Even though spring was less than two weeks away, the Windy City was still frigid, with sporadic snow flurries careening through the air.
Meningsbee had spent too much time admiring and devouring his deep-dish pizza, and so found himself hurrying the short distance down the street, to “The Illinoian,” a downtown hotel which in its salad days was dressed lavishly, but with the wear chasing the tear, had somewhat lost its flair.
Meningsbee was late to deliver a speech in Ballroom Three, for the “Midwest Evangelical Mainline Church Convention.” It was an annual gathering in Chicago, usually drawing about 5,000 pastors, church leaders, music directors and congregation members who found such seminars to hold some interest. Matter of fact, Bob Harborhouse from the Garsonville Church, had come, and Monique Jennings, the church secretary.
Meningsbee had been invited to speak on the subject of “Innovation in the 21st Century Church.” His first inclination was to decline, but on second thought, was quite grateful for the opportunity to leave Nebraska for a few days.
He was a little concerned about whether anybody would show up in Ballroom Three. After all, Monique had already decided to go shopping and Bob had opted to attend a different seminar on church finance, entitled “The Power of the Shekel.”
So Meningsbee was on his own and a bit out of breath as he stepped off the elevator on the third floor, and was suddenly surrounded by cameras, with a reporter sticking a microphone to his mouth. It was Katrina Middlesex, who was no longer with USBN, but had now joined a conservative think tank from the blogosphere named “The American Way.”
Meningsbee tried to wiggle past the entourage, but Katrina positioned herself in front of the door, prohibiting him from entering. With bright lights in his face and cameras poised, she began to fire questions.
“Do you think its hypocritical for you to be here?”
“Do you think what happened in Garsonville is your fault?”
Then it was the third question that shocked Meningsbee.
“Is it true that you have a problem with pornography?”
He could not disguise his surprise.
So she asked him again, “Are you involved in pornography?”
Frustrated, angry and beginning to feel some indigestion from his lunch, he snapped, “No comment.”
Katrina smiled and slowly backed away, allowing him to enter the ballroom.
Safely inside, he immediately realized it was the wrong answer. He should at least have denied it. “No comment” was an admission that there might be some substance to the question and that he needed to consult an attorney.
It was so stupid.
Meningsbee lifted his eyes to look at the room, peering at a beautiful hall with 300 chairs–speckled with about forty human beings. Worse, they had spread themselves all over the place, as if trying to avoid a contagion.
He took a deep breath and walked to the front of the auditorium, placing his portfolio on the podium, As he did, he saw a note. It read: “Dear Reverend Meningsbee: I’m sorry I will not be there to introduce you. Got all tied up. Just feel free to start on your own, and may God bless you.”
Meningsbee didn’t read any further. Knowing who had left him out in the cold would not make him feel any warmer.
He tested the microphone, which whirred and whistled a bit, causing some of the congregated to giggle, and then began to speak from his prepared text. He wasn’t even five words into his spiel when a hand was raised in the audience. He stopped, acknowledged the individual, and she posed, “Why were all the reporters out in the lobby?”
Another man sitting three rows in front of her threw a comment over his shoulder in her direction. “There was some sort of scandal in his hometown and they wanted to ask him about his involvement.”
Meningsbee stepped in, objecting. “It wasn’t a scandal. It was just people stuff, which they made scandalous.”
A fellow four or five rows over piped in. “Was it sex stuff?”
A lady all the way in the back responded, projecting her voice to cover the distance. “Yes. I think so.”
Meningsbee interrupted. “I’ve come here today to talk about innovation in the 21st century church.”
Yet another hand went up. Meningsbee reluctantly acknowledged the inquisitor.
“Did you use the scandal to advertise the church? That’s pretty innovative. You know what they say–there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
Meningsbee was lost. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what to do.
All at once, another voice. Male, younger–strong.
“If you don’t mind, Reverend Meningsbee,” said the young man, standing to his feet, “I would like to tell them what you did. If you folks are not familiar with the work that is going on in Garsonville, I’ve been keeping up with it through reading the blogs about the movement in the town, and also I have a cousin who lives there who fills me in on all the adventures.
“This gentleman, Reverend Meningsbee, wrote a book called ‘The Jesus Church.’ If you’ve never read it, you should. I know people always say that. In this case, it’s true. Basically, it asks the question, ‘What kind of church would Jesus run if Jesus was in the church running business?'”
“So,” the young man continued, “the Reverend came to be a pastor in Garsonville, to see if he and the folks there can get together and form…well, I guess ‘form a more perfect union.’ But anyway, let me shut up, and let the parson tell us the whole story.”
The young man sat down, leaned back, crossed his legs and prepared to listen. The other people in the hall noted his position and followed suit.
Meningsbee was able to finish his speech. Afterward, he quickly found the young man, and thanked him for his kindness.
He replied, “Oh, you were fine. You didn’t need me. My dad used to tell me, ‘always travel with a little bit of grease, because most of the time you won’t be the wheel, but lots of times the wheel will need the grease.'”
Meningsbee found out that the young man’s name was Carl–Carl Ramenstein. He was a student at the Illinois Theological Seminary and was due to graduate in May.
“Come and see us,” said Meningsbee.
Carl smiled. “Why?”
The question took Meningsbee by surprise. He was just trying to be polite, but now the astute young man was calling him on it.
“Good question,” responded Meningsbee. “I guess because you’re young, good-looking, level-headed, humble and the Kingdom of God certainly wouldn’t suffer under your efforts.”
Carl feigned surprise. “Are you offering me a job?”
“No, no,” said Meningsbee. “Stale Danish, weak coffee–that’s our offer.”
Carl laughed, paused and considered. He reached out to shake the pastor’s hand, saying, “Well, I’ll tell you what. If I ever need stale Danish and coffee, you’ll be the first place I go.”
They shared a laugh. Meningsbee couldn’t help but be grateful for the intervention of the stranger.
Now all he had to do was figure out how to get out of Ballroom Three without seeing Katrina again.