During the swelling sweetness of satisfaction that settled into the souls of the Garsonville citizens, some surprising news came to the forefront.
USBN went bankrupt. (Well, at least some sort of business conclusion that’s too difficult to understand.)
The network had suffered severe financial losses due to litigation from civil suits, and was sold to another company which planned on dividing up office supplies and disbanding the whole idea.
The people of the town believed it was the hand of God–or at least the Almighty giving a finger.
They all felt redeemed, relieved and relaxed. There was a realization that reaching for the stars only makes you fall off the step-ladder.
It was about a month later that the Garsonville Church had visitors–two, to be exact–Buford Thomas Baxter and his wife, Harriet, both certainly in their mid-to-late seventies. They arrived dressed as televangelists, creatures roaming the Earth many decades ago.
Buford didn’t waste any time.
He asked for a private moment with Reverend Meningsbee and when that was acquired, he launched into his story. He explained that he had been teaching a Sunday School Class down at the Southern Baptist Church, and because the people did not want “the full Gospel,” and wanted to “hide their sins in secret places,” the pastor had requested that he leave and find other sheep to tend. So he had looked all over town to find the greatest need.
Buford hugged Reverend Meningsbee and said, “Even though I know you have a heart to do right, you have a wrong to achieve it. So I am here as your servant–to be used any way you see fit–to turn this congregation around in the direction of heaven’s portals.”
Meningsbee didn’t know what to say.
Deep in his heart he knew this was not a good fit, especially considering that during the coffee time after Sunday School, Buford and Harriet tag-teamed their way through the congregants, explaining how prayer was “more than talking to God.” It was “negotiating the deal through fasting, consecration and long bouts of seclusion.”
Buford was particularly intent on letting everybody know that he had once appeared on Gordon Gaines’ Gospel Gala during the season when the show had millions of viewers. (The ministry of Gordon Gaines had been terminated many years ago, when it was discovered that he was romantically linked to a large number of his staff. For a time, the scandal made for great TV, and brought sadness to those who believed in a simpler approach.)
By the end of the morning service, Buford and Harriet had succeeded in annoying nearly everybody, with many of the faithful whispering to Meningsbee that he needed to get them out of there as quickly as possible.
To do so, the pastor had to promise that he would meet with Buford on Tuesday for lunch.
So on Monday morning, Meningsbee prayed–probably not right, like Buford would have him do, but the best he knew how.
He came up with an idea. He rather liked it.
So at the Tuesday luncheon, he said to Buford (and Harriet, who came along for the chicken salad and tomato soup) that there was really no room in the Sunday schedule for anyone else to participate, since the congregation was already fanning out and covering a multitude of activities, but there was a lovely clearing of land just beyond the parking lot of the church, where he believed that Buford and Harriet should have the chance to set up some sort of tent, hold some meetings and see if God might bring them a gathering of souls.
Meningsbee finished his proposal and watched the wheels turn inside the mind of the aging man. There was a brief silence, when suddenly Harriet stepped in and gave her vote of confidence. She believed it was a tremendous opportunity, thanking Meningsbee for his openness.
So three weeks later, Buford and Harriet launched a tent revival on the far side of the Garsonville Church property, which ran for exactly four nights.
The first night there were seven people.
The second night, six.
The third night, five, if you counted the baby.
And the fourth night…one.
Yes, a Native American of the Pawnee tribe. He sat on a hard, wooden chair as Buford preached for a good, solid hour. Or at least, that’s how Meningsbee heard it.
The next morning, the Native American, a descendent of the chief, came to the church to talk to Reverend Meningsbee. He asked the parson if it would be all right to invite the Baxters to come and pastor a small congregation of four Native American families about thirty miles away.
Meningsbee wasn’t quite sure why he was asking permission, but he gave it freely.
So Buford and Harriet Baxter packed up all their belongings and went down the road to become the pastors of the Pawnee People’s Fellowship.
Meningsbee lost contact with Buford after that, but he never heard anything negative–or of a new uprising from the Pawnee Nation.