed each other’s company and then went home and went to bed.

Wednesday morning felt eerily quiet by comparison with all the noise of the previous night. Glynn drove to the church office noting that several people had taken the week off for vacation. The streets were quieter than usual but in a calm, summer sort of way that felt relaxing, an almost surreal environment that made it easy to block out the rest of the world and enjoy the peacefulness that came with living in a small town. Somewhere in the distance, a radio was playing Looking Glass’ “Brandy,” just loudly enough to be picked up by the wind but not enough to drown out the chattering of birds as they played back and forth along the streets lined with oak and elm trees. 

Every sound seemed slightly amplified. A semi passed through town on the highway, its air brakes hissing at it stopped at the town’s one four-way stop sign. Gravel crunched beneath the car as Glynn pulled into the parking lot. His keys jangled as he unlocked the office door. The door seemed to slam as it closed behind him. The room was instantly too quiet and Glynn opened the two screened windows not so much for the air but so that he wouldn’t feel as though he were completely walled off from the rest of the world.

Setting his keys on the desk, Glynn walked from the office into the sanctuary. At the moment, the room felt cavernous with its high pitched wood-covered ceiling. As he often did, Glynn wondered if what he was doing here was of any benefit to anyone. He knew the answer, of course. While common sense might have said that canceling the midweek prayer service was economically prudent, the pastor knew that it was the only social interaction during the week for the six or seven older women who faithfully attended. There were no senior centers, no social workers coming around to check on them. Their families all lived out of town, too busy with their own lives or too far away to visit with any frequency. 

In many ways, Sundays’ services fulfilled a similar social need for the whole congregation. Farm life could be solitary in many ways. Gathering at church once a week, or for some just once a month was a way of keeping up, seeing how everyone else was doing, making sure they weren’t missing out on anything important. Even on the Sundays where no one walked the aisle during the invitation, which was most Sundays, the simple reassurance that someone cared, that a God was listening to their prayers, that a higher level of reason was in control, was enough to keep everyone going for another week.

Glynn walked up the center aisle quietly praying for those who sat in the same place on the same pew every service; Mrs. Kingfisher, a rotund lady of considerable age who, when asked how she was doing, always replied, “Oh, my lumbago is acting up;” Muriel Alberez, a small, quiet woman well into her 80s who always put exactly fifty cents in the offering plate when it passed; Eloise Willingham, who, having lost her husband two years earlier, had decided to take up gardening and filled her small yard with flowers; Cora Gainesburg, a retired school teacher, whose tall, thin frame seemed to have an eternally stern expression but who would reveal in private conversation how sad she was to have never had anyone with whom to share her life. 

About half-way back, Glynn noticed a scrap of paper lingering in one of the pews. Thinking it was likely trash left by a child, he picked it up with the intent of throwing it away. Looking down at it, though, he discovered someone had written, in a presumptively feminine handwriting, “Where is God when I’m alone?”

Glynn looked at the note and wondered if perhaps it had been left intentionally. He thought back to both the morning and then the evening service, trying to recall who had been sitting in that area but couldn’t be certain. The middle of the sanctuary was the most popular place to sit. Too close to the front implied a level of piety or religious exuberance that few had. Too far back communicated a reluctance and perhaps a shame in approaching God. The middle, however, was a good place to hide, to participate and not be seen, to be present without necessarily being involved. Teens sat here and passed notes. Families sat here to pretend for a moment that all was well among them. Elderly members sat here to be near someone. 

The pastor slipped the note into his shirt pocket and looked around the empty room. Sunlight streaming through the amber-colored windows on the East side of the sanctuary gave warmth to the pews within its reach while leaving the other side in a cool shadow. Dust particles floating in the air reflected off the light as though they were possibly divine sparks of inspiration and not the sneeze-inducing allergens that made many uncomfortable. Glynn wondered if there was anything to the concept that the architecture meant to demonstrate the awesomeness of God actually had the effect of making worshippers feel more solitary and removed from the deity. Was a god who requires such massive amounts of space too large and by extension too disconnected to be concerned with the individual needs of the supplicant believer?

He also questioned whether to directly address the question on the note. Was it a question born out of need or might it have been a note from a Sunday School teacher reminding her of an upcoming topic? Unsure of who might have left the note, there was no certainty that the person who wrote it would be back the next Sunday, perhaps not within the next month. That was the problem with summer sermons: too often the people who needed them most were the ones not present. Vacations and farming needs left huge gaps in the pews where faithful and earnest members might otherwise sit. There hadn’t been a Sunday in the past month where Glynn didn’t feel that his words were swirling through those gaps and out the door without providing any wisdom or spiritual nourishment to anyone. 

With his hands in his trouser pockets, Glynn walked back to the office, sat down and opened his Bible in front of him on the desk. He flipped aimlessly back and forth between well-known passages before finally settling at Psalm 139.

1 O Lord, you have searched me [thoroughly] and have known me.
2 You know my downsitting and my uprising; You understand my thought afar off.
3 You sift and search out my path and my lying down, and You are acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue [still unuttered], but, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
5 You have beset me and shut me in—behind and before, and You have laid Your hand upon me.
6 Your [infinite] knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high above me, I cannot reach it.
7 Where could I go from Your Spirit? Or where could I flee from Your presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead), behold, You are there.
9 If I take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there shall Your hand lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me and the night shall be [the only] light about me,
12 Even the darkness hides nothing from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.
13 For You did form my inward parts; You did knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I will confess and praise You for You are fearful and wonderful and for the awful wonder of my birth! Wonderful are Your works, and that my inner self knows right well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You when I was being formed in secret [and] intricately and curiously wrought [as if embroidered with various colors] in the depths of the earth [a region of darkness and mystery].
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before ever they took shape, when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious and weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I could count them, they would be more in number than the sand. When I awoke, [could I count to the end] I would still be with You.
24 And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation

Glynn pulled a yellow legal pad from the bottom drawer of the desk and began to write. “I miss my parents. There’s an old hymn that, sadly, is not in our hymn but I can remember my mother singing it as she would go through the house cleaning. Growing up, I just thought it was another church song that Mom sang, maybe because she liked the tune or something. I can still hear her voice gently sing,

“I've seen the lightning flashing and heard the thunder roll;
I've felt sin's breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul;
I've heard the voice of Jesus telling me still to fight on;
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.
No, never alone, no, never alone,
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone;
No, never alone, no, never alone,
He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.

“It never occurred to me, in a house with three rowdy kids who were always running through the house, making messes and arguing with each other that my Mom could ever feel alone. How was that even possible? We were constantly begging for attention and if we weren’t she came looking for us because we were bound to be doing something we weren’t supposed to be doing. Yet, even then, with all that chaos, my Mom at times felt lonely and for her, singing that hymn was the reminder that there was a comfort and a companion who was always there.

“Loneliness is one of the most common of all human emotions. In that regard, our lives are not that much different than they were 3,500 years ago when David wrote this psalm. In fact, we look at the number of times that the topic comes up in the Bible and one gets the impression that no one is immune. Elijah, in the wilderness, felt so lonely he asked God to let him die. Isaiah felt the burden of being alone as everyone around him had turned from God. Paul, chained down in a prison cell, detached from everyone, felt alone. John, on Patmos, had no one on the entire island to talk with. Even Jesus, who John described as being rejected by his own people, on the cross cried, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ If they all felt alone then it’s no surprise that we do as well? 

“There is a common saying that I’ve seen on posters and trinkets that says, ‘If you feel far from God, guess who moved.’ Chances are you’ve seen it, too; it seems to be all over the place recently. I have a problem with that saying, though. Who says anyone moved? My mother had children literally under her feet and still felt lonely. We can be holding hands with someone and still feel lonely. If we don’t feel God at any given moment, it doesn’t mean that we’ve moved. We’ve not sinned. Loneliness does not mean that anyone did anything wrong.

“Rather, when I look at all the instances of loneliness in the Bible, I am convinced that God brings us to loneliness for a purpose and that purpose is not always the same from one person to the next or even one instance to the next. Sometimes God brings us to a place of loneliness to get us away from distraction so that we can focus. Sometimes God brings us to loneliness because he wants us to do something different than what everyone else is doing. Sometimes God forces loneliness because we become too full of ourselves and need a reminder of who is actually in charge. And sometimes God gives us loneliness to provide a moment of clarity, to help us see what we’ve taken for granted, or to help us pay attention to something we’ve been missing.”

Glynn paused, looking up from his furious scribbling, not realizing that a couple of hours had passed. He leaned back in his chair and surveyed the room. He didn’t want to give up the momentum he was enjoying but he could feel some pain in his lower back and knew that he at least needed to stand and stretch for a moment. He stood and walked around the corner of the desk, knocking mail off onto the floor as he brushed by. As he bent down to pick up the mail there was a knock at the office door. 

Somewhat surprised at the late morning interruption, Glynn opened the door to find the diminutive Eloise Willingham, her flowered garden smock hanging loosely over an old brown dress, her hose rolled down to her ankles, just above the black hard-soled shoes she wore in her garden. In her hands was a dish covered with aluminum foil. She smiled brightly and said, “Good morning, pastor! I had some time this morning and decided to do some baking. Does your family like strawberry rhubarb pie?”

Glynn opened the door a bit wider and answered, “I’m not sure any of us have ever tasted that combination but I can’t imagine anyone objecting. Please, do come in!”

As the old woman stepped over the threshold and into the relative coolness of the office she gave a shudder. “My, these concrete walls keep it cool in here, don’t they?” she asked rhetorically, more for the sake of explaining her shudder than any need for conversation.

“Yes, for the morning at least,” Glynn said as he shut the door and came back around the desk. “It can get toasty by mid-afternoon. Do you have time to chat?”

“Oh, no, not this morning.” Eloise set the pie on the desk as delicately as she might a fancy floral arrangement. “I’ve left the sprinkler on the begonias in the back and I need to turn that off before the sun hits them. I just wanted to drop this off.”

Glynn smiled his most pastorly smile. “Well thank you, I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”

Eloise was rubbing her hands as though she were still trying to get garden dirt off her pale skin. “You know, there’s a touch of heaven in every bite,” she said matter-of-factly. “Some people say they find God in rainbows and flowers and such, but you know, when I get down and lonely, missing Frank, my husband, I find God in food I bake for someone else. I don’t eat all that much myself so it’s rather silly for me to make pies and casseroles unless I’m going to share them with someone.” She reached in the pocket of her smock and pulled out a wrinkled tissue, dabbing at the perspiration on her upper lip before continuing. “I don’t know, I don’t think you’ll find it in the Bible anywhere, but when I’m at my lowest is when God shouts the loudest. He was in Mrs. Kinder’s hello when I saw her this morning. He was in the cool soil around my flowers. And I promise, he’s in every bite of that pie.” She smiled again and reached for the doorknob. “Y’all have a good day now, pastor.”

“We most certainly will,” he told her. “And thank you, again.”

As the door shut, Glynn looked at the pie and then back at the yellow legal pad on his desk. He thought of what Eloise had said and he knew how he needed to finish his sermon, but not now. He picked up the phone to let Marve know he was on his way home for lunch and that they were having fresh strawberry rhubarb pie.


Chapter 24

Chapter24

Only two words can describe an Oklahoma summer: hot and dusty. Rain across the state dried up as if God had turned off the faucet and sealed it tight. By the time the next Monday rolled around, there wasn’t enough moisture in the air to create dew on the grass of the morning. Early morning temperatures started in the low 80s and moved upward from there. Farm work started early to get as much work done as possible before the heat reached dangerous levels. Conversations at the diner turned to the threat of ponds drying up and having enough water to keep corn crops alive. 

The drive to Calvary Church in Arvel had a strangely nostalgic feel to it. Not having had pastors’ conferences for a few weeks had, in some ways, been a pleasant respite from all the complaining and, increasingly, arguing that had taken place around the table. At the same time, it also felt a bit like going back to school at the end of a summer break. The biggest difference was that summer was far from over. Even with the car’s air conditioner running full blast Glynn could still feel perspiration forming on his back. By the time he pulled into the church’s parking lot, there was a damp spot on the back of his light blue short-sleeved shirt.

There were only three other cars in the parking lot. One Glynn recognized as Emmit’s and he assumed one was the church’s pastor. Walking into the church’s fellowship hall, Glynn was not surprised to see Emmit talking with Tom Oliver, Calvary’s pastor, and Ernie Calvin, pastor of a smaller church whose name Glynn could never remember. Emmit smiled, as usual, and waved Glynn over.

“We were just discussing whether to stay here or go ahead and adjourn on over to the cafe,” Emmit said with his typical cheerfulness. “I should have postponed another week. Everyone’s still on vacation.”

Glynn shrugged. “Cafe’s fine with me. You don’t think we’ll have any stragglers?”

“I can leave a note on the door,” Tom said. “Even the church secretary is gone this week, though.”

“Sounds like the cafe is the place to be,” Glynn said. “I was in the mood for a piece of pie, anyway.”

The pastors all laughed and walked out to their cars, each making a comment about the heat as they opened their car doors. Glynn was glad the cafe was only a couple of blocks over. At 11:00, the parking lot was still mostly empty and the four were able to park next to each other. They walked into the cafe and were surprised to be greeted by the owner.

“Hi, Ruby!” Emmit said as he led the way in. “Surprised to see you outside the kitchen this morning!”

“You boys scared me,” the older woman answered in a rough and gravely voice. “Four cars pull up at the same time like that and nicely dressed men step out of them, I was afraid for the moment we were being raided by the health department or somethin’.”

The men all laughed at the idea that they could be mistaken for government workers, though Glynn couldn’t help looking around and wondering if there was a legitimate reason for Ruby’s fear.

“I suppose you boys will all be wantin’ coffee,” Ruby said as she moved behind the counter. “And Reverend Tom, I just pulled a fresh apple pie out of the oven about 15 minutes ago if you’re interested.”

Tom glanced at the others quickly and noted their smiles before answering, “Might as well just cut that pie into four pieces and bring it on over, Ruby.”

The preachers sat at a table in the middle of the dining room oblivious to the three other people seated around, finishing their meals. Ruby brought over the porcelain cups of coffee then shuffled back to the kitchen to cut the pie. 

All four men took a careful sip of their coffee as though it were instinctive to test the temperature before risking a larger drink. “Any of you ‘boys’ have much going on this summer?” Emmit asked.

The three pastors shook their heads. “We hit this time of year and I get the feeling that the entire town is tired all the time,” Tom said. “We only had 112 yesterday and so help me I think half of those were asleep when they walked in the door. This is typical for this time of year, though. I’ve come to expect it.”

“You city fellas are lucky,” Ernie responded. “The cows got out of the pasture next to the church and we had to help round ‘em all up before anyone could even come in for Sunday School. If you can imagine, these older women in their summer dresses goin’ around wavin’ their Bibles at those cows as though they were about to swat ‘em with the power of Christ. Then, they spent all of their Sunday School time complainin’ that their cankles hurt.”

The men were still laughing when Ruby brought out the pie and sat the plates in front of the men. “Y’all seem in good spirits this mornin’,” she commented as she handed out the forks. “Most folks be comin’ in here either worried ‘bout how fast their ponds is dryin’ up or complainin’ ‘bout the gov’ment. Y’all hear that Governor Hall is supposed to be up here talkin’ at the Lion’s Club on Thursday?”

Emmit was the only one whose mouth wasn’t already full of pie. “No, any particular reason? It’s not often the Governor makes his way this far North.”

“That’s ‘cause he knows no one up here voted for him,” Ruby said as she wiped her hands on her apron. “The only reason that polecat got elected was because Carl Albert got his people to support him.”

“And because he’s a Democrat,” Ernie added. “This county hasn’t voted for a single Republican since the state was founded.”

“They didn’t vote for Bellmon?” Tom asked.

Ruby and Ernie both laughed. “That old frog? Folks ‘round here woulda sooner voted for one of Hemp Johnson’s hogs,” Ruby said. “Only reason he or Bartlett got elected was ‘cause all those Oklahoma City and Tulsa big wigs was scared of Kennedy. Now we got Hall in there and so help me, he’s as crooked as the Verdigris River. I think he’s up here raisin’ money for somethin’. I’m sure half of it ends up in his back pocket.”

“I don’t think he’s going to raise much up here,” Ernie said, taking another big bite of pie.

Tom shook his head, agreeing, his mouth too full to speak.

Emmit laughed. “Hand the governor a piece of this pie, Ruby, and he might straighten right up. This is may be the best thing this side of heaven.”

Ruby scooped up the empty plates. “You boys were a might hungry, weren’t you?” She looked at Glynn. “You’ve been rather quiet over there, sugar. Won’t these boys let you talk?”

“I’ve only been here five months,” he said, smiling. “Not long enough to jump in on political conversations.”

“Sweetheart, you’re gonna have to get over that ‘round here,” Ruby said. “Only things anyone talks about is how bad the weather is hurting the crops and how politicians are ruining everything.”

“I’ll have to start paying attention, then,” Glynn said.

Ruby laughed. “Honey, ‘round here all you have to do is open your mouth. Someone’s going to disagree no matter what you say. You could tell ‘em the Lord’s comin’ next week and some ol’ boy would hop up and say God told him it was a month from Thursday.”

“I believe I was here for that conversation,” Tom said. “That one got rather testy pretty quick.”

Ernie laughed. “That’s because everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to be first.”

Emmit handed Ruby a ten-dollar bill, more than enough to cover the pie and coffee. “I’ve got this one, guys. This has been the most enjoyable pastors’ conference in quite a while.”

“Yeah, Winston’s not here,” Tom quipped. “So help me, he thrives on startin’ trouble.”

“His wife’s just as bad,” Ernie added. “She got the school board all up in arms because some textbook mentioned something about Islam. They pretty near had a book burnin’ that night.”

Emmit shook his head, waiting until they were all outside before saying anything. “Brothers, let’s be careful about that kind of talk in public, okay? We can have a good time but runnin’ down another brother only hurts us all, even when what you’re saying is true. God will deal with Larry in his own time, I’m sure of it.”

Tom and Ernie looked at the ground like children who had been reprimanded by a teacher. Emmit let it soak in for a second before continuing. “That being said, what do you guys think, are the pastors’ conferences really working for you?”

“Some weeks, certainly. Other weeks, not so much,” Tom answered as the group walked toward their cars. “The problem is, you never know which it’s going to be until you get here.”

Ernie was nodding his head. “When you have someone from Oklahoma City here explainin’ a program or somethin’, that’s really helpful. I could use more of that ‘cause I don’t understand half of what I get in the mail. When half the time is spent arguing, though, I feel like I wasted my time.”

Emmit looked at Glynn. “I know you’re still a bit new to all this. What do you think?”

Glynn shrugged. “I doubt many enjoy the arguing, not even those doing the fussing. But it’s still nice to fellowship with people who have a similar point of view. It’s not like we can easily commiserate with anyone in our churches.”

Ernie giggled. “You go around tellin’ folks you’ve been commiseratin’ and they’re likely to start lookin’ at ya’ a bit strange.”

Glynn blushed and Emmit laughed. “Don’t worry, Glynn, we won’t tell anyone.” 

That was enough for the meeting to end. They each got into their cars and drove off in different directions. 

Glynn’s ride home was peaceful and the week was looking to be another quiet one with just a few hospital visits and plenty of time to walk around town and visit with people, something Glynn enjoyed doing. He would walk from the church to the grocery, buy an ice cream bar and eat it while talking with people coming and going, especially back in the feed area. This was the easiest way for him to connect with farmers and ranchers who weren’t likely to make it in for church. Then he’d walk back up to the gas station, buy a bottle of soda, and sit and chat with the salty mechanic while cars came and went, their occupants waving and calling out through a window.

In a matter of a few short months, Glynn had managed to make his presence known to just about everyone in town and, as far as anyone could tell, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t like him. His naturally personable character made it easy for people to talk with him. He never pushed religious matters unless someone specifically asked. Instead, he’d listen to what they said, offer reasonable advice when he had any and was quick to admit when he didn’t. Quietly, the preacher became an authority figure in town without even trying. People with no relation to the church respected his opinion and would look for him when they had a question. Glynn didn’t realize it at the time, but he quietly had become the pastor to the whole town.

Thursday started off like other summer days. Sunday’s sermons were coming along well. Glynn had lunch with Marve and the kids then made a trip to Washataug to visit a couple of church members in the hospital there. When he returned to Adelbert, the pastor stopped to check on a farming family who hadn’t been able to make it to church before swinging by the gas station and enjoying a cold soda while chatting with those wandering in and out through downtown. Several suggested he needed to pray for rain. A couple asked his opinion of the Boris Spassky/Bobby Fischer chess match. One wanted to equate George McGovern’s Democratic presidential nomination to God’s punishment. Glynn managed to stay neutral, noncommital, and even humorous through all the conversations. When he left for home, he was smiling, looking forward to an evening out with Marve in Arvel.

Life sometimes has a cruel way of dealing with happiness, though, as if there is some crime in becoming too satisfied with the state of a person’s being. More often than not, it seemed for Glynn that the more he tried to embrace Paul’s statement to the Philippians that, “in all things I have learned to be content,” the more he was faced with situations that caused increasing turmoil. He had found ways to deal with the Oklahoma heat, he had endeared himself to a community that didn’t trust outsiders, he had calmed the church’s most frequent troublemakers, his wife and kids were settled into their new home with new friends, and he had even come to peace with the low summer attendance on Sundays. Against that backdrop of relative comfort, it was inevitable that something would upset it all.

Marve was standing outside waiting for him as Glynn pulled into the driveway. “You need to go with Hub, as fast as you can get there,” she told him before he could get out of the car.

“But, it’s Thursday, we have…” her husband objected.

Marve shook her head. “It’s Jerry. He collapsed in the yard. You need to go now. We’ll figure out a replacement date later.”

A knot grew in Glynn’s stomach as he put the car in reverse and sped toward the funeral home. Trying to deal with the flood of emotions, he struggled with the desire to scream at God. Why now? He knew Jerry hadn’t told his church about the cancer yet, they were just starting to gather plans and funding for rebuilding the church. The people of Bluebird needed Jerry’s guidance to continue. At the same time, Glynn was wrestling with his own guilt. He hadn’t actually talked with Jerry since the Sunday before youth camp. There had been enough to do around town to keep the pastor busy and while he had thought about his friend a couple of times, he hadn’t actually stopped long enough to call. 

Glynn pulled in next to the ambulance where Hub was already waiting. “This doesn’t look good, preacher,” the funeral director warned. “Gladys says he’s not breathing. Although, I’m not sure how well the dear woman is capable of picking up subtle breaths.”

The siren from the ambulance seemed to echo through the quiet town louder than usual. The town’s one police officer met them at the highway and led them out to the older pastor’s home. A small group had gathered in the front yard by the time the ambulance arrived. Glynn rushed to Jerry’s side, knelt down, and felt for a pulse, first in the jugular vein and then in the wrist. Jerry’s skin was cool and clammy.

“I tried telling him he should wait until it cooled off a bit before mowing the lawn,” Gladys explained. “I tried telling him, but he was determined that it needed to be done before dinner. He is so stubborn!” She began sobbing as a neighbor walked over and put their arms around her.

Hub whispered to Glynn, “Let’s try CPR. I don’t think it’s going to do any good, but we need to at least try.”

Glynn began pressing on Jerry’s chest while Hub opened the man’s mouth and tried breathing into it. In a moment that felt instantly perverse, Glynn wondered what it was like to have Hub’s cigar smoke-laden breath forced into your windpipe. He kept up with the rhythmic compression. Hub continued the breathing attempts. 

Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. Finally, Hub stood up, his clothes drenched with sweat, his face dripping. He pulled back Glynn’s shoulder and shook his head. There was nothing more they could do. Jerry Weldon was gone.

No one could really tell that it was tears, not sweat, that Glynn was wiping from his face as he stood up. Gladys let out a mournful wail as he helped Hub place the sheet over her husband and then transfer him to the gurney. After securing the gurney in the ambulance, Glynn walked back to Gladys, put his arms around her, and did his best to whisper encouraging words as she cried into his shoulder. The words were perfunctory. God’s will. God’s plan. God decided …

Hardly a word passed between Glynn and Hub as they drove Jerry’s body to the county coroner’s office for an official death pronouncement. The air-conditioned office felt especially cold against Glynn’s skin, an affirmation that there was no life in this place. Jerry’s official cause of death would eventually be listed as heat stroke complicated by cancer. As the coroner handed Hub the necessary paperwork and they loaded Jerry’s body back into the ambulance, 

Glynn was struck by the solemn yet routine finality of it all. For both Hub and the coroner, death was an everyday occurrence. A body came in, papers were stamped, the body went out. Their matter-of-factness about the process felt as cold as the air in the room. No emotion. No expression of sympathy. Careful respect for the body was strict, unfeeling, and methodical. What had been the hard-working life of a deeply committed pastor was no longer present. They would carry back to the funeral home nothing more than a cold, empty shell that now barely seemed a meager representation of the soul it once contained.

Marve was again waiting in the driveway when her husband returned. She hugged him as he stepped out of the car, feeling his body convulse as he began to cry. They both understood that death was part of the life cycle. Funerals came and went with little more than a thought. This was personal, though. This one hurt. God’s timing was off. Hadn’t Jerry deserved better? Hadn’t his years of service to God and the church been worth more than this? 

The couple walked into the house where Marve had a sandwich and potato chips waiting. Glynn ate, despite the fact the food seemed to catch in his throat. He wondered if God would treat him any differently. Was all the sacrifice and service worth it to simply die in the heat behind a lawnmower? No answers were coming, but the pastor was sure there would be more questions.

Reading time: 32 min
Pastors' Conference 1972, ch. 21-22

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Chapter 21

With the help of Joanne and Ellen, Marve finally had everything unpacked and in place by Friday, though not without the shedding of more tears as several boxes revealed broken dishes, picture frames, and family heirlooms handed down from her mother and grandmother. This fueled a level of anger and resentment that was felt across town as not only did Marve blame Glynn, but Joanne kept the heat on Horace and Alan and Ellen blamed her husband, bank president Virgil Stone, for not having had the house ready sooner. Not having had any advanced notice, the phone company did not arrive to connect the phone at the parsonage until Thursday, which meant Marve had to go to Ellen’s every time she needed to contact Glynn or anyone else. Conversations around town became even more heated when the U.S. Supreme Court banned the use of DDT for any reason. Some farmers had long worried that the pesticide was dangerous while others were certain that bugs would devour their corn without it. By Friday, moods across town were so sour that Glynn opted to take a cold sandwich with him and eat his lunch alone in the church office. 

Sunday’s services seemed to Glynn to be a waste of time and energy. With almost all the men out in fields, the small congregation of 70-something was mostly either women struggling to keep their children contained or more elderly members who either couldn’t hear or kept nodding off during the service. Even Richard was on vacation, which left Eddie Aubrey, a young insurance field agent assigned to the county, to lead music for the services. Eddie had been enthusiastic right up to the point that he stepped behind the pulpit and had to announce the first hymn. His voice was so soft he had to repeat the hymn number three times before anyone picked up a hymnal and the pianist began the introduction. Glynn felt that his sermon on worry fell on deaf ears, an opinion Marve confirmed with the casual comment that he could probably preach the same sermon next week and no one would notice.

Against that harsh backdrop, Glynn was happy to be returning to Camp Universal the following Monday. He was hopeful that spending the week with teenagers would require a little less oversight and might possibly be as if not more relaxing than Junior Camp had been. They weren’t taking quite as many people this time. Only six girls, including Claire, were on the women’s side and only one other thin, bookish boy, Roland Hughes, joined Russel on the men’s side. Still, the group was bubbly and excited as transistor radios blared everything from Sammie Davis’ “The Candyman” to Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Joanne was careful to do a wardrobe check before parents left to make sure none of the girls’ skirts or shorts violated the dress code, which a couple of the girls found discriminatory but went along with nonetheless. Glynn made a point of being equally public in checking the boys’ suitcases to make sure their shirts all had sleeves, which, given the two boys involved, was a humorous satire on the biased nature of dress codes. 

One difference this time was that Hayden had decided he wanted to sleep on the same side of the cabin as his daddy. The child had slept on a canvas cot right next to his mother during Junior Camp, partly to calm his own insecurities and largely out of Mave’s concern that Glynn might sleep too soundly to notice if the boy rolled out of bed during the night. Both Glynn and Marve agreed, though, that the atmosphere wasn’t nearly as threatening as they had initially anticipated and that Hayden was likely safe on his own bunk so long as it was right next to Glynn’s. The exception would come if Glynn was assigned a night safety patrol shift.

When they arrived at the camp, Glynn made a big deal of helping Hayden make up his bunk, getting his pillow and blankets just right, and helping him get settled down for a nap after lunch. Hayden would be turning five years old in a couple of weeks and had amazed Glynn at how much he seemed to have grown and matured over the past couple of months. His hair wasn’t quite as blonde, his feet weren’t nearly as clumsy, and it was almost impossible to “short cut” his bedtime story by skipping words or pages. He enjoyed being with his Daddy, was full of questions, and at times could be belligerent about accepting any assistance with tasks not quite yet within his grasp.

Convinced that Hayden was asleep, Glynn slipped out of the cabin and grabbed an umbrella from the car before heading up the hill for the required meeting. The clouds that had formed overhead were not unexpected and the forecast for rain across the region was not unwelcome. Wind from the northwest blew swirls of dust around the pastor’s feet and the fragrance of approaching rain was refreshing.

Bill and Clement joined Glynn just before they reached the top of the hill. They couldn’t help but notice a group of the pastors standing under the tabernacle, circled around a pudgy man with curly, auburn-red hair, splotchy red complexion, and expensive-looking clothes who was gesturing as he talked. 

“The Resolution wasn’t meant to undermine the King James Version of the Bible at all,” the man was saying. “The problem is that people aren’t reading the Bible and a large part of that is because it is not readily available in their own language. That’s what the Resolution is addressing. Our relationship with the American Bible Society goes back a long way and we feel that they are more faithful in their translations than those created and endorsed by other entities such as the National Council of Churches. There’s good reason we’re not part of that organization. We want to partner with a Bible publisher that does not give in to the liberal misinterpretation of scripture.”

Clement shook his head. “You know, there’s a chance I may have pressing matters back in Washataug that I need to attend to.”

“Yeah, there may be a crisis or two in Arvel as well,” Bill said. “If he’s going to hold court like that very often I’ll have to find somewhere else to be. And after last week there are probably plenty of places I should be. I never did get caught up.”

“So, that’s our camp pastor for the week?” Glynn asked, embarrassed that he didn’t know the person speaking.

“Unfortunately,” Clement said. “Leslie Patterson, one of the dozen-or-so associates at First, Dallas. All around big-mouth. He’s started some group within the convention to, in his words, ‘root out the evil that has infiltrated our sacred trust.’ It’s nothing more than an effort by conservatives to take control of the convention. He practically begged the committee to let him come this week. Even halved his fee, making it well below our budget, so that no one else would make fiscal sense.”

As they neared the old church building, a tall, broad-shouldered young man dressed in well-pressed grey slacks and a starched short-sleeve powder blue dress shirt, came toward them. His dark, wavy black hair was the kind that had teenage girls wondering if he was married (he was). He seemed friendly but unsettled and out of place. “Hey guys, you catch that malarky over there?” he asked with a deep southern drawl. 

Clement and Bill nodded then Clement said, “Max, have you met Glynn Waterbury? He’s the new pastor at Adelbert. Glynn, Max Franklin, First Levi.”

Max was quick to reach out his hand and smiled, “It is a gen-u-ine pleasure to meet you, Glynn! Although, your choice of company here is a bit questionable.” He laughed and patted Bill on the shoulder. “I went to seminary with this ya-hoo. I know what he’s capable of so I try to not let him too far out of my sight. I suggest you don’t either.”

The four men laughed and chatted lightly a bit before Bill said, “I’m surprised to see you down here. Didn’t you just get back from Philadelphia?”

“Not to mention the fact that you seemed to have said something once about camp being a good way to keep your youth and music director our of your hair for a week,” Clement added with a grin.

“Yeah, the boy did not weather the storm well while I was gone last week. We’ve got a power-hungry deacon who rode him pretty hard,” Max answered. “I thought I’d come down for at least a couple of days, let him get the week started without any interference. I’ll have to be back by Wednesday afternoon, though.” He looked over at the group assembled under the tabernacle. “Looks like Leslie has a fan club already,” the pastor added. “He’s like a little religious leprechaun doin’ his dance while he steals the gold from everyone else’s pockets. He’s going to have these kids so confused by the end of the week that I’ll have to explain to half of them why they don’t need to be baptized again.”

“I’m hoping that’s the worse thing we have to explain,” Clement said. 

A gust of wind blew a sheet of dust across the top of the hill, causing the men to turn and guard their eyes. “That’s probably a signal that we need to get inside,” Bill said, looking up at the grey sky. “I’m not feeling convinced that this is going to be a light rain.”

The four preachers walked into the old church building and waited for Bing to start his routine. Carl Roberts soon joined them and Emmit popped in just before the meeting started, waving at the group but with a sense that was distant and preoccupied. The meeting itself was just as dry and boring as it had been for Junior Camp and the sound of rain falling on the roof didn’t help Glynn in his struggle to keep his eyes open. None of them were selected for Safety Patrol duty, which made it easier to plan a midweek escape. They quietly watched the spectacle around Leslie Patterson wax and wane then darted toward their church’s cabins the moment the “amen” sounded on the final prayer.

Rain was still falling when the evening service started. Gusts of wind blew rain in from the open sides, driving everyone to sit tightly in the center of the tabernacle. Much of what was being said or sung was lost as heavy downpours of rain on the tabernacle’s tin roof drowned out everything else. Finally, just before the sermon, the service was canceled and campers were instructed to go directly to their cabins. 

Just as Bing made the final announcement, though, a torrent of water fell from the sky like a wall of water placed between the tabernacle and the roads back to the cabins. Most stayed huddled together under the edge of the tabernacle, waiting for the rain to let up enough to run for safety. Some, however, were huddled under a large oak tree. Teens from rural churches knew better but about 30 kids, mostly from Levi churches, and a handful of adult counselors, were standing there when it seemed as though the top of the hill exploded. A bright flash of light momentarily blinded everyone. The percussion alone was enough to knock everyone under the tree and several under the tabernacle to their knees. The entire hill shook. Debris flew from the top of the tree onto the roof of the tabernacle just before pellets of hail began to fall from the sky. 

Everyone under the tree was knocked to the ground but no one appeared to be seriously hurt. Chairs were knocked over and pushed aside as 2,000 teens and their counselors and pastors pushed toward the center of the tabernacle. Glynn was happy that Marve had kept the kids at the cabin because of the rain but was now concerned for their safety. Another lightning strike somewhere among the cabins caused everyone to scream again and made it clear that it wasn’t safe to leave. Heavy wind left no place dry under the tabernacle. From the center of the group, someone started praying but everything after “Dear God” was drowned out by the storm.

Ten minutes felt like hours as the storm kept the entire camp huddled together, cowering from the unrelenting force of nature. 

At the first sign of a break, several older teen boys, particularly those who were more athletic, took off running for the cabins. Slowly the rain subsided and more groups would leave the embattled worship structure, many slipping and falling in the mud. 

Glynn found it interesting that Russel and Roland were among the calmest of the campers and the last to leave the tabernacle. “You boys about ready to head back to the cabin?” he asked, feeling a little anxious to confirm that everyone was safe. 

Russel looked at Roland and said, “Wait another minute and you won’t get any wetter.”

Sure enough, within a matter of seconds, the rain completely stopped. “That’s some good forecasting, Russel,” Glynn commented. “How did you know it would stop?”

“The barometric pressure went back to normal,” the teen answered. “We don’t have a basement at our house so I’ve learned to pay close attention, give us time to run to the neighbor’s shelter.”

Glynn nodded and the three walked calmly back to the cabin. Just before they reached the open grass in front of the cabin, Roland spoke up, catching Glynn slightly by surprise. “You know that’s just the beginning,” he said softly. “We should probably make sure everything around the cabin is tied down. We’re in for a rough night.”

Glynn looked at him not sure whether to believe what the young man was saying. “How do you know?” he asked.

Roland shrugged and Russel answered, “That tends to be the way big storms work. We get a line of low-pressure cells. The first one scares everyone and when it’s gone they think everything’s over. Then, a few hours later, the second one hits without warning. That’s when people get hurt.”

Glynn looked at them with concern. He knew what they said made sense and wondered if anyone else at the campground had the same information. “Okay, can ya’ll help me get the windows covered and everything?”

The boys nodded and the three of them began lowering the covers on the windows and securing them as if they were leaving for the season. They hadn’t been there long enough for there to be much trash lying around but they went ahead and removed some of the clutter the first storm had left around the cabin.

Inside, Glynn discovered that the beds near the windows on the girls’ side of the cabin were all soaked. Joanne suggested that perhaps the girls could switch sides with the boys for the night. The boys both shrugged. 

“Would it be okay if we just pulled our mattresses under the dining tables?” Russel asked. “That’s probably the safer move.”

Glynn looked at Joanne and she nodded her approval. “Go for it, boys. I’ll get my things and join you,” the pastor said

Marve quickly made the decision that Hayden could stay where he was. The storm already had him scared and as much as he enjoyed hanging out with Daddy it was Mommy he wanted when he was frightened. That made it easier for Glynn to move his mattress with Russel and Roland. They moved the mattresses from the dorm to the kitchen, the boys rather excited about the whole thing, and were almost settled in when Glynn heard a commotion outside. Looking out the cabin’s front door, he saw Bing and several pastors gathered in the road a few yards from the cabin. Glynn wasted no time joining them.

“The sheriff isn’t giving us any choice, guys,” Bing was telling them. “Everyone’s saying there’s a line of tornadoes headed right at us. We can’t take any chances. We have to evacuate the camp.”

“How are we going to do that before the storm gets here?” someone asked.

“Four churches have full-sized busses and plenty of room. They’ll keep making trips until we have everyone.”

“Where are we going?” asked another voice in the growing group of pastors. 

Bing seemed impatient that no one was moving to get their campers ready to leave. “Again, we have two separate facilities. Half will go to the city’s civil defense shelter and the other half will go to the Corp of Engineers facility under the dam. Please, though, get your campers ready. They all need to be dressed appropriately when a bus pulls up to your cabin. They can take a pillow or a blanket with them but nothing else. We don’t have room for everyone’s luggage.”

“What order are we evacuating in?” Bing was asked. Glynn recognized Larry Winston’s voice.

“The order that buses get to you,” Bing answered, his voice showing obvious signs of exasperation. “Gentlemen, we need to stop standing around here talking and get busy getting our campers ready! The buses have already left with their first load and will be back for others soon!”

Glynn wasted no time getting back to the cabin. He explained the situation to Marve and Joanne and they began helping the girls get their things together. Russel and Roland had seen the group outside and were already dressed and prepared to go. Glynn was glad that Lita was happy to stay close to Claire so that Marve only had to keep up with Hayden, who didn’t appreciate being awakened. Joanne suggested that the girls quickly pack their things and put their suitcases under the dining room tables. This added to the girls’ anxiety but for Roland especially it became a game to figure out how to get all the suitcases into such a limited space.

The group had finished getting ready and was waiting near the door when it began to rain. Thunder rumbled in the distance, causing a couple of the younger girls to whimper. Sounds from other cabins rushing to get everything together echoed across the campground. Glynn felt relief when the bus from First, Levi pulled up and Max stepped out, motioning for the group to join him.

“We need to hurry,” Max told Glynn as the kids quickly boarded the bus. “They’ve spotted two funnels on the other side of the lake. It’s going to be close getting everyone to safety.”

Glynn instructed the teens to sit as close to each other as possible, three people per seat so that they could fit as many people on the bus as it could possibly hold. The bus slowly moved from cabin to cabin until it was full of people stacked on top of each other, standing in the aisles, and even lying in the luggage racks above the seats. 

The Levi bus had been assigned to take people to the Corp of Engineers facility below the dam, which required first crossing the dam. Strong wind rocked the bus as rain beat down so hard that it sounded like small stones against the metal frame. Fear was palpable but no one was making a sound. The trip took little more than five minutes to make but felt considerably longer. Glynn wondered if everyone else was praying as hard as he was. 

The bus crossed the dam and made a somewhat precarious left turn to maneuver through the gate to a small parking area never intended for vehicles as long as the bus. The Levi church’s youth and music minister, a young man only two years out of college, struggled to turn the bus around in such limited space, his passengers anxiously waiting to disembark. Engineers at the dam were waiting to guide the group down into the cavernous space opposite the massive hydro-electric generators. Teens and counselors were instructed to take a seat along the wall while Glynn and the other pastors waited near the entrance.

The youth minister started to take the bus back for another trip to the camp but was stopped. “It’s too dangerous crossing the dam,” he was told. Everyone else at the camp would have to go to the city’s facility. No one at the dam knew that the city’s facility was already full. Late-arriving campers were instructed to take huddled positions with their heads covered between the town’s fire trucks and throughout the small office adjacent to the building. 

Glynn looked around and realized that Max was the only pastor he knew at all. Most everyone under the damn was from Colquitt Association. As the men stood just outside the doorway, they had a clear view of the large lake that provided power for most of Northeastern Oklahoma. With each lightning flash, the dam’s engineers were watching for signs of funnels and tracking their movement.

“We’ve got two confirmed on the ground,” one of the engineers said. “One at 19 degrees and the second just ahead of it at 24 degrees. Neither looks especially large but they’re kicking up a lot of debris.”

Max walked over to the railing where Glynn was standing. “Times like this make you wonder if God’s trying to send us a message, don’t they?” he asked. “Like, maybe we need to re-examine our motives here.”

“Like maybe I should have stayed in Michigan,” Glynn answered. “The storm earlier was enough. This is all a bit unnerving.” 

Lightning hit nearby, shaking the ground and lighting the sky.

“And there’s number three at 12 degrees moving North by Northeast,” the engineer called out.

“Three tornados?” Glynn questioned. “I didn’t know that was even possible!”

Max chuckled. “This is Oklahoma. Anything’s possible. The number of funnels may actually be a good thing. They’re small, not really capable of doing much damage. They might knock down a tree or two, upend a chicken hutch, but they don’t do a lot of damage.”

“Any chance of them combining into something worse?” Glynn asked. 

“I suppose,” Max answered. “Like I said, this is Oklahoma. You never know what’s going to happen. Each storm is an exercise in trusting God and, unfortunately, there are times when that trust seems misplaced.”

Glynn’s stomach turned as he took in Max’s statement. Trusting God? Sure, he understood that concept well. God’s divine will trumped all of man’s plans and creations. That one’s trust in God’s plan would be misplaced felt wrong but Glynn couldn’t find the words to challenge the concept or ask more questions.

Another lightning strike across the lake brought another declaration from the engineer, “There’s number four at 32 degrees. Man, four funnels in a row! And a fifth one hanging! This is amazing!”

Amazing was not the word that Glynn would have chosen. While the sight was certainly incredible to watch, his concern for everyone’s safety muted his fascination. 

The rain picked back up, sending everyone except the engineer down into the shelter of the dam. Glynn found Marve and the kids and tried to assure them that everything was going to be okay. Marve could tell by the expression on his face, though, that Glynn wasn’t convinced. She smiled at him, knowing that there was nothing any of them could do to make the moment more comfortable. They had already tried praying. Attempts at starting a sing-a-long had failed. The continual hum of the generators blocked most of the outside noise but the concerned response of the engineers and other workers as they ran back and forth was enough to keep everyone on edge.

After another hour, the rain finally let up, the wind gradually died down, and radio conversations between the dam’s supervisor and the county sheriff confirmed that there was no serious damage to the campground or the roads and that everyone could return. By that point, many of the younger teens had fallen asleep on top of each other and everyone was feeling groggy and a little grumpy. It would take the busses three trips each to get everyone back to their cabins and several more minutes to get everyone and everything settled. 

With everyone back at the campground, Bing quickly huddled with both Directors of Missions and the camp’s executive committee (made up of pastors who were present anyway). They decided with little discussion that it was in everyone’s best interest to push the morning schedule back by an hour, dropping one of the two class periods so that everyone could get more rest. Word was quickly distributed to the cabins and pastors and counselors made sure everyone still awake was aware of the change. No one complained.

Morning dawned with heavy fog rolling softly across the campground, slowly burning away as the summer sun came out in full force to dry everything that had been soaked the night before. By noon, only a handful of mudholes remained and afternoon athletic activities were able to go on as normal. Pastors gathered in groups of three and four to discuss how the night’s evacuation might have gone more smoothly but given the limited transportation options no one came up with a better plan. 

No one expected they would have a repeat of the night before. Thirty minutes before the evening tabernacle service the clouds began to roll over the campground. Glynn talked with Marve, Joanne, and Irene and agreed that anyone who wished could stay in the cabin rather than endure the anxiety of being caught in another storm. Only a couple of the youngest teen girls took them up on the offer but they helped keep Lita and Hayden calm and distracted when the wind eventually did start to pick up again. 

Several other cabins had a similar idea and no one cared to sit in the chairs closest to the edge of the tabernacle. The moment it began raining, several ran back to their cabins. When small-sized hail began pelting the tin roof once more, the service was effectively over. The instant the hail stopped, the worship space emptied. Few people other than Glynn and Emmit, who were standing together waiting for a break in the rain, noticed the anger with which Leslie Patterson stormed from the platform and back to his VIP cabin. Even if others had noticed, few would have cared. 

“Two days and a person might make the leap that God has blocked his opportunity to spread his propaganda,” Emmitt remarked. “That has to be rough for someone whose ego is as fragile as Leslie’s.”

“Do you think that’s actually what this is?” Glynn asked, feeling naive and uncertain. Associating God with acts of nature, or blaming him for them, seemed wrong. Only in the most drastic of circumstances had the Old Testament God employed weather as a means of achieving his goal. Jesus had calmed storms, not caused them. 

Emmitt shook his head. “No, I know better, but I’m not sure Leslie does. He’s one of those ‘take the Bible literally’ guys. Probably doesn’t help that they almost forgot to evacuate him last night.”

The surprised expression on Glynn’s face caused Emmitt to laugh. “You have got to be kidding,” Glynn said.

“Nope. They had to send a police car back after him when they realized he wasn’t at either evacuation point,” Emmit explained. 

At the first break, both men ran as quickly as they dared across the wet grass back to their cabins. The dirt roads were little more than muddy creeks at the moment. Darkness seemed to fall across the camp quickly and the rains seemed to be letting up when the tornado sirens sounded once again. This time, there was no question or debate as to what to do. Busses started running quickly. 

Once again the camp was evacuated but without the fear level of the night before. Almost everyone had experienced soft warnings like this and while there was plenty of wind and rain no funnels were ever spotted on the ground. After a couple of humid hours below the damn, everyone was returned to their cabins without any excitement and most of the teens expressing a mixture of boredom and fatigue. Still, the next morning’s schedule was delayed again and by this point, the whole experience felt off-kilter, as though all the fun and excitement had been sucked out of the week.

No one paid any attention when a car arrived to take Dr. back to the airport in Tulsa the next morning. He claimed that an urgent matter had come up in Dallas, but Bing later confirmed that the preacher had been the one to place the call, not the other way around. A pastor from a mid-sized church in Oklahoma City was called in to finish the week. No one seemed to care. Few seemed to pay attention. The week finished with the kind of whimper that caused even the teenagers to question why they had bothered coming. Joanne remarked that she couldn’t remember when a week of camp had been so flat and lifeless. 

By Saturday morning, everyone was anxious to go home. Cars were loaded quickly and Glynn noticed that there wasn’t the usual chatter. Even Claire was quiet. 

They returned back to the church without incident. Parents were hugged, equipment was put away, and empty promises of, “see you tomorrow” were made. Normally, Sunday’s evening service would have been given over to campers to share about their experience. Glynn overheard a group of girls expressing their reluctance, a couple saying they probably wouldn’t show up. After asking everyone individually, he decided that they would skip the tradition for this year. The kids were visibly relieved. 

This allowed Sunday to pass quietly. Two days of rain early in the week meant farmers were all taking advantage of the dry weather. Several other members were on vacation. Glynn was moderately concerned about the church’s finances but Iris assured him they had sufficient surplus to make sure everything was paid. Glynn was happy to go home and take a nap. This had not been the week he had anticipated and was not one he cared to repeat.


Chapter 22

Carol Stanley died. Edith Wilson called Glynn from the hospital Tuesday morning to let him know that her daughter’s condition had worsened. He rushed to Tulsa and spent the night praying with and attempting to comfort Edith and her family. He stayed with them when the young mother took her last breath. He held her children in his arms as they cried. He placed the difficult call to Hub and was still there to help him load the body into the hearse a couple of hours later after the family had returned to Adelbert.

For Edith and the rest of Carol’s family, this outcome wasn’t a surprise. For the past two weeks, doctors had expressed little hope of her ever recovering. There was no meaningful brain activity. As a result, funeral arrangements were already decided upon. The service would be Friday afternoon at 2:00 in the funeral home chapel. Glynn had politely offered the church sanctuary but Edith had turned him down. 

“She wasn’t a member there,” the grieving mother said. “There were too many who didn’t want her there. They still have to answer to God for their part in this. The chapel will be fine.” She asked Glynn to officiate and Richard to sing a couple of songs, but she chose men from the extended family for pallbearers and specifically asked that Glynn not mention the service at Wednesday’s prayer meeting.

The service was hardly attended by anyone outside the extended family, though there were enough of them to fill a quarter of the small chapel. A handful of Carol’s former co-workers from Washataug came over as did a smattering of former members of Grace church. Her former husband was nowhere to be seen, though. If he had even stopped by the funeral home to pay last respects he had managed to do so without Hub or Rose noticing and he hadn’t signed the guest book. Enough tears were shed to be appropriately respectful but by now the family had grown weary of crying. While they would have rather she recovered, Carol’s death was, in its own way, a relief. They could pick up the pieces and continue with their lives. By the time the graveside portion of the service was complete, the children were fidgety, ready to change clothes and play. Edith slipped Glynn a twenty-dollar bill and said that she and the kids would probably see him in a couple of weeks. 

Glynn drove home quietly after the service, gave Marve a hug, and settled back in his recliner to read the day’s newspaper. The Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the death sentence was causing an uproar among state politicians. County roads were set to receive a new covering of gravel. Planning was underway for a new, higher capacity grain silo in Washataug. The pastor could feel his eyes begin to close. 

The newspaper had fallen onto his chest and he was seconds away from sound sleep when Glynn felt a soft tug on his shirt sleeve. “Daddy, are you awake?”

Glynn opened his eyes to see Lita standing there, her light brown hair still partially pressed to her face from having just woken from her nap. Her soft blue eyes looking up at him were something he had not been able to resist from the moment she was born. He smiled. “Sure, baby girl. What do you need?”

She climbed up into her father’s lap and laid her head on his chest before asking, “What happens when we die?”

He had wondered when these questions would begin. Lita was a sharp-minded person who caught onto things quickly. Despite a misdiagnosed reading issue, she had finished fourth grade with straight A’s in all her subjects. Not much escaped her gaze but she preferred to find most answers for herself, spending a lot of time in front of the encyclopedias that were purchased before she could read. Glynn knew that how he answered her question would affect her frame of reference on matters both spiritual and biological possibly for the rest of her life. He suddenly felt very nervous and unprepared.

“Well, if we love Jesus…” he started.

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” Lita said, cutting him off. “I know the stuff about Jesus and Heaven and all that. But what is it like to die? What happens to our brains?”

Now Glynn was truly stumped. A spiritual answer was something he might have managed to get through relatively well. A biological answer was beyond his grasp of knowledge. Fortunately for him, the pause gave Lita time to fill in her own perspective.

“We learned in school that people are made of carbon. Carbon is matter. Matter is energy. So, people are made of energy,” she said, surprising Glynn with her matter-of-fact attitude. “But energy doesn’t die, it transitions from one form to another. So, if energy doesn’t die and people are made of energy then how can people die? It doesn’t make sense.”

Glynn opened his mouth to answer but no words were coming out. He felt his brain go blank. Science had never been his best subject even when he was in school. Trying to remember any of it now was proving to be painful. He needed to answer without sounding stupid or giving her false information. 

“You know, Dad, you should probably brush your teeth more often,” Lita said as she gazed up into her father’s open mouth. “I can still see part of your salad stuck in your teeth.”

“Yes, you are correct,” he answered, happy for the change of subject. “I definitely should brush my teeth more often. Maybe you could help remind me?”

The child sat up in his lap and gazed out the front window. “If I were you, I think I would just take them out and brush them while I’m in the shower,” she said. “That’s what makes the most sense. Why can you take out your teeth and I can’t?”

“Because Daddy didn’t take good care of his teeth when he was your age,” Glynn said, feeling self-conscious and embarrassed by the dentures he’d had since he was 25. When Lita was younger, she would laugh when he would push his tongue against the roof of his mouth and cause his top teeth to push forward. That didn’t seem terribly appropriate for this moment, though.

Lita sighed. “Yeah, I guess life was really rough back in the olden days, wasn’t it?” she asked. She squirmed around so that her body was directly on top of his, looking up at the ceiling. “I’m glad you survived all those plagues.”

This piqued Glynn’s curiosity. Just how old did his daughter think he was? “What plague are you talking about?”

“You know, the Black Plague and the dust bowl and smallpox. We read about them in Social Studies,” she answered. She was fully awake now and couldn’t help but fidget, her arms stretched out toward the ceiling, her fingers intertwined and curving around to make various shapes.

“That was all before I was born,” Glynn said. “I’m not that old.”

“I know,” Lita shot back as she sat up again. “You’re not as old as Mrs. Wallace. She’s really old and could probably die any day now. You may have to do her funeral next.”

Glynn had to think quickly as to who Mrs. Wallace was and whether she was a church member. She wasn’t, as far as he could remember. “Is Mrs. Wallace sick?” he asked.

“I dunno,” Lita said. “She has these big brown spots on her hands, though, and that can’t be good. I think her skin has been out in the sun too long and she’s probably starting to mold.”

Glynn laughed at the image he got from Lita’s description of the elementary school’s receptionist/secretary. “People don’t mold, silly,” he said, “Though I do know some who are spoiled.” He playfully poked at his daughter’s ribs and she giggled as she squirmed.

“Daddy!” she exclaimed. “I’m not spoiled! Hayden’s the one that’s spoiled. Mommy shouldn’t give him so much food. He’s going to get fat, like you.” She paused for just a beat then added, “Daddy, you’re not going to die, are you?”

The moment suddenly turned sober as the conversation was once again serious. “I will one day,” Glynn said quietly. “We all will one day. That’s not something we control. I hope I live for a very long time but that’s up to God, not me.”

“Maybe God has one of those calendars with all the lines on it like Mr. Hiddleman has on his desk,” Lita expounded as she hopped down from Glynn’s lap. “One side tells him when people are supposed to be born and the other tells him when people are supposed to die. Only, you’re not going to die because I’m going to erase your name from the calendar.”

“I don’t think that’s the way it works,” Glynn said, amused at her perspective. He wondered how long it would be before her philosophy of life was too deep for him to keep up with her.

“I know,” she said as she wandered toward the window. “People can’t really die because we’re energy. We transition. I’m going to transition into a star because they live millions of years and then become black holes. Hayden’s probably going to transition into a dragon, but not today. Dragon’s have to be able to tie their own shoes. Can I see if Karrie can come out and play?”

Glynn smiled, simultaneously thankful and sad that their conversation was apparently over. Lita didn’t give him many moments like this and he cherished each one, even if answering her questions was becoming dramatically more difficult. “Sure, just be careful. It’s pretty hot outside.”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” the child said as she bounced toward the door. “We’ll just play school in the shade and make up the answers we don’t know. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it works.”

Glynn watched out the window as Lita bounded down the porch steps and took off toward the neighbor’s house. Lita would be turning ten next month. His little girl was growing up and he didn’t particularly like that part. Soon enough there would be boys and puberty to deal with. He wasn’t ready.

Marve walked in from the bedroom and saw Glynn standing at the window. “What’s so interesting?” she asked.

“Oh, just watching our little girl grow up and become smarter than me,” he said. 

Marve walked over and put her arm around her husband. “I’ve got bad news for you. She was smarter than us five minutes after she learned to read. We’re both doomed to complete ignorance by the time she’s 13.”

Glynn looked at his wife and kissed her. “At least I have you to keep me company.”

Marve hugged him a little tighter. “Yeah, about that. I’ve been thinking about maybe going back to school, working on my Masters. Hayden starts school this fall. I’ll have the time.”

Glynn returned the hug but continued gazing out the window. “Sure, make me the dumb one in the family. No one likes a smart preacher anyway.”

They laughed together, thankful for the moment yet both dreading the days to come.

Reading time: 35 min
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