2.3 miles east of Garsonville, on an old country road, was an abandoned roadside rest–long forgotten and unattended, with a broken picnic table, a dry pump and an eroded sign which had once explained the origins.
Over the past two months, every single week, Reverend Meningsbee made his way to that spot before attending church, to take ten or fifteen minutes, just to “get decent.”
Getting decent meant freeing himself of all the hardships, prejudice, bruised ego, disappointments and frustrations of the week, lest he arrive in front of the congregation and pour out his misgivings instead of sharing a parcel of hope.
It had been a strange week.
On top of languishing in memories of his beloved Doris, he also discovered that Jesse, Marty and Hector McDougal were moving from town. They had become the touchstone–the stopping off place–for all the publicity and turmoil that had risen up because of the little boy’s amazing healing.
The family had received notice from a mega church in Idaho which had been spreading its spiritual wings into making movies, and the three were invited to come and live free of charge for a year while the screenwriters, actors and production team shot a film entitled, “Hector’s Baptism.”
They were so excited.
They even had a copy of the screenplay, which Meningsbee perused, quickly realizing that the writers had taken some creative license.
Meningsbee felt sad.
He wasn’t sure it was the right thing for the family–but it’s hard to argue with a year’s worth of free room and board. So he kissed them all on the cheek, prayed for them and two days later they were gone.
That departure was followed by the information that Patrick Swanson, whose congregation had been involved in some sort of wife-swapping scandal, was also leaving and stopped off at Meningsbee’s house to say goodbye.
He and his wife were off to Utah, to a marriage clinic, to restore their vows and commitments.
Patrick had become a Mormon. He looked much different–fresh haircut, crisp white shirt and a sweater vest instead of jeans, shaggy locks and a t-shirt. He was, shall we say, very appropriate.
When Meningsbee reached to give him a hug, Patrick instead took his hand and offered a warning. “Beware the sins of the flesh, my friend. I think you teeter on too much secular input in your ministry, and therefore are robbing your congregation of the full impact of the whole Bible for the whole man.”
Meningsbee felt a flame of anger ignite in his gut but he realized that Patrick would soon be gone, and his advice with him.
Meningsbee was in the midst of these thoughts and many others when a car rolled up next to him.
It was Sammy Collins.
He got out of his car and tapped on the passenger window of Meningsbee’s vehicle, requesting permission to enter. Meningsbee popped his locks and Sammy scooted in, shut the door and took a deep breath.
“Let me get right to it. I’ve been doing a lot of praying. I know we haven’t always agreed, but I believe I’m supposed to come and be your assistant minister.”
He paused. Meningsbee was speechless.
Sammy jumped in. “Well, that’s it. What do you think?”
“How did you know I would be here?” asked Meningsbee.
“I followed you,” said Sammy with a smile. “You didn’t even know, did you?”
“Nope,” said Meningsbee quietly.
Sammy turned sideways in his seat, filled with energy. “So what do you think, Pastor? You sure could use the help.”
“You see, Sammy, the kind of help I need wouldn’t work because it’s inside me. I couldn’t get you in there. Or maybe I wouldn’t want you in there. Or maybe, it just seems to me, that if I needed an assistant minister, God would tell me before he told the assistant minister.”
“God works in mysterious ways,” said Sammy with a twinkle.
“Yeah, but usually not hyper-weird,” replied Meningsbee.
Sammy, undaunted by the rebuke and rejection, opened the car door and said, “Think it over. You’re never gonna find anyone quite like me.”
Meningsbee just nodded, holding his tongue over a variety of responses that immediatly popped into his brain.
Sammy jogged to his car, got in and took off. Meningsbee, fully disturbed and interrupted, decided to head off to church.
He wondered what he would find there. He had to admit to himself that his message last week about the rich young ruler and how the congregation needed to decide if they were going to keep the revival alive or go back to their old ways, was pretty strong. Matter of fact, he had even used the word “damn” right in the middle of the pews, flowers and pulpit furniture.
Arriving at the church, there was a hum in the room. No–a real hum. The organist was playing the prelude and the congregation, uncharacteristically, was humming along with the familiar tune.
There were two apple pies sitting on the fellowship table which were normally not present for coffee time.
Deacon Smitters shook Meningsbee’s hand and held it a little longer than normal.
The song service was more boisterous, the testimonies enlightened and the “amens” aplenty.
No one said a word about the previous week’s service nor whether they were offended, challenged or informed. They just did what people in Garsonville do. They took it all in, let it rattle around for a couple of days, and decided what their best path might be.
There’s a lot to be said for that.