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Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 29

chapter 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 30

Chapter 30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor's Conference, 1972

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Chapter 27

Chapter 27

The rain at the end of the week was just what was needed to put a few more people in the pews on Sunday morning. Not that 86 was all that thrilling of a number, but it was a welcome change of direction from the 70s and 60s that occupied most of July. Farmers, of course, were still in the fields, but ranchers had a chance to relax a little. Wives and children were at least present. Glynn took this as a positive sign that things were turning around and was able to relax a little after the evening service, taking time to play in the yard with the kids before they had to go to bed. He was beginning to feel as though he might, finally, be settling into this full-time pastorate thing.

The pastor was still feeling that same confidence as he drove to Arvel for the pastors’ conference on Monday. Morning temperatures weren’t quite as hot so he drove with the car windows down and the radio blasting as he drove as fast as he dared down the highway. He even dared to sing along with Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me,” something he would only do when no one else was within possible earshot. 

The meeting was at a different church this morning. Olivet Baptist Church was on the East side of Arvel, a smaller church whose regular Sunday morning attendance was just a little less than Adelbert’s. Glynn pulled into the small parking lot noting the usual pastors who were present, and curious by a couple of newer vehicles he didn’t recognize. Unlike their meetings at other churches, this one was taking place in the church sanctuary, which felt a little more formal. A lectern stood in front of the left section of pews as pastors stood in the aisles talking. At the front, Emmit seemed to be in serious discussion with a face Glynn only partially recognized. He knew the man was from Oklahoma City but couldn’t remember what he did there and was curious that he would be all the way up in Arvel on a Monday morning. Oklahoma City was a good four-hour drive away.

Emmit called the meeting to order and the pastors took seats in the first four rows of pews, Glynn and Carl choosing the fourth row, visibly separated from the others. After the usual roll call, Emmit introduced Bruce Haggard, the state convention’s director of religious education. Bruce was present to explain some significant changes coming to the Sunday School curriculum starting with the next quarter in October. It was especially important to push the new curriculum because the association had the lowest rate of using the convention materials in the state.

Glynn yawned. He couldn’t help it. From his perspective, Southern Baptist churches used Southern Baptist materials and if someone in a Sunday School class wanted to challenge the content of that material on any given Sunday then that just made for a more lively and in-depth discussion. He knew too well that adult classes were often little more than gossip sessions using scripture as a cover. He also found it disturbing in his own church that men’s and women’s classes were separate except for the “young adults” class from which one was ejected when they turned 40. Trying to change that tradition, though, was something Glynn had elected to not undertake for fear that the resulting turmoil might create more problems than it would solve.

As the meeting ended, Carl couldn’t resist teasing Glynn about his apparent lack of interest. “The morning’s topic a little dry for you?” he chided.

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Glynn confessed. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I appreciate the changes they’re making but was that really worth him making the trip all the way up here from Oklahoma City on a Monday morning? Seems a bit excessive to me. Why the over-sell?”

“Because more than half these churches use curriculum from nondenominational publishers and there are three churches I know of that don’t use any curriculum at all, they just let their teachers wing it,” Carl explained. “You’d be surprised at what’s being taught in some of these Sunday School classes.”

Glynn shook his head. “Is that something we can really control, though? Our women’s classes are little more than gossip sessions. The men sit around and talk weather and farming and second-guessing Coach Fairbanks, who had better have a good season this year or I’m going to have to preach on anger management.”

Carl laughed. Oklahoma University football was almost as much a religion across the state and there wasn’t a Southern Baptist church in the state that didn’t experience Sunday morning attendance fluctuations based on how well the Sooners were playing. “I’m thankful for away games,” he said. “We have a couple of diehard Crimson and Cream fans who are in Norman for every home game and don’t make it back until late Sunday afternoon. It amazes me how seriously they take their football.”

“It was one of the first topics raised to me when I moved here back in February,” Glynn said. “February and they were thinking about this fall’s football season. Something about a set of brothers in the defensive lineup.”

Carl was still laughing and nodding his head. “I know exactly what you’re talking about. Lucious, Lee Roy, and Dewey Selmon. They’re already calling them the Selmon Wall. My last deacon’s meeting was nothing but that and how we’re going to beat Nebraska.”

Glynn had started walking up the aisle toward the door as he said, “Too bad we can’t turn that enthusiasm into more excitement for the church.”

“Maybe we can,” Carl responded. “That guy from Houston a couple of weeks ago, you remember we said he talked about meeting people where they are? So, what if we find a way to make the result of Saturday’s game affect something on Sunday morning? Not anything critical, mind you, but some kind of contest.”

Glynn paused and gave the idea some thought. Certainly, the men in his church were competitive enough that the right tactic might work. “Any specific?” he asked.

Carl shrugged. “I’m not sure. I think it needs to be something fun, something that won’t actually distract too much.”

“And what happens if the season doesn’t turn out as good as everyone seems to think it will?” Glynn asked.

“Then Chuck Fairbanks is going to be looking for a new job,” Carl laughed. “I don’t know, just an idea. I’ll let you know if I come up with anything.”

Glynn said careful and hasty goodbyes where he thought necessary and then made his usual rounds at the hospital. There was no one in critical condition this morning, just a couple of minor surgeries for older people who would be back up and ignoring their doctor’s advice by the end of the week. Despite the weekend’s rains, the weather was still hot and Glynn was hoping to spend most of his afternoons in the air-conditioned office. The books Clement had given him provided plenty of new and interesting material to read, much of which challenged his long-held beliefs, forcing the preacher to either justify what he had been telling people from the pulpit or consider changing his views. 

For the most part, Glynn got what he wanted. Marve was busy getting the kids ready for school in a few weeks, an extra chore with Hayden starting kindergarten. Afternoon heat kept most everyone indoors. What pastoral visits needed to be made were done earlier in the day when breezes were still cool. Wednesday’s prayer meeting was still lightly attended but Glynn was beginning to enjoy the conversations he would have with the few who did attend and walking home by himself afterward was calming.

It wasn’t until Friday afternoon that disruption came calling. Glynn had been so deeply engrossed in the book he was reading that the was startled by the ringing telephone. Hearing Emmit’s voice on the other end of the line immediately made him curious. The Director of Missions was rarely in his office on Friday afternoons. 

After briefly exchanging pleasantries, Emmit quickly got down to the purpose of his call. “Glynn, I’d like to ask you to do me a favor. Normally, I would send something like this over to Clement or Bill but they’re both out of town this afternoon. I have a couple sitting just outside my office who are wanting to get married but they’re having difficulty finding someone to perform the ceremony for them. They already have their wedding license and blood test, but the court clerk refused to marry them and they’ve not been able to find a pastor here who would. Do you think you could do a quick ceremony for them? You’d need a couple of witnesses.”

The question caught Glynn off guard. He hadn’t done too many weddings over his career because the churches he pastored tended to not have young people of marrying age. There had been none in the Adelbert church since he moved there. Performing the ceremony wasn’t really that big of a deal but it seemed strange that no one else was willing to marry the couple. “I guess I can,” he replied. “I don’t understand why they’re having so much trouble getting married, though. What’s causing the problem? Are they both divorced or something?”

“Worse,” Emmit said, being careful to keep his voice soft so as to not be overheard. “The groom is a negro from Joplin.”

Glynn immediately understood the challenge. Racism in Oklahoma ran deep. While he had grown accustomed to working with and around black people on the plant floor in Michigan, even there everything was largely segregated. There simply were no black people living in most Oklahoma towns. They weren’t welcome and people, even churches, weren’t hesitant about letting their stance be known, sometimes with threats of violence. “Just make sure I’m clear, you are asking me to marry a mixed-race couple?” Glynn asked. 

“Yeah, if you think you’re up to it,” Emmit responded. “I’d do it but everyone here in the office has already left. I don’t have anyone to act as a witness.”

Glynn thought carefully before responding. This was the sort of thing that could be bigger than it should. He had heard the foul language being used around town to describe black people whose names ended up in the news. While he had never bothered to ask, he was fairly certain that even Buck would be less than welcoming. He let out a long sigh. “I guess I can. I’m not sure I can find any witnesses either, though. I suppose Marve might be willing to come down but doesn’t the license require two signatures?”

“It does, but there’s a way around that. I can sign one of the spaces before they leave here. No one is going to know that I’m not actually in the room and I don’t think anyone is going to snitch on us,” Emmit said. “And you don’t want to do this at the church. Word gets out that you did and you’ll have more trouble than either of us want to handle. I would recommend taking them to the parsonage, marry them in your living room.”

Emmit was asking was a lot. Glynn’s own opinion was that love was love. The Supreme Court had struck down state laws prohibiting interracial marriages in 1967 but there were still a large number of preachers and churches, especially in the South, who refused to perform the ceremony. This was the sort of thing that could get a pastor run out of town in a hurry. “Go ahead and send them over,” Glynn finally said. “We’ll get them married one way or another.”

By the time the pastor hung up the phone, the breeze from the small air-conditioner in the window sent chills across his skin. He knew the risk he was taking not only with the church but with Marve as well. He dialed their home number and waited for his wife to answer. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t until the eighth ring that she picked up. “Hi honey, I have a huge favor to ask and I’m sorry it’s last-minute,” he started.

The conversation was surprisingly brief. Marve not only agreed to be the necessary witness but said she would send the kids to play next door so that they wouldn’t be in the way, or accidentally snitch on them later to a church member. When she offered refreshment Glynn questioned whether that might be too much, that the couple’s safety depended in part on covertly being able to slip in and out of town without being noticed. Marve insisted that they at least offer them something cool to drink.

Glynn was waiting outside the church when the couple pulled into the parking lot. He told them to follow him to the parsonage and instructed them to pull into the garage so that it wouldn’t be evident that they had company. The couple nodded, understanding the risks everyone was taking.

Once they were seated in the parsonage living room, Glynn and Marve found the young couple to be quite charming and obviously very much in love. The bride was a young woman just 22 years old and fresh out of college. Her long, blonde hair flowed down to the middle of her back, a light contrast to the short, white dress she was wearing. He was a couple of inches taller than Glynn and fit, his hair cut short, close to his head. He was a med student about to enter his first year of residency. His light blue slacks with the flared legs and brightly patterned shirt looked sharp but definitely stood out in the rural environment.

The couple had met in college at the University of Chicago where many of their friends were interracial couples as well. They knew coming back to the bride’s home in Arvel would be controversial but they hadn’t anticipated the outright hostility shown by the bride’s family. The couple had briefly considered getting married in Joplin, but the groom’s family had threatened to disown him if he walked through the door with a white woman. Even after they finally decided to elope, every step of the process had presented a new challenge. 

Under more normal conditions, Glynn would have insisted on at least some brief marital counseling before agreeing to marry someone, but after hearing the couple’s story he was convinced that he was ill-equipped to offer them any substantial advice. They had already encountered more challenges to their relationship than most couples would experience over a lifetime and they knew there were more to come. He prayed with them briefly, asking God’s blessing on their union and safety as they traveled back to Chicago.

Asking the couple to stand facing him in the middle of the living room, Glynn began the brief ceremony. 

“We are gathered here in the sight of God to witness the union of Lamar and Elizabeth in holy matrimony. This is not a matter to be entered into lightly. Marriage is prescribed and ordained by God and is not meant to be taken with a deep and abiding love founded in our faith in the Creator, fully aware of the obligations and responsibilities we have both to God and to each other. 

“Lamar, do you take Elizabeth to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, through good times and bad, sickness and health, whether richer or poorer, to be faithful to her in all things and to love her as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Lamar said firmly.

“Elizabeth, do you take Lamar to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, through good times and bad, sickness and health, whether richer or poorer, to be faithful to him in all things and to love and support him as long as you both shall live?”

“I do,” Elizabeth answered with a soft smile.

“Then without the presence of any objection and by the authority invested in me by the state of Oklahoma, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Glynn looked at Lamar and added, “You may now kiss the bride.”

The newlyweds wasted no time getting on the road, hoping to make it as far as St. Louis where they had secured a hotel room for the night. Glynn watched carefully as they backed out of the garage and drove down the hill. He felt certain that they had sufficiently pulled off the event without anyone noticing. It was still early enough in the afternoon that none of the neighbors who might have cared were home. Their path out of town avoided being seen or noticed by anyone curious. The pastor sighed in relief, quietly wishing the couple a happy life. Glynn tucked the marriage license in his Bible to mail to the court clerk the next day.

Saturday mornings always started earlier than Glynn would have liked. Lita was up at the crack of dawn, turning on the television to watch cartoons. Inevitably, Hayden wouldn’t be far behind. There was no such thing as sleeping late. Glynn made coffee while Marve made breakfast. While waiting, he stepped out on the front porch and picked up the morning newspaper, neatly rolled and bound with a rubber band. The pastor casually opened the paper and looked at the headlines. The man convicted of shooting Alabama Governor George Wallace had been sentenced. Bobby Fisher won game 10 of the World Chess Championship. It wasn’t until he had sat down in his recliner that he read the headline below the fold, “Arvel Woman Murdered In St. Louis.”

Glynn’s stomach turned and wrenched as he read the too brief article. The paper said that Elizabeth and a “colored man from Chicago” were shot and robbed as they walked back to their motel after dinner. There was no mention of the couple being newlyweds. They hadn’t made it a day. Their marriage license was still in Glynn’s Bible.

Angrily, Glynn stormed into the kitchen, slammed the newspaper on the table and shouted, “God has a lot of explaining to do!” He thundered out of the kitchen and into the garage, beating the hood of the car with his fists. How could a just God allow this? Was this God’s way of objecting to interracial marriage? Glynn refused to believe that. He kicked at the tires as tears streamed down his face. God had made a mistake. There was no infallibility here. A perfect God could not have allowed this to happen.

Glynn’s sudden actions shocked the rest of the family. No one was accustomed to him raising his voice about anything. To do so while invoking the name of God was something even Marve had never seen him do. 

Both kids came running into the kitchen. Marve assured them that everything was going to be okay. Only after placating them with toast and butter did she look at the newspaper and see what had been so upsetting. 

Tears rolled down her cheeks as she returned to fixing breakfast. In her brief time away from the stove, the bacon she was cooking had burned to the point of being inedible. She dumped the bacon into the trash, slammed the pan onto the stove, and sank to the floor sobbing.

Chapter 28

chapter 28

Glynn found it difficult to stand in the pulpit on Sunday morning. For the first time in his ministerial career, he didn’t feel as though he was serving God. This felt just like any other pointless job, work performed for a boss who really didn’t care. He waded through his sermon with the same level of enthusiasm he might have had for cleaning up after one of Hayden’s frequent toilet accidents. His heart wasn’t in it and he didn’t care. Still, as he stood at the back of the church after the service, his congregation had only praise with “Great sermon, pastor,” being said so frequently that by the time the last person left the sanctuary Glynn wanted to scream, “No, it wasn’t!” at the top of his lungs.

He was in a bad mood, feeling at times abandoned by God and at other times questioning whether God was sovereign at all. Taking a nap didn’t help. Playing outside with Hayden, something that could usually snap Glynn out of any bad mood, didn’t help. He plowed through the evening service even more frustrated and detached than he had been that morning. Instead of the calm, steady voice that his congregation was accustomed to hearing, his tone was aggressive and at times accusatory. He considered it some form of religious perversion that the tactic actually moved a couple of people to come forward during the invitation for “rededication.”

Not that Glynn actually believed in this thing Southern Baptists looked at as some form of spiritual re-purposing or confession after a particularly bad sin. Baptists held strongly to the doctrine of the Security of the Believer; in short, once saved, always saved, no matter what. Glynn looked at the doctrine as a spiritual safety net. It removed the need for confession or any actual acknowledgment of one’s sins beyond the point of salvation. Should an alleged Christian commit particularly heinous acts, such as murder, then it was excused as the person having never truly been saved in the first place. 

The doctrine was riddled with holes that could only be explained away with an academic twisting of scripture that explained away passages such as Hebrews 6, which specifically states, 

4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.

Ever-changing definitions of “apostasy” enabled pastors to convince church members that no, they hadn’t lost their salvation, but simply needed to re-dedicate, spiritually double-down and try harder.

Right now, Glynn hated that doctrine. Of the two women who came forward, one was merely convicted that she hadn’t been reading her Bible enough, not something Glynn considered an actual sin given that there was no concrete determination as to what “enough” might be. The other admitted to having difficulty getting her mind off “impure thoughts.” The pastor didn’t dig for details. He didn’t want to know. The young woman was married and he knew the couple was trying to start a family. From his perspective, it was unlikely she was doing anything wrong. He prayed a hollow prayer with both women and sent them back to their seats, doubting that either would actually change anything in their lives. 

After the service, which again drew “good sermon” accolades, Glynn sent Marve on home with the kids so that he could stay behind and do some reading. Marve could tell her husband was struggling with more than the unjustness of the young couple’s murder. She kissed him on the cheek and promised to wait up for him.

With everyone else gone, Glynn turned off the lights in the sanctuary and walked into the small office. He leaned against the desk and pulled his hands through his hair. He still wanted to scream, to yell at God for having messed up, to erase the wedding ceremony from his memory, to pack up the family and run away, abandoning the pastorate for a calm, predictable 40-hour-a-week factory job that might not pay much but at least made sense. 

This made twice within a month that death had gotten too close. At least Jerry’s death, however ill-timed it might have been, made sense. He knew he had cancer. He had time to prepare. Elizabeth and Lamar didn’t get that chance. They didn’t see what was coming. All their discussion of dealing with the anger of their families didn’t prepare them for the hate they encountered on a St. Louis street. Glynn could excuse God for Jerry’s death as an act of mercy. There was no excuse for the cold-blooded murder of the young newlyweds and that tore at every fiber of Glynn’s soul.

Looking over at the box of books still sitting on the folding chair, he angrily picked up the box and dumped its contents into the floor. What good were they? What wisdom could any of them possibly have?

In the instant that the books hit the floor, Glynn knew he couldn’t leave them there even if he wanted to. He couldn’t throw them away. Even badly written books full of nonsense were still a record of someone’s thoughts or creative effort. Destroying books was, in Glynn’s opinion, a worse sin than what either woman had confessed to during the invitation. Looking at the small pile scattered at his feet, one of the heavier-weighted books with the title Letters and Papers from Prison on its spine. The author’s name sounded vaguely familiar, he recognized it as belonging to a theologian, but the pastor wasn’t familiar with the work or the person. He picked up the book wondering if there was anything of value. Starting on the page that naturally fell open, he read:

God is teaching us that we must live as humans who can get along very well without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. The God who makes us live in this world without using God as a working hypothesis is the god before whom we are standing. Before God and with God we live without God. God allows Himself to be edged out of the world and on to the cross. God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which God can be with us and help us. Matthew 8:17 (he took up our infirmities, and bore the burden of our sins) makes it crystal clear that it is not by his omnipotence that Christ helps us, but by his weakness and suffering.

This is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world; he uses God as a deus ex machina. The Bible, however, directs us to the powerlessness and suffering of God; only a suffering God can help. To this extent we may say that the process we have described by which the world came of age was an abandonment of the false conception of God, and a clearing of the decks for the God of the Bible, who conquers power and space in the world by his weakness. . .

Humans are challenged to participate in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world. One must therefore plunge oneself into the life of a godless world, without attempting to gloss over its ungodliness with a veneer of religion or trying to transform it. . . To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to cultivate some particular form of asceticism. . . but to be a human being. It is not some religious act which makes a Christian what he is, but participation in the suffering of God in the life of the world.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich; Letters and Papers from Prison. Translated by Reginald H. Fuller. London: SCM, 1953; as Prisoner for God: Letters and Papers from Prison. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

“Participating in the suffering of God?” Is that what was happening? Was the whole purpose of death and disease in the world to help Christians identify with the suffering of God? Glynn wasn’t convinced he was ready to buy that argument. He flipped over a few pages and read more.

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

“I’m not sure anyone even knows what simplicity and straightforwardness are anymore,” Glynn thought to himself. He thumbed across a few more pages in the large book, wondering if there was any way he could ever read through the whole thing. He read more:

Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Glynn flipped to the back of the book, reading the author’s biography on the inside flap of the dustjacket. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran pastor, imprisoned and hung by the Nazis for his association with a group plotting the assassination of Hitler. Martyr. Yet another of God’s own that had been allowed to die violently at the hands of cruel and vicious hate.

Glynn set the large book on the desk then bent down and picked up the others one at a time, placing them carefully on the bookshelf. There was obviously a lot here that he needed to read. He felt ignorant and uninformed. Perhaps he should quit and go to college, even seminary. Clement certainly seemed to know a lot more about everything. He hadn’t hung around Bill all that much but he appeared much more enlightened than Glynn was feeling at the moment. 

The pastor turned off the lights in the office and walked home in the dusky dark alone, his tie loosened, his suit coat slung over his shoulder. Too many questions were swirling in his mind. If evil and stupidity walked hand in hand in the seats of great power, what chance did anyone have? How could God possibly be sovereign in that situation? Could it be that the key to control was no control? Or was it more likely that God needs chaos to force people to turn to him?

Answers weren’t coming. All week long, Glynn continued to wrestle with the questions burning in his mind. By the time Thursday evening rolled around, he was wondering if there was any point in taking Marve out to dinner. Even Claire remarked quietly to Marve how grumpy and angry the pastor seemed that week.

The couple drove over to Arvel for dinner at a restaurant known locally for the quality of its fried catfish. Marve wasn’t a fan of the bottom-feeding fish and opted for fried chicken instead. The lengthy cooking time of both gave the couple plenty of time to talk.

“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on in that muddled head of yours or are you happy being so cantankerous that everyone in town is starting to think they’ve done something to make you angry?” Marve asked once the server had taken their order.
Glynn looked out through the floor-to-ceiling window at the birds gathering around the large pond stocked with the catfish that furnished the restaurant its fresh catch. “What do you mean?” he responded, not yet fully plugged into the conversation.

Marve reached across the table and took Glynn’s hand. “Look at me,” she said firmly, waiting for him to redirect his attention before continuing. “You’re letting whatever is bothering you get in the way of you doing anything. You’ve snapped at the kids all week, which I can sort of understand. Lita’s been a bit of a brat. But you also snapped at dear Mrs. Walker when you saw her at the post office yesterday. She was so worried she had offended you that she actually called me to see what she had done wrong. You were sharp with the guys at the gas station, you totally pushed off Claire’s questions, which, by the way, the child is asking some tough ones that if you don’t answer she’s going to make the wrong assumptions and get herself into trouble. You’ve ended multiple phone calls without even saying goodbye. Glynn, you’re about to completely undo everything you’ve worked hard to build here. What the sam hill is going on?”

Glynn looked at his wife, then looked down at the table, the white linen cloth catching the fading sunlight through the window and turning everything around them a warm amber. “Those kids, Elizabeth and Lamar,” he said. “Part of me wants to ask God what he was thinking, why he didn’t stop the violence or misdirect them away from it. How could that in any way have been God’s will? There is nothing good that can come out of such a horrible tragedy. At the same time, I can’t stop wondering if the reason I’m having such a problem getting over this is because I’m not really the person who needs to be answering those questions. That’s why I keep putting Claire off. I don’t have any answers. I’m no longer sure of much of anything. I don’t know if I need to go back to college and maybe seminary, try to get to a place of deeper understanding, or if I just need to give up and move back to Michigan.”

“You need to get your head back in the game,” Marve answered, giving him the stern look she usually reserved for the children. “Maybe stop chasing the answers and give them a chance to come to you. You’re answering one question by asking another and all that’s doing is making you and everyone around you a little more crazy. You need to focus more on meeting the needs of the people who are right here, people who are still alive and need your help. There’s nothing you can do for Elizabeth and Lamar now. God’s done what he’s done. So you have questions. Fine. You can’t let the absence of a ready answer get in the way of at least being civil.”

Glynn looked across the table at his wife and felt his face flush. “Why would I be civil in the face of such horrible crimes like this?”

“Glynn, you’re acting as though someone killed your own children,” Marve charged. “You know as well as I do, if not better, that two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s not what the Bible teaches.”

“What if what the Bible is attempting to teach us turns out to be false? I have believed all my life that God is sovereign, that God is in control, that nothing escapes the vision nor the will nor the plan of God.” Glynn paused and took a drink of the water sitting in the crystal glass near his left hand. “Nothing in the past month has supported any of those theories. Instead, everything I’ve believed, everything I’ve preached, seems to be a lie and I just can’t stuff that in my pocket and ignore it. Either God is wrong or I’m just too stupid to see where he’s right.”

Marve released her grip on Glynn’s hand and sat back in her chair. This wasn’t the response she had expected. Her husband was normally calm and understanding, the kind of person who would apologize before knowing what he had done wrong. As much as she wanted to be supportive she couldn’t let this stubborn streak go unchallenged. “You’re not stupid, Glynn. And right now I’m concerned. I think you should see the doctor and have your blood pressure checked. Something. Talk to Emmit or someone. If you can’t find a solution to that mess you’ve got going up there, you’re going to have bigger problems than the deaths of two people you hardly knew. Focus on Adelbert, not the rest of the world.”

Glynn ran his hands through his hair, a move Marve recognized as a sign that he didn’t know how to put into words what he was feeling. “I’m sorry, but I need God to tell me what’s going on,” he said. “I’m done with this game. I need simplicity. I need God to be straightforward and stop hiding all the clues.”

Marve gave an exasperated sigh. There was no point in arguing with him any further. She changed the topic and they spent the rest of the evening with mindless banter about things they both knew were substitutes for real conversations. The drive back to Adelbert was quiet and after Glynn drove Claire home he came back to find that Marve had gone to bed without him. He sat on the edge of the recliner, buried his face in his hands, and prayed. Someone in the universe had the answers. He needed to know what they were.

Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 25

chapter 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 26

chapter 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastors' Conference, 1972. ch. 23-24

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Chapter 23

Chapter 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 24


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastors' Conference 1972, ch. 21-22

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Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazing was not the word that Glynn would have chosen. While the sight was certainly incredible to watch, his concern for everyone’s safety muted his fascination. 

The rain picked back up, sending everyone except the engineer down into the shelter of the dam. Glynn found Marve and the kids and tried to assure them that everything was going to be okay. Marve could tell by the expression on his face, though, that Glynn wasn’t convinced. She smiled at him, knowing that there was nothing any of them could do to make the moment more comfortable. They had already tried praying. Attempts at starting a sing-a-long had failed. The continual hum of the generators blocked most of the outside noise but the concerned response of the engineers and other workers as they ran back and forth was enough to keep everyone on edge.

After another hour, the rain finally let up, the wind gradually died down, and radio conversations between the dam’s supervisor and the county sheriff confirmed that there was no serious damage to the campground or the roads and that everyone could return. By that point, many of the younger teens had fallen asleep on top of each other and everyone was feeling groggy and a little grumpy. It would take the busses three trips each to get everyone back to their cabins and several more minutes to get everyone and everything settled. 

With everyone back at the campground, Bing quickly huddled with both Directors of Missions and the camp’s executive committee (made up of pastors who were present anyway). They decided with little discussion that it was in everyone’s best interest to push the morning schedule back by an hour, dropping one of the two class periods so that everyone could get more rest. Word was quickly distributed to the cabins and pastors and counselors made sure everyone still awake was aware of the change. No one complained.

Morning dawned with heavy fog rolling softly across the campground, slowly burning away as the summer sun came out in full force to dry everything that had been soaked the night before. By noon, only a handful of mudholes remained and afternoon athletic activities were able to go on as normal. Pastors gathered in groups of three and four to discuss how the night’s evacuation might have gone more smoothly but given the limited transportation options no one came up with a better plan. 

No one expected they would have a repeat of the night before. Thirty minutes before the evening tabernacle service the clouds began to roll over the campground. Glynn talked with Marve, Joanne, and Irene and agreed that anyone who wished could stay in the cabin rather than endure the anxiety of being caught in another storm. Only a couple of the youngest teen girls took them up on the offer but they helped keep Lita and Hayden calm and distracted when the wind eventually did start to pick up again. 

Several other cabins had a similar idea and no one cared to sit in the chairs closest to the edge of the tabernacle. The moment it began raining, several ran back to their cabins. When small-sized hail began pelting the tin roof once more, the service was effectively over. The instant the hail stopped, the worship space emptied. Few people other than Glynn and Emmit, who were standing together waiting for a break in the rain, noticed the anger with which Leslie Patterson stormed from the platform and back to his VIP cabin. Even if others had noticed, few would have cared. 

“Two days and a person might make the leap that God has blocked his opportunity to spread his propaganda,” Emmitt remarked. “That has to be rough for someone whose ego is as fragile as Leslie’s.”

“Do you think that’s actually what this is?” Glynn asked, feeling naive and uncertain. Associating God with acts of nature, or blaming him for them, seemed wrong. Only in the most drastic of circumstances had the Old Testament God employed weather as a means of achieving his goal. Jesus had calmed storms, not caused them. 

Emmitt shook his head. “No, I know better, but I’m not sure Leslie does. He’s one of those ‘take the Bible literally’ guys. Probably doesn’t help that they almost forgot to evacuate him last night.”

The surprised expression on Glynn’s face caused Emmitt to laugh. “You have got to be kidding,” Glynn said.

“Nope. They had to send a police car back after him when they realized he wasn’t at either evacuation point,” Emmit explained. 

At the first break, both men ran as quickly as they dared across the wet grass back to their cabins. The dirt roads were little more than muddy creeks at the moment. Darkness seemed to fall across the camp quickly and the rains seemed to be letting up when the tornado sirens sounded once again. This time, there was no question or debate as to what to do. Busses started running quickly. 

Once again the camp was evacuated but without the fear level of the night before. Almost everyone had experienced soft warnings like this and while there was plenty of wind and rain no funnels were ever spotted on the ground. After a couple of humid hours below the damn, everyone was returned to their cabins without any excitement and most of the teens expressing a mixture of boredom and fatigue. Still, the next morning’s schedule was delayed again and by this point, the whole experience felt off-kilter, as though all the fun and excitement had been sucked out of the week.

No one paid any attention when a car arrived to take Dr. back to the airport in Tulsa the next morning. He claimed that an urgent matter had come up in Dallas, but Bing later confirmed that the preacher had been the one to place the call, not the other way around. A pastor from a mid-sized church in Oklahoma City was called in to finish the week. No one seemed to care. Few seemed to pay attention. The week finished with the kind of whimper that caused even the teenagers to question why they had bothered coming. Joanne remarked that she couldn’t remember when a week of camp had been so flat and lifeless. 

By Saturday morning, everyone was anxious to go home. Cars were loaded quickly and Glynn noticed that there wasn’t the usual chatter. Even Claire was quiet. 

They returned back to the church without incident. Parents were hugged, equipment was put away, and empty promises of, “see you tomorrow” were made. Normally, Sunday’s evening service would have been given over to campers to share about their experience. Glynn overheard a group of girls expressing their reluctance, a couple saying they probably wouldn’t show up. After asking everyone individually, he decided that they would skip the tradition for this year. The kids were visibly relieved. 

This allowed Sunday to pass quietly. Two days of rain early in the week meant farmers were all taking advantage of the dry weather. Several other members were on vacation. Glynn was moderately concerned about the church’s finances but Iris assured him they had sufficient surplus to make sure everything was paid. Glynn was happy to go home and take a nap. This had not been the week he had anticipated and was not one he cared to repeat.

Chapter 22

Carol Stanley died. Edith Wilson called Glynn from the hospital Tuesday morning to let him know that her daughter’s condition had worsened. He rushed to Tulsa and spent the night praying with and attempting to comfort Edith and her family. He stayed with them when the young mother took her last breath. He held her children in his arms as they cried. He placed the difficult call to Hub and was still there to help him load the body into the hearse a couple of hours later after the family had returned to Adelbert.

For Edith and the rest of Carol’s family, this outcome wasn’t a surprise. For the past two weeks, doctors had expressed little hope of her ever recovering. There was no meaningful brain activity. As a result, funeral arrangements were already decided upon. The service would be Friday afternoon at 2:00 in the funeral home chapel. Glynn had politely offered the church sanctuary but Edith had turned him down. 

“She wasn’t a member there,” the grieving mother said. “There were too many who didn’t want her there. They still have to answer to God for their part in this. The chapel will be fine.” She asked Glynn to officiate and Richard to sing a couple of songs, but she chose men from the extended family for pallbearers and specifically asked that Glynn not mention the service at Wednesday’s prayer meeting.

The service was hardly attended by anyone outside the extended family, though there were enough of them to fill a quarter of the small chapel. A handful of Carol’s former co-workers from Washataug came over as did a smattering of former members of Grace church. Her former husband was nowhere to be seen, though. If he had even stopped by the funeral home to pay last respects he had managed to do so without Hub or Rose noticing and he hadn’t signed the guest book. Enough tears were shed to be appropriately respectful but by now the family had grown weary of crying. While they would have rather she recovered, Carol’s death was, in its own way, a relief. They could pick up the pieces and continue with their lives. By the time the graveside portion of the service was complete, the children were fidgety, ready to change clothes and play. Edith slipped Glynn a twenty-dollar bill and said that she and the kids would probably see him in a couple of weeks. 

Glynn drove home quietly after the service, gave Marve a hug, and settled back in his recliner to read the day’s newspaper. The Supreme Court’s decision outlawing the death sentence was causing an uproar among state politicians. County roads were set to receive a new covering of gravel. Planning was underway for a new, higher capacity grain silo in Washataug. The pastor could feel his eyes begin to close. 

The newspaper had fallen onto his chest and he was seconds away from sound sleep when Glynn felt a soft tug on his shirt sleeve. “Daddy, are you awake?”

Glynn opened his eyes to see Lita standing there, her light brown hair still partially pressed to her face from having just woken from her nap. Her soft blue eyes looking up at him were something he had not been able to resist from the moment she was born. He smiled. “Sure, baby girl. What do you need?”

She climbed up into her father’s lap and laid her head on his chest before asking, “What happens when we die?”

He had wondered when these questions would begin. Lita was a sharp-minded person who caught onto things quickly. Despite a misdiagnosed reading issue, she had finished fourth grade with straight A’s in all her subjects. Not much escaped her gaze but she preferred to find most answers for herself, spending a lot of time in front of the encyclopedias that were purchased before she could read. Glynn knew that how he answered her question would affect her frame of reference on matters both spiritual and biological possibly for the rest of her life. He suddenly felt very nervous and unprepared.

“Well, if we love Jesus…” he started.

“No, that’s not what I’m talking about,” Lita said, cutting him off. “I know the stuff about Jesus and Heaven and all that. But what is it like to die? What happens to our brains?”

Now Glynn was truly stumped. A spiritual answer was something he might have managed to get through relatively well. A biological answer was beyond his grasp of knowledge. Fortunately for him, the pause gave Lita time to fill in her own perspective.

“We learned in school that people are made of carbon. Carbon is matter. Matter is energy. So, people are made of energy,” she said, surprising Glynn with her matter-of-fact attitude. “But energy doesn’t die, it transitions from one form to another. So, if energy doesn’t die and people are made of energy then how can people die? It doesn’t make sense.”

Glynn opened his mouth to answer but no words were coming out. He felt his brain go blank. Science had never been his best subject even when he was in school. Trying to remember any of it now was proving to be painful. He needed to answer without sounding stupid or giving her false information. 

“You know, Dad, you should probably brush your teeth more often,” Lita said as she gazed up into her father’s open mouth. “I can still see part of your salad stuck in your teeth.”

“Yes, you are correct,” he answered, happy for the change of subject. “I definitely should brush my teeth more often. Maybe you could help remind me?”

The child sat up in his lap and gazed out the front window. “If I were you, I think I would just take them out and brush them while I’m in the shower,” she said. “That’s what makes the most sense. Why can you take out your teeth and I can’t?”

“Because Daddy didn’t take good care of his teeth when he was your age,” Glynn said, feeling self-conscious and embarrassed by the dentures he’d had since he was 25. When Lita was younger, she would laugh when he would push his tongue against the roof of his mouth and cause his top teeth to push forward. That didn’t seem terribly appropriate for this moment, though.

Lita sighed. “Yeah, I guess life was really rough back in the olden days, wasn’t it?” she asked. She squirmed around so that her body was directly on top of his, looking up at the ceiling. “I’m glad you survived all those plagues.”

This piqued Glynn’s curiosity. Just how old did his daughter think he was? “What plague are you talking about?”

“You know, the Black Plague and the dust bowl and smallpox. We read about them in Social Studies,” she answered. She was fully awake now and couldn’t help but fidget, her arms stretched out toward the ceiling, her fingers intertwined and curving around to make various shapes.

“That was all before I was born,” Glynn said. “I’m not that old.”

“I know,” Lita shot back as she sat up again. “You’re not as old as Mrs. Wallace. She’s really old and could probably die any day now. You may have to do her funeral next.”

Glynn had to think quickly as to who Mrs. Wallace was and whether she was a church member. She wasn’t, as far as he could remember. “Is Mrs. Wallace sick?” he asked.

“I dunno,” Lita said. “She has these big brown spots on her hands, though, and that can’t be good. I think her skin has been out in the sun too long and she’s probably starting to mold.”

Glynn laughed at the image he got from Lita’s description of the elementary school’s receptionist/secretary. “People don’t mold, silly,” he said, “Though I do know some who are spoiled.” He playfully poked at his daughter’s ribs and she giggled as she squirmed.

“Daddy!” she exclaimed. “I’m not spoiled! Hayden’s the one that’s spoiled. Mommy shouldn’t give him so much food. He’s going to get fat, like you.” She paused for just a beat then added, “Daddy, you’re not going to die, are you?”

The moment suddenly turned sober as the conversation was once again serious. “I will one day,” Glynn said quietly. “We all will one day. That’s not something we control. I hope I live for a very long time but that’s up to God, not me.”

“Maybe God has one of those calendars with all the lines on it like Mr. Hiddleman has on his desk,” Lita expounded as she hopped down from Glynn’s lap. “One side tells him when people are supposed to be born and the other tells him when people are supposed to die. Only, you’re not going to die because I’m going to erase your name from the calendar.”

“I don’t think that’s the way it works,” Glynn said, amused at her perspective. He wondered how long it would be before her philosophy of life was too deep for him to keep up with her.

“I know,” she said as she wandered toward the window. “People can’t really die because we’re energy. We transition. I’m going to transition into a star because they live millions of years and then become black holes. Hayden’s probably going to transition into a dragon, but not today. Dragon’s have to be able to tie their own shoes. Can I see if Karrie can come out and play?”

Glynn smiled, simultaneously thankful and sad that their conversation was apparently over. Lita didn’t give him many moments like this and he cherished each one, even if answering her questions was becoming dramatically more difficult. “Sure, just be careful. It’s pretty hot outside.”

“Yeah, that’s okay,” the child said as she bounced toward the door. “We’ll just play school in the shade and make up the answers we don’t know. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it works.”

Glynn watched out the window as Lita bounded down the porch steps and took off toward the neighbor’s house. Lita would be turning ten next month. His little girl was growing up and he didn’t particularly like that part. Soon enough there would be boys and puberty to deal with. He wasn’t ready.

Marve walked in from the bedroom and saw Glynn standing at the window. “What’s so interesting?” she asked.

“Oh, just watching our little girl grow up and become smarter than me,” he said. 

Marve walked over and put her arm around her husband. “I’ve got bad news for you. She was smarter than us five minutes after she learned to read. We’re both doomed to complete ignorance by the time she’s 13.”

Glynn looked at his wife and kissed her. “At least I have you to keep me company.”

Marve hugged him a little tighter. “Yeah, about that. I’ve been thinking about maybe going back to school, working on my Masters. Hayden starts school this fall. I’ll have the time.”

Glynn returned the hug but continued gazing out the window. “Sure, make me the dumb one in the family. No one likes a smart preacher anyway.”

They laughed together, thankful for the moment yet both dreading the days to come.

Pastors' Conference 1972, Ch. 19-20

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Chapter 19

For the Sunday after VBS to not feel largely irrelevant would have required something at least moderately interesting to have happened. That was not the case, though, and it largely passed as one of those days that quickly fades from memory outside the snapshots that would eventually find their way into someone’s scrapbook. With the Bluebird Church still not having a place for its own worship, Glynn, with the unanimous approval of the deacons, invited Jerry to preach the morning service. He could tell, as could most everyone in the congregation, that Jerry found the full sanctuary unnerving and he stammered uncertainly through his homily. After the service, he admitted to Glynn that it was the largest group of people he had ever addressed.

The evening service was given over to VBS “commencement” where everyone who had attended even one day was given a certificate, each class struggled through a song, and then everyone had cookies. Glynn quietly oversaw the proceeding with amusement as Hayden’s four-year-old class largely stood at the front of the church with their fingers in their mouths while Lita dominated the singing in her fourth-grade class. With each class, parents (mostly mothers) stepped into the aisle to take snapshots on their Instamatic or Polaroid cameras, making sure all the children were equally blinded by the flashes. 

Slightly more exciting was the first day of Junior Camp. Marve started the morning in a surly mood, complaining about not having sufficient time to get everyone’s clothes cleaned and packed for the week. She likened the trip to taking a vacation that no one wanted to go on in the first place. Lita was excited, though, as she was feeling very grown up by getting to go a year earlier. She bounced around showing Glynn each outfit before she carefully put it in her suitcase. Hayden, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the fact they were going anywhere. 

At 9:30, they loaded the car and drove the short distance to the church parking lot where Joanne and Horace were already waiting in his pickup. The plan was for Horace to drive down with all the food that would be needed for the week, with a supplemental trip planned for Wednesday to replenish perishables. Joanne promised she would only supervise and not try to do everything herself.

By 10:00, volunteer’s cars were loaded for the trip to Camp Universal. Twelve girls and eight boys were making the trip. Joanne, Marve, Irene Hendricks, and a very excited Claire Hiddleman would take care of the girls and all the kitchen duties. Glynn and the church’s one unemployed teen boy, Russel Daniels, were expected to corral the boys. Joanne’s years of organization paid off as she made sure there was emergency contact information for each child along with a list of who was allergic to what. Separate permission slips were required to allow the children to swim in the pool. Everything was in order.

They arrived at the camp shortly after noon and Joanne quickly whipped out a lunch of previously prepared coldcut sandwiches and potato chips after which the kids claimed their bunks and made their beds before running off to explore the campground. Marve and Irene unpacked and organized the kitchen materials according to a map Joanne had already prepared while Claire swept the dormitories and mopped the kitchen floor. Glynn made sure the boys’ side was similarly prepared before walking up to the old church building for a requisite meeting. Russel was helpful in completing whatever he was asked to do and then promptly retreated to his bunk to read.

Glynn was curious to meet the pastors from the other associations. He found it interesting that all of them were expected to be here the entire week unless a church emergency called them back to their home towns. The exceptions were the two large churches, First Washataug and First Levi. They were allowed to send surrogates from their ministerial staff. Washataug sent their youth director, who was full of energy and eager to volunteer for anything, but Clement was still present most of the week. Levi similarly sent their other full-time staff member who was responsible for both youth and music ministries. Being primarily a musician, he was less eager and largely unenthused about the assignment. Churches who were pastorless typically sent a reluctant deacon.

As he approached the old church building, Glynn saw Emmit who had been waiting for him. The Director of Missions walked over, shook Glynn’s hand and advised, “Stay toward the back and don’t volunteer for anything. You’ll end up on midnight safety patrol if you’re not careful. Also, don’t challenge the pastor from Takanoma who always complains about girls being allowed to wear jeans. He brings it up at every camp and we have a general agreement to politely ignore him and go on.”

Glynn chuckled at the advice and walked into the old clapboard building. He quickly found Bill and Clement who invited Glynn to sit with them. He didn’t realize that in doing so he was effectively identifying himself with the more theologically “moderate” group of pastors who the larger number of “conservative” pastors quietly held in contempt. At this particular moment, the designation made no real difference and Glynn noticed no difference in how he was treated in conversations but Larry Winston specifically noticed and decided that Adelbert’s pastor had sided with the enemy.

Bing Willard, the camp’s full-time administrator, and groundskeeper was the de facto leader of the camp. Bing was a former pastor himself who had “retired” after the relentless pace had caused him a second heart attack. For most of the year, the quiet tranquility of the empty campground suited him and his wife well. There were few demands and being surrounded by tall pines made for a peaceful existence. By the time camps came around in June, though, he was ready to temporarily take on a more pastoral role. Here, he was the boss and no one had the right to cross or question him. He stepped to the podium and the group of pastors immediately became quiet.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Bing started. “We’re glad to see most of you back for another camp season. Welcome to those of you who are new. I won’t keep you long as I’ve noticed we seem to have a slightly larger group this year but we do have a few rules we need to go over before I introduce our staff for the week….”

Glynn’s mind immediately began to wander. He had already seen the new set of rules. Joanne had taken particular offense to the requirement that cabins be empty during the evening worship service. Glynn had agreed to ignore the rule, given Joanne’s health condition. He was also willing to make an exception for Marve if Hayden became unruly, which was always possible. The rest of the rules seemed rather obvious, boys and girls keeping separate during swimming, lights out at 9:00, no fireworks or noisemakers, no metal cleats on the softball field. 

The room wasn’t air-conditioned and as the outside temperature made its way into the low 90s, the fatigue of the past two weeks began to catch up with him and Glynn couldn’t avoid yawning as he struggled to keep his eyes open. Bill noticed and carefully poked Glynn to keep him awake. Poking Glynn, however, caused him to bump into Clement, who was having similar difficulty. Bill found the chain reaction funny and was trying to hold back his laughter but it still managed to come out as an odd sneeze/cough sound the punctuated an awkward moment of silence in the middle of Bing’s introduction of the Camp Pastor. Everyone stared. Bill forced a cough to cover his faux pax as Glynn patted his back in an attempt to legitimize the sound. Clement struggled to keep a straight face and was relieved when everyone turned back around and Bing continued his introductions. 

That was enough to keep the three pastors awake for the rest of the meeting. Bill and Glynn managed to avoid night patrol duty but Clement was assigned the 2-4 AM duty on Thursday morning. “You two are more than welcome to join me,” he said as they left the meeting. 

Bill laughed. “You’ve been in our squeaky old cabin. No one moves at night without everyone in the cabin knowing about it. There’s no way I could sneak out.”

Clement chuckled. “That’s true, you all have a natural alarm going on there. What about you, Glynn? Want to come? It’s a pain waking up in the middle of the night, but it’s rather peaceful once you’re up and mobile.”

“I still can’t believe this is a thing,” Glynn said. “Is there seriously no other security here at night than a couple of pastors running around with flashlights and a ridiculously large button that says ‘Safety Patrol?’”

Bill and Clement both laughed. “Okay, Yankee boy,” Bill teased. “Are you afraid the fifth and sixth graders are going to sneak out and do drugs? Most these kids wouldn’t even know what drugs look like if they found them.”

“Nah, I’m more concerned about them doing something silly and it turning into more than they can handle,” Glynn said. “Boys, especially. Don’t tell me no one’s tried scaling that fence around the pool to go for a middle of the night swim? Or sneaking a cigarette from one of the cooks? One guy with a flashlight is easy to avoid. One dropped match around all these dry pine needles and we have a problem.”

“Oh, didn’t anyone tell you? We have an old fire truck on the grounds for just such an emergency,” Clement explained. “Someone has to crank it to get it started and Lord knows the last time those hoses were tested, but Bing assures us the old heap still runs!”

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that!” Bill said. “He usually brings it out in the middle of Junior Camp just to show off the antique. God save us if we ever actually have to use that thing!”

The three men were laughing at the thought of pastors trying to literally fight a fire in the middle of the night when Emmit caught up with them. “I see who my trouble makers are going to be this year,” the Director of Missions said, smiling. “What are you three up to?”

“Glynn here is plotting to burn the place down in the middle of the night,” Bill said with a big grin. “You know, give the kids a literal example of hell.”

“Just let them get a taste of Mrs. Trunkhart’s cooking over in Big Bend’s cabin,” Emmit laughed. “I just walked past their earlier and the smell alone was enough to turn my stomach.”

“You mean they actually have kids this year?” Clement asked. “I’ve not seen them at Junior Camp for at least three or four years.”

“Yeah, they managed to find three who wanted to come,” Emmit answered. “The Trunkhart’s brought them down. I hope the poor kids survive.”

“I’ve not heard of Big Bend,” Glynn said. “I assume that’s in Colquitt Association?”

Emmit shook his head. “No, they’re in ours, up in the northeast corner of Riddel county. Big Bend is kind of like Bluebird only smaller. They never were too large a town, built around a watering stop on one of the old cattle trails. They’ve been slowly shrinking the past 20 or so years. They lost their high school about four years ago, started sending their kids into the Diamond schools. Now there’s talk about closing the elementary school as well. I think there were maybe 40 students in the entire school last year.”

“And Trunkhart is the pastor?” Glynn innocently asked.

Bill and Clement both choked back a laugh.

“No, they’re the reason the church doesn’t have a pastor,” Emmit said, smiling. “They’ve run everything in and around Big Bend for 40 years and are a large reason no one wants to live out there. They ran off the last bi-vocational pastor almost two years ago because he used big words they didn’t understand. Edgar has been running the services himself ever since. Most Sundays,  though, it’s just him and Thelma. Two of the most unpleasant people to ever call themselves Christians.”

“Edgar came to the Associational Annual Meeting a couple of years ago and made quite a fuss,” Clement added. “Emmit had mentioned in the associational newsletter that Robert’s Rules of Order would be strictly enforced during business sessions. You’ve met Larry, you can imagine why that’s necessary. Edgar shows up and right off the bat makes a fuss that the Bible’s Rules of Order are the only rules we should use. He honestly did not understand the concept of parliamentary procedure. That was 15 of the most uncomfortable minutes I’ve ever experienced.”

Glynn shook his head. “Those poor kids.”

“And that’s why we need a safety patrol,” Bill chuckled. “By Thursday, those kids are going to be looking for a way to escape Thelma’s cooking. Someone has to help them. Carry snacks.”

The group was still laughing when they reached Adelbert’s cabin and Glynn peeled off to make sure everything was running smoothly. It was, of course, and it did for the entire week. Marve and Irene made a great team in the kitchen, taking a lot of pressure off Joanne. Claire and Russel did a good job of supervising the kids. There were, of course, the occasional cuts and scrapes that needed bandaging, and one light case of homesickness that Joanne quickly handled by helping the boy catch fish in a creek that ran along the north border of the campground. Nearby cabins expressed some minor jealousy when Adelbert had fresh fish for their evening meal.

Glynn was surprised at how relaxing the week turned out to be. Not having a telephone ringing all day proved to be great for relieving stress. Even Marve got over her initial resentment by Wednesday and was enjoying sitting and chatting with Irene and Joanne between meals. Hayden especially enjoyed walking with his Daddy throughout the campground and Lita fit in well with the older kids. The camp was almost as good as a short vacation.

By the time Thursday morning came around, Glynn had no problem waking up early and was waiting on Clement when he came around for Safety Patrol. 

“I wasn’t sure you’d make it this morning,” Clement teased. “How are you holding up?”

“It’s proving to be rather relaxing, actually,” Glynn admitted. “The cool wind at night, not a lot of pressure during the day, I can’t say I have any complaints.”

Clement nodded. “It’s a nice escape. The challenge comes next week when you discover all the things no one wanted to bother you with this week. Never fails. I’ll have two or three in critical condition in the hospital, there’ll be a maintenance issue of some kind at the church, and there will be a couple of people having a personal crisis that needs attention. Every time.”

“You’re not going to the convention?” Glynn asked.

“What, Philadelphia? I don’t think so,” Clement answered. “There are some years it feels important enough to make that trek but this isn’t one of them. All they’re going to do is bellyache for five days. I get enough of that at home. Besides, like I said, after spending a week here there are going to be plenty of things in Washataug to keep me busy. You planning on going?”

“I’ve never been, but no, not this year. Like you said, there’s too much going on here, what with the tornado at Bluebird, a member’s daughter in a coma in Tulsa, and we’re back here in two weeks,” Glynn mused. “I’d really like to go one year, though, just to see what it’s like, to be able to say that I’ve been.”

They walked for a while in silence, taking careful steps to not trip over ruts in the dirt roads. As they rounded the corner, they saw a light on in one of the cabins. “That will be Carl Roberts,” Clement said. “You’ve met him, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, at Pastors’ Conference a couple of times. He seems like a nice guy,” Glynn said.

“He is. Hard worker in a difficult church,” Clement said. “I promise you, he’s in there with a half-dozen books spread out on a table, digging down to the nitty-gritty of what each and every word says and infers. He was an English major before he was drafted into the Navy. He takes languages more seriously than anyone I’ve ever met. I admire him. Too bad his church really doesn’t appreciate what they’ve got. They pay him so little his family has been on public assistance just to keep food on the table.”

“That’s disappointing,” Glynn said.

“That’s Oklahoma Southern Baptists,” Clement responded. “Everyone wants their pastor to be full-time but they want to make sure he ‘stays humble’ and doesn’t live better than anyone in the church. So, they give him a broken-down house and just enough salary to pay the utility bills and expect him to work miracles. It’s an all too common problem. The state convention has stepped in a few times, but we probably lose 50 pastors a year who just cannot afford to keep working for nothing.”

They walked a while longer in silence. A cool breeze rustled through the tabernacle, causing just enough noise that the pair decided it was worth investigating. Finding the space empty, they sat in a couple of chairs and watched the night pass silently. In the distance, they hear the unmistakable sound of someone snoring, causing them both to laugh.

“I don’t know who that is, but I feel sorry for everyone in their cabin,” Clement said quietly. “There’s no way everyone’s asleep down there.”

“Talk about loud enough to wake the dead,” Glynn commented. “Someone has to have a serious health problem to make that much noise.”

Clement stood and stretched. “You’re probably right. Preachers are one of the most unhealthy groups of people anywhere. We eat too much fried chicken, get too little exercise, and even if we have insurance none of us slow down enough to see a doctor until we’re so sick we can’t stand.”

Glynn immediately thought of Jerry, one of the few associational pastors who wasn’t at the camp this week. Instead, he was trying to piece his church back together while going through radiation treatments in Tulsa.

The duo waited a few more minutes before walking toward the cabin where their replacement would be waiting. “Lee Benjamin, pastor at Calvary, Levi, always takes the 4:00 shift,” Clement explained without being asked. “He says he likes those last few peaceful moments before dawn. He’ll swear that the morning dew is evidence of God walking among us. Not exactly biblical but his heart’s in the right place.”

They handed off the flashlights and safety patrol button and then each made their way back to their cabins, slipping into their bunks with no one having noticed either was gone. Glynn briefly considered staying awake, moving to the kitchen and working on his sermon as Carl had been doing, but he convinced himself that doing so would probably wake Joanne and if she was up then Marve and Irene wouldn’t be far behind and they’d all be tired the rest of the day. He closed his eyes and slowly drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 20

chapter 20

If Junior Camp was like a week of vacation, the week after proved to be its antithesis. Marve and Glynn were both still surprisingly exhausted despite having ultimately enjoyed the week. Marve had started on laundry the moment they got home and Buck had met Glynn at the church with a list of people who were sick and in the hospital. Glynn wasn’t terribly surprised that Sunday’s attendance was low and felt no guilt from having re-cycled a sermon he’d used in Michigan. This was summer in Oklahoma. People were busy with crops and cattle. The pastor reassured the congregation that God would meet them in the fields or the barn or wherever they might be and they had taken him at his word. 

Monday started off overcast and Glynn noticed that he was getting jumpy and anxious any time clouds started to cover the sky. The forecast only called for moderate rain in the afternoon but too often that moderate rain turned into significant storms. He made hospital visits early and quietly sat at his office desk studying and handling the two weeks’ worth of administrative duties as a gentle rain fell across the small town. He was happy to be home for dinner with just his family, the kids fussing with each other over toys, Marve filling him in on the more amusing pieces of town gossip. 

They had just finished dinner and were clearing away the dishes when there was a knock at the front door. Glynn answered it and was surprised to find Alan and Horace standing there. Outside on the street was a line of four pickup trucks with two men in the cab of each. Before Glynn had a chance to respond, Alan announced, “Hey preacher! Banker says your house is ready! We’re here to get ya’ll moved!”

“Tonight?” Glynn asked. “In the rain?”

“Yeah, we figured ya’ll have been living in this little thing long enough,” Alan said, “And since it’s raining I didn’t have any trouble rounding up plenty of help. We’ve all got big tarps to cover the beds of the truck so nothing should get too wet.”

Another car pulled up and Joanne got out, pushing her way past Horace and into the house. As she did she gave him a stern look. “We’ll talk more about this at home,” she warned. Joanne turned and gave Marve a hug. “Honey, I’m sorry about this. I just found out a few minutes ago. Irene and a couple of others are on their way to help you get things packed. These boys get a burr under their saddle and they don’t stop to think, they just do.”

Glynn stood at the door still dumbstruck by what was happening. “Okay,” he said carefully. “I guess we can start with what’s still in boxes? That’s going to be the easiest.”

Alan turned and whistled at the men in the pickups, motioning for them to join him. “Just lead the way, pastor. I think we’ve got enough folks to get this done in an hour or so.”

The next several minutes were an exercise in organized chaos. Three other women arrived to help Marve pack up the house, each one pausing on their way in to make sure Alan knew that the lack of notice was completely unacceptable. Lita was excited about moving to the new house and getting her own room. Hayden had been excited, too, until one of the women started packing up his toys. Fortunately, Claire showed up at the back door just in time to distract both the children and help keep them out of all the foot traffic going back and forth through the small house.

The new parsonage wasn’t that far away, perhaps a quarter of a mile at most. Nothing could have been much further as the whole town was less than a mile wide in any direction. The house sat on a bit of a knoll overlooking the school’s football field. Behind the house was nothing but pasture. Six other houses sat along the looping road that went up one side of the hill and down the other. Most people referred to this as the “new” part of town as most of the houses here were less than ten years old. The parsonage was barely two years old and the bank president’s new home, almost a mirror copy of the parsonage, sat right next door.

Compared to the four-room structure they’d been in, the new parsonage seemed massive. A large living room with a floor-to-ceiling picture window dominated the front with a sizeable kitchen and dining room behind. The three bedrooms were down a hallway off the living room, two small rooms that measured roughly 10×12 feet and a slightly larger master that included a half bath off to one side. Glynn and Marve had initially been excited, having never had that much space. 

Conditions surrounding the move had tamped down their excitement considerably, though. Marve fought back a scream as she watched one of the young men drop a box containing the china her mother had given her. Hayden and Lita were fussing over who got which room, an argument Glynn settled with authority and a significant amount of frustration. Not helping matters any, the rain picked up half-way through the move, making sure that the last loads, mostly all their clothes and things they had been using in the small house, were at least damp if not completely soaked. 

Joanne refused to let Horace leave until she was sure that Marve’s washer and dryer were hooked up and functioning. “You moved her in the rain,” she fussed. “She’s going to have to wash all those clothes all over again. Honestly, I don’t know what you men were thinking. This could have waited until tomorrow.”

Appliances were the last thing to be set in place. As Marve transferred food from a cardboard box to the refrigerator, Irene knelt down to help and said, “Try not to worry, dear. We’ll come back over in the morning and help you sort this all out, and we’ll bring you some food.”

Marve smiled, thankful for both the help and encouragement but still trying to hold back the rage she was feeling. She waited until everyone was gone and the kids were tucked in and sound asleep before letting loose at Glynn. “You’re going to tell me that you didn’t have any idea this was going to happen? You expect me to believe that they just showed up with absolutely no advance warning of any kind?”

‘Glynn leaned against the counter dividing the kitchen from the dining room. “No one has even mentioned it in two months,” he said in an effort to defend himself. “I was going to find a way to ask about it at the next deacons’ meeting but I didn’t want to push because Alan would have put pressure on the bank president and since he’s our neighbor now I didn’t want that relationship to start off wrong. I had no idea any of this was going to happen tonight and yes, it was invasive. I’m glad we’re in but this is definitely not the way I wanted it to happen.”

“This was more than invasive, Glynn,” Marve countered. “This was humiliating. I had absolutely nothing ready. There are still wet clothes in the washer. I know without looking that some of mom’s china was broken by one of those clumsy idiots. They didn’t care about whether things were fragile. They didn’t pay attention to which boxes were supposed to go in which rooms, even with me telling them! They were throwing boxes across the yard. They brought clothes from our closet and dumped them in a pile in our bedroom then kicked them out of the way with their muddy boots when they set up the bed. They didn’t ask how I wanted the bedroom arranged, either, so I’ll have to re-do all that tomorrow. This was a nightmare, Glynn. You do this to me ever again and so help me I’ll walk out and never come back. I don’t care about your career or the church or how it looks to anyone. I will not be humiliated like this ever again! Do you understand?”

Glynn paused and looked at his wife, knowing that he had to choose his words carefully and that he couldn’t let his own emotions get the better of him. “I didn’t plan this,” he said softly. “I didn’t ask anyone to show up out of the blue. Yes, it was wrong. Yes, it was humiliating. Yes, we have some damages. I have a box of books I need to rescue from a puddle. I’m pretty sure I heard glass break in one of the kitchen boxes. I know! But please don’t blame me. This happened to all of us, our family, not just you.”

Marve wasn’t in the mood to listen nor was she willing to let Glynn off the hook that easily. “How is this not your fault, Glynn?” she charged. “You were the one who wanted to pastor a bigger church, a full-time pastorate. You’re the one who drug our entire family out here to the middle of nowhere. And first, they put us in the tiniest house I’ve ever seen, and now they just show up and move us and act like we’re supposed to thank them for it! I was perfectly fine living in Michigan. Yeah, your hours sucked, but at least we were stable. No one from the plant was ever going to show up in the middle of dinner and tell me we had to move. This is not what I signed up for, Glynn. This was not part of anything I ever agreed to. You got us into this mess and if things don’t improve, Glynn Waterbury, I will pack up the kids and leave. I promise. I want stable and predictable back.”

“Okay,” Glynn sighed, knowing there was no point in arguing with her right now. “I’ll go down to the diner tomorrow and talk to Alan and Horace, although I’m pretty sure Joanne is giving Horace an earful already.” He paused and looked around the kitchen and dining room, boxes were stacked everywhere in complete disarray. Marve was right, no consideration had been given to where anything went. Getting things organized would take weeks. “What do we need to do tonight so that we can at least have breakfast in the morning?”

Marve looked around the kitchen with tears in her eyes. “I don’t know, Glynn,” she cried. “I don’t know where the bowls or the cereal are. I don’t know where the sheets for the bed are. Things were just tossed in boxes and moved without being labeled.” Tears were pouring down her cheeks as she collapsed into the nearest kitchen chair.

Glynn turned around and saw the cereal boxes protruding from the top of one of the packing boxes. He quickly opened a couple of other boxes until he found the bowls, plates, and utensils. He took them out of the boxes and set them in one of the cupboards. “There, we can do breakfast. I think I saw a box marked linens in the hallway. Does it matter which sheets we put on the bed tonight?”

Marve shook her head, her sobs too heavy to allow her to speak. She didn’t care anymore. She wanted it all to over.

Glynn found the box of linens in the hallway, thankful that the sheets inside were for their bed and not the kids. He made their bed and put Marve’s favorite quilty on top before returning to the kitchen to get her. “I found the sheets, I made the bed,” he said as he returned to the dining room and took Marve’s hand in his. “Let’s try to get some sleep and we can tackle everything else in the morning.” 

Marve wiped tears from her eyes and looked up at the sympathetic eyes of her husband. This is why she had fallen in love with him in the first place. He had the ability to take the sting out of any situation. He absorbed her pain and made it his. “Go rescue those books first,” she said quietly. 

Glynn nodded and kissed her on the forehead before leaving the room. The two-car garage was nice and roomy but having the large door open while it was raining meant there were puddles of water scattered across the floor. He found the box of books and set it in a dry spot, then removed the books from the box to check the amount of damage. One of his older books was likely ruined, but he wouldn’t throw it out just yet. He set them on top of the boxes to dry and returned to the house. Marve was already in bed. He walked through the house turning off the lights, making sure the doors were locked before slipping into bed beside her. She rolled away from him. He sighed and closed his eyes.

There was no chance Glynn was going to sleep. By 4:00 he was up, sorting through boxes in the kitchen, putting up the things that made sense, setting aside the boxes that he knew Marve would want to organize. By the time Marve woke up around 6:00, he had the table clear and most of the kitchen counter space available. She still was in a less-than-cheerful mood, but gave Glynn a kiss and thanked him for all the help. 

Naturally, the kids popped out of bed sooner than their parents would have liked, bouncing around the house, anxious to get started unpacking, each with fantastically impossible ideas for how they wanted their rooms set up. Marve calmed them long enough to feed them breakfast then gave them specific assignments for their rooms, easy things she knew they could handle. Keeping them busy and out of her way would be the biggest struggle of the day.

Glynn had put some boxes in the car to take to his office and was about to leave when there was a knock at the door. He glanced out the window and didn’t see a vehicle, surprised and slightly annoyed that anyone was already paying them a visit. He opened the door to find a woman about Marve’s age, with two children, a young boy and a taller girl, just younger than his own.

“Hi, I’m Ellen Stone, your new neighbor. We live next door. I saw they moved ya’ll in the rain last night and thought your wife might use some help,” the woman said. She looked at the kids and added, “This is Kerrie and James. Kerrie’s 10 and James is 3. They can help keep your kids distracted.”

Glynn smiled. “Absolutely! Come on in!” He opened the door wider and quickly called to Marve. Ellen repeated her introduction as Lita and Hayden came bounding from their rooms. They quickly grabbed Kerrie and James by the hand and took them back to their rooms.

Marve took Ellen to the kitchen, asking questions the entire way. “Show me how you had things set up in here,” she asked. “I’m not used to this many options and I’m not sure what makes the most sense…”

Glynn smiled, happy to see that Marve was going to have company. He had hardly shut the front door, though, when two cars pulled up out front. Joanne got out of one and Gladys Walker emerged from the other. They came toward the house, each carrying a large box of groceries. Glynn opened the door wide to let them in.

“Joanne called me last night and told me about them moving ya’ll in the rain,” Gladys said as she squeezed through the door. “I knew that husband of mine was out doing something, but I didn’t realize he was being stupid. Please consider this as something of a peace offering.”

“We’ll stay and help Marve,” Joanne said, matter-of-factly. “I know you need to get to the church.” She paused for just a second then continued. “And if you feel the need to box some men about the ears a bit, I’m pretty sure they’ll all be at the diner around 11.”

Glynn took the hint, gave Marve and the kids a kiss, and left for the church office. The church phone didn’t ring all morning. Normally, that would have been Glynn’s signal that everything was quiet and he could take an extended lunch at home with Marve and the kids but he knew better. As he pulled into the parking lot at the diner, he quickly noticed that all the trucks that had moved him the night before were present. Sure enough, he found them all sitting around a set of tables that had been pushed together.

“Might as well join us,” Horace said as the diner’s door closed behind the preacher, a small bell announcing his presence. “All our wives are at your house, so I’m guessing it’s about as safe for you to go home as it for any of us.”

Glynn pulled up a chair and commented, “Yeah, as much as I appreciate what ya’ll did last night, Marve was none too happy about the lack of warning. Had it not been covered in boxes, I’d have probably had to sleep on the couch last night.”

“You may be the only one of us that didn’t,” Alan said, staring down into the cup of coffee he was holding between his hands. “I can’t remember the last time my wife was that angry.”

“We’ll each be apologizing when we see her,” Buck added. “A couple of us might be sleeping all the way out in the barn if we don’t.”

The waitress took Glynn’s order and Alan quickly told her, “Put that on my tab, please.” He looked down the table toward the preacher and continued, “If there’s anything else I can do to make it up to her, just say the word. I guess I’m so used to rushing and getting things done the moment they pop up, I didn’t stop to think how inconvenient it might be for your family.”

Glynn smiled. He wasn’t any happier with the men’s actions than was Marve but he knew he couldn’t express it as aggressively as she had and he probably didn’t need to say much. Three of the men had yet to look up from their coffee. The group’s contrition was apparent. “There’s a lesson to be learned here, I suppose. Remember our scripture from a couple of weeks ago, Matthew 19, when people were bringing their children to Jesus?” 

He paused to make sure he had everyone’s attention then continued. “At the front of that story, there’s a line we often brush over, where the disciples tried to stop the parents who were bringing the kids. We rarely stop to consider the disciples’ perspective. They had just made a long trip, by foot. Jesus had spent an untold number of days healing people because he had grown famous for that. Then, he’d had a tussle with the Pharisees about divorce and told them they didn’t know anything about love. The disciples likely looked at Jesus and saw a person who they assumed was as exhausted as the rest of them if not more so. Under those circumstances, with that perspective, it’s not surprising that they would see this group of parents coming at them with all their screaming kids wiggling around and making noise and want to save Jesus the trouble. Their intentions seemed gracious and helpful at the time, but they lacked the perspective of Christ.”

Glynn looked down the table, not sure that all the men were understanding the comparison. He explained, “Sometimes, like last night, we have good intentions and are only trying to help but we don’t stop to consider the perspective of the person we think we’re helping. We’re not meaning to do any harm, but harm is still done. 

“Jesus’ rebuke to his disciples comes off sounding a bit soft in translation, but I assure you it wasn’t. He was upset. He likely raised his voice. There was a sense of ‘Don’t you ever do this again,’ implied in his tone. I think that’s where we find ourselves this morning. Our wives provided sufficient rebuke. It’s an error in judgment we don’t need to repeat. Should anything substantial need to be done ever again, we need to coordinate that we everyone, not gather up the first posse we can find and charge forward.”

The men at the table nodded their agreement with admissions that they should have known better. As the waitress began to bring out the men’s food, Glynn added, “All that being said, thank you for providing such a nice parsonage. I’m sure that around 1:00 this afternoon Marve will begin to appreciate having central air conditioning. Perhaps I can convince her to invite everyone over for an open house or something once she gets things settled in. I’ll have to check with her first, though.” 

The pastor smiled and the men at the table laughed. The tension around the table began to ease and the conversation turned back to the standard topics of weather and pond levels and sick cows. By the time Glynn braved returning home that evening, everyone seemed to have calmed down a bit. Marve gave Glynn a big kiss as he came in and the kids were anxious to tell him about their new friends next door. The temperature in the house was at least 20 degrees cooler than the scorching heat outside and one of the neighbors from the other side of the hill had brought over a large casserole for dinner so Marve wouldn’t have to cook. The family didn’t know it yet, but the women had conspired among themselves to provide food for the Waterburys the entire week. While there was no question that a wound had been made, this one was on its way to being healed, even if the scar would never completely go away.

Pastors' Conference, 1972

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Chapter 17

Chapter 17

Hub’s ambulance pulled up in front of the remains of Bluebird’s old general store. Glynn was relieved to see Jerry and Gladys Wheldon both standing with the Sherrif and other area residents surveying the damage. As they got out of the car, the Sherrif walked toward Hub and Jerry quickly made his way over to Glynn.

“Damnit, Hub,” the Sherrif said, “I’ve been telling the county commissioners since last fall that the sirens weren’t working out here and they’ve ignored me every month. ‘We don’t have the money,’ they whine. Well, now they can find the money to bury these people because they were caught totally off guard.”

“Talk about a kick in the teeth,” Jerry said on the other side of the ambulance. “The church building is completely gone.”

“How’s your home?” Glynn asked, compassionately putting a hand on Jerry’s shoulder.

“A couple of broken windows but other than that not it too bad of shape,” Jerry answered. “We were just sitting down to dinner. We heard the rain, of course, but there was nothing warning us about a twister until it was on top of us. No one had time to do anything, take shelter anywhere. This is bad. Bluebird effectively no longer exists.” 

“Where do you want us to start?” Hub asked the Sherrif.

The officer looked at the pile of debris and shrugged. “We know Kirkie and Deb were in the store. They always are. Store took a direct hit. I can’t imagine that either of them survived, if we can even find them. Don’t know yet if they had any customers in the store or not. It was supper time, ya’ know. Most folks were home. I guess we just have to start digging and see what we find.”

Several people from Adelbert and two more ambulances from Arvel pulled up to the devastating scene. Everyone in Adelbert knew someone in Bluebird. Several were related. Glynn knew there were three families out here who attended First Baptist, but having come in the ambulance with Hub prevented him from being able to check on them. All he could do for the moment was pray they were safe.

The Sherrif organized everyone into search and rescue teams with clear orders to call out if they so much as heard what sounded like a survivor amidst all the rubble. They were to remove the rubble carefully, a brick or a board at a time, debris stacked neatly off to the side. No one paid any attention to the rain still falling. No one cared. 

Work continued throughout the night. When it began to get dark, farmers showed up with lights and portable generators so the work could continue. They found Deb’s body first, near the front of the store where the cash register would have been. Hub and Glynn squeezed the ambulance through the line of vehicles and took her body to the funeral home. There was still no power anywhere in Adelbert, though they had passed trucks from Oklahoma Gas & Electric on the side of the highway, which provided some hope. They left the body in Rose’s care and then swung by Glynn’s house so he could change out of his now mud-splattered suit and into the grey pants and shirt he referred to as his work clothes. 

Wynona was still sitting in the candle-lit living room with Marve. The kids were in bed and Marve was hoping to do the same soon. Hub offered to drive Wynona home while Glynn changed clothes and she gladly accepted the offer.

“Is it as bad as the Sherrif said?” Marve asked after Wynona left.

Glynn nodded as he was buttoning the gray shirt. “Maybe worse. Everyone’s been focused on the old store. Jerry says the church building is completely gone but his house is okay. Don’t know yet about the school. There shouldn’t have been anyone there at this time of day, but you never know. I didn’t see many houses standing as we drove out there. Jerry says everyone was caught off guard. They just thought it was another thunderstorm.”

“It just seems to be one thing after another down here, doesn’t it?” Marve asked rhetorically. “I mean, last Saturday it was Carol and you spent most of the weekend in Tulsa. Now this and who knows how long you’ll be needed, or where. Doesn’t Mrs. Amekin and Florence Henry live out there?”

Glynn was bent over, tying his oldest pair of shoes. He sat up and took a breath before answering. “Yeah, they do. I was with Hub, though, so I’ve not had a chance to drive out and check on them.”

Marve sat on the bed next to her husband. “Should you take the car back out there?”

“I’ve thought of that,” Glynn answered softly. “But there are already so many vehicles lining the sides of the road that the ambulance could barely get through. I think another vehicle would just add to the clutter. Besides, Hub’s always going to be where things are the worst. The Sherrif seems to have everything reasonably organized. There’s supposed to be some people from Oklahoma City coming out, too. I’m sure we’ll get around to everyone as quickly as possible.”

Marve leaned over and gave Glynn a kiss. “Promise me you’ll be careful out there,” she said. “It’s not like those old shoes are going to give you any traction.”

“Yeah, the soles are a bit worn,” Glynn said. “There’s more mud out there than anything else, though. They’ll do for now.”

Hub pulled up in front of the house and Glynn gave Marve one more kiss before trotting out the door. The pair drove back out to Bluebird in relative silence until they passed the Arvel ambulance that was carrying Kirkie’s body. “We can hold four,” Hub said without prompting. “After that, we’ll have to use Arvel funeral homes.” He shook his head. “Pardon my language, preacher, but there’s gonna be hell to pay at the next county commissioner’s meeting. Those boys done messed up. There’s gonna be some lawsuits over this, you just wait and see.”

“How bad do you think it is?” Glynn said. 

Rain had started back up and Hub turned on the windshield wipers and let them clear the windshield a bit before answering. “There are 24 homesteads in what is officially considered the Bluebird community. I’ve only heard of three still standing. Normally, that wouldn’t mean much because everyone out here either has a basement or a storm cellar. From what folks are saying, though, the only ones who saw anything coming were those what were out in the fields and they barely had time to get in and grab their families before it hit. There’s a lot of old folks out here, folks that were born and raised out here before Oklahoma was even a state. They weren’t out in no field. Still, tornadoes are funny. There’s no logic to them. They don’t follow a straight path. You never know who’s going to get hit and who’s going to be spared.”

As they pulled up in front of the remnants of the store, the Sherrif walked over and waited for Hub to roll down the window in the driver’s door. “I don’t think we’re going to find anyone else here, Hub,” he said. “They were just a few minutes away from closing. Why don’t you drive down to the Steiner place, though? One of their kids ran up here and said the house collapsed on top of the basement. Everyone there’s alive but the boy said his dad was hurt. He may need to go to the hospital.”

Hub nodded and Glynn leaned across the seat to ask, “Any word on Florence Henry or Donnas Amekin?”

The Sherrif shook his head. “The only ones I can confirm are those that have been down here working. Once the sun is up we’ll be able to go out and check door-to-door, if we can find the doors.”

Glynn shifted back in his seat, waiting for Hub to pull away. The smell of diesel from the generators was overwhelming. His stomach wrenched, causing him to wonder how long he’d hold up under these conditions.

As the ambulance pulled up to the Steiner house, Glynn noticed that Jerry had moved to help down here. He walked over to the older pastor and put his hand on his shoulder. “How are you holding up?”

Jerry was carefully removing a large piece of siding and waited until it was safely extracted before replying. “This is killing me more than anything else, Glynn. These are my church members, my friends, and we’ll get Ernie out here in a minute, he’s been chatting the entire time, but they’ve lost everything. Ernie’s already questioning whether to rebuild or sell the land and move to Broken Bowl or someplace like that.”

Jerry paused and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I have a feeling that when the sun comes up in a bit we’re going to be more shocked than we already are. Herb Michaels, over there on Route Four, says his barn took a direct hit, lost at least 30 cattle, his tractor, messed up his hay bailer, and a bunch of other stuff. Norman Lloyd, just down the road here a piece, says his pickup is missing, no idea where it’s gone. Only half his house is still standing. This is the death of Bluebird and it tears my heart out.”

Cheers went up as Ernie Steiner was pulled safely out of his basement. He gave his wife and kids a big hug, but it was clear that his right leg had been crushed. Glynn helped Hub maneuver the gurney over the debris and got the farmer strapped in for the ride to the hospital.

“Ya’ll start putting things in piles, what we can keep, what’s trash. Whichever pile is bigger likely determines what we do next,” Ernie instructed his wife, who gave him a tearful hug before they shut the ambulance door.

A couple of hours passed before Hub and Glynn could return with the ambulance. The hospital’s emergency room was inundated with people injured by the tornado and was struggling to keep up with everyone while running on generator power. The streets outside were now full of trucks from OG&E, trying to get the power restored. The hospital had priority over everything else in town, then the police station and fire department. 

When they finally returned to Bluebird, they were directed to yet another farmhouse. The farmer had died of a heart attack before the tornado had a chance to rip the roof off the house. His wife was completely distraught and insisted on riding in the ambulance with them back to the funeral home. Before they left, Glynn was able to confirm that Donnas Amekin was safe, her house only minimally damaged. She was one of the lucky ones, though. Jerry had been right, Bluebird was dead.

Work continued as the day passed. Power was eventually restored to Arvel, Adelbert, and most of the county by Saturday night. Glynn called each of the deacons and they all agreed that the Sunday morning service should go on as normal but that, once again, the evening service should be canceled so everyone could attend to recovery and repair efforts. A stop by the house allowed the pastor to change clothes yet again and give Marve and the kids a reassuring hug. 

By the time Hub was convinced the ambulance was no longer needed, seven people had been confirmed dead with two farmers still missing. Each had been out far in their fields and didn’t have time to get back home before the storm hit. 34 had been taken to the hospital in Arvel for treatment. Almost every home in the Bluebird community and those around it had some damage. Several homes were deemed unsafe, which sent their residents scrambling to find shelter. The high school gym, which had only lost some tar paper off its domed roof, was opened as an emergency shelter for those who didn’t have relatives in the area. The Red Cross provided blankets, sandwiches, juice, and coffee for both residents and workers. 

People from across the county had come to help not only with search and rescue but with clothes, tarps, lumber, fencing equipment, and help rounding up the cattle that were wandering from pasture to pasture, not sure exactly where to go. While this wasn’t the first tornado the county had survived, it was the worst in recent memory. 

Glynn noticed that the Sherrif and several other men never seemed to take a break. They would eat a quick sandwich when it was offered, gulp down a lukewarm cup of coffee, and keep going; their clothes caked in mud and clay, their faces streaked with sweat, grime, and sometimes blood, they were committed to not only finding and saving as many people as they could, they still kept an eye toward keeping everyone else safe. The Sherrif carefully confiscated any random weapons and ammunition that was found, marking its location should the owners come looking for them later. A rancher took charge of dogs and cats that were running stray, separated from their owners. Those that he wasn’t able to reunite he took back to crates in his barn with plenty of food and water until their owners could be found. Mailboxes were recovered and set back on posts. 

All rescue and recovery efforts were paused at 9:00 Sunday morning so everyone could go to church. Jerry had actively encouraged his own church members to join him at First Baptist in Adelbert and most of them had done so, which once again filled the sanctuary to the point that chairs were needed.

Glynn had prepared a pre-VBS sermon around Matthew 19:13-15.

3-15 Then some little children were brought to him, so that he could put his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples frowned on the parents’ action but Jesus said, “You must let little children come to me, and you must never stop them. The kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children like these!” Then he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

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

The pastor considered the state of those listening to him that morning and adjusted his homily slightly. “This morning,” Glynn told them, “We are all children. We are children who have been frightened, children who are homeless and unsure of what happens next. We are children who are stunned by the ferociousness and aggressiveness of a storm that not only took away homes, and stores, and church buildings, but it took away people we loved, people who were important to us, people who cared about us. And like children, we sit here this morning needing to know that God still cares.

“Yes, God still cares. He looks at all the obstacles we face and says, ‘Don’t worry about all those things, come to me. And he provides us comfort, he provides us encouragement and then, perhaps most importantly, he moves on.

“Today is a day of comfort, encouragement, and peace. Tomorrow begins a period of teaching and learning. We welcome children, and adults, from Bluebird and anywhere else. This is a time where Jesus doesn’t say, ‘You’re too old.’ Rather, he says, ‘Here, have a cookie and a hug. Tell me what you need.’

“Then, we move on. We will bury the bodies of those we’ve lost, we’ll see to the injuries of those who were hurt, and we’ll face the decisions of whether to rebuild or relocate. There is a time to be embraced and there’s no limit on how many times we can come running back to Jesus for comfort. But there’s also time to continue doing what he set us here to do. We are not down. We are not out. We go on our way, tilling fields, rebuilding houses, repairing barns, herding cattle, and sharing God’s love with each other.”

Glynn kept the service short. He knew concerns were elsewhere and while everyone needed the break that going to church provided, they also needed to start putting their lives back together. There was no time to wallow and little time to mourn. 

Marve had already suggested inviting Jerry and Gladys to lunch and Glynn raised the stakes by taking everyone to a restaurant in Washataug thanks to an extra twenty dollars Hub had slipped him the night before. They tried keeping the conversation light but the tornado, the church building, and the cancer made for a combination of tragedy that was too large to ignore. Jerry was hoping the church could meet in the school cafeteria at least long enough to decide whether or not to rebuild, again questioning whether to tell them of his diagnosis. Would they still choose to rebuild and take on debt if they knew he wasn’t going to be there to lead them?

By the time they finished lunch, though, the skies were once again looking gray. More rain was moving in and with it, once again, the chance of storms. Jerry and Gladys thanked the Waterburys for their generosity and returned to Bluebird to help neighbors put giant blue tarps over holes in roofs, boarding up broken windows, and gathering belongings scattered across pastures. Glynn and Marve took the kids home for a nap and tried their best to relax while listening to the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance.

With the power back on across the county, Glynn was able to call and check on church members he hadn’t seen in the morning service, confirming that everyone was safe and had a secure place to spend the night. Not many of their members had been affected at all and none had experienced the severe destruction of those in Bluebird. The Sherrif was now instructing those who were not residents to stay away until Monday morning when better weather was forecasted. Looting wasn’t an issue but deepening ruts in the muddy roads were and the county wouldn’t be able to spread gravel until the next day. 

Glynn then called the hospital in Tulsa to check on Carol’s condition. Nothing had changed significantly over the week, he was told. He left a message for Edith to call him but the phone didn’t ring the rest of the evening. Everyone was tired, thankful the rain had moved through without incident and emotionally drained as they prepared to start the busiest month of the year.

Chapter 18

Chapter 18

Monday morning’s sunshine started the day hot and bright as though nothing had happened over the weekend. VBS began at 8:00 which meant teachers were at the church building by 7:00 which meant Glynn had to be at the church by 6:30. He didn’t mind, though Marve was less than thrilled with the prospect of getting both kids ready on her own. By 7:30 children were beginning to arrive and by 7:45 it was clear that they had underestimated turnout for this year. More supplies and more cookies would be needed. Reinforcements were called. Snack and recess began at 10:00 so there wasn’t much time to act. 

Despite the challenge, though, the day went off without any problems more significant than replacing the paper towels in the restrooms and mopping up a drink spill or two. After lunch, Glynn drove out to Bluebird where efficiency reigned as well. County crews had spread gravel on the roads as soon as it was daylight allowing trucks to deliver building materials where they were needed. Those in the area whose homes hadn’t been as adversely affected gathered at the old store to begin cleaning up. Deb and Kirkie had raised four children but none of them lived in the area and no one expected that they would want to come back and rebuild a store that struggled at times just to pay the utility bills. The mood was somber but determined. Even with the church building and the store gone, those who lived in Bluebird refused to give up. This was their home. They would survive.

A visit to the hospital in Arvel gave Glynn a better perspective on how many people had been hurt. Ernie Steiner’s leg was in traction, a couple of others were on oxygen and being watched carefully. Most broken bones had been set and the patients sent back home. There was, miraculously, no one with life-threatening injuries. 

Driving back home, Glynn was thankful that the sun was hot enough to require the use of air conditioning and even more thankful that his Impala had air conditioning. He considered the degree to which life here in Oklahoma was a bit like a rubber band with events and disasters pulling things down for a moment only to bounce back and level out the same as it had been before. Despite the rain and the storms, there were tractors in the fields, cattle in the pastures, and hay being baled. Any pain or distress was tamped down or outright ignored. There was work to be done and the only option was to get up and do it. 

By the end of opening assembly on Tuesday, Glynn realized that the well-oiled machine that was VBS didn’t need his presence as much as he had anticipated. He was able to sit in his office and study while teachers marshaled troops of small children between classrooms and bathrooms, cookies and recess, crafts and lessons. He was amused that with each delivery of cookies someone left a sample on his desk, always while he had stepped away for a moment. Everything about VBS was a serious business for the women of the church and he couldn’t help wondering why this effort and efficiency weren’t utilized more effectively throughout the year in other areas of ministry.

Thursday was the only time the preacher was tasked with speaking to each class. The VBS materials called for him to deliver an “age-appropriate presentation of the gospel with an opportunity for children to respond.” This was the point of decision that determined whether the week was ultimately a success. 

Glynn was careful about leaning too hard on children to “get saved.” He was unconvinced than a child under the age of ten understood the concepts of sin and salvation well enough to make a genuine decision. He knew all too well that these childhood conversions too often led to a life of insincere Christianity that looked at salvation more as an insurance policy in the event hell turned out to be a real place. Instead, he focused on making sure that younger children weren’t frightened by the gruesome details of eternal damnation and only offered a moment of repentance to the fifth and sixth-grade classes. Predictably, when one child responded, half a dozen others did as well. Glynn would meet privately with the child and their parents to determine whether the decision was sincere but even with those that seemed genuine he had his doubts whether they all knew anything beyond the ritual. 

After making his rounds, Glynn returned to his office. There sat a plate of cookies and a note from Marve that read, “We’re having a guest for lunch. Please be on time.” The note piqued the pastor’s curiosity. Marve was typically direct in her communication so the fact that she hadn’t specifically mentioned who was coming to lunch had him mildly curious. At the same time, this was lunch so whoever it was and whatever the reason might be couldn’t be overly serious. He finished out the morning, oversaw the children being picked up by their parents, and made it home before anyone had sat down at the table.

Glynn was only mildly surprised that Claire Hiddleman was their lunch guest. She had babysat for the couple twice now and Lita was especially fond of her. Friday night’s adventure to the Hiddleman’s storm shelter had strengthened that bond and when the pastor arrived she was sitting cross-legged in the living room floor and Lita carried on about a doll and Hayden tried running over her with one of his trucks. Claire seemed to be a fairly typical teenager, bright, intelligent, anxious to find ways to be helpful, and occasionally impetuous. Her long, strawberry-blonde hair flowed straight down her back, and the large round-framed glasses on her face gave her lanky body an attractive bookwormish appearance. Everyone in town knew Claire and Glynn didn’t know of anyone who didn’t like her. 

Since they had a guest for lunch, Marve broke out the canned tomato soup to go with their typical deli-meat sandwiches. The kids chattered at Claire through the entire meal and would have happily skipped nap time had they been given the option. Glynn jumped in and cleared the table while Marve and Claire did their best to get the kids settled quietly in the bedroom, if not napping, at least playing quietly.

Glynn still needed to visit the hospital in Washataug this afternoon and was wanting to check in with Jerry whose phone was still not working after the storm. He had some time, though and was sitting in the recliner in the living room reading the newspaper with Marve and Claire came in and sat on the sofa. Claire was Marve’s classroom assistant in VBS and they were chatting about the difficulty of trying to wrap up the week’s unit and the challenges of having three times as many students as had been planned. 

“As crowded as it is, I’ve really enjoyed the week,” Claire told Marve. “I’ve asked Mrs. Lyles if I can be a counselor for Junior Camp. She said I could if we have enough room. You guys are all going, right?”

Glynn was careful to keep his nose buried in the newspaper. He knew this was a hot point of contention for Marve, who didn’t appreciate being “told” that she had to do anything. He had only convinced her to participate because of Joanne’s health issues.

Marve knew when to put on a good public face, though, and answered Claire’s question with a smile. “Yes, kids and all. I know Lita would love to have you there. I don’t think the girls’ side is full yet, is it, Glynn?”

“Not as of this morning,” Glynn said from behind the newspaper. “And Joanne told me there are more bunks in the attic if we need them. We can fit 20 on each side. I think we’ll have room for whoever wants to go.”

“That would be so fun!” Claire said as she bounced in place on the sofa. “This week has been such a great experience. It’s really helping me narrow my focus as I think about starting to apply for college this fall.”

“Is it that time for you already?” Marve asked. “I didn’t think that happened until your Senior year.”

“They want us to start making campus visits this fall,” Claire answered. “I’m looking at OU, of course. That’s where Daddy wants me to go since both he and Mom went there. I’m not convinced that’s necessarily the place for me, though.”

Marve crossed her legs and leaned forward. She could be just as good a counselor as Glynn when she didn’t feel pressured into doing so. She had enjoyed Claire’s excited and willing spirit over the week and was glad to have someone to mentor. “What are you wanting to study?” Marve inquired. “Are you looking at education?”

Claire shook her head. “I don’t think so, though Mom’s trying hard to change my mind. The state needs more teachers, I get that, but I’m not sure that’s where I can do the most good. That’s why I’m not sure about OU. I’m wanting to study religion, but they don’t offer it as a major and they don’t admit women into their religious studies program.”

Glynn folded the newspaper and set it to the side. He wasn’t going to say anything if he wasn’t invited into the conversation, but the topic was one he couldn’t ignore.

Marve glanced over at her husband, giving him a reassuring look to let him know she could handle the matter. “Religion in general or something more narrow?” she asked Claire.

“I guess general for now,” the teenager answered. “I mean, there’s a lot there to study, I know that, and it’s not like we get a lot of exposure to anything but Christianity around here, but, you know, with the whole women’s liberation movement and everything…” She paused, searching for the best way to explain what she was thinking. “Like, none of that New York or California stuff really matters here in Oklahoma, you know? Women here really only have two options, either they teach or they stay home and help with the kids and the farm. There’s nothing here for us to strike against or protest. But I can’t help thinking, especially after this week’s unit, about how important women were to Jesus’ ministry, and, you know, look at who ran VBS this week!” She stopped and looked at Glynn. “No offense, Reverend Waterbury, I don’t mean you didn’t do anything.”

Glynn smiled. “No, you’re right. I’ve hardly had to lift a finger this week and they keep bringing me cookies!”

Claire giggled as Marve rolled her eyes and shook her head at Glynn’s response. Claire continued. “Anyway, I’m thinking that one way rural women can expand their place in society is through the church, being to the church kind of what Mary and Martha were to Jesus and his disciples. I think there’s a place in ministry for women, maybe not preaching, but doing other things.”

“I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Marve said. “You wouldn’t need a degree in religion to do that, though, would you?”

Claire shrugged. “I don’t know if I need a degree for anything. Mom and Dad both would have my head if I told them I wasn’t going to college, though. Plus, I think educating ourselves on matters that have traditionally been left to men is probably a good idea.” She stopped again and looked at Glynn. “No offense, Reverend Waterbury, but it seems that men have kept religious instruction to themselves over the centuries as a way to control women. I think the more we know, the better we understand, the more deeply we can apply what we believe to what we are doing.”

“The only part of that I would challenge is that I don’t think men have ever controlled women as much as they like to think they do,” Glynn said with a bit of a laugh that had Marve rolling her eyes again. “I’m all for women receiving all the education they can and I’m sorry that you’re running into barriers. My perspective is that women can do anything in the church that doesn’t require ordination.”

Claire turned to face Glynn more directly. “Really? I was wondering about that. I know Lutherans and Presbyterians have ordained women and the encyclopedia we have says the first women ordained in the United States was a Free Will Baptist all the way back in the 1800s somewhere in New England. Why do Southern Baptists not ordain women?”

Glynn smiled and chuckled a bit until he saw the stern look on Marve’s face. Regaining his pastoral composure, he said, “The primary opposition is based on scripture. In 1 Timothy chapter 3, Paul tells the young Timothy, who was likely no older than you are, that those who would lead, the word is most often translated as Bishop, must, among other things, be the husband of only one wife, because polygamy was a thing in the first century, and he must have control of his own household. A lot of people have translated and mistranslated that passage in many ways, but the requirement for a wife is the strong point in arguing against women in ordained positions.”

“What about priests?” Claire asked. “They’re not married at all. That seems to be a contradiction.”

“There are a number of differences in the way the Catholic church and Southern Baptists interpret scripture,” Glynn said, shifting in his seat to find a more serious position. “They would say that priests are married to the Church, based on Paul’s argument for why he remained single. The same holds true of nuns, though, personally, I’ve never really seen the biblical justification for that one.”

Claire sat back on the couch and sighed. “This all seems so silly. If we’re all reading the same Bible, why can’t we agree on what it means?”

“Because we’re not all reading the same Bible,” Marve answered, inserting herself back into the conversation. “There have been hundreds of translations over the years as our understanding of the original languages has changed.”

“And there are still a lot of questions as to whether any of those translations are really correct,” Glynn added. “I agree, it can be quite confusing.”

“Is that why you don’t use the King James version when you’re preaching?” Claire asked.

“One of them,” Glynn said. “The King James Bible is a translation of a translation, so it’s far from being reliable. Plus, no one talks like that anymore. Just the language being used causes people to assume the wrong thing.”

Claire sat back up and looked at Marve. “Most of the schools that accept women in religious studies are back East. Do you think I’d be crazy to go there?”

“I think you’d be crazy to not at least consider all your options,” Marve said. “How things look from a distance and how they really are seldom match up the way we want. Going that far from home would be kind of like moving out on your own. You have to think whether you’re ready for that.”

The young woman stood and stretched. “Yeah, not being able to come home on weekends would be a thing. I’m just not satisfied with locking into a traditional role of any kind, you know? I want to shake up the world, make a difference, see things change.” She paused, looking out the front window at the dust blowing over the ball diamond across the street. “I promised mom I’d go through a new set of books this afternoon, though. I should probably get home and help with that. See you guys tomorrow morning!” Her ineffable cheerfulness popped back in as Claire waved and skipped out the back door toward her home.

“That was an unexpectedly interesting conversation,” Glynn said as he picked up the newspaper again.

“She’s a bright girl,” Marve said. “I think she’s asked more questions this week than the kids have.”

“What do you think will happen?” Glynn asked.

Marve stretched out on the couch and closed her eyes. “Probably the same thing that happens with every starry-eyed girl who wants to change the world. She’ll meet a boy, fall in love, and totally abandon her ambition in search of a fantasy.”

Glynn chuckled from behind his newspaper. “What, I’m not everything you dreamed I’d be?”

“Let’s just say I never thought I’d be stuck in Oklahoma living in a four-room house with no air conditioning. This is a far cry from Prince Charming’s castle,” Marve said, her voice trailing off.

Glynn stood up from the recliner then leaned down to give his wife a kiss. “There you go, Sleeping Beauty. The magical kiss of life.”

Marve half-heartedly swatted at him. “Don’t you have a hospital to visit or something?”

“On my way out now,” he answered. He would have rather stayed home and taken a nap but there was too much still to do before being at camp the next week. 

As Glynn walked to the car he couldn’t help thinking about Marve’s comment, “… abandon her ambition in search of a fantasy.” He had to admit that he didn’t really know what ambition Marve might have had before they met. They had both finished college when they were introduced, she was teaching second grade, and he was working at the plant. Any ambition either of them had seemed to have disappeared a long time ago.

Pastor's COnference, 1972, ch. 15-16

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Chapter 15

The atmosphere in the sanctuary could not have been any more intense Sunday morning as a modest congregation of just over 80 people took their seats in the pews. Carol Stanley was still alive, though on life support at a Tulsa hospital. The early prognosis was that she was going to live. The handful of sleeping pills she had taken might have been enough to kill her had her kids not ran to get their grandmother when the woman collapsed. There was little question as to why she had taken the pills. The entire town was aware of the gossip, the threats, and the deacons’ meeting on Saturday morning. They, collectively, had almost killed one of their own and the guilt was evident on almost every face that walked through the church door.

Storms had moved strongly into the region late Saturday morning and stayed. Even as church members gathered for the morning service there was still a tornado watch in effect for the county and heavy, ominous clouds lingered overhead. Many took this as a sign that God was angry with them. Glynn didn’t believe in such divine theatrics but he had no doubt that if God was more like the mythical Zeus of ancient mythology there would be lightning bolts hurled their direction. Standing in the vestibule before the service, he looked up at the rolling storm clouds and questioned his own beliefs.

Throughout the song service, heavy rain pelted the roof with such force as to nearly drown out the hymns being sung. Only the upper register of the small Hammond organ could be heard. Glynn could see the pianist’s hands moving, but couldn’t hear the sound. If this continued, he would have to yell his entire sermon.

Glynn hadn’t returned from the hospital in Tulsa until after 10:00 Saturday night and he had stayed up until nearly 3:00 AM re-writing his sermon for this morning. He had chosen his words carefully, trying to tamp down his own anger. Anger was not what the congregation needed from him right now. Seeing the look on their faces as they arrived at the church Sunday morning confirmed they already were consumed with guilt. What they needed was repentance. He wondered if they would.

The rain began to ebb while the offering was being taken and by the time the choir had finished their song, the noise was soft enough that Glynn could be heard without having to yell. He stood in the pulpit and looked out at his congregation. Few would look up at him. A couple of women were already crying. He wondered for a moment if he could get away with going straight to the invitation, not saying a word. Certainly, that seemed possible but it wouldn’t be the right thing for him to do.

“This morning is difficult, isn’t it?” Glynn began, his voice calm but strong, like a parent just starting to scold a child. “Too many of us sit here knowing that our words and our actions contributed to a tragedy that has three children wondering if their Mom will ever come home again. Too many of us sit here trying to excuse what we’ve done in an effort to relieve the guilt that is eating us up inside. Too many of us are just now, at this moment, in this sanctuary, beginning to realize that when the Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death,’ that it’s not a metaphor for a spiritual condition but consequences for doing something we knew was wrong when we did it.”

The pastor paused and let his words take hold. He could hear sobbing over the rain. When he was sure they were ready, he continued. “Sins like ours are pervasive. We witness that this past week when yet again, a gunman attempted to kill a presidential candidate while he was campaigning. I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched those news reports and wondered if Governor Wallace’s fate would be the same as Bobby Kennedy’s was four years ago. We get scared. We get angry. We get jealous. And we let our emotions take over based not on fact but our perception of fact and too often someone gets hurt without ever having done anything wrong.”

Glynn stopped again. Every head in the congregation was bowed, looking at their lap, or a Bible, or a hymnal, just like a child ashamed of what they had done. Glynn knew he would have to be careful with how heavy he came on next. “Perhaps this is part of our native condition, a plague of humanity that we cannot control our tongues and what comes out of our mouths results in actions and consequences we didn’t expect. In Genesis chapter 37, Jacob had sent Joseph out to find his brothers. When he eventually finds them, what happens is too typical of the reactions we have to people around us. Read with me starting in verse 18.

18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat, and looking up they saw a caravan of Ish′maelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ish′maelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers heeded him. 28 Then Mid′ianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ish′maelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers, and said, “The lad is gone; and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, and killed a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood; 32 and they sent the long robe with sleeves and brought it to their father, and said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Mid′ianites had sold him in Egypt to Pot′i-phar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.

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. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“We know how this story ends. Years pass. Joseph’s dreams of dominance come true and when his brothers are eventually confronted with what they have done, they fear for their own lives. He tells them, “What you meant for evil, God used for good,” and the story seems to have a happy ending. At least, that’s the way we tell it to our children in Sunday School.”

“Look back through the lens of a judgmental history, we know what happened next. Jacob, now called Israel, and all his sons moved into Egypt and their numbers became so large that Ramses enslaved them all to keep them from taking over. The existence of what would become an entire nation was momentarily at risk because of the actions of 10 men jealous of and angry at their brother. Thousands of people died. Many more suffered. Generations would pass before Moses would come to finally extract them from the mess started over a meaningless argument.

“I fear that we fail to see the severity of our actions even now. We misinterpret God’s compassion in saving a life as forgiveness. If Joseph forgives his brothers for selling him into slavery, then God is going to be compassionate to us as well. The problem with that way of thinking is that it ignores God’s wrath, the part where yes, he forgives, and yes, he is compassionate, but the consequences are still allowed to play out not only in the lives of Joseph’s brothers, but their children, their children’s children, and for generations beyond.

“We can look at this week’s shooting and say God was compassionate in sparing the life of Governor Wallace, but what of the consequences? Governor Wallace is paralyzed. His political career is over. The entire presidential election has been thrown off balance and the fate of our country has been altered. 

“We look at yesterday’s tragic event and I hadn’t left the hospital before I heard someone say God was compassionate in sparing a life. But what of the consequences? We don’t know yet, doctors cannot tell us the extent of the damage to Carol’s life. We don’t know yet if she’ll be able to continue caring for her children on her own. We don’t know yet if she’ll be able to resume her job at the accounting office. We don’t even know if she’ll be able to speak. God can intervene and spare a life but who bears the responsibility for the consequences?

“This morning, as the heavens inundate us with tears, God stands ready to forgive but we must realize that forgiveness is not enough. We, as a congregation, must take responsibility for the consequences, whatever those might eventually be.”

By the time Glynn finished, even children were crying. At the first note of the Invitation hymn, the aisles were full. They filled the steps around the platform and the front pews, praying, desperately asking God for forgiveness. Glynn gently counseled those who requested it but before long there was no one left standing save Richard, who was quietly singing solo. The pastor nodded to end the music and for several minutes the sounds of rain and crying mixed together in a chorus of remorse. 

When the service finally ended, the deacons met briefly with Glynn and agreed to cancel the evening service so the pastor could return to the hospital in Tulsa. Glynn drove through the rain in silence wondering whether his congregation had actually changed or, as often happened with a child, was merely sorry they’d been so obviously caught.

Carol’s condition hadn’t changed since Saturday. The medically-induced coma she was in helped prevent ongoing seizures but doctors warned that the longer the condition persisted the less likely it was she’d be able to resume a normal lifestyle. Glynn spent the time talking and praying with Edith all the while increasingly concerned that his prayers were doing little more than creating a false hope that everything was going to be okay. He tried convincing himself that hope was what Edith needed right now but he worried what might happen when the hope fell through. God’s will rarely ran contrary to natural consequences. He drove back home late that night still questioning whether he had said the right thing and what the eventual fallout might be.

The pastor felt that he’d barely had time for a quick nap and shower before rushing to Arvel to visit with Emmit before the Pastors’ Conference started. The Director of Missions recommended not mentioning specific details of Carol’s situation with the group, especially the part about her potential involvement with the sex scandal at Grace Church. 

“There are still too many of these hardliners who are willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater at Grace,” Emmit warned. “Several members of the church have contacted us or Oklahoma City about the church disbanding, liquidating the property and honestly, I’m not so sure but what that might ultimately be the best thing for everyone. Its reputation within the community is irrecoverable. But we can’t do that without having some means of relocating their membership and Clement’s church has been the only one willing to even consider taking them. Some of the guys from Oklahoma City are coming down this week to talk with Clement and some of the other Washataug pastors. Perhaps you should be in on that conversation as well.”

Glynn shrugged. “I’m not sure any others will want to make that drive from Washataug to Adelbert. Carol grew up in Adelbert so it made sense for her to move back, given the circumstances, and we see how that went.”

“Your experience is exactly why you should be involved in the conversation, though,” Emmit said. “The others are working off supposition and hypothetical concepts. Clement’s had a couple of their members join but they were quiet people who weren’t involved in the scandal. I’d hate to see your experience repeated, or something worse.”

“If you think I can help, then sure, I’ll come,” Glynn said, “but I’m not sure we’re done with the matter. I’m not sure if it would be worse for the church if Carol were to die or be a vegetable requiring care for the rest of her life.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Emmit admitted.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. If she passes, which at the moment feels like the more merciful resolution, I worry that the church will too soon forget that it happened and their part in causing it to happen. If she comes out of the coma but needs constant care, there’s an opportunity for ministry and a reminder of what happened but I’m not sure Carol or Edith are going to want to see the people who were saying such mean things about them.” Glynn paused and wiped his eyes in an attempt to stay awake. He was feeling exhausted both physically and emotionally.

“Understandable concerns,” Emmit said, “I’ll talk with the guys in the Baptist Building and see what they think. I can give you a call tomorrow morning if that’s okay?”

Glynn was about to answer when a commotion suddenly arose behind them. Larry Winston was on his tiptoes, trying to get in the face of Bill Moody, who was considerably taller. “And I’m telling you, on no uncertain terms, that using any version of the Bible other than the King James Version is apostacy!” he was yelling and waving his Bible. “This is the only accurate translation of Jesus’ words, directly from the Greek.”

Bill, another of the seminary-educated pastors in the association, tried keeping his voice calm rather than matching Larry’s unwarranted volume. “Jesus didn’t speak Greek, though. He spoke a dialect of Aramaic particular to Galilee. The book you’re holding is a third-generation translation of the Latin Vulgate translation of third- and fourth-century copies that had been altered for political purposes.”

Bill’s assertion did not sit well with many of the pastors for whom the King James Version of the Bible was the only one they had ever known. Larry was quick to fire back.”That’s the biggest bucket of liberal hooey I have ever heard. You college-educated boys think you’re so smart but the Bible says right there that the word of God is unchangeable, not one jot or tittle.”

Clement entered the room and walked over to stand next to Emmit and Glynn, who was watching the commotion with concern.

“Matthew 5:18, I’m familiar with the passage,” Bill said. “But do you even understand what a jot or tittle is?” He waited as Larry stammered for a moment and then continued, “They’re the equivalent of punctuation built into the calligraphy of the Arabic languages, including Greek. Jesus was commenting on the veracity of the Mosaic Law, though, and not bad translations.”

Larry’s face turned red with rage. “Bad translations? This King James Bible is every bit as authoritative as the original scrolls themselves. You go look! Compare this Bible to the original scrolls and it’s going to be the same word for word!”

Bill looked at Emmit and Clement for support. “One of you guys want to break the bad news to him?”

Glynn took a careful step back as Emmit and Clement looked at each other. Both knew that facts aside, nothing they could say would convince Larry that he was wrong.

Larry looked at the Director of Missions. “What bad news?” he asked.

Emmit took a deep breath before replying, “There are no original scrolls. They’ve all been lost. The whole purpose of the Scribes of Jesus’ day was to make copies of the copies of the copies they had of those lost manuscripts. The best and most reliable copies we have of New Testament documents are 300-400 years removed from their origin. They wrote on a thin material that eroded easily so copies had to be made by the dozens to insure than any of it actually survived. A side-by-side comparison isn’t possible.”

The expression on Larry’s face was one of complete frustration but Emmit wasn’t going to give him a chance to continue. “Gentlemen, the subject of Biblical translation is interesting but that’s not why we’re here. Why don’t we all have a seat and we’ll begin our meeting?”

Glynn, Clement, and Bill took seats along with Carl Roberts on the far side of the table which inevitably meant they would have a chance to listen to the other pastors and either abbreviate or extend their own reports based on the mood of the morning. Many of the pastors seemed to be tense and argumentative. By the time it was Carl’s turn to speak, his report was simply, “We had church, people responded, no one was struck by lightning so I assume God’s not too upset with us.” Glynn, Bill, and Clement followed with equally short reports, Glynn completely omitting the troubling events that had made Sunday intense.

Emmit then handed out teaching assignments for Junior Camp, which was now only two weeks away. Half the full-time pastors were assigned to teach during Junior Camp, the remainder teaching during regular camp. Since most of the churches in the Association were having Vacation Bible School the next week, with camps and the convention’s annual meeting after that, Pastors’ Conference was unanimously postponed until the second Monday in July. 

Chapter 16

Everything in Adelbert and the surrounding counties revolved around the agricultural calendar and Vacation Bible School (VBS) was no exception. Wheat harvests typically began in early May but wet ground conditions had delayed that by a couple of weeks, meaning that combines were running full-time the week school let out. Several vegetable crops started harvests in June and by July alfalfa and hay baling became important followed closely by corn and other late-summer crops. As a result, many men in the church, including four of the five deacons, were often occupied in their fields from before sunrise until sunset and even afterward for the entirety of summer. The only breaks came on days when the weather was too dangerous for anyone to be out in the field with few exceptions.

Preparations for VBS had started back in February. Themed materials had been purchased from the Baptist Sunday School Board and the women committed to teaching had been “trained” in the use of those materials as though there was any chance they might actually follow the suggestions made in the teacher’s guides. Craft activities, which were the highlight of each day, had been carefully planned and materials obtained. 

Those who were not needed to either teach or help corral children were marshaled for cookie duty, without which no VBS would have ever survived. Store-bought cookies were simply not acceptable. Each year ultimately resulted in an unspoken and unrewarded contest for whose cookies could create the most buzz, especially among the fifth- and sixth-graders who considered themselves cookie connoisseurs. 

While the blatant and unapologetic proselytization of children might have been the stated purpose of VBS, in reality, it was the town’s day camp. Being the largest church in town meant taking on the responsibility of keeping everyone’s children busy while parents were occupied in the fields. Normally, VBS ran for two weeks but the school had run late this year thanks to the need to tack on days missed because of snow and ice. As a result, there was only room for one week of VBS before Junior Camp. A handful of the busiest parents complained about the shortened schedule but most of the teachers were grateful. 

The week before meant women were at the church as early as Glynn would let them in, setting up their room, cutting out teaching aids, and doing their best to get everything just right. Stories and activities were discussed in detail. Rooms were arranged and re-arranged with every detail over-considered. Glynn split his time between answering random theological questions (did Jesus have to eat as much as a normal person and why weren’t there girl disciples?), and helping hang Bible-related decorations on walls that were too high for shorter teachers to reach.

Glynn found that he rather enjoyed not being the only one in the church building all day. The buzz of activity was exciting, the teachers were enthusiastic, and since Marve was, of necessity, one of the teachers, Lita and Hayden were in the building, making frequent visits to their daddy’s office. Glynn was always happy to see them even when it meant cleaning up from sticky hands after they left.

Tuesday and Thursday afternoon had been set aside for Glynn, Marcus, and a couple of skinny high school boys who had yet to find summer employment to drive down to Camp Univeral to begin cleaning the church’s cabin. While the Saturday before Junior Camp, which this year was the Saturday at the end of VBS, was officially designated as cleaning day, Glynn had been warned that the old barracks-styled building would need to be opened and aired out since having sat empty the past eleven months. Bug poison would need to be sprayed to keep down the insect population and the area around the building needed to be mowed before half the church descended on the building the next week. 

Glynn had never experienced anything quite like the church campgrounds. He had heard of church camp, of course, but he had never gone as a child and the small churches he had pastored previously had never participated in such programs. He was excited to get his first glimpse of the place so many church members had fond memories of attending.

The pastor was impressed at the setup. At the front of the campground was an open-air “tabernacle,” essentially a pole barn with no walls and a stage at one end. The tabernacle could hold approximately 500 people in folding chairs that had been donated by the various churches of the two Associations that sponsored the camp. Scattered out about 50 yards around the tabernacle were a dozen or so “classrooms,” slabs of concrete covered with corrugated tin roofs, each one just large enough to accommodate 40-50 teenagers. Just a few yards out from the classrooms were a couple of softball fields, volleyball nets, and a small swimming pool that was diligently policed to not only make sure boys and girls weren’t in the pool at the same time but that one gender didn’t hang around ogling the other. An old and seldom-used church building sat off to one side in case the weather became inhospitable.

The tabernacle area sat on top of a hill with individual church cabins lined along three dirt roads downhill from the cabins. First Baptist Washataug had the largest, with First Baptist Levi, in Colquitt Association coming in a close second. Other cabins of various sizes were lined down each of the roads and at the front of the middle road sat the cabin belonging to First Baptist Adelbert. 

The cabin was certainly not as large as some of the others—it didn’t need to be. The front door led into an industrial-styled dining and kitchen area with dormitories and shower facilities on either side. The dormitories were populated with old WWII-surplus metal bunks with thin military-surplus mattresses that smelled of mold and mildew. The concrete floor was cracked in several places but not severely enough to be worrisome. A back door leading out of each dormitory met fire safety qualifications and Marcus was quick to inform Glynn that he would need to take the bunk closest to the back door to prevent any of the young men from sneaking out at night.

Glynn was surprised to find that the campground had its own water system. The resident groundskeeper, a former pastor himself, had already made the rounds to make sure everyone’s water was turned on and that there weren’t any leaks. Marcus unlocked the cabin and the boys raised the hinged plywood boards covering screened windows. Air conditioning had been deemed impractical for something so seldom used. Instead, an attic fan positioned over the dining area was turned on at night to pull in cooler air. 

There was plenty of work to be done. The boys started mowing the area around the cabin while Glynn and Marcus checked all the plumbing and the propane-fueled cooking facilities. There were plenty of repairs to be made as squirrels and raccoons had gnawed through electrical wires and the copper tubing in the women’s shower needed to be replaced. Marcus had anticipated both and brought plenty of supplies with them. 

Glynn was exhausted by the time he returned from the camp both evenings, but there were still sermons to prepare and visits to be made. Those were both things he could not and would not neglect no matter how busy his schedule might be. Marve offered to postpone their Thursday date but Glynn was insistent and they slipped out to a steakhouse in Arvel where they both ordered the chicken-fried steak, an inexpensive Oklahoma tradition complete with mashed potatoes and green beans all smothered in peppered gravy. 

By the time the women left the church building late Friday morning, everything was as set up as it could be. Final preparations couldn’t be made until after Sunday School but those would be minor room arrangements that would only take a few minutes. Glynn was impressed by all the work that had been done and the efficiency with which the women had done it. There was plenty of buzz around town and the whole church was looking forward to the next week.

There were only two older church members in the hospital, both in Arvel, so Glynn paid both a quick visit after enjoying lunch with Marve and the kids. The skies were beginning to grow gray again, as happened this time of year, but it was a calm gray that seemed to contain little wind and any rain probably wouldn’t last long enough to upset any farming schedules. At least that’s what the forecasts all said.

Neither of the hospitalized church members was in critical condition so Glynn took his time, checked for other Adelbert residents, and lingered briefly around the hospital to make sure he hadn’t missed anyone. He was on his way home around 3:30 in the afternoon, listening to the radio as the band America sang something about a Horse WIth No Name when a gust of wind rocked the car unexpectedly. 

Glynn instinctively turned down the radio and started looking out the car windows at the skies around him. Everything to his south was still a soft gray. Northwest of him, however, the clouds were dark and rolling, an obvious squall line with heavy rain behind it. Glynn kicked up his speed a bit, hoping to make it home before the heaviest rain hit. It was only about seven more miles and the speed limit on the narrow two-lane highway was 65 miles per hour. He wasn’t terribly worried.

A second gust of wind shook the car as the effectively-annoying National Weather Service alert sounded on the radio. Mishawaka, Ridell, and several other counties were under a tornado watch and imminent storm warning. Glynn watched as the squall line seemed to be heading toward him as fast as he was trying to get to Adelbert. The closer he got to town, the more the wind picked up. Small twigs with spring leaves still attached were blowing against the passenger side of the car as dust swirled in the middle of the road picking up any random paper or light trash along the way.

Glynn felt his ears pop as he got out of the car, a signal that the barometric pressure was falling fast. He ran into the house to face his panic-stricken family. With only four rooms to the house, there was no reasonably safe place to take shelter. They had just decided to huddle low against the inside wall of the house when the back door suddenly opened. 

“You’re not safe here,” a voice yelled at them. “Grab some things and come get in my storm cellar.”

Glynn rubbed the dust from his eyes to see Tom Hiddleman, the elementary school principal, standing in the doorway. Tom and his family were among those church members who rarely made time to attend on Sunday. They also lived right around the corner, less than 50 yards away if one cut through all the backyards, which is what they did. Marve grabbed Hayden and Glynn carried Lita as they followed Tom to the damp, musty-smelling concrete bunker buried in his back yard. When everyone had made their way safely down the steep stairs, Tom shut the heavy steel door.

The underground space was small, roughly 8’x10’, with a narrow bed along one wall, a rough wooden bench along the other, and a dusty wood shelf containing jars of home-canned vegetables in the back. A single bare lightbulb hanging loosely from the ceiling lit the space but two coal-oil lamps had already been lit in anticipation of the electricity going out. The air down here was cool, which normally would have been a welcome relief but at the moment felt too chilled to be comfortable. 

Glynn sat Lita on the bed next to Tom’s 16-year-old daughter, Claire, who had conveniently served as their babysitter the night before. Hayden refused to leave Marve’s lap, though, as she sat on the bench next to Linda, Tom’s wife, who was a second-grade teacher. Glynn stood next to Tom at the bottom of the stairs, not sure exactly how they were supposed to react.

“I saw the storm approaching as I drove be from Arvel,” Glynn said, attempting to make conversation. “I’m surprised it hasn’t started raining yet.”

“By the time it starts raining it’s too late,” Tom said, his voice sounding very much like a principal taking control of his students. “There’ll likely be a brief downpour of rain, what you saw coming at us from the highway, and then everything will get quiet for about three minutes. The pressure will bottom out and your ears may pop. Then, either we’ll hear more rain or one of the most frightening sounds in all of nature.”

Glynn glanced over at Marve as she rocked back and forth trying to comfort Hayden. They had experienced a lot of rain the past two months and several storms had come along with it, but none had felt this ominous. When Marve looked up at her husband her expression was one of fear, something Glynn rarely saw from his wife. 

Just as Tom predicted, a torrent of rain and hail started suddenly pounding against the steel door. Then, after a short two minutes, it stopped abruptly. Glynn put his hands to his ears as the pressure dropped again and Hayden began to cry. The pastor was praying for the rain to return when the light bulb began to sway and the ground around the shelter began to shake. A sound like a dozen locomotives thundered above them. The power went out leaving only the lamps for illumination. Then, after another three long minutes, just as suddenly as it had started, everything stopped. A heavy but more gentle rain could be heard outside. Tom opened the cellar door to let the pressure balance out. Glynn followed him up the stairs to see if anything had survived. 

They had been spared the worst of the storm’s wrath. A large tree limb laid in the middle of the street in front of Tom’s house. Similarly, the ball field across the street from Glynn’s house was littered with debris from several different trees. None of the nearby houses seemed to have suffered any severe damage, though, nor had the tall grain elevator just on the east side of the railroad tracks. 

Marve gathered the kids and with grateful thanks to Tom and Linda took them home. Despite having come unlatched and blown open, the screen on the back door was still intact. The power was out, which could eventually be a problem for the refrigerated food, but no windows were broken. Nothing inside the house had been disturbed. 

Hayden slid from his mother’s arms and ran to his room to secure the stuffed bunny he hadn’t had a chance to save beforehand. Lita sat down at the kitchen table and asked, “Why does God send storms?”

Marve sat in the chair closest to her daughter, took the child’s hand in hers, and said, “God doesn’t send storms, baby. He doesn’t use nature to target people, or towns, or anyone else. God created an environment that uses tornadoes and hurricanes to sort of ‘clean up,’ tear down the old to make room for new things to grow, clear out the air and make it fresh, Sometimes, we humans get in the way, the things we make and build are in the path of the storm and get torn down. That doesn’t mean God’s mad at anyone or doesn’t like someone. He designed nature to take care of itself and that’s what it’s doing.”

Lita thought about her mother’s explanation for a couple of seconds and then asked, “But sometimes people die, don’t they? That’s what they said in school. Standing outside in a tornado can kill you.”

Marve tried her best to give Lita a reassuring smile and squeezed the girl’s hands gently. “Yes, baby, sometimes people die. People die for a lot of reasons, though. People die when they’re supposed to die, not too early, not too late, but exactly when God plans. If someone dies because they didn’t take shelter, maybe that’s God’s way of reminding us to take shelter.”

“And not live in mobile homes,” Lita added.

“Yes, don’t live in mobile homes in Oklahoma,” Marve laughed.

Outside, Glynn and Tom were walking the streets looking for any signs of severe damage. They walked over to the school first and Tom was especially pleased to see that the only damage appeared to be tangled swings on the playground. They walked down the street to the church building next and Glynn was similarly pleased to see no evidence of any damage. Excepting for several down tree limbs, the north side of town had been spared.

Hub and a couple of other men joined them as they walked toward Main Street. Tar paper and shingles littering the road hinted at the likelihood of roof damage, but even here, there was no immediately visible damage. All the buildings were still standing and the most severe concern seemed to be whether the bank’s security system was still active given the lack of power anywhere in town. The bank’s president, who had driven down in his old work truck, assured them that independent battery backups would keep everything safe until the power was back on.

The men were standing around chatting, expressing surprise at the lack of destruction, when the walkie talkie on Hub’s belt squawked. “Hub, Sheriff just called. You better get back here. Looks like Bluebird was wiped out. Bring the preacher with you. Both the church and the store are gone.”

Glynn’s stomach immediately tightened as he thought of Jerry and wondered if he and his wife were safe. A couple of men in pickups gave Hub and Glynn rides to the funeral home. Rose was waiting. “Go to the old store first,” she said, “That seems to be where most of the damage is, but the Sheriff says he’s calling in additional help. There are multiple injuries at least. Apparently the sirens out there didn’t work.” She paused and turned to Glynn, “Since the phones are out, Wynona next door has gone over to your house to tell Marve what’s going on. She’ll likely stay there until you get back. You know Wynona, she loves to talk.”

“Thank you,” Glynn responded, grateful that Rose was so efficient.

The two men closed the ambulance doors and sped toward Bluebird, leading a parade of men in pickup trucks ready to help however they could. The seven-mile trip was made all the more difficult as it became clear that the tornado had set down a couple of miles east of Adelbert, ripping apart fields, taking out powerlines, uprooting trees, and digging a trench across the dirt roads. As far as anyone could see, there was nothing more than three-feet tall left standing.

pastors' conference, 1972

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Chapter 13

Chapter 13

Empaths have the unique ability to feel changes in the social and/or spiritual atmosphere. Most dramatically, when a neutral or positive space goes negative, the change may create a physical response in the empath. Glynn Waterbury was one of those people. From the moment he woke up Monday morning, he knew that the day was going to be full of challenges. The first clue came almost immediately when he put his feet on the floor and felt water. Quick inspection revealed that the toilet was overflowing. The bathroom and both bedrooms were covered in a half-inch of water. While Marve carried the kids from their bed to the kitchen, Glynn tried fixing the problem. It didn’t take too long to discover that a plastic toy in the tank was preventing the water from shutting off. While the water stopped flowing as soon as the toy was removed, cleaning up the mess was going to take every towel they had and a lot of mopping. 

By 9:00, most the water had been mopped up but Glynn was in a bad mood, snapping not only at Marve and Hayden, but also at Gladys Edmonds when she called to ask about Vacation Bible School materials. Glynn caught himself quickly enough and apologized, but it was clear that he was not going to have a good day without something altering the energy in the house. Marve was ready to throw him out into the cold, wet shoes and all, but remembered that it was time for Glynn to leave for Pastors’ Conference. He balked at first, but she was insistent. 

Unfortunately, the energy at Olivet Church was even worse. Even though the meeting hadn’t officially started yet, Larry Winston already had the group’s attention, this time fuming about a picture representing Jesus in the third-grade Vacation Bible School materials. A copy of the offensive material laid in the middle of the table.

“Brothers, I don’t understand how these liberals are getting into our own Sunday School Board, but they’re there and they’re pushing an ungodly agenda that we have got to stand up against! Look at that picture and tell me they’re not trying to sell Jesus as a Negro! That just ain’t right! I mean, at least they didn’t give him one of those af-rows that those people like to wear, but we all know good and well that Jesus had the complexion of an angel and angels is white!”

The pain of the pastor’s racism hit Glynn like a hard punch to his abdomen and he nearly doubled over in response. He understood that this part of the state was anything but diverse. Black people had been frozen out of land ownership from the moment the gun sounded starting the land rush in 1889. He knew the only black people in the county were a handful of international students at the junior college. That there would be a lack of understanding was inevitable. Larry’s racism ran deeper, though. Negro hadn’t been his first choice of a descriptor and everyone in the room knew it. His was the type of deliberate rhetoric meant to incite hate, the kind that encouraged donning white hoods and burning crosses. How anyone could associate such hostility and venom with the gospel of Christ seemed to Glynn to be impossible, but there were too many pastors at the table nodding in agreement with Larry.

Glynn stood in the doorway feeling sick to his stomach, not sure whether he wanted to stay or slip back out and spend the morning visiting people at the hospital. Certainly, he could do more good at the hospital than he could here. Emmit hadn’t arrived yet so Glynn thought he could step out the door without anyone noticing. Just as he put his hand on the door, though, Glynn felt someone touch his shoulder. He turned to see Clement Garner at his side, smiling. 

“I know, Larry’s racism gets rather old, doesn’t it?” Clement said. “Emmit’s in Oklahoma City this morning so this is going to be a gripe fest in here. There’s a cafe just a couple of blocks over. Why don’t you and I go there and grab some coffee?”

Glynn quickly agreed. He liked Clement. The pastor was about ten years older than Glynn and about an inch taller, though he tended to slouch a bit, making him appear shorter. A graduate of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Clement wasn’t one to wave his education in anyone’s face. Not only had he been kind and personable at Pastors’ Conferences, but his weekly reports also showed that his church was growing. Glynn was hopeful that he might be able to pick up some tips from the more experienced pastor.

The cafe was all but empty in the middle of the morning between breakfast and lunch making it easy for the two pastors to find a quiet table near the back of the dining room. They each ordered coffee and a slice of coconut cream pie, keeping the banter between them light and largely uninteresting so the waitress wouldn’t have an excuse to linger.

Clement took a bite of his pie and smiled. “So, how are you liking Oklahoma?” he asked. “I hear you all had a pretty good revival. A couple of our people dropped in Thursday night, I think.”

Glynn nodded as he chased the bite of pie with a sip of the fresh coffee. “We did. It was my first experience using a professional evangelist like that, but I have to say it worked really well for us.”

“You used that guy from North Little Rock, didn’t you, Charlie-something?” Clement asked. “I know the guys in the state evangelism office have been pushing him to our smaller churches.”

“Charlie Henderson, yes. He came highly recommended and the pastors I talked to that had used him recently all had nothing but positive things to say about him.” Glynn paused to take a sip of coffee. “He definitely gave the church a bolt of energy that I hope will carry us forward for a while.”

Clement was still in the process of swallowing a bite of the pie when he asked, “How are you following it up? Any post-revival activities planned?”

Glynn felt his face flush. He hadn’t even thought about follow-up to the revival. No one had ever mentioned it to him before. He had always gone back to his normal preaching routine. 

The elder pastor recognized Glynn’s hesitancy in answering. “Don’t be embarrassed. 

I can’t really say our church does follow-up, either. It’s easy to just keep going the way we’ve always been going. When I plan my follow-up, though, the effects of the revival last longer and we’re more likely to retain those who make decisions.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” Glynn admitted, his voice quiet and almost timid. 

“There’s something about revivals, especially when you’ve got a dynamic preacher, that can put a lot of great numbers up, but six months down the road you don’t see any of those people in your church service and many go right back to living like nothing happened,” Clement explained. “Doesn’t matter who the preacher is, either. Billy Graham’s organization has the same problem. All those people who come forward? Their names are distributed to all the participating churches after the crusade, but those churches rarely see any benefit because they just let the information sit in a drawer somewhere. They don’t contact anyone, no one visits anyone, and all those people who felt convicted by Dr. Graham’s sermon are just left to the wind.”

Glynn looked down at the table. “Wow, I’ve been doing it all wrong,” he said. “And you’re right, six months down the road you can’t tell we ever had a revival.”

Clement finished his pie and pushed the empty plate off tot he side. “Don’t beat yourself up over it,” he said. “If you don’t mind me asking, where did you go to school?”

Glynn’s skin practically burned with humiliation as he shook his head again. “I didn’t really. I went to junior college for a year and a half when I was first out of high school, but I couldn’t afford to keep going. I definitely couldn’t afford to go to a Bible college. I just have to get by on what I read.”

Clement sat back in his chair. “You are kidding me,” he said, astonished by Glynn’s confession. “I just assumed you had gone to a Bible college up north. Pardon me for being crude, but you don’t come off as uneducated. I’m pretty sure you’ve got some of the others fooled, too. You’re definitely not one of the good ol’ boys straight off the farm.”

Glynn smiled. “I was actually raised on a farm in Ohio. My family moved to the Detroit area after I graduated from high school. Not that I really understand the whole ranching thing they have going down here, but I can at least appreciate the challenges they face.”

“Brother, you’ve really impressed me,” Clement said, shaking his head. “I knew both your predecessors and neither of them seemed to connect with their people as well as you do. That’s not meant to insult them, mind you, they’re both fine men. But you know how it is when you first go someplace new, you don’t really know what you’re getting into, and in one case I know he accepted the position with a less-than-unanimous vote. He had a couple of deacons against him before he even moved in. You’ve started off really well. You should really feel good about that.”

“There’s just so much to get used to,” Glynn admitted. “This is my first full-time pastorate and I greatly underestimated what I was getting into. The hours didn’t just double, they tripled or more. The demands on my wife and my family have been greater as well. I could do nothing but visit the hospitals every day and that alone would fill my schedule. I don’t regret the move but I feel like I’m struggling to be the pastor they need.”

Clement leaned forward, his arms on the table. “You’re being hard on yourself, and I get that, but brother, let me assure you that no one has given that church the level of attention you’re giving them. They love you! You’re making them feel as though they matter to you, which, by extension, makes them feel as though they matter to God. I think what’s probably important is that you set some limits for yourself.”

“I’m not sure,” Glynn said. “I don’t want anyone to be disappointed.”

“Of course not,” Clement replied, “but if you don’t mind me getting a little personal, when was the last time you and your wife had a date night, no kids, no church talk, just the two of you?”

Glynn thought for a moment, trying to think of the last time he had taken Marve to dinner without the kids in tow. “I think like, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving last year? I know we’ve not had time since we moved.”

“Brother, you need to make the time,” the elder pastor instructed gently. “An easy trap for us to fall in is being so busy taking care of the church that we forget to take care of our families, and our wives suffer more than anyone. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened with the pastor’s wife over at Grace. He was always off going to one convention meeting or the other, not even really tending to his flock as it were, just doing the whole denominational dance, and after a few years of that, she’s feeling alone and someone comes along who offers her some company. I’m honestly surprised that the divorce rate among preachers isn’t higher. Almost all of us, myself included, are guilty of mistreating and neglecting our wives.”

Glynn hung his head, feeling convicted. “You’re absolutely right. I’m afraid too often she and the kids are the last people I think of and they really need to be the first. I’m setting an example for everyone else in the community and right now it’s a bad one.”

The waitress finally re-appeared and set the checks on the table. Clement quickly snatched up both. “I’ve got this one,” he said, smiling. “I appreciate you saving me from all the fussing that I’m sure is still going on back at Olivet. I know there are times Emmit can’t help being gone, but without him there it’s always a mess. As much as I appreciate and believe in the autonomy of the local church, guys like Larry really make me wonder if we shouldn’t have some minimum qualifications for our pastors.”

“Thank you,” Glynn laughed. “Although, I’m not sure I’m any less chaotic.”

As they walked toward the door, Clement put his hand on Glynn’s shoulder. “You know, I have a couple of books that really helped me when I first went full-time. I rarely use them anymore. I’d be happy to loan them to you if you’d like. I have to go through Adelbert every time I come over here so it wouldn’t be a problem to drop them off one morning.”

“Sure! I could really use the help,” Glynn said, “Just let me know so I can make sure I’m actually at the church. My schedule often changes minute to minute.”

“Not a problem,” Clement responded. “I make the trip two or three times a week for one meeting or another and I’d rather the books be helping you than collecting dust on my shelf.”

“You know, that reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask Emmit,” Glynn said as they stepped out of the cafe. “Why are so many of the meetings over here, especially the Pastors’ Conferences? Seems to me it is a little unfair for you guys to have to make the long trip all the time.”

Clement chuckled. “The reason is numbers. Pastors from Washataug come from one of two extremes. Either they’re bi-vocational and don’t have time to attend daytime meetings or they pastor larger churches and can afford to make the trip. Pastors from Ridell County, not just Arvel, are more likely to be full-time but at churches that are barely managing to pay them a salary. Most of their wives end up having to work outside the home just to make ends meet. If there’s a meeting over in Washataug, only a couple of pastors from Arvel will make the trip.”

Glynn shook his head. “Have they ever tried having any in Adelbert? We’re pretty much right smack in the middle between the two towns and outside Vacation Bible School in a couple of weeks the building is never used during the day.”

Clement thought as he opened his car door. “You know, I don’t have an answer for that. I’ve been here eight years and I can’t remember any meetings ever taking place there. Might be worth talking to Emmit about it.”

“Let me check with my deacons,” Glynn said. “I need to make sure I’m not unknowingly violating some long-standing feud.”

Clement laughed. “You learn quickly, don’t you?”

Glynn opened his car door. “Let’s just say I’ve been warned that some people are a bit sensitive. Something about light bulbs.”

Clement laughed even harder. “Friend, you’ve no idea. That whole incident ignited a power struggle in every small church in this association!”

“I don’t understand why!” Glynn exclaimed. “A bulb went out. The pastor fixed it. What’s the big deal?”

“He spent a nickel without asking,” Clement answered, still laughing. “The people in these small churches are ferocious about them being in control of everything. They want a pastor to lead, but only on spiritual matters. Fiscal issues, even the small ones, are for the church to decide and heaven help the preacher who crosses that line. What’s funny is that they all create budgets each year, but then they don’t want to spend the money that’s in that budget. There’s no sense of responsible delegation. So help me, they’ll argue over a three-cent difference between one-ply and two-ply toilet paper in the restrooms!”

Glynn was enjoying the conversation and wasn’t in any hurry to leave. He leaned on his car door and asked, “Why is that? That’s the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches!”

Clement leaned back against his car, not in any hurry to leave, either. “You’ve heard of the Dust Bowl back in the 20s and 30s, right?”

Glynn nodded. “Sure, but wasn’t that out in the western part of the state?”

“The dust part was,” Clement said, “but the economic impact was state-wide. I promise, there’s no one in your church over the age of 50 that doesn’t remember those days and how much they struggled to survive. People packed up and left this state in such large numbers that roughly a third of the churches in the state convention had to close. Most will never return. So, small churches especially are gun-shy. They didn’t see the Dust Bowl coming and they’re afraid it could happen all over again. All it takes is one bad year.”

“A fine line between trusting in God and being financially responsible,” Glynn said.

Clement agreed. “We do best when we stay out of those matters. Sometimes it’s difficult and they may need an occasional push, but these families are likely to be here long after we’re gone. We do our best to preach stewardship then have to stand back and see how well they listened.”

Glynn shook his head. “It’s all so challenging.” He paused a second then added, “Thank you so much for the break. I was going to be sick to my stomach had I stayed listening to that nonsense.”

“The pleasure was all mine,” Clement responded. “It was nice to spend the time with someone who’s not completely closed-minded. Some of those guys make me wonder if they ever really crack their Bible open. You have a safe trip home and I’ll see you about Wednesday or Thursday with those books.”

“I’ll look forward to it,” Glynn said with a smile. 

He got in his car and drove home, his energy having flipped to a more positive attitude. When he got home, Marve was standing at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes. He walked over to the sink, took the paring knife from her hand, and kissed her passionately. “I forgot to tell you how much I love you this morning,” he said.

Marve smiled. “Amazing how much more you love me after spending the morning with your preacher friends.”

“Nothing like a moment in the darkness to make you appreciate the light,” Glynn said, smiling. 

Chapter 14

chapter 14

No two days as a pastor are ever the same, especially in a town as small as Adelbert where there’s nothing to shield a pastor from the petty grievances such as Margarette Loy being concerned that the graveled parking lot was dinging her 1954 Nash Rambler or Ed Warisale’s complaint that Glynn’s voice was so soft by the end of the sermon that Ed could hardly hear the final prayer (turned out to be a faulty battery in Ed’s hearing aid). Most days Glynn could deal with them easily enough and rarely did he lose any sleep over any of them. He walked over to Mrs. Fieldcomer’s yard and said a prayer to “bless” her new rose bushes. He assured Kristi Asherman, who had just brought home her first child, that the baby’s red hair was in no way a sign that either parent had offended God. He even drove over to Ken Willis’ home just after dinner in an attempt to convince their four-year-old, Kevin, that God made vegetables special for four-year-olds. 

Glynn found a babysitter for the kids easily enough and took Marve to dinner in Washataug Thursday evening. Their budget was tight enough they both settled for the roast beef special but being away from the kids and Gynn’s promise to not talk about church matters made Marve happy. They decided that, from that point forward, Thursday would be their night even if they couldn’t always afford to go out to dinner. Marve knew there would need to be exceptions, but she appreciated that Glynn had recognized their lack of time together.

The week was going well, Glynn had both of Sunday’s sermons ready when Buck called late Friday afternoon with word that an emergency deacons meeting had been called for Saturday morning. No, it couldn’t wait until Sunday. Yes, the deacons needed him there. They would meet at the church at 7:00 so they could finish and get on with the day. 

Glynn felt a knot in the pit of his stomach. The fact that Buck hadn’t told him the reason for the meeting was bothersome. His question had been met with, “it’s a complicated issue I’d rather not get into over the phone.” No amount of tossing or prayer was enough to let the pastor get any sleep. At 5:00 he gave up, made a pot of coffee and sat alone in the living room with his Bible open, looking for anything that might prove either comforting or distracting.

At 6:30, Glynn walked over to the church and re-arranged the folding chairs in his office so that all five deacons would have a seat if they all showed. He then realized that without his car in the parking lot no one would know he was there. He stood in the doorway until Buck drove up in his old farm truck, a beat-up red Chevy that didn’t have all that many miles on it but had endured a lot of farm abuse. 

“I’m sorry to get you out this early on a Saturday morning, pastor,” Buck said as he slammed the pickup door shut. “But we just found out about a problem yesterday and if we don’t get out in front of it now before anything happens, the whole church is going to end up fighting.”

Before Glynn had a chance to inquire more, Alan and Horace drove up from opposite directions. Alan looked especially upset, a sign Glynn assumed would mean trouble later.

“Mornin’ pastor,” Alan said. “I hope we can resolve this quickly ‘cause I gotta get 30 head of cattle over to the sale barn in Washataug before 10.”

“I hope we can, too,” Glynn said.

The four men went into Glynn’s office and waited somewhat impatiently on the other two deacons, Roger Sutherland and Marcus Hoppe. Roger burst through the door looking as though he’d run all the way from his farm. “Sorry,” he said, catching the door and closing it carefully. “One of our bulls knocked loose a support beam in the barn and I’ve been trying to get that sucker fixed. Weather guy in Tulsa says we’re getting more storms tonight.”

“Those weather guys in Tulsa don’t know beans from a hole in the ground,” Horace said. “Those storms will be here by afternoon. You need some help?”

Roger nodded. “He cracked the beam right at the base. I could brace it but I don’t think it’d hold. I can’t replace it by myself though.”

“I’ll come help ya’ as soon as we finish here,” Horrace said. “I’ll grab one of my boys to come help, too.”

Roger took a seat on one of the folding chairs, took off his soiled work hat, and wiped the top of his balding head. Roger looked the epitome of an Oklahoma farmer. His spring tan had already created a distinct line around the top of his forehead, his red and white checkered work shirt was torn and stained, his boots were worn and soiled. He was only 38 years old but he looked at least ten years older.

Marcus was only a couple of minutes late, apologizing for the delay caused by having to fix a piece of fencing next to the cattle guard. Marcus was the oldest of the deacons, a short stub of a man whose back was permanently bent from years of hard work. Marcus tended to not say much. His voice sounded like the twang in a country song and his limited vocabulary betrayed his fourth-grade education. He had a kind heart, though, and Glynn admired the fact that at 72 years old he was still running his small farm largely by himself.

Once Marcus was seated, Buck opened the meeting. “For those of you who don’t already know, Pastor Glynn, Marcus, and I assume you, Roger, we’ve had a situation come up that I know I was really hoping wouldn’t move over our direction, but it has. Carol Stanley, one of Edith Mason’s daughters, moved into the old Harrelson place over there a couple doors down from Bill Upton. Carol and her family have been living in Washataug for some time and are members over at what was Grace Church. Edith has been telling people that Carol and her family will be attending our church tomorrow and plan on joining. Normally, that would be exciting news but we all heard what happened over there at Grace and no one in the county wants that spreading to their church. We know some of the churches in Washataug have been very public about sayin’ they’re not going to accept anyone from that church into their congregation whether they was directly involved in that mess or not.”

Buck paused and looked at Glynn before continuing. Glynn’s stomach turned, fearful of where this was going. “Personally, if she were merely a member of the congregation, I’d still recommend letting her and her family join. Carol grew up in this church, she went to high school here, and as long as she lived here she seemed to be an upstanding young woman. However, Carol was tight friends with Colleen Clinton and Billy Clayton called me Wednesday night and warned that Carol was high on the list of women likely involved, though, to be fair, no one has actually admitted to anything. We also know Carol’s husband, Clarence, up and left the family ‘bout two years ago and hasn’t been heard from since. Considering the state of everything, and all the rumors that have been flying around the county for a couple of weeks now, I figure we ought to get in front of this and at least have a plan of action should she show up tomorrow.”

“She’ll be here,” Horace confirmed. “Joanne was talkin’ on the phone with Edith on Thursday and she says she’s not gonna let Carol and those kids sit over there and not go to church anywhere, especially the kids. The kids aren’t gonna be the problem, though. Joanne warned Edith that if Carol sets foot in this building there’s gonna be trouble. The women in Adelbert don’t want anything to do with her and don’t want her near their husbands.”

“Women don’t run the church, men do,” Marcus said, his high-pitched twangy voice echoing off the painted concrete block walls of the office. “If I tell my wife to sit down and not make a scene, that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

Roger laughed. “Sure, and a three-strand fence is gonna keep my cows in the pasture when they know there’s a horny bull in the next field. I can tell myself that all I want, but when I get up the next morning I’m still gonna have a pasture full of pregnant cows and one exhausted bull.”

“If you could build a decent fence, wouldn’t be a problem,” Marcus shot back. Both men were smiling which left Glynn confused as to how serious either of them was.

“My wife and Carol were friends in high school,” Alan said. “She’s already been over to visit and she’s tellin’ me that Carol didn’t have anything to do with that mess. Addy’s about as good a judge of character as anyone and can see through a lie faster than wind can stir up dust. If she tells me Carol’s good I’m inclined to believe her. Not every woman in town is going to feel the same way, though. There were plenty of girls upset when Carol got homecoming queen back in ‘63. You boys remember that dustup.”

The other deacons nodded in agreement.

Roger sat forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees. “The problem is that Carol’s a fine-lookin’ woman and she ain’t got no man at home to come to her defense. Alan’s right, that whole Homecoming mess is gonna come up again. I’m betting there’s still women who think she did favors for the basketball team but my li’l brother, Eddie, was on that team and I know that’s not true. Doesn’t help that she keeps wearin’ those little dresses that barely cover her backside. She bends over at the store and it’s like she’s invitin’ trouble.”

“Her being in town again is enough of a problem,” Horace said. “Doesn’t matter whether she comes to church or not, it’s not gonna be safe for a married man to walk past her house as long as she’s living here.”

Glynn opened his mouth and was about to jump into the conversation when the phone rang, catching the six men off guard. For a moment, they sat there, watching the phone as though God himself might be on the other end of the line. “I suppose I should answer that,” Glynn said. The other men nodded in agreement. He picked up the phone. “Good morning, First Baptist Church. How may I help you?”

“Hi honey, it’s me,” Marve said. Glynn instantly relaxed and his body language was enough to let the others know the call was friendly. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I thought you would want to know that everyone in town knows ya’ll are meeting and knows why and I’ve already had four women tell me that if you let whoever this Carol person is come to church tomorrow, they’re leaving.”

“Did any of them give you a reason why?” Glynn asked.

“No,” Marve answered, “though a couple of them warned me that I should keep you on a short leash. Apparently, she has an appetite for handsome preachers or something.”

Glynn could hear the teasing tone in Marve’s voice and was glad she wasn’t taking the implied threat seriously. “Okay, we’ll take that information into consideration,” Glynn said, trying to sound diplomatic for the sake of his audience. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“Good luck with this one,” Marve said. “You’re gonna have someone upset with you no matter what. I’ll still love you, though.”

“I appreciate that,” Glynn said, chuckling. “I’ll see ya’ll in a bit.” He hung up and phone and turned to face the deacons. “Our cover, if we ever had any, has been blown. Apparently, half the town knows what we’re talking about.”

“Oh, it’s almost certainly more than half,” Alan said, “I knew this was going to be a problem the instant Baker signed the papers on that mortgage.”

“Wait, she’s buyin’ that house, not rentin’ it?” Roger asked. “So she ain’t plannin’ on movin’ any time soon. She’s puttin’ down roots.”

Alan nodded. The five deacons looked at each other, the expression on each of their faces one of worry.

“I was really hopin’ we could ride this out until she moved on,” Buck said. “If she’s planning on staying, we might as well go ahead and deal with it now and deal with whatever sufferin’ the women are gonna heap on us.”

Alan looked over at Glynn. “Preacher, I know you’re not exactly in the loop on all Carol’s background here. What do you think we oughta do?”

Glynn reached over and slid his Bible across the desk for easier access. “The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of flexibility here,” the pastor told them. “While the Mosaic law facilitated stoning people caught in the act of adultery, Jesus very publicly put an end to that kind of judgement and makes it very clear that we don’t get to separate the people we like from the people we don’t like. The Bible also makes it very clear that gossip, which is what seems to be the prevailing problem here, is a sin. I could spend an entire sermon doing nothing but quoting different scriptures addressing that problem.”

The pastor quietly opened his Bible and flipped over to the book of James. “Gossip is a problem the church has had to face right from the beginning. There were always rumors and gossip about who Jesus was or wasn’t and in the end that’s what changed public opinion and it participated in his crucifixion. I think James deals most directly with the topic in chapter 3. He writes:

2 For we all make many mistakes, and if anyone makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!

6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so.

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. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The deacons hung their heads as they listened to the pastor read the scripture. They’d all heard the passage before and they understood its meaning. They also knew that the gossip in and around town had gotten out of control and wasn’t going to go away based on Glynn’s sermon. Glynn knew that as well.

“Our course, as a church, has already been defined for us. IF Carol has sinned, then yes, she needs to repent of that sin, but the same holds true for every last one of us. If God required us to publicly voice our confession of sins, we would all be at the alter every service and we wouldn’t get out of church until dinner time. If Carol and her family, or anyone else for that matter, want to worship God in this sanctuary, we have no right to stop her. This is and must remain the place where people come to deal with their sin. All their sin, regardless of what it is.”

Glynn sighed heavily, not feeling certain as to whether the men were strong enough to stand up and do what needed to be done. “As pastor, I have no choice but to follow the Bible on this. What I need to know is whether you, as a body, are standing with me? I think…”

Glynn was suddenly interrupted by a pounding on the office door. Roger reached over and opened it and Hub walked in looking angry and defiant.

“Which one of you ‘Godly’ fellows is going to make this ambulance run with me? Edith Mason just found Carol unconscious in her living room floor.” The way Hub emphasized “godly” was accusatory in its tone. Even those who weren’t members of the church knew the men were meeting and why. 

Thunder rumbled in the distance as though God were voicing his displeasure.

“I’ll go,” Glynn said, picking up the phone to call Marve. Looking at the deacons he added, “I think you guys need to start making some visits. Take your Bibles and start with your own wives. Whatever happens or has happened, we have to take responsibility.”

Marve was waiting on Glynn’s call and started talking before he had a chance to say anything. “I know. Go,” she ordered.

As Hub and Glynn walked quickly toward the waiting ambulance, Hub said, “Those boys in there were looking completely whipped.”

“God has a way of doing that to us,” Glynn answered, “but I’m not sure if it’s God or their wives that has them scared.”

Hub nodded and shifted the ambulance into gear, spraying gravel across the parking lot as he took off. “Men like to think they run things, but they have to have their wive’s permission first,” he said as he switched on the siren.

Pastors' Conference 1972

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Chapter 11

As often happens in Oklahoma, Easter’s weather had turned cool and by Monday morning had developed into full-blown thunderstorms complete with a tornado watch that covered the eastern half of the state. Glynn drove Lita to school then went on to the church to get some administrative work done. Whether he would attend that week’s pastors conference would depend on how heavy the rain was in a couple of hours. Already, he’d experienced enough of Oklahoma’s weather to know that these things often blew on through in a couple of hours. When they didn’t, though, they stayed all day. 

Listening to the rain pounding the church roof was relaxing, though. The high-angled pitch of the sanctuary roof provided the perfect level of white noise to help keep the pastor calm as he went through Sunday’s numbers. 98 in Sunday School. He wondered if they could break a hundred. Then, he wondered if they could hold that level for an entire month. He considered that might be a good campaign to try for the fall.

The phone didn’t ring the entire morning. One of the interesting aspects of this rural town was that the people here were extremely cautious about lightning. With no tall buildings around to attract the energy, sometimes the greater threat during storms like this was the possibility of lightning striking things it couldn’t reach in larger, more congested cities, things like utility poles, trees, and cattle standing out in a field. This led to a large number of disastrous stories. Some claimed a person could get hit by lightning through a window. Others claimed the lightning could shock a person in the shower. Another story had lightning coming through the phone wires and giving a person a jolt. Glynn had no way of knowing whether any of these stories were true, and more than a few seemed highly suspect, but people here swore by them and as a result, stayed off the phone during thunderstorms unless it was an emergency.

After completing the necessary forms and putting them in an envelope to mail to Oklahoma City, he opened his Bible and began considering what he might preach the next Sunday. Traditionally, this would be the Sunday to preach about faith, using the disciple Thomas as an example, but the more Glynn read the more he felt uncomfortable about the reliability of those passages of scripture. Already, he had begun to question whether large passages of the Old Testament were factual, especially within the first five books. He no longer looked at the Genesis account of creation as six literal 24-hour days but as six “ages” of creation that more closely conformed with the evolutionary periods laid out in science. The more he read, the more he found reason to question the possibility that the entire post-resurrection accounts from the gospels might be apocryphal, legends and stories added later in second-century manuscripts in order to bolster what the church was teaching at the time. He worried that using those passages to support a sermon might amount to participating in a fraud.

Sitting at his desk, thumbing through various post-resurrection passages, nothing particularly struck Glynn as being the specific message his congregation needed to hear at this exact moment. The problem was, he wasn’t entirely sure what they did need to hear. Sunday morning’s sermon had been received well enough that nearly half the congregation had returned for the evening service. The poetic presentation method he had used wasn’t something he could maintain for every Sunday, though. Glynn’s homiletic style tended to be more conversational, casually teaching rather than trying to force a point of view down anyone’s throat. To preach a sermon “just because” felt empty and meaningless. 

Glynn wrestled with the challenge long enough that he was late leaving for the Pastors’ Conference in Arvel. While the rain was lighter than it had been, it was still heavy enough to require careful driving. As a result, the meeting had already started by the time Glynn slipped through the door. Emmit smiled as Glynn took a seat but almost no one else noticed. Larry Winston was holding some kind of magazine in his hand and commanding the attention of everyone in the room.

“I’m telling you right now, we’re being attacked from the inside,” Larry was saying. “When one of my church members brought this magazine to me this past week, I was nearly knocked off my feet. This thing claims to be a Christian publication but it turns around and dares to suggest that Jesus didn’t actually die, that he asphyxiated or some nonsense like that and simply “woke up” early Sunday morning. I’m telling you, brothers, that’s straight-out heresy and its creeping into our churches through garbage like this New Christian magazine. We’ve got to be vigilant. We’ve got to preach against this! There’s no question that this is coming straight from the devil himself to attack us and tear the church apart!” 

The preacher tossed the magazine onto the table in front of them and the others stared in silence for a moment, unsure exactly what to say. Of the 27 pastors assembled, only three were seminary graduates, a fact they chose to keep quiet among their peers. Two others had gone to college and majored in Pastoral Studies. The rest relied on books and magazines to help them fill in the gaps but mostly took the King James Version of the Bible as the factual word of God and would argue with anyone who claimed otherwise. 

Finally, Roy Winston commented, “I mean, we’re sort of being bombarded on every side. Like with that Billy Graham crusade that was on the TV last week. Did any of ya’ll catch what they were offering? All ya’ had to do was write to them and they’d send you the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, only they didn’t call it that. They called it “The Good News For Modern Man.” And not only is this thing in paperback, which is disrespectful enough, it comes with these little drawings in the middle of the pages, treating God’s word as though it were a comic book! And this is coming from Billy Graham, of all people!”

“I never have trusted him,” Larry said.

“He says he’s Southern Baptist, but he won’t speak at any Southern Baptist churches or any convention gatherings,” added Carl Roberts, pastor of the small Liberty Creek church over near Washataug. 

“I hear his wife’s not even Baptist,” Larry inserted. “She’s Methodist or something like that. He can’t be thoroughly Baptist if he allows his wife to go to a different church.”

“At least he preaches a good sermon,” Bill Moody said, coming to the evangelist’s defense. Bill was pastor at Harmony Church in Holmes, a small town north of Arvel. “And he seems to get good results. I mean, he brings hundreds of people to Christ every service.”

Roy was quick to counter. “You don’t think all those people are actually having conversion experiences, do you? I mean, they give them some literature and send them home. They’re not really saved.”

“How do we know that?” Bill countered. “Has anyone here ever been to one of his crusades?”

“He’s never close enough,” answered Herb Stanley. The small man with a soft voice was the seemingly reluctant pastor of First Baptist in Ochillie. “I mean, he was in Dallas last year, but I know I couldn’t afford to go all the way down there just to see him.”

“He only goes where he can draw large crowds and get the most attention,” Larry charged. “Oklahoma doesn’t even have a place large enough for him. I’m not sure I’d attend even if he came to something right here in Mishawaka County. God ordained the local church, not the traveling circus.”

Bill shook his head. “John was an evangelist, and he was closer to Jesus than any of the other disciples. I think we need to support our brothers trying to spread the word regardless of their method, not tear them down.”

Larry Winston was back on his feet. “We have to guard the sanctity of the Bible!” he nearly screamed. “We can’t have people running around here outside the authority of any church preaching whatever they want! That’s how liberalism gets into our churches! And people will believe anything, especially if it’s on television. We have to be on guard! We have to protect the Bible! And anytime we catch someone preaching anything that’s contrary to what it says in the King James Version of my Bible, we need to kick ‘em out and send ‘em packing!”

Sensing that the conversation was about to get completely out of control, Emmit interrupted. “Brothers, I think our best course of action, for now, is that we focus on the challenges of our own churches and pray for those who might be led astray. Let’s let God deal with those we don’t agree with. Brother Garner, how was your day yesterday?”

Clement Garner was the pastor at Emmanuel Church in Washataug and one of the few seminary-trained pastors in the Association. He was quick to pick up on Emmit’s diversionary tactic and stood quickly to take the floor. “We had a fantastic day celebrating the Resurrection of our Savior,” he said, smiling. “We had 187 in Sunday School and our ushers counted 233 for the worship service. We had four professions of faith, three rededications, and two new families joined, one from Oklahoma City and another from Muskogee. We’re looking at some great things as we move into Spring.”

That was enough to put the meeting back on track. Nearly all the pastors were excited over the size of their congregations despite knowing that at least a third would not be seen again until December. There was a perpetual hope among them that Easter, followed by a Spring Revival, would be enough of a spark to ignite dramatic growth in their churches. Few had an interest in the statistics showing that the two counties were oversaturated with churches and even if they had been interested most would have held to the hope that their church would be the one to defy the odds. Each pastor was sure they could grow their church and that anything standing in their way was simply the work of the devil.

Glynn decided to stay for lunch, having skipped the past two weeks. He couldn’t help notice that the pastors seemed to divide into two groups, Larry, Roy, and others like them at one group of tables, Bill, Clement, and those less likely to argue sitting a few feet away, still close enough to exchange comments back and forth when desired, but distinctly separate. Glynn joined the latter group, taking a seat next to Clement. The conversation was light, focusing more on sports than religion. Glynn wasn’t terribly informed on the subject but appreciated that the preachers had interests outside their churches.

As Glynn was getting ready to leave, Emmit walked over and asked, “Have you seen or talked to Jerry Weldon lately? He’s not been here for three weeks now and that’s not like him. I haven’t been able to catch him on the phone, either. I’m a little bit concerned.”

Glynn shook his head. “No, I’ve not seen or heard anything from him. Do you think there’s a problem?”

“Probably not,” Emmit admitted. “We all get busy from time to time and not everyone finds these meetings useful. I know sometimes the pastors of the smaller churches get discouraged over not having larger numbers to share. And Jerry’s not exactly full-time, either. He does some mechanic work on the side. I’m sure there’s a good reason.”

“I’ll keep a look out for him,” Glynn offered. “I’m through the Bluebird community three or four times a week. Wouldn’t be a problem to stop by and just say hi.”

Emmit smiled. “That would be wonderful if you could. And no need to let me know if it’s nothing significant. My wife says I worry about you guys too much.” He laughed and Glynn smiled at the confession. 

The storms persisted through the afternoon with a small tornado sighted over in the West end of Ridell County. As the warning sirens went off across the county, Glynn rushed home from the church to check on Marve and the kids. Hayden was quick to run to his Daddy’s arms.

“Are we gonna get blown up?” the four-year-old asked.

“No, we are not going to get blown up,” Glynn assured the child, hugging him tightly. “Everything’s going to be fine. The radio said the only thing damaged was an old chicken coop that didn’t even have any chickens.”

That seemed to be enough to calm the little boy and he soon hopped down from his father’s lap to resume playing on the floor. Glynn stayed home with Hayden while Marve went to pick up Lita from school. The nine-year-old arrived home full of energy and quickly asked if she could turn on the television to watch cartoons. Glynn agreed and sat back in his recliner to take a deeper look at the day’s newspaper. 

Rain continued on and off during the week, not enough to flood the yard again but still enough to make everything around them a muddy mess. Visiting church members out in the country was impossible as the dirt roads developed ruts too deep for anything smaller than a pickup to navigate. Barely passable were the few roads the county had covered in gravel. The gravel never seemed to stay in place for more than a couple of weeks but it provided enough extra footing that Glynn’s Impala could get down the road without getting stuck. The pastor had just left the home of an elderly couple when he realized he was near Bluebird church and decided this would be a good time to stop and chat with Jerry.

Glynn pulled up to the parsonage that sat next to the church, which was common for a majority of the churches in the area. Jerry had his head under the hood of an old  Ford Fairlane and smiled when he saw Glynn in the driveway. He wiped his hands on a red grease rag and walked over to greet the younger pastor.

“Welcome!” Jerry said enthusiastically. “What brings you out to this part of the world?”

Glynn got out of the car and smiled as he shook the pastor’s hand. “Oh, just running around, seeing where I can go without getting the car stuck. I was just down at the Reynolds’ checking in on them, realized I was close so thought I’d stop by and see how things are over here.”

Jerry smiled. “Mighty thoughtful of you. Emmit said something about me not being at Pastors’ Conference, didn’t he?”

Glynn couldn’t help laughing. “Yes, he did. I guess you know how he is about keeping tabs on everyone.”

“Yeah, he’s a bit like an old mother hen that way,” Jerry said as he leaned back against the Ford. “If I’m not there this next Monday he’s likely to drive out here himself by that afternoon.” 

The two pastors laughed as Glynn added, “He stopped just short of insisting that I stop by. Had I not already been out this way I wouldn’t have bothered you.”

“Awww, it’s okay. I guess I need to go in and have a chat with Emmit anyways. I’m going to have to sooner or later. I’ve had a problem come up that’s going to have to be dealt with and I keep putting it off.” Jerry sighed as he wiped his hands on the rag again.

“Anything I can help with?” Glynn asked, concerned at what might have happened within the church.

Jerry looked at the ground for a moment then said quietly, “Yeah, I guess I should tell you, too. You’re likely to see some of my church members here soon.”

“Oh? Why would they leave?” Glynn was even more worried now that something might have happened.

“I went to the doctor a couple of weeks ago,” Jerry started. “Seems I have stage four prostate cancer. I didn’t even know that was a thing. I went to a clinic in Oklahoma City last week, they’re still debating whether to do radiation or chemotherapy on me. Either way, though, I’m not likely to make it through the summer. September, tops. Doc says its aggressive, movin’ through my body fast, and I can feel it. I started having trouble going to the bathroom, which is why I went to the doctor in the first place. Now, I’m starting to feel pain in my bones. Honestly, I don’t even know if it’s worth trying to fight it at all. Maybe it’s better to just let God call me on home.”

Glynn felt as though he’d been punched in the gut. He had expected Jerry to have just been too busy to attend any external meetings. Even if he had said he was sick, Glynn wouldn’t have expected anything worse than the flu. Cancer never came with a hopeful prognosis and Jerry’s sounded worse than most. He walked over and put his arm around Jerry’s shoulder. “Is there anything I can do? How’s your family taking the news?”

“Like any other family, I expect,” Jerry answered. “Lots of crying. My wife, Gladys, is devastated, of course. She’s blamed God, blamed the church, blamed herself, and you know, none of that’s the cause. It’s just a thing that happens. I’m worried about her, though. She’s never had to work, you know. I’m not sure how she’s going to get by. My girls, Norma, lives in Tulsa, she says her mom can come live with her, but they’ve got two kids and a three-bedroom house. I’m not sure how well that would work. My other girl, Helen, lives in Alabama and she doesn’t have any kids but Gladys has lived in Oklahoma all her life. She’s not crazy about the thought of leaving.” 

“Have you told your church yet?” Glynn asked. 

Jerry shook his head. “Haven’t told anyone outside of family except you. Not sure exactly how to handle it. I mean, do I go ahead and resign so they can find another pastor? If I do that, though, I don’t know where we’d go for the interim. I don’t want to wait too long because if I do chemo I’m going to be sick and have to miss Sundays. I guess I need to go and talk to Emmit, see what he thinks, but it’s just so hard to do. I mean, I guess I need to plan my own funeral, too. There’s no way to stop what’s going to happen.”

Glynn thought for a moment. The news was impossible to fully comprehend. He couldn’t imagine what would happen to Marve and the kids if he were to suddenly be faced with cancer or something similar. Finally, he asked, “Would you like for me to go with you to see Emmit? I’ll drive. I don’t even have to say anything, just be there for support.”

Jerry nodded. There were tears in his eyes and as he turned to embrace Glynn he began to sob. “It’s one thing to preach about death and seeing heaven, it’s quite different when you’re facing it for real. I’m not ready to go.”

Glynn held the pastor close. He had never even considered what it would be like to face the inevitability of his own death. Doing so now sent a chill down his spine. The thought of what Jerry must be feeling was disconcerting and left Glynn not sure what to say next. After several seconds, he finally pulled back from the hug and said, “I’ll call Emmit as soon as I get back and set something up, okay? You don’t have to go through this alone.”

Before he left, Glynn prayed with Jerry, not so much because he actually thought God might intervene, he’d never known that to happen before, but simply because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Still, he asked for God’s healing, just in case. The pastor drove home with tears running down his cheek. He didn’t know Jerry well at all, but he hadn’t known any other pastors struck with cancer before, either. He had heard of a couple in Michigan who died of heart attacks but this was different. This felt personal. 

Chapter 12

Sunday seemed rote. Following Dr. Ingram’s advice, Glynn decided that this wasn’t a Sunday he needed to toil heavily over the sermon. There were too many ministerial needs not only with Jerry but his own church as well. He preached of the need for revival using Psalm 85 as his text, carefully plucking the first part of verse 4 from the scripture:

“Restore us again, O God of our salvation,”

Glynn knew that this was a passage that could have thundered just as loudly as his Easter sermon had but his instinct told him to back off and that proved to be the better approach. Attendance was down even more than he had expected and from those who were in attendance came a perpetual chorus of coughs, sniffles, and sneezes. Glynn focused on God breathing fresh life into his Church rather than beating them up about the need for forgiveness. He would wait and let the evangelist pound that message home next week.

Revival meant two Sundays where Glynn didn’t need to prepare a sermon, something of a break. However, his time was just as consumed. There were flyers to print and distribute to every business in town, which happily put the flyers in their front window. There were accommodations to prepare. Normally, the evangelist would have stayed with the pastor but given the current state of housing, Buck volunteered his spare bedroom, which Glynn thought was an excellent idea. The ladies of the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) organized who would feed the preacher and evangelist in their homes each evening. While there was no intended obligation to invite Marve and the children, everyone did. Marve appreciated the break from cooking but wasn’t sure she could keep the kids on their best behavior for a full week.

Then, there was the matter of cottage prayer meetings. Each weeknight before the revival, those who were interested would meet in a different church member’s home, share prayer requests, and pray for revival. Typically, refreshments were served, though Glynn asked that the be held until after prayer to help keep the group focused. Normally they would have gone all week but with the calf sale on Friday, Glynn opted to end them on Thursday. Each night saw the same core group of people: Glynn and Marve, Buck and his wife, Frances, Norma Little, Horace and Joann Lyles, along with a couple of widows, Evelyn Winters and Irene Hendricks, who could be counted on to be at every church event as long as it wasn’t raining or snowing. Each night there would be one or two others, but they wouldn’t be back a second night as farm schedules were simply too busy. Each night contained the same conversations and the same prayers. By Thursday, Glynn told Marve he could predict what each person would pray. She wasn’t surprised when he was correct. The pastor quietly wondered to himself what God thought of their ritual and made a note of preaching one the topic sometime when there weren’t more pressing issues.

Glynn had scheduled time to take Jerry to visit with Emmit on Thursday. In the interim, Jerry had made another visit to the oncologist in Oklahoma City and was told that the cancer was spread enough that neither radiation nor chemotherapy was likely to do anything beyond making him feel more miserable. This shortened his life expectancy to three months. He wouldn’t be surviving the summer. 

Emmit’s empathetic response was not unlike Glynn’s had been. The Director of Missions cried with the men for a while, prayed with them for a long moment of begging God to spare Jerry’s life, then practical discussions on how to handle telling the church and when to begin the transition. Emmit reminded Jerry that his wife would be eligible for an apartment at the Baptist Retirement Center that had just been built in Huggins in the south-central part of the state. The retirement fund Jerry paid into through the state convention’s annuity program would likely be sufficient to not only pay her rent but provide her a modest income. Jerry wasn’t sure how Gladys would feel about moving all the way down to Huggins but that seemed a better option than moving in with one of their daughters. 

By the time they finished, a surprisingly three-hour-long meeting, a plan was in place. At the point Jerry felt he could no longer stand in the pulpit on a weekly basis, he would tell his congregation what was going on. Only then would Emmit let the other pastors in the Association know. Emmit felt certain that the church would not want him to resign early which meant Gladys wouldn’t have to move out of the parsonage prematurely. The Association would provide a “supply preacher,” a temporary fill-in, giving the church time to grieve before undertaking the task of finding a new pastor. The state convention would help with funeral expenses and could help Gladys move anywhere within the state, even if it wasn’t to Huggins.

Both Jerry and Glynn felt relieved as they left the Associational office. Glynn had been impressed by how much assistance the state convention had offered, and how quickly they had responded to Emmit’s phone calls. He dropped Jerry off at his home and went back to the church office, knowing that the sight of his car in the parking lot would produce phone calls generating more visits and prayer requests and no small amount of gossip. Other days, Glynn might have complained about the weariness of it all but today it provided a necessary distraction. He could earnestly pour his sympathy into needs he could do something about, give people hope, and not have to think about death lurking at every corner, even though it was more than he realized.

Sunday morning came more quickly than Glynn might have liked. The evangelist had confirmed his plan to arrive at the church around 10:00 that morning and within Glynn’s estimation of everything that could possibly go wrong, that was cutting it a bit close. A loose herd of cows blocking a road would be enough to cause the preacher to be late. 

“For a man of faith, you’re not demonstrating much,” Marve chided him as Glynn sat at the kitchen table perusing his Bible in case he needed a last-minute sermon.

“Having faith in God does not preclude us being rational and reasonable in our actions,” Glynn said quietly. “God’s ability to see a larger picture sometimes overrides our desire to have things happen according to schedule.”

Despite all the self-induced anxiety, however, the evangelist did arrive shortly after 10:00. Charlie Henderson wasn’t an especially tall man but he came with a big smile that seemed to add a couple of inches to his stature. His thinning, graying hair gave him an air of experience and, perhaps, an insight that translated to authority when he stepped behind a pulpit. His black suit was well-pressed, his white shirt starched, and his tanned complexion seemed to make him shine a bit as he entered the sanctuary.

Years of traveling from one church to the next had helped Charlie develop the perfect greeting for meeting a pastor the first time. He knew that many pastors, especially in smaller churches, didn’t feel secure in their position as pastor and while most welcomed the opportunity to learn from someone who preached more than 300 sermons a year, others saw him, and any other evangelist, as a threat, someone who might give their church a reason to search for a new pastor or possibly take their pulpit for himself. As soon as he spotted Glynn, Charlie smiled his biggest smile, made quick, deliberate strides in his direction, and had his hand extended well before he was within arm’s reach of the pastor. “You must be Reverend Waterbury,” Charlie said in a practiced tone that was as smooth as velvet. “The folks in your state evangelism office spoke highly of you, said you’re getting off to a strong start. How long have you been here?”

“Just barely two months, and please, call me Glynn,” the pastor said, adjusting the tone of his own voice in an attempt to match the evangelist’s warm baritone. “How was your trip in this morning? Were you coming all the way from North Little Rock?”

“No, I just finished a half-week set of services down in Greta Valley. It was only a couple of hours’ drive up here, nothing too strenuous,” Charlie answered. “How are you feeling about the week? Any concerns I should know about?”

Glynn shook his head. “We had a good Sunday on Easter. Last week was understandably down but I can already tell Sunday School attendance is back up. There was a big calf sale at the auction house on Friday so I’m not sure how many of our ranchers will make it in this morning, but overall the attitude seems to be upbeat. We had a good week of cottage prayer meetings, I’ve been making a number of visits, lining up more for us to make this week. Overall, I think we’re in good shape.”

Charlie smiled again. “That’s good to hear. You know, I was a little surprised that you would schedule a revival so soon after moving here. It sounds like you’ve adjusted well.”

Glynn shrugged, not sure what to do with the compliment. “We’re still transitioning, to be honest. There are a number of cultural differences between here and Detroit, little things mostly, things we didn’t give a second thought until they changed. The people here have been lovely, though. I couldn’t have asked for them to be any more welcoming. I’m pleased with where we’re at.”

Glynn didn’t realize that he had just passed a test the evangelist always used when meeting a pastor for the first time. Framing the test itself always changed a little, depending on the church, but a pastor with a long list of worries and complaints was often a sign that Charlie wasn’t likely to see much in the way of results. Churches with confident pastors who loved and cared about their congregation typically signaled a good week ahead. The evangelist also knew that new pastors often had a sense of regret a few months after moving and was happy to hear Glynn hadn’t reached that point.

The two men sat on the front pew and talked for much of the remainder of the Sunday School period. Charlie gave Glynn a list of his sermon topics and scripture passages for the week. Glynn introduced Charlie to Richard and the evangelist expressed his preference for strong, upbeat hymns to start the service, with a passionate solo right before the sermon. Richard wasn’t the strongest soloist and no one else in the small church had a particularly strong voice, either, but he agreed to the evangelist’s request. 

Sunday School ended and the sanctuary filled with a sense of excitement. The church had been holding two revivals a year for as long as anyone could remember and tended to treat them almost like festivals. The evangelist was easy enough to spot and several members made a point to introduce themselves. Charlie took note of the number of times someone mentioned how well he would have to preach to match Glynn’s efforts, another good sign. By the time the music had ended and Glynn introduced him, Charlie felt confident that this could be a good week.

Charlie’s homiletic style was considerably different than Glynn’s. Charlie was a storyteller. His sermons focused less on the context of scripture and more on an anecdotal tale of a sinner whose life had gone horribly wrong and somehow made his way to God and changed his life. Charlie was animated, moving from one side of the platform to the other, his stories interspersed with humor, his voice strong and engaging. Even the weary farmers who sometimes used the sermon as a chance for a short nap couldn’t help paying attention to the compelling voice of the skilled orator.

As he preached, Charlie watched the congregation. He noticed who was paying attention and the moment he caught sight of someone whose head began to bobble or droop he moved to that side of the platform, bringing them back, engaging the weary with a joke before driving another point home. Charlie had also learned to spot those who were feeling convicted by the sermon, the way they would sit uncomfortably in the pew, constantly shifting their body, their eyes darting from one place to another as they tried to avoid making eye contact with the preacher. He wasn’t surprised that Sunday morning’s congregation mostly nodded in agreement. There was no one “lost” in this crowd. Those would come later in the week as church members told others how “powerful” and “spiritual” his sermons were. 

Charlie’s formula worked well in Adelbert. Church members found him entertaining which made it easier for them to invite neighbors who at least claimed to be members of a different denomination. They weren’t likely to be converted but they kept the pews filled in the early part of the week. Traveling from one church to the next meant that Charlie could use the same sermons, with a few adjustments, week after week, one church after another. As a result, his delivery was polished. He made no mistakes. He held the congregation with rapt attention and by Wednesday people were convincing their unchurched friends to attend. 

By Thursday, the revival yielded its first “profession of faith,” a young farmhand walking the aisle to be “saved.” Friday night delivered two more along with a number of tearful “rededications,” church members who felt convicted for not being as spiritual as the sermon suggested they should be. Saturday night saw a sanctuary as full as any Sunday morning. By the time Sunday morning’s service ended, the church had grown by 15 new members, only eight of which had moved their membership from other churches. Everyone in Adelbert considered the week a success.

Evangelists like Charlie typically worked on a “love offering” basis, meaning that there was no guarantee as to how much they would be paid for the week. Evangelists who demanded minimums would only go to larger churches whose congregations were large enough to budget such expenses. Norma had brought the church checkbook with her and quickly calculated the offering to be $350, an amount larger than Glynn’s weekly salary and more than Charlie was accustomed to receiving from a church of that size. He only glanced at the amount before slipping the check into his suit coat pocket and asking Glynn if he could use the office phone to call and let his wife know he was on his way home.

As Glynn waited in the sanctuary, he was surprised by how much of the evangelist’s conversation he could hear as the sound echoed through the empty space. He had always assumed that any conversations in the office were completely private and was more than a little disturbed to discover that they weren’t. He was glad he was the only one remaining in the church building as he couldn’t escape what he heard.

“I’m heading home in a bit,” Charlie told his wife. “Should be about four and a half hours.” He paused as his wife responded, then said, “No, this has been a good week, very gracious pastor and people. Nothing like Greta Valley. I have a check.” There was another pause and this time his response sounded tenser. “I don’t care who said what, none of those things ever happened. You know I’m not like that. I keep to myself.” After the next pause, the evangelist was struggling to not yell. “Look, you can believe your husband or you can believe the liars down in Texas. We’ll talk about this more when I get home.”

Glynn waited at the back of the sanctuary not letting on that he had heard any part of the conversation. He walked Charlie to his car, expressed his appreciation and wished him safe travels. By the time Glynn made it home, Marve had already fed the kids lunch and put them down for a nap. A cold roast beef sandwich was waiting for him on the counter. He took the plate and sat in his recliner as he ate.

“Charlie get off alright?” Marve asked.

Glynn nodded, his mouth too full to respond.

“Are you pleased with how the week went?” his wife continued as she browsed through a magazine.

Glynn swallowed so he could answer. “Yeah, the church and the town seemed to respond well to his style.” He looked over and noticed that Marve had a somewhat stern expression on her face, the one that told him she was being passive-aggressive about something. “Okay, what’s bothering you?” he asked.

Marve put down the magazine and sat back on the sofa. “I don’t really know. There’s just something about Charlie that’s not right. I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

“What do you mean,” Glynn asked, immediately recalling the phone conversation he had overheard.

Marve sighed. “I don’t know, there’s something about the way he acts around some people and then acts differently around others. Like, he would be super-friendly to Joann and me then all but ignored Norma and Evelyn and I swear he was outright flirting with that high school girl that’s been coming. What’s her name, Cathy?”

“He’s a very outgoing personality,” Glynn responded, somewhat defensively. “Part of the reason he’s able to produce the results he does is because people like him.”

“I don’t know, maybe I’m just being oversensitive,” Marve said. “He’s a good preacher, but I don’t think I’d ever want him as my pastor.”

“I hope you never have any reason to test that,” Glynn said, chuckling. “He’s an evangelist, not a pastor. He’s doing what he does best.” The conversation changed and Marve went back to perusing her magazine. Glynn hoped that he was right in defending Charlie. If there was a problem, it was almost certainly none of his business. 

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