Answering the phone at the parsonage of a small town church was always an adventure. Usually on the other end was someone with a need who wanted the pastor of the church to do something about meeting it.
When do you say yes, how can you say no? Many charlatans have made a living off of fleecing the sheep simply by making them feel guilty if they don’t assist.
When Meningsbee returned from the diner after the shocking encounter with Carla, he was in no mood to be a pastor, a consoler or a benefactor to anyone jangling him on the phone. The first four times it rang, he ignored it. But it kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Finally his sense of concern overtook his reclusiveness.
Answering it, he found himself talking to a gentleman named Matthew Castle. Matthew tried to explain his situation, but nothing was clear. So Meningsbee agreed to meet him at the church.
When the pastor arrived, there was a big, old-fashioned recreational vehicle sitting in the parking lot, with hand painted letters which read, “The Singing Castles.” A man got out of the vehicle, walking toward Meningsbee. Matthew was a tall, thin country man, with one of those overly seen Adam’s apples, slicked-back hair and some sort of leather jacket that looked like it was picked up on sale at the Goodwill store.
After shaking Meningsbee’s hand, he called out–and the rest of his family emerged from the vehicle.
First was his wife, Luka–as it turns out–an immigrant from Turkey. Then his two children, Marco, about sixteen years of age, and Joan, around fourteen. The children were friendly but bashful, and the wife maintained a subservient position.
Matthew explained that they were a traveling family who held revival meetings in churches. They were having some trouble with their motor home, needed to get repairs done, and he wondered if the pastor would like them to hold a revival while the vehicle was being tended to.
A quiet, rumbling chuckle erupted inside Meningsbee’s soul. He was trying to imagine his rather traditional congregation and how they would receive The Singing Castles.
While he deliberated, Matthew suggested that the family sing a song–a capella–right out there in the middle of the parking lot. He gave them all a pitch and they launched into a rather rousing rendition of “When We All Get to Heaven.”
Meningsbee listened patiently, thinking to himself that it really wasn’t that bad. The young girl especially had a pleasant voice, and the mother sang some good harmony, though it was colored with accent. Daddy sang bass and Marco sang tenor.
They were getting ready to go into a second verse when Meningsbee interrupted. “Listen, our church would not hold a revival, but I see no reason why you folks can’t come on Sunday morning and sing for us, and we’ll collect an offering. And meanwhile, until you get your vehicle going, if you want to park it here in the lot and plug into our electricity, help yourself. That is the way it works, right?”
Matthew grabbed his hand, shook it firmly and then gave him a huge hug. In the brief encounter, Meningsbee was pretty sure he smelled both tobacco and alcohol. It didn’t matter. Acts of charity don’t require that those who benefit measure up to a particular standard.
As it turned out, the Castles ended up being an industrious sort. They launched out onto the grounds, cleaned everything up, and straightened up the basement of the church, which had needed a good “caring to” for a long time.
And on Sunday, they sang. And they sang. And they sang some more.
Their musical sound had country overtones, but included an accordion. The congregation seemed to love them. They especially laughed uproariously when the father introduced the family and pointed out that they were very Biblical. They “were the Castles, but they were also Matthew, Marco, Luca and Joan.” (To make the joke even more corny, each one of them spoke their own name at the right moment, in sequence.)
When it came time to take up an offering, the little Garsonville church came up with five hundred dollars. Also, one of the congregation members noticed that the motor home had a couple of sags and twitches, and agreed to fix them for free.
The Castles didn’t bring a new theological revelation. Matter of fact, their theology was rather out-dated and old-fashioned. They weren’t the best singers you’d ever hear in your life, and certainly would be snubbed on every coast. Their grammar lacked punctuation and their manners were rustic. Their clothing was old and desperately in need of some stitching and retouching.
But their hearts were pure. Whatever caused them to drive around the country and share their music was certainly not greed, nor was it selfishness. It was some deep-rooted belief that the best way they could be together, stay together and remain happy was to sing the Gospel and drive from place to place in their magical chariot.