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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