About twenty-five miles outside Garsonville, Meningsbee pulled his vehicle onto the side of the road because the tears in his eyes had become so overwhelming that he couldn’t see to drive anymore.
He didn’t know why he was crying.
Certainly there was a lot of incrimination and anguish behind the tears–but something else was emptying his well of discontent. He didn’t know what it was and he didn’t want to think about it–he just wanted to get back to Garsonville.
Was it home?
Or was it really just a place he had inserted himself to make some theological point? It certainly seemed to have grown beyond that. He had a very tender heart for the people he served.
After a few minutes, some good old-fashioned thinking dried up the gushers in his eyes and he headed toward the parsonage.
He arrived there on Saturday evening, about nine o’clock. There was just enough time to put together some notes for the next day, crawl into bed and collapse from exhaustion.
The next morning, he purposely arrived a little later so he wouldn’t have to field a series of “narthex questions,” leading to stymied silences.
The congregation was already seated and singing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” as he made his way down the aisle to the front, turned and waited for them to finish the beautiful hymn.
He took a pause, not trying to be dramatic, but staring at the people, searching for words. He began.
“Jesus once preached a sermon that was so pungent, pointed, relevant and convicting that the Bible says everybody left. At least five thousand people.
Jesus was saddened. He turned to his disciples and said, ‘Are you going to go away, too?'”
All at once, Meningsbee was interrupted by a woman in her forties, standing to her feet.
“Reverend, my name is Sarah–Sarah Rothchild. I don’t go to this church. I don’t go to any church. But I came here today because this church found a way, through its message and love, to permeate through the doors and windows of my home and reach me–even without my attendance. We haven ‘t left you, sir. There aren’t five thousand disciples marching away, grumbling about your ministry. You keep leaving us. You keep running away. You came here to do something magnificent–different–personal–and dare I say, human. And then because some critics have come along to challenge you, you scurry away like a little spider to quietly spin your web of self-pity. We need you. But most of all, we need you not to run away. I don’t know if I’ll join this church, but I do know this town is better since you came here. And I decided to dress up and join you folks today so I could rebuke you. Isn’t that a Bible word? If it isn’t, it should be. I’m here to rebuke you for being a coward.”
One of the ushers stepped forward with the intention of leading Sarah out of the church. Meningsbee held up a hand, motioning for him sit back down. The pastor turned back to Sarah to listen. Sensing that she was finding disfavor, Sarah became defensive.
“I didn’t come to make trouble. I just believe that the only way you can prove what you say is to stick around after people disagree with you. I think it’s time for you to either pack your bags, leave Garsonville and admit this was just a game to you. Or else hang in here with us and see if we can’t make it through these problems–especially getting out of the condemnation from these horrible shows on TV.”
Sarah looked around the room for some sign of support. Everybody was afraid to move. So she reached down, grabbed her purse, turned around and was ready to dash out of the sanctuary.
Meningsbee stepped forward, stopping her.
“By the way, Sarah, that is officially called a rebuke. And you helped me discover what I was crying about last night as I drove into town. I am a coward. Not something you’re really able to say about yourself, until you hear somebody else accuse you of it. I’m scared. I’m not scared of being wrong. I’m scared of being right…and all alone. So if you’ll forgive me and give me another chance, I would like to try to do better. I would like to try…”
He didn’t know what to say and had probably already said too much. He bowed his head.
One after another, the congregation members rose, walked up and gave Meningsbee their rendition of Christian greeting, love and hugs.
The last one to come to him was Sarah, his rebuker. She started to say she was sorry, but before she could speak, Meningsbee erupted with a revival of tears.
He fell on her shoulder and cried like a little boy who had just skinned his knee. She patted his back, weeping along with him. The Garsonville elect stood back and watched, like little children seeing a deer in the forest for the first time.
At length, everybody headed out of the church.
But as the first congregant opened the door, standing there was Kitty, Hapsy’s mom.