tuesday, april 17th 2007, 8:15 p.m.
Vivian Maclin hosted the Center’s women’s Bible study and prayer meeting at her home every Tuesday evening, and has done so faithfully for many years. The basement rec room made an excellent meeting room. Many ping-pong duels have been fought here over the years, as well as lots of dart games and Bible trivia games. Adjacent is a small nook with a miniature fridge and small counter, handy for making coffee and tea. Sitting around the ping-pong table, now covered with a bright cloth, are the usual group of middle-aged women consisting mostly of elders’ wives, about a dozen altogether, most on the plump side or, like Vivian, heading in that direction. Jeni Tanner was the exception; five times her body swelled in pregnancy and five times shrunk to normal within a year after delivery.
Missing in the Bible/prayer group are young women. Even Katie stopped attending, much to her mom’s disapproval. The young women who used to come are now the middle-aged, and the middle-aged are the aged. With few exceptions, they had not, spiritually, produced after themselves. Even daughters could not be enticed to join them.
Vivian had been teaching on The Holy Spirit to coincide with her husband’s teaching on the same subject the past several Sundays, but decided to change to Church Disciplines. She wanted to ensure the ladies were well grounded in their understanding of what made and preserved healthy church life. She made the decision to change direction last night. She knew why Terry got up in the middle of the night to sit by himself in the living room. Something was bothering him, and she knew it wasn’t normal church concerns though always more than a few.
Vivian had read the memo to the elders before faxing them a copy, shocked to learn of Reuben Tanner’s appeal to the board. She was more than a little indignant someone would challenge her husband’s authority. She could not, yet, express her indignation to her husband about Reuben Tanner’s outrageous request to have access to the pulpit; it was still a private matter between Reuben and the church board. Vivian was sure the elders’ wives knew nothing of the matter, having marked the memo Private Matter as Terry instructed.
No, Vivian concluded, there were only two women in the room who knew of this: herself and Jeni Tanner. It was Vivian’s intention to use what leverage she had to come to the aid of her husband and the church she loved. Hopefully, Jeni would be influenced by tonight’s study and, in turn, influence her husband to back down. Wives are good at that.
Being married to a pastor, Vivian was aware, even more than the elders, just how precarious the situation was. Preparing coffee and tea for the ladies, she could not shut her mind down. If the board rules against Reuben, then what? she wondered. Would he forget the whole matter, and everything return to normal? If not, what are his options? Try to speak to the church people individually? Rent a hall? Send letters? Anything he did would create division, for everyone would know he did not have the blessing of the pastor or the board.
If Reuben Tanner were not so influential he would not be a threat. Yes, he was a mere usher but everyone loved Roo and his family. The many who had long been at the Center knew Reuben was more instrumental in the building project than anyone other than Pastor Mac. The Challengers would not be much of a challenge without Reuben behind home plate and his 400 plus batting average. The Tanner family was a strength to the Center, unlike any other except the Maclins. True, Reuben was somewhat a loner the last few years; one could no longer call him a team player. But he did come across as sincere and generous and faithful.
And if the board conceded to his request, what problems would that create? Vivian questioned herself. Why should Reuben be privileged to preach when I, who would have to be considered the Center’s co-founder, have never been invited? Nor any of the elders. And not, at least not yet, Pastor Phil. The more Vivian considered the matter the more difficult it was to hold her anger.
The imminent threat to her husband, her church, even her children kept rousing heated thoughts. And where did Jeni Tanner stand on this issue? Is she in league with her husband, or does her loyalty rest with the church that nourished her and her family these many years? If it weren’t for me Jeni Tanner would be standing on a street corner with an Awake! magazine in her hand!
“Please turn to Psalm 133,” Vivian began the lesson after opening prayer. “And could someone read it out loud?”
Sheila Tomas, heavy with her second child and the youngest present, volunteered:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing-
After emphasizing the point that Psalm 133 was a promise that God would bless those who lived in unity, Vivian asked the group for comments.
Mrs. Williamson was never shy to respond. “For every positive side of a promise there is a negative side. If we do not dwell in unity, the Lord will not pour out His blessings.”
“Amen!” they all agreed.
“Then the question is, how do we dwell in unity?” Vivian asked. And before anyone responded she referred them to Hebrews 13:7:
Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.
Vivian asked, “How do we apply this verse to life at the Center?”
Mrs. Williamson had been a pastor’s wife for years and was quick to answer. “We all know this would be in reference to the pastor, in our case Pastor Maclin.”
“It would also refer to the elders,” Mrs. Edwards added.
“This would also refer to someone like you, Vivian,” added Mrs. Waters. “You are giving leadership through this Bible study.”
“And now, ladies,” Vivian said, “let us go to the first book of Peter and see what Peter has to say on the matter. Would someone please read the first four verses of chapter five?”
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;
nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
“Comments, anyone?” Vivian was hoping Jeni would give some input, but she was usually the most quiet of the group.
“Well, we know from this text that God gave us elders to lead us,” Mrs. Williamson said.
“Yes, they are to shepherd us,” said another.
“Then we must allow ourselves to be shepherded?” Vivian asked.
“Certainly. Amen. Of course.”
Vivian led the group through similar passages with the intent of building an ironclad case for submissiveness to recognized authority. But is Jeni getting it? Vivian wanted to know. “Jeni,” she asked at last, “we haven’t heard from you tonight. Do you have any thoughts to share before we close the study in prayer?”
“Well, I do have a few thoughts,” Jeni replied hesitantly. “I think we must be sure unity is founded on truth. I remember Pastor Mac pointing out to me, just before I came to Christ, that the worse countries in the world are often the most unified. The people the Lord blesses are those who are united to Him and walking in fellowship with His ways. I don’t think the Lord wants us to blindly obey any man. That kind of loyalty is disloyalty to Christ.”
And more silence.
Finally, Sheila Tomas responded. “Yes, of course. I suppose that puts the onus on each of us to determine what is right and true.”
Mrs. Williamson was brusque. “Can you imagine a congregation of four hundred trying to come to a conclusion? Impossible! That would be chaos! We must have confidence in our leaders! They are ordained by God to show us the way!”
For Vivian, Jeni’s contribution was a slap in the face. There is no doubt, she concluded, that Jeni Tanner’s sympathies are not with us.
“Perhaps,” Vivian interrupted the animated conversation, “we can safely conclude we should obey leadership to the degree we are able, without compromising what we personally believe to be the truth.”
Mrs. Williamson just had to say, “I for one have confidence in the leadership of Bryden Falls Community Christian Center!”
And from there they moved to a time of uneasy prayer, and from there they moved to an uneasy time of fellowship over coffee and tea and Vivian’s muffins. Vivian looked for an opportunity to talk to Jeni one-to-one. “Jeni, would you please help me carry these plates and leftovers upstairs?”
“Did you enjoy the Bible study?” she asked Jeni when they were alone in the kitchen.
“I am afraid I upset the study with my comments.”
“Well, I did ask for your input. May I ask, Jeni, are you anxious about the board’s meeting tomorrow?”
“No, should I be?”
“Perhaps you don’t grasp the seriousness of the situation.”
“Don’t you realize the seriousness of appealing to the board, challenging my husband’s judgment?”
“Vivian, I’ve done no such thing!” Jeni protested.
Vivian was in no mood for trifling. “I know you didn’t appeal to the board. I am referring to Reuben.”
“Yes. You mean you don’t know?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Vivian had a choice, to apologize or attack. It had been a hard day and a harder evening, and she was in no mood for apologizing. “You mean to tell me your husband has upset the pastor and threatened the stability of the church, and you, his wife, know nothing about it? This makes me very suspicious.”
“The secrecy. I thought husbands and wives were a team. They did things together. Isn’t that what marriage is all about?”
Jeni was unable to take it all in. Appeal? The pastor? The board? Wednesday’s meeting? Thankfully, Katie burst into the kitchen with a “Hi Mom! Hi Mrs. Tanner!”
Jeni packed up her confusion and excused herself. She would use the half-hour ride home to get a handle on all this.
wednesday, april 18th, 2007, 7:15 p.m
Seven elders and Pastor Mac sat around the lengthy boardroom table, Mac on the end closest to the folding doors, now closed, separating the boardroom and his office. Phil Ferguson was also present; even though not officially on the board his attendance was welcomed and expected. The other end of the table was always vacant. Phil had hoped that, as assistant pastor, he would be asked to sit in that honored place, but never was. He didn’t even have a vote. Sheldon Waters sat next to Mac, on his left, and chaired the meetings. All kept to the same placement, month after month, as if their names were engraved there. In the center of the table was a very large Bible, always opened at Psalm 119:105, the words highlighted, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Already they had discussed a number of issues. Phil Ferguson gave an update of the MorLord Worship Band, and their preparation for the performance on Foundation Fathers Festival in June. Shaun Edwards gave a report on Sunday school attendance, children and adult, which was continuing to dwindle, offering suggestions how they might rearrange the scheduling to make it more suitable. Tony Borric, in charge of maintenance, reported a few improvements, the most costly being the carpet replacement in the sanctuary. Nelson Chesney gave a report on finances, suggesting Pastor Mac continually remind the people of their responsibility to tithe. There was discussion about eventually bringing Phil Ferguson on full-time, depending on collections. Pastor Mac gave an overview of outreach ministries coming up in the summer, some of which involved teaming up with other churches.
And soon it was time to discuss the matter on everybody’s mind, Reuben Tanner.
Sheldon Waters: I trust everyone received Pastor Mac’s memo regarding Reuben Tanner’s appeal to the board?
Donald Williamson: A most unusual memo. I had been a pastor for many years before retirement and never had I been approached by a layman for access to the pulpit. A testimony, yes. A praise report, occasionally. But no one ever actually asked to preach. Most unusual.
Brent Anderson: Not only unusual, but he doesn’t seem to want to take no for an answer.
Nelson Chesney: There’s a simple solution. We tell him “no” and that’s that.
Sheldon Waters: I agree. We hired a pastor to make these decisions. Let us show Reuben we support him fully.
Phil Ferguson: I also agree. Reuben must know we are together on this.
Sheldon Waters: Are we ready for a vote?
David Tomas: Wait a minute! We are acting like Reuben has done something unethical. So far, all we know is that he disagrees with a decision Pastor Mac has made and he is appealing to us for a judgment on the matter. Should we not make a judgment?
Tony Borric: I hear you, David. Pastor Mac, did Reuben give an indication why he wanted to speak to the congregation?
Terry Maclin: No, and I didn’t ask him. I didn’t want to confuse the issue. I wanted him to understand the reason I turned him down was because it is our policy that only those endorsed by the denomination are given the pulpit.
David Tomas: Has this always been our policy?
Donald Williamson: It is the policy of every church in our denomination. In every denomination that I know of.
Tony Borric: And the reason for the policy?
Nelson Chesney: Obviously to maintain purity of the Word.
Shaun Edwards: Pastor, has a board in past years officially made this our policy?
Terry Maclin: Not that I can remember.
Shaun Edwards: Perhaps we should make it our official policy tonight.
Donald Williamson: I agree. It shouldn’t be necessary, but it will close the door to similar problems.
David Tomas: Problems? A respected brother in our congregation asks us to make a judgment, and we consider that request a problem?
Phil Ferguson: It’s more problematic than one might think. If we open the pulpit to Reuben we would be opening it to the entire congregation.
David Tomas: I am not saying we should give Reuben, or anyone else, the pulpit. I am saying we should not consider it a problem when someone requests us to make a judgment.
Shaun Edwards: I think David does have a valid point. Why are we here?
Tony Borric: Yes. It’s like a judge who has been given authority to make judgments but is insulted when asked to do so.
Donald Williamson: Hold on now! I don’t think I like where this is going. We are here to assist the pastor. Period.
David Tomas: Oh? Or is the pastor here to assist us? I think we should clarify our roles and responsibilities. To me it has always been a blur.
Brent Anderson: Now wait a minute! Let’s think this out. We hire a pastor to run the church. The people expect Pastor Mac to run the church. We are to help him do the job we hired him to do.
Donald Williamson: Brent, you make him sound like a hireling! He is the shepherd of the sheep. We pay him a salary so he is able to shepherd.
Brent Anderson: I stand corrected. Forgive my poor choice of words, Pastor Mac.
Shaun Edwards: I must say again that David Tomas has a valid point. Our role and responsibilities as elders has always been obscure to me as well. We seem threatened by a simple request to make a judgment.
Tony Borric: Can we agree it is our responsibility to make a decision on this matter? And we should not be offended when asked by a member of the congregation to make a judgment? What do you say, Pastor Mac?
Terry Maclin: When I responded to Reuben’s request for access to the pulpit I thought I was expressing the will of the board. I would like to know if I was correct. Further, I admit I was slighted at Reuben’s request to take this matter to the board, but in hindsight I see that I should not have taken offense.
Tony Borric: I must say, I respect your candor.
Brent Anderson: Amen!
Sheldon Waters: It seems the first business at hand is to determine, or perhaps I should say illuminate, our role as a board. Are we merely a band of helpers, our main duty to assist Pastor Mac and Pastor Phil? Or should we see these men as an extension of our authority?
Donald Williamson: I find it amazing this question should be brought up more than fifteen years after the church’s conception. Is anyone suggesting we should consider breaking from denominational policy? Frankly, I find it appalling.
Phil Ferguson: And scary.
Tony Borric: My friends, let’s cool it a bit. Is there really a subject, any subject of concern, that is beyond discussion? What are we afraid of?
Donald Williamson: Division. That’s what I’m afraid of. I see this matter is already playing havoc with the unity we enjoy.
Phil Ferguson: And employ.
Sheldon Waters: What do you mean, Pastor Phil?
Phil Ferguson: I am the new kid on the block, and I don’t want to sound over opinionated. But I think what the Center has over most churches is unity, an unusual unity that must be credited to Pastor Mac. This unity is a tool to do good works in this community. If we lose our united front we will lose our effectiveness.
Donald Williamson: Amen!
Sheldon Waters: So where do we go from here?
Donald Williamson: I think we should put this issue behind us before it causes further division. We inform Tanner we endorse Pastor Mac’s judgment.
Sheldon Waters: Does everyone agree? It would be nice to have unanimity. Let’s go around the table. Donald has already spoken, so you’re next Nelson.
Nelson Chesney: I agree. For the good of the Center.
Shaun Edwards: I agree.
Brent Anderson: I agree.
Tony Borric: I agree.
David Tomas: I disagree.
Donald Williamson: We cannot expect to be unanimous on every issue. Sometimes we must go by majority rule. I say again, let’s put this matter behind us.
Brent Anderson: Amen.
Phil Ferguson: Amen.
Tony Borric: Not so fast. We have always come to a unanimous conclusion. David, why do you disagree?
David Tomas: Let’s look at it. What I hear is: In order to preserve unity we should refuse to discuss the matter. Is that sound, adult reasoning? Would we teach our children such logic?
Tony Borric: I see your point.
Sheldon Waters: Okay. Let’s dig a little deeper. Pastor Mac, did Reuben give any hint as to why we should give him the pulpit?
Terry Maclin: He simply said he believed the Lord wants him to give an important message to the church. He said he searched the New Testament and could find no reason he should be denied his request to have the pulpit two successive Sundays.
Donald Williamson: Two Sundays? This gets better and better!
Sheldon Waters: We must come to a conclusion. Is Reuben correct? Is there anything in the New Testament, or for that matter the entire Bible, that would indicate a layman should not be given opportunity to speak to the congregation? Anyone? Shaun, you have been appointed the Sunday school director because we all acknowledge your superior knowledge of the Word; please share your perspective.
Donald Williamson: Oh, so now we are going to have a Bible study! Why don’t we go around the table and everyone give their interpretation of the Bible?
David Tomas: Mr. Williamson! Why do you want to shut us up?! What are you afraid of?!
Terry Maclin: David!
David Tomas: Sorry, Pastor. Mr. Williamson, you are my elder in the Lord. I apologize for being disrespectful.
Sheldon Waters: I think I need a coffee. What do you say we break for twenty minutes?
thursday, april 12th, 2007, 6:35 p.m.
Tall and slight Sally Kenny had never been to Bryden Falls Baseball Field, but had heard about the Canadian church team that dared to challenge American supremacy of the game, though most of the remarks she heard were wrapped in sarcasm. Her sunglasses did not ensure she would not be noticed from the baseball diamond so she looked for a seat near the top of the bleachers next to another lady. Sitting alone could make her noticeable; this way she would appear to be part of a family.
“Is this spot taken?” she asked a lady who seemed to be her age and who seemed to be the mother of the children sitting beside her.
“Not at all! Please! Have a seat! The game is about to begin.”
“Thank you.” Something different about these kids, Sally thought. They aren’t squirming and slouching and unruly.
“I don’t recall seeing you here before.”
“First time,” Sally replied.
“What are your first impressions of our baseball park?”
“Very clean. Well kept. I’m surprised there are so many fans.”
“Do you know any of the players?”
“On the visitor’s team? I thought I noticed an American accent.”
“Yes, I am an American. Even this close to the border we still sound a little different, don’t we?”
“Welcome to Canada. Welcome to Bryden Falls.”
“Thank you. I have heard about your church team. It’s incredible that one church could produce an entire team.”
“Unusual, isn’t it?”
“You are the talk of the entire league. Every once in a while I read an article in our newspaper about you.”
“Yes, and our papers are always intrigued with the Challengers. I think, in a small way, it helps to strengthen the relationship between our countries.”
“There is a lot of anti-American sentiment in Canada, isn’t there?”
“I am embarrassed to say, that is quite true. However, in Bryden Falls we don’t have that problem. We are somewhat isolated from Canadian cities because of the mountains, but in proximity with American cities and towns. We have some Americans attending our church.”
“Are all of these children yours?”
“Yes, and I have one on the field. There he is at shortstop. Do you have a family?”
“A girl and a boy. Sixteen and fourteen. My daughter plays softball, my son baseball, like his father.”
“Is your husband here this evening?”
“No, my ex-husband is here this evening. He’s the coach of the Grizzlies, and one of their pitchers.”
“You mean to tell me you are Tree’s wife?!”
“You are Sally Kenny?!”
“Yes, but we have never met, have we?”
“We have your picture on our fireplace! You and Tree……that is, you and Trevor. We have had it there for fifteen years. I thought you looked familiar.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s a bit of a story. But I am very pleased to meet you after all these years. My name is Jeni Tanner.”
“I am pleased to meet you.”
“I am thrilled to meet you! We, that is Reuben and I……that’s my husband the back catcher for the Challengers……we have been praying for you all these years.”
“But you don’t know me. Do you know my hus……I mean, my ex-husband?”
“Not really. I think Reuben knows Tree through baseball, but they are not well acquainted.”
“Then why do you pray for us?”
“Terry Maclin……he’s the pastor of – ”
“Mac? Mac is a friend of ours.”
“And of ours. He handed us a photo of you and Trevor, a wedding picture, and asked us to pray for you both. We were so indebted to Mac we were glad to help him in any way we could. We had the photo enlarged and framed. It reminds us of our commitment to pray for you every day. Sometimes we pray for you, that is, you and Trevor, as a family at meal times.”
“I am overwhelmed.”
“Third man to bat, number sixteen, short stop, John Tanner!”
Jeni had so far paid little attention to the game and even the announcer’s mention of her son’s name didn’t register.
“Mom!” the youngest of Jeni’s children interrupted, “John’s up to bat!”
“Oh excuse me, Sally. This is John’s first time to bat. Not only the first game of the season, but his first in the men’s league.”
John would have struck out, but the catcher missed Tree’s pitch and John made it to first base.
“Well, he got on base,” Sally said.
“It’s hard getting a hit when Tree’s pitching,” Jeni said. “I think he’s the best in the league.”
“Next batter, number 21, back catcher, Reuben, Roo, Tanner!”
“Roo! Roo! Roo! Roo!” the Challengers fans shouted.
“Tell me, Sally, why did you come this evening? And please, if I am trespassing do not hesitate to tell me to mind my own business.”
“You are not trespassing. Frankly, I do not know why I came. I felt drawn somehow.”
“I think I know.”
“To me it is obvious. God led you here.”
“Think about it, Sally. You are sitting next to a person who has been praying for you for fifteen years. Coincidence?”
“Well, I do believe in God. That is, I believe there is a God. But I never thought of Him as someone who pays much attention to us.”
“Jeni!” someone interrupted their conversation. It was Tony Borric sitting just in front of the Tanners with his family. “I think Reuben is about to be hit with the baseball!”
“What do you mean, Tony? I don’t understand!”
“Their pitcher is trying to get Reuben to back away from the plate, but Reuben is not budging. I think the next pitch will be aimed right at him.”
Sally’s heart was pounding. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed.
“Mommy! Daddy got hit with the ball!”
“Did you see that, Mom? Dad got hit on the hand! I think the pitcher did it on purpose!”
“I am so sorry!” Sally said to Jeni, her face reddened with embarrassment.
“He will be okay, Sally. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes. God will be as personal as you want Him to be.”
“Excuse me! My husband,” Sally was so rattled she forgot to say ex-husband, “just intentionally hit your husband with a fastball! That really, really hurts. Doesn’t that make you angry?”
“Reuben and I are dedicated to the Lord Jesus Christ. No, I am not angry. And neither is Reuben.”
“I don’t understand you. Maybe I should tell you something about Trevor. Trevor hates God. He curses Him daily. And he hates Christians. The reason he likes playing the Challengers is because he likes to strike them out. It’s a way of getting back at God.”
Jeni wanted to get back on track. “Sally you are here for a reason. I think God would have us be friends.”
“Ironic. I just divorced a man who hates God. Now I am invited to befriend someone who loves God. Something to think about.”
Jeni thought it best to cool it a bit, and the two ladies watched the game in silence. A while later Sally was watching the man she still loved, the husband of eighteen years, her high school boyfriend, at the plate, bat in hand, facing his best friend on the pitcher’s mound. She would never have left him if it were not for the children. She would have been there to nurse him through the aftermath of a bloodied conflict, to wake him from his nightmares, to be the listening ears as he vented his hatred for himself and God and the miserable life he had no power to enrich. But she had to free the children from their dad, and the hellish war he brought into their lives; they have suffered enough. She had to divorce herself from the man and the memories and the depression. Soon she would take her children far away, to another state. What would become of her man without them? He would not follow, of that she was certain. He would immerse himself in booze. He would hate the more.
She liked being here. He did not know of her presence, and she could watch him without watching over him. She was not the nurse, she was at a movie theater watching her man, her ex-man, on a screen, detached and not responsible. She would enjoy any movie he was in as long as he didn’t know she was watching. And then she stood to her feet, sensing something was wrong.
“What is it, Sally?”
She sat down again, and whispered, “Trevor is having flashbacks!”
“Are you sure? How can you tell?”
“Believe me, I know!”
“Of course. I’m sorry. Children, let’s pray for the man at bat.”
“Is that Mr. Kenny, Mom, the one we’ve been praying for?”
“Yes, and I think he needs our prayers now.” Sitting in line, they linked by holding each other’s hand, and bowed in serious prayer. Without asking permission Jeni grabbed Sally’s hand and could feel Sally squeezing tightly. Sally was not praying, however, her eyes fixed on the tall man with the shaggy mustache in the Grizzlies cap staring stupidly at the pitcher. Sally knew that Mac knew. What would Mac do? This had never happened on a baseball field before. Was Trevor getting worse? She was astounded to see Reuben, the very one Trevor purposely injured a few moments previous, gently guide her Trevor back to his dugout. It was all too much to absorb. Time to get back to the real world.
“I am going now,” she said to Jeni. “I ask you not to mention my being here to anyone.”
“Of course. Oh, may I mention you to my husband? He would be thrilled to know I met you.”
After nodding affirmatively, she looked at each of the four children who politely returned her eye contact, and thought she saw in them true sanity in an insane world. “Maybe God really is a nice person.” Then the tall and slender lady in the sunglasses exited Jeni’s life as abruptly as she had entered.
wednesday, april 18th, 2007, 8:30 p.m.
Mac was surprised, but not disturbed, by the fervor the guys were displaying regarding Reuben Tanner’s appeal to the board. Upon consideration, he realized that for once they were discussing something that really mattered, and detected they, or at least some, were enjoying themselves, daring to confront traditional boundaries, even questioning their purpose as a board.
As a pastor, Mac was always careful to express and act in accordance to what he believed to be the will of the board. There was little chance of conflict because he, more than any other, shaped that will. He interviewed all candidates before being brought in to make sure they were in harmony with him. Mac still had little doubt the board would return the matter into his hands and express their confidence in his judgment. What else could they do? Certainly they were not going to arrive at a unanimous conclusion. Coffee time over, the nine returned to their seats.
Terry Maclin: For the first time in years we seem to be having a heated discussion. And that’s okay. I want to encourage everyone to speak freely. Sheldon, you were saying.
Sheldon Waters: I was asking, what does the New Testament have to say that would shed some light on Reuben’s request to speak to the congregation? Apparently Reuben had said he searched the New Testament and could find no reason why he couldn’t speak to the people.
Shaun Edwards: I thought about that during the break. It’s not that black and white. While there is nothing forbidding a layman from preaching, there is nothing encouraging it either.
Sheldon Waters: What does the Bible have to say about laymen?
Shaun Edwards: Actually, the word layman is not in the Bible. I suppose it’s a term to describe those that are not in leadership.
Nelson Chesney: Interesting. There are seven of us at this table who consider themselves laymen, and the word can’t be found in the Bible.
Donald Williamson: Come on, Chesney! The word trinity can’t be found in the Bible either, but we all believe in the trinity!
Nelson Chesney: Good point.
Sheldon Waters: I wonder how all this applies to Reuben. Anyone?
Phil Ferguson: When the Bible speaks of elders who are to watch over the flock, it shows us clearly that there are those who lead and those who are led. Two distinct groups. The few are to look after the many. I think we can safely assume the elders were the spokesmen. It doesn’t matter what we call the few or what we call the many. The word clergy cannot be found in the Bible either. Nonetheless, there was clergy then and there are clergy now. The elders are responsible before God and will have to give an account one day. The laymen are to support the clergy and submit to them.
Donald Williamson: Amen! Well said!
Others: Amen. Sounds right. Right on.
David Tomas: I see a problem with that.
Sheldon Waters: We’re listening, David.
David Tomas: Pastor Phil, your logic seems to be that Reuben shouldn’t preach because he is not an elder. We are elders so therefore we must be qualified even though we are not licensed. And if we are qualified to preach, why don’t we? And why is Reuben not equally qualified? He has been a Christian as long as many of us in this room. Is his understanding of the Bible inferior to ours? I think not.
Donald Williamson: Oh my Lord!
David Tomas: Mr. Williamson, can you answer my question?
Donald Williamson: The elders in the New Testament are not the same as elders today!
David Tomas: In what way?
Donald Williamson: Times were different then. Spiritually, the elders were in closer lineage to the apostles of Christ. You are not …… that is, we, us elders, are not necessarily qualified to preach.
Shaun Edwards: Actually, one of the biblical requirements of an elder is that he is able to teach.
David Tomas: How can it be that we are not able to teach? Are you saying that sitting under Pastor Mac’s ministry all these years has not qualified us to teach?
Shaun Edwards: Correction. Some of us do teach. We teach Sunday school. We are always looking for more teachers.
Donald Williamson: That’s right! But we leave the Sunday service preaching to the pastor!
David Tomas: Are we saying that we are qualified to teach part of the church, but not all the church? Something wrong with this picture.
Phil Ferguson: That’s just the way it is. It is the same in every denomination I know of.
Tony Borric: So it is right because everybody does it?
Phil Ferguson: It is not a moral issue, Tony. It is a matter of practicality.
David Tomas: Is it practicality or is it control?
Phil Ferguson: I don’t understand your question.
David Tomas: I think we are limiting God when we limit access to the pulpit.
Donald Williamson: Tell me, Tomas, do you have a secret desire, a need perhaps, a hidden ambition, to get your hands on the pulpit?
Terry Maclin: Donald!
David Tomas: Let me respond. If we forbid Reuben access to the pulpit without a legitimate reason we are forbidding ourselves from ever giving the word to the congregation. Can we live with that?
Nelson Chesney: David has a point. Probably we would never preach anyhow, we never have in the past, but to make it a policy sounds scary.
Donald Williamson: Not as scary as opening the pulpit to the congregation!
Sheldon Waters: I must say I find this discussion fascinating. But let’s try to stay on track. The question is: Is there a biblical reason to forbid Reuben access to the pulpit?
Tony Borric: Perhaps the question should be expanded: Is there a biblical reason why anyone should be denied the pulpit?
Donald Williamson: I say the only way to maintain purity of the word is to limit the pulpit to pastors! They are licensed! They are endorsed!
David Tomas: You seem to be applying a double standard, Mr. Williamson. You say we elders are not qualified because we are not in close lineage to the apostles. But pastors are equally distant, and yet you suggest they are qualified.
Sheldon Waters: What was the role of pastors in the New Testament as compared to the elders? Shaun?
Shaun Edwards: This might surprise you, but the New Testament rarely speaks of pastors. As a matter of fact, the word pastors is only mentioned once. No one in the New Testament is identified as a pastor.
David Tomas: Except Jesus.
Shaun Edwards: Yes, except Jesus. He referred to Himself as “the good shepherd.” The word pastor means shepherd.
Nelson Chesney: Surprise, surprise.
Donald Williamson: If that’s correct, the mentioning of the word pastors one time is enough. It tells us there were pastors.
Nelson Chesney: Were the apostles pastors?
Shaun Edwards: The Bible differentiates between an apostle and a pastor.
David Tomas: Peter called himself an elder, not a pastor.
Nelson Chesney: Wow! That makes me feel important!
Sheldon Waters: Are you okay with all of this, Pastor Mac?
Terry Maclin: I’m okay. Everyone speak freely.
Tony Borric: Thank you, Pastor Mac. I needed that. It looks like we have to face the fact the way we do things is not patterned after the New Testament early church.
Nelson Chesney: That’s hard to swallow. We are elders, but not the same as the New Testament elders. We have two pastors, but the Bible speaks very little of pastors. Can you shed some light on this, Pastor Mac?
Terry Maclin: I can try. We are affiliated with a denomination that operates under certain rules and criterion. I for one have confidence in the wisdom of those above me, and at the same time have no doubt they are not perfect. Their policies are for the purpose of maintaining order. I believe God is a God of order. The opposite to order is chaos. Chaos will move in as soon as order is removed. If we have questions regarding scriptural authenticity of certain practices we should forward those concerns to head office.
Nelson Chesney: Thank you, Pastor Mac. I think what you are saying is that we should either stick to denominational policy, or try to have that policy reversed.
Sheldon Waters: Are we in agreement? Let’s go around the table. You first, Donald.
Donald Williamson: I can accept that. I agree.
Nelson Chesney: I agree.
Shaun Edwards: I agree.
Brent Anderson: I agree.
Tony Borric: I agree
David Tomas: I can agree on one condition.
Sheldon Waters: What condition, David?
David Tomas: We close that Bible sitting in the middle of the table!
Donald Williamson: Oh come on, Tomas!
Sheldon Waters: Let’s hear him. David?
David Tomas: Let’s be clear about this. We are about to make a decision to follow denominational policy over the Bible. So let’s not pretend we give reverence to the Bible.
Nelson Chesney: David, I think you just insulted everybody here, including Pastor Mac!
Phil Ferguson: I think what you heard Pastor Mac say is quite different than what the rest of us heard! I heard him say his confidence is in the denomination’s understanding of the Bible!
Tony Borric: Pastor Phil, I respectfully disagree. I don’t think I heard Pastor Mac declare his confidence in the denomination’s interpretation of the Bible, but rather their common sense wisdom.
Donald Williamson: You got a problem with common sense wisdom?
David Tomas: Is our authority going to be human wisdom or the Bible? Let us not give allegiance to man while pretending to give allegiance to God’s Word.
Donald Williamson: Oh my Lord!
Sheldon Waters: Let’s cool it now. We shouldn’t have to go outside this room to determine if a certain practice is biblically sound or not biblically sound, and I am referring to a layman having access to the pulpit. Surely the nine of us know enough Scripture collectively to answer that simple question.
David Tomas: And if we forbid Reuben to preach on non-Scriptural grounds we must admit that the Bible is not our authority.
Donald Williamson: This is madness! I maintain that denominational policies are based on sound biblical principles!
Tony Borric: Then we should have no anxiety comparing these policies to the Bible.
Sheldon Waters: Brent, we haven’t heard from you for a while.
Brent Anderson: I started off enjoying this unusual discussion but frankly, now I’m a bit shaken. I have always assumed our model has been the Bible. Now I am not so sure. I suggest we give ourselves a bit of time to digest all of this. Can we put a decision off until next month’s meeting? Pastor Mac?
Terry Maclin: I don’t think that would be fair to Reuben.
Brent Anderson: Could we have a special meeting in a few days?
Nelson Chesney: We all know how difficult that is. Most of us are heavily scheduled. The chances of us finding an evening we are all free is slim.
Sheldon Waters: How about Saturday?
David Tomas: I am out of town. A convention.
Donald Williamson: Good! Saturday sounds like an excellent day for a meeting!
Everyone: Loud laughter.
Tony Borric. Me too. Out-of-town wedding.
Brent Anderson: I have a suggestion. Let’s meet here for supper. We will call the meeting for four, order some fast food for five, and adjourn the meeting at six. Treat’s on me.
Sheldon Waters: I can do that. Next Wednesday?
Brent Anderson: Everyone like chicken?
friday, april 19th, 2007, 7:30 p.m.
The MorLord Worship Band practice Friday evenings in the church sanctuary, using some of the church’s instruments, some their own. Every spring a group of talented teens commit themselves to a season of music ministry, lasting into autumn. The group was well acquainted with each other, everyone having attended the Center for years. Ministry can consist of Sunday evening services at various churches within a hundred mile range, mostly south of the border, occasional Sunday mornings at the Center, and perhaps a youth convention somewhere within the denomination. This year the focus is on the city’s summer festival; they had been invited as the festival’s main performance on Saturday night. Never in the history of the band has such an honor been given. This evening is the season’s first practice, the time when the group chooses for themselves a band captain and lead vocalist.
This is John Tanner’s second year, as well as Marie Schierling’s. It is Todd Anderson’s third year, the two previous he was support vocalist, and he is hopeful of being chosen lead vocalist. Katie Maclin, too, was support vocalist last year and nothing but lead would be satisfactory.
Katie knew her only rival was Todd. Not that Tanya Borric wasn’t at least equally talented, but Katie just knew she was not a threat. Todd had leverage. He is the son of the wealthiest man in the congregation; money is power. And more, he is the oldest in the group, he had the most seniority, he owned a classy car, and he was a male; males were preferred leaders. But Katie had leverage too. Being the pastor’s daughter was far more potent than being the son of wealth. She could always depend on the support of her twin brother, and Karla Morgan, who had eyes on her brother, would surely vote the way Kyle voted. And Katie was more accomplished than Todd at creating her own leverage.
No one taught Katie how to generate leverage; she was a natural. Enthusiasm and admiration for others, she learned at a young age, were strategic. Enthusiasm and admiration are the magnets that make her magnetic …… and most would pay a high price to be admired by a magnetic person …… and this made her wanted …… and a wanted person has leverage over the less wanted.
Katie was the ray of sunshine in an ill lit room, the fresh breeze in a musty day, a bundle of spinning zest spinning off excitement to those blessed to have her company. Sometimes. The art was in the timing and selection. Payment was required for enthusiasm and admiration to flow; withheld, they would stop. She did not admire indiscriminately, a return expected. Those familiar with her knew how quickly warm could become frosty. The subtle message was: Make me happy and I will light up your life. Do what I please and I will not only accept you, I will admire you. Upset me and I will turn off the tap, and you will feel my rejection.
Marie was thrilled and surprised to be invited to go shopping with Katie earlier in the day. Seldom had she felt so accepted, even admired, as during those happy, giggly afternoon hours. Hungry for more, she would do much to keep the effervescence flowing in her direction. Mark the drummer enjoyed Katie’s fuss over his drum set. How long have you been practicing? Did you always want to be a drummer? You seem to be a natural. Show me how you hold the drumsticks. Todd got less attention then the others and felt excluded, not sure why.
Kyle informed the group Pastor Phil would be along shortly. “Should we get started by practicing a worship song we are all familiar with? Let’s do Jesus, You Are Awesome. Maybe Katie could do lead on this one.” Being first practice they struggled to synchronize their instruments and voices.
Pastor Phil entered the sanctuary, and got right down to business. “As you know you were each chosen, not on your skills alone, but on your perceived ability to flow together in unison. As Pastor Mac says, a band calls for team play. Mostly, you will govern yourselves, this to help you prepare for future ministry. I will be here as consultant when needed, and I will consult with Pastor Mac if necessary. The person you choose to be band captain will be a liaison between me and the band.
“You must also choose a lead vocalist. The lead will have the responsibility of working with the captain to coordinate the band, making it all flow together. Also the lead will be the one communicating with the audience. I would suggest you get to work. There are only a few practices between now and your first performance.
“Remember what Pastor Mac has often said, in every ministry there is give and take. Hopefully, there will be a spirit of submissiveness and compromise. Selection next year will be dependent on your willingness to submit to one another in an attitude of humility.” And then Pastor Phil was gone.
“I think the first order of business is to choose a captain,” Kyle said immediately after Phil’s departure. “John, you and I talked, and I understand you do not want the job.”
“That’s right. Thanks, but no thanks.”
After an awkward silence someone nominated Kyle.
“Yes, come on Kyle!” Katie exclaimed exuberantly. “You would make a great team captain!”
“Okay, I accept. Any other nominations?”
John thought of saying, Todd, how about you? You have more experience than the rest of us. But the words, words his friend Kyle would not like to hear and words Katie would not approve, stayed in his mouth. Todd was prepared to answer in the negative if he were nominated for team captain, which he expected to be, and explain that since he was hoping to be voted lead vocalist, he could not do both. Yes, that would be brazen, but he wanted lead, and honestly felt himself best qualified. But silence. Each had his/her reason for not nominating an obvious consideration.
“Looks like you’re the man, bro!” Katie broke the silence a little too quickly.
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.
“Thanks everyone. I will try not to let you guys down.
“I guess the first order of business will be to choose the lead vocalist. This person will more than anyone else determine the success of band ministry. We have four talented vocalists, but talent is not the only consideration. Who is most able to effectively communicate with the audience? Who can pull us together as a team, and make it all happen?”
All the time Katie was wearing her very sweet smile, aglow with expectation. Karla was not a consideration, Tanya had no expectation whatsoever, Todd was feeling squeezed out.
Marie Schierling did not hesitate. “I nominate Katie Maclin.”
“Thank you, Marie!” Katie gave Marie an enthusiastic hug. No one had to ask if she were willing to accept the nomination.
Again John felt convicted to speak out, but did not. John knew Todd was good, very good, and was about to be overlooked, for what reason he wasn’t sure. I think we should seek outside help on this one, John didn’t say. There are people in our assembly qualified to judge who of the four, Karla, Tanya, Katie, or Todd, could best communicate the love of Christ in song. And he continued to not say, I for one find it difficult to choose among friends and I suspect others here feel equally awkward. John kept his silence and so did the others.
“I guess you are lead vocalist of the MorLord Worship Band, sis!” Kyle said to his sister.
Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.
Katie was noticeably moved, her light shone even brighter. “Now what say we get to work?” she said at last.
John found solace in his violin, playing lightly so as not to overpower, just enough to accent the other sounds. Was it coincidental, he dared ask himself, that the pastor’s son was selected captain and the pastor’s daughter the lead with not so much as a vote required? Perhaps, John reasoned, it is best this way. Kyle is preparing for full time ministry and the experience will be good for him. And certainly life will be much more pleasant with Katie-the-winner than Katie-the-loser.
John Douglas Tanner was learning to be a team player. Give and take. Compromise would come easier after this evening.
Expediency had won out over right, and Todd was its victim. Katie was now free to pour her admiration and kindness upon Todd and would start doing so immediately; the band required his cooperation. Todd would suppress his wound, even deny having one, but bitterness from the betrayal would occasionally leak out of his life.
“Okay guys,” Katie instructed, “let’s pick up the tempo. Mark, a little less, no a lot less, drum.”
sunday, june 16th, 1990, 6:35 p.m.
Jeni loved Sunday mornings; it was when she attended the service at the Center. Jeni hated Sunday afternoons; it was the time she spent at home with her husband.
A man with a temper would have been easier to live with then a cynic. Temper tantrums pass; cynicism is an attitude, uninterrupted, droning, grating.
Reuben on the phone talking to a neighbor: “Those sons-o’-bitches…… on city council don’t know what they’re talking about…… why bypass our city with the new highway?…… why not bring business to town?…… why don’t they hire local contractors to do the work?…… they are probably collecting under the table…… crooks, the whole lot of them…… blah, blah, blah, blah……”
Reuben on the phone with a customer: “Their price may be a bit lower, but you should see their work…… how many times I’ve gotten complaints about their shabby workmanship…… they get apprentices to do the work of a journeyman so they can save a few bucks…… will they ever soak you if there are extras…… don’t expect them to show up on time…… blah, blah, blah, blah……”
Reuben at the supper table: “I did some work the other day for some guy who calls himself a Christian…… they are the cheapest sons-o’-bitches…… I have come across…… how much is this going to cost me? he asks…… don’t know until I finish, I told him…… if you would have called me in the first place instead of installing this tub yourself it wouldn’t have leaked and messed up your floor…… blah, blah, blah, blah ……”
Her husband grudgingly, very grudgingly, attended services at the Center twice a month for no other reason than to play baseball – Reuben loved baseball. She hoped he would be influenced by the men at church and on the baseball team; that didn’t seem to be happening. She tried to offset his sarcasm with cheeriness; it seemed to make him worse.
Reuben was in his recliner sipping an after-supper tea while staring into the flames in the living room fireplace, impatient for Jeni to join him so he would have someone to vent to. Jeni was with baby John Douglas getting him ready for bed. She was five months pregnant with number two child, a girl she secretly hoped. While dressing John she played their usual bedtime game. First she showed John a small doll. “Mommy,” he said. “Right,” Jeni replied softly, showing him another. “Daddy,” John said. “Right again.” After doing the dog and cat and several farm animals, she surprised the baby with a new toy monkey. John didn’t know what this was, and Jeni enjoyed the suspense as John made a few wrong guesses. “Son-of-a-bitch,” John guessed again.
Jeni was stunned. Her precious baby! She put him to bed, turned on the praise music Reuben hated, and walked into the living room. She had never once snapped at her husband; it just wasn’t in her. Even now in her fury she could say nothing. Reuben began his droning as soon as she entered the room. “You should have seen your Christian friends playing baseball…… never seen such a useless bunch…… the coach should stick to pastoring…… Maclin doesn’t have a clue how to coach a team …… ”
Sweet, petite, pregnant Jeni blew! She swung at the teacup, spilling hot tea on Reuben, the carpet, the furniture. Reuben jumped up, yelping from pain, frantically brushing hot tea off his pants, startled by the wild behavior of his normally subdued wife. He looked into her face for an explanation but all he could see was fury. She grabbed him by the shirt, lifting the big man off the floor, and slammed him into a log wall. “Come out of him now in the name of Jesus!” she screamed. Reuben was John’s little daddy-doll in his wife’s hands, his eyes huge and bulging, totally confounded. “I said come out of him now in the name of Jesus!” her voice full of rage and authority. She left the room leaving her husband limp on the floor, walked to her bedroom, dropped onto her bed, sobbed like a wounded child.
An hour later Jeni was herself again but Reuben was not, sitting motionless and silent in his chair, staring into space, ignoring the fresh tea Jeni placed in front of him. He was suddenly free from the tormenting spirit that had gripped him for almost two years. He couldn’t believe his own behavior, and was paralyzed with shame and remorse and confusion. He could not look at the wife he once promised to cherish.
“Pastor Mac,” Jeni’s voice on the phone was urgent, “I know it’s late, but……” And she explained the circumstance, fully blaming herself.
“Reuben,” she softly spoke to her husband, “Pastor Mac is coming. He asked me to put the coffee on. He will know what to do.”
No response. Jeni was scared. Never had she seen her husband like this. What has she done? She wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, stoked the fire, and prayed and waited for headlights to appear in the dark night. Reuben would not respond to her questions of concern but stared into the fire. Neither husband nor wife knew that the demon that was cast out was fighting to get back in. Mac was making a mockery of the speed signs, Vivian was out of bed praying on her knees, both sensing the gravity of the moment. Jeni was relieved to see the bobbing headlights racing towards the house. Oh, I forgot the coffee!
Mac put his hand on Reuben’s broad shoulder and began to tell of his own conversion seven years previous. “That old man gave it to me straight,” Mac said, remembering gray-haired Joshua, “and that’s the way I’m going to give it to you. Tomorrow, the next day, or perhaps in a week that same filthy demon Jeni cast out of you will make its way back. You will be worse off, more sarcastic and cynical than before. You have one hope, and that is Jesus Christ.”
Reuben had nothing to say in response. But he was all ears.
“Jesus Christ came to earth to set people free. He offers a new life, much better than the one you now have. If you repent of your sins and embrace the Lord Jesus Christ into your life He will make you a new person. You won’t be the same. You will become an adopted child of God.”
“What should I do, Mac……I mean, Pastor Mac?”
“Tell me straight, Reuben. Do you want Christ?”
“I want Christ.”
“The Bible says, ‘Believe and be baptized’. Would you be willing to be baptized in water before a group of people as a profession of your faith in Christ?”
“Yes, I would.”
“Then pray with me.” And together they prayed Reuben into the kingdom of God.
“You’ll be at practice?” Mac asked as he was leaving.
“I’ll be there.” Reuben had a relaxed smile on his face.
Together Reuben and Jeni watched their visitor make the drive to the main road. Alone now, they turned to look at each other in the eye, the first time in almost two years.
saturday afternoon, april 20th, 2007
Trevor Kenny was about to test his plan to end his life. It must work without a hitch; his family must not ever know of his suicide or they might feel responsible. The last thing his precious Sally and his precious kids needed was another burden to shoulder the rest of their lives. He had been planning this for three months, ever since Sally informed him of her decision to move to an eastern state, never to return.
Tree lived in a rented, secluded cabin on the outskirts of River’s Bend where he worked and lived all of his life except the three years as a marine. After their separation he signed over all their possessions to Sally, the house and furniture and car, as well as their life savings. Sally protested, but Tree was insistent. The divorce was recently finalized and Sally decided to start life over somewhere else. She hoped the move from Tree’s depression and addictions would better the children’s chances of an acceptable adult life. Maybe, in time, the sadness would go. They might even learn to laugh.
Tree loved his wife and children and Mac, and hated himself and God. He blamed the God Mac believed in for his many woes and those of his family. God could have rescued them, steered them away from calamity, but was quite content to let misfortune do its nasty work. His self-hate was destroying what remained of his life, making him an emotional invalid, more harmful than good to the ones he loved. And yet he needed them. He needed them nearby. He needed the hope that maybe one of them might phone, invite him for a birthday celebration, ask his advice. The will to live would go with their departure, and Tree refused to live one day thereafter.
Tree and Sally had agreed how they would all say their final good-byes. In three weeks on a Sunday morning they would meet in a park on the east side of the city. Sally would have the minivan packed for their three-day journey. After their good-byes Sally and the kids would jump in the van and be gone from Tree’s life. Forever.
Only Tree knew the rest of his plan for that day.
Tree would have his F150 packed for a fishing trip, and immediately head to a river in the hills where trout came down from the high-up lakes in Canada. He had arranged for his three-week vacation to begin the Monday following his family’s parting, so no one would miss him for a long time. After parking his pickup at a hunter/fishing camp, as he sometimes did, he would hike a mile through the bush to the turbulent river. After catching a fish or two he would place his rod and equipment and jacket at the top of a steep bank, with the remainder of a six-pack of beer on the ground, and then hike the five miles downhill back home to his cabin, staying off the roads, careful not to be seen. When they finally did a search everyone would conclude that poor sloshed Tree slipped off the edge and drowned in the river. When he got back to his cabin he would bury himself in a four-foot deep grave. Perhaps, he mused, someone would find his bones in fifty years or so and think it was a buried Indian.
Today he was testing what he thought was a rather ingenious idea.
Tree had brought home from the glass plant a wooden packing crate just the right size – six feet long, three feet wide, four feet high. He dug his grave the exact same measurements. He had a collection of flawed safety glass he had taken home from the plant, thinking he would one day enclose the porch, and chose a large glass plate that would just barely cover the hole. This safety glass was incredibly strong but when pierced it would disintegrate into thousands of tiny rounded chunks.
After removing the top and bottom from the crate he placed it on top of the glass, over the hole. Next he shoveled the dirt from the grave into the crate, topping it with sod, and yes, the glass held, just as he thought. He even climbed on top of the filled box to test it further, and it still did not break. So far so good. Next he fired his pistol at the edge of the glass. The entire plate immediately disintegrated, the dirt shot out of the box into the grave in less than a second. Perfect! All that a passerby would see was an old crate in the middle of the yard.
In three weeks he would do it all over again, but this time he would crawl under the glass, and after positioning himself, shoot the glass from inside his grave. The weight of the dirt would pin him so he couldn’t dig himself out if he wanted to. He guessed he would be unconscious in about two minutes, and dead in about five.
But that was three weeks from now. He still had games to play, beer to drink, serious hating to do.
tuesday, april 24th, 2007, 4:45 p.m.
Alone in the sanctuary, sure no one would happen by at this late afternoon hour, Phil Ferguson leaned on the pulpit, his Bible and notebook opened in front of him, and imagined himself preaching a Sunday morning service. Mac had indicated that after the conference Phil would get his first chance, and, “barring any complications” would speak at regular intervals.
Phil knew what “barring any complications” meant: the congregation didn’t fall asleep; he didn’t stray from denominational doctrine; he was able to communicate effectively. He must be good; his future as a pastor was linked to the pulpit.
Phil was confident. As a salesman he had learned how to steer people, push the right buttons. As well, he had been coached at Bible school, and over the years had studied ministers who possessed what some term pulpit presence, a poise emitting confidence and demanding attentiveness. His first encounter with the pulpit might be scary but he had a strategy. He would pretend, convince himself, he had done this many times before, and present himself a casual veteran. The key was confidence. People wanted a strong leader, had little respect for a wuss. Speak with conviction, and occasionally, not too often, with passion. Be in control. Never show fear or lack of confidence. Phil was determined to master the trade of oratory the same as Nelson Chesney mastered accounting, same as Tony Borric mastered carpentry, same as Reuben Tanner mastered plumbing.
Tanner! The audacity of the man! What does this layman, – a plumber! an usher! – think he could add to Mac’s ministry? No credentials, never been to Bible school, never even taught a Sunday school class as far as I know. Phil would be thoroughly slighted if Reuben managed to muscle his way to the pulpit before him. But no, the board would never approve such a thing, of that he was sure.
Phil enjoyed being assistant pastor of Bryden Falls Community Christian Center, even though he was not yet full-time. He graduated from seminary older than most. Before school he had nicely supported his young family of four as a car salesman but he wanted more out of life than convincing people to buy cars and minivans and pickups; he wanted to affect lives, be heard. He wanted to matter. So he invested two years in ministry preparation, selling on the side, tough slugging for sure, but here he was, doing something relevant, being part of a church team.
He must be patient. Now he was little more than an add-on, a trainee. Sure, they called him Pastor Phil, but they didn’t really consider him their shepherd. The pulpit would change that. Respect would increase with every speaking engagement. But he had to be good. Mac was a tough act to follow; he definitely had pulpit presence. So Phil must do as well, or at least come a close second, or he would appear inept; the congregation would tolerate rather than value him.
Phil needed Mac’s approval. He would have no hope of going from part to full time without it. Should he ever apply for a position elsewhere, a glowing recommendation from Mac would be essential. Making the senior pastor happy was always a consideration in everything he did at the Center, although he would never admit, even to himself, such an unspiritual motive. When he addressed the MorLord Worship Band in an unusual businesslike manner just before they were about to decide who would be their team captain and lead vocalist he was subconsciously pushing the kid’s buttons, subconsciously putting them on edge, subconsciously wanting to make Mac happy. Did we do something wrong? the band might wonder. What can we do to make Pastor Phil his cheery self again? Phil had given them the answer in code, mentioning Pastor Mac’s name three times. But would they get it? You make Pastor Phil happy by making Pastor Mac happy by making Pastor Mac’s kids happy.
Nothing illicit was premeditated. It was an unrehearsed subliminal action of one wanting to succeed. Same as Kyle and Katie inviting only the band to their eighteenth birthday celebration – just a nice thing to do, nothing whatsoever to do with the election of captain and lead two weeks following. And Katie inviting Marie to shop with her the morning they were to choose lead vocalist? – just wanting to bless a friend and deepen their friendship, that’s all. Nobody in the band would admit, or even realize, they were influenced; Kyle and Katie were simply their choice. When Kyle shared his good news with Pastor Phil during a break, Phil was much pleased and decided to bless the band with pizza and pop after the practice. Not a reward, just a nice thing to do.
Church politics is a subtle thing. The heart, who can understand it?
In his imagination the church was full of attentive listeners. His eyes swayed left to right, and back to the left. There in the third row was his wife, smiling and supportive. Over to the left was Donald Williamson with his equally grim wife, both expressionless. Mac and Vivian sat in the front row, respectfully attentive; it would be difficult to make the occasional eye contact with them, but he must. Teenagers sat in groups in the back seats; hope they don’t get restless. The Amen! choir, Nelson Chesney and Tony Borric and several others, would keep him fired up.
Alone in the sanctuary, he wanted to preach out loud but dared not, fearing someone might hear and think him a nut. I can do this, he assured himself. He would have to.
tuesday, april 24th, 2007, 4:45 p.m.
Jeni Tanner managed to get to the phone before it stopped ringing, having hurried from the porch where she was watering the many flowers hanging from the railings and porch roof.
“Yes, this is Jeni Tanner.”
“Yes, my husband plays baseball for the Challengers.”
“Sally! Of course I remember you! I am so glad you phoned.”
“Oh, you don’t have to apologize. I understand. I was afraid I might have come on too strong. I was so excited to meet you.”
“Yes, his hand is just fine. He had a bruise but that’s gone now.”
“No, don’t be embarrassed.”
“Yes, Reuben and I still pray for you and Trevor every day. We will never stop.”
“I am sorry to hear that. When will you be leaving?”
“Oh, you don’t have to thank me. And yes, we will never stop praying.”
“Sally, I thank you for phoning. I wish you well. May God protect you and the kids on the road.”
“Good-bye Sally. Oh, Sally?”
“You are not leaving for three weeks. May I phone you between now and then? I really want to get to know you even if it’s only over the phone.”
“Just a minute while I find a pen. Okay, go ahead.”
“Yes, I got it. What’s a good time to phone?”
“Yes, I get up early too.”
“Yes, six-thirty in the morning would work fine.”
“Can I phone you tomorrow morning?”
“No, Sally, I wouldn’t consider reversing the charges.”
“Believe me, your friendship is worth much more than a few dollars. Besides, we have a long distance plan. We pay a monthly fee so there is no extra cost for calls before eight in the morning and after six at night.”
“Yes, Sally, I look forward to it, too.”
“Bye for now. God bless you.”
Jeni was thrilled Sally Kenny had phoned but disturbed at the thought of her leaving the vicinity. She wanted to share the news with Reuben alone in his office but decided not to disturb him, sure he was praying. She was glad Vivian had mistakenly revealed Reuben’s request to speak to the congregation. Vivian was surprised Reuben did not share this important matter with his wife, and Jeni was also perplexed. He would tell her in his time, she was sure. Meanwhile, she would support her husband in prayer, knowing Reuben had never spoken before a large group and did not seem to be a gifted communicator. Jeni had no idea what message Reuben thought he had for the congregation.
tuesday, april 24th, 2007, 5:15 p.m.
Reuben was spending more and more alone time in his office, an attachment he made at the end of the log house after their fifth was born. He could have heated it electrically, power had been provided to their property many years ago, but instead Reuben had built a rock fireplace. He never tired of trips into the woods, cutting and hauling and stacking firewood, starting and tending a fire. With a fireplace at both ends of the house only a minimum amount of electrical power was required to keep the house comfy.
The office was much more than an office. It was a study, prayer room, getaway, a place to sort out life’s many complications. Two large skylights combined with large windows to brighten the room. Reuben spent thousands of hours here in his favorite chair, a rocker he made himself, facing the fireplace, sometimes staring into a crackling fire, praying, reading or just thinking about this and that. The mounting of a heavy door, heavy for soundproofing against the sounds of five children, separating the office from the rest of the house was the final touch to the construction of his office. It took him only a few days to reconsider; he didn’t want to close himself from his family. The door removed, now there were only hinges in the doorway.
Reuben was laden with a problem few plumbers could identify with. He had no disposition for public speaking. He was a husband, a father, a plumber. That was enough. He had no need for a pulpit. Standing before the congregation would be like an insecure child being dropped off at school for the first time, entering an alien world, alone in the midst of many. How delighted he would be if the board refused him permission. I tried, I was obedient, but it didn’t work out, he could say to the Lord. But that wouldn’t happen. He would preach, all right. Ouch!
When a year younger than his eldest was today, he had to give a speech before his high school class. He had to be good, at least okay, couldn’t make a fool of himself in front of Jeni and the others. Standing there, reading from his note pad, not daring to look up, he started rocking! Involuntarily his weight shifted back and forth from his heels to his toes, and up and down he went. The class was unable to restrain their giggling, which caused him to rock faster. Unable to brake himself, he sat down at his desk in the middle of his talk, and vowed to never speak in public. No way, never again, un-unh.
Reuben fervently prayed the elders on the board would make the decision he didn’t want them to make. Reuben loved Mac and the others on the board, even crusty Donald Williamson grew on him over the years. However, most seemed to lack conviction, content to be yes men, David Tomas, who occasionally attended the Wednesday night gathering at the Tanners, a possible exception. He prayed the Lord would give the men spiritual backbone, knowing they were accountable to God.
Vivian’s voice seemed less than friendly on Reuben’s cell phone recorder when she relayed the message that the board had not yet made a decision and would reconvene in one week. Was her tone an indication of trouble to come? Regardless, when the board reconvened he would be interceding.
tuesday, april 24th, 2007, 5:15 p.m.
Terry Maclin noticed Phil’s car leaving the church parking lot a few seconds before he drove in. Phil worked late today, he said to himself as he parked his car. He headed straight for the sanctuary as he often did when he had serious pondering to do. Soon the board would put on him the burden of making a decision regarding Reuben’s request, asking he take into consideration their lengthy discussion. Mac was between a rock and a hard place. The board was split, a rare happening, so some would be troubled no matter what decision he made.
Leaning on the pulpit he noticed Phil’s notebook and knew immediately Phil was standing in this very spot a few minutes previous, imagining himself preaching to the congregation. He knew because he had done the same thing many times in his younger years. Smiling, he found no fault in playing pulpit. Did not the football player many times imagine himself catching a touchdown pass at the last second to win the championship game? Didn’t every real estate agent win a diploma, in his/her imagination, as the year’s best salesperson? Had he not envisioned himself competently preaching to his colleagues and superiors at the upcoming conference, attired in his best suit, the envy of other ministers?
Funny, he thought to himself, we are having a major debate whether to let Reuben preach but no one questions Phil’s right to the pulpit. Of the two, Mac asked himself, whom would I turn to for advice? Reuben. With whom would I most likely share the secrets of my heart? Reuben. With whom would I most trust with my life and those of my family? Reuben. And then he asked himself, Of the two, to whom would I entrust the pulpit? The answer wouldn’t come.
Phil was predictable; Reuben was not. Phil was a team player; Reuben was independent. Phil was accountable to him; Reuben gave account to no one. And there was more.
Phil tithed; Reuben did not. Yes, he was generous with his time. Yes, he always had something for the collection plate. But Mac, quite informed of everyone’s financial contributions, knew Reuben stopped giving ten percent to the Center years ago. Mac knew of the power of the pulpit, how it magnified its speaker and attracted people to him in an unreasonable way. Phil or Reuben, the influence of both would increase relative to pulpit exposure, their opinions would matter the more. Does Mac really want a non-tither to be influential in a church that depended heavily on tithes to maintain itself?
Phil was a bit immature but teachable, Mac thought to himself. If he ever got the opportunity he would tell him that the secret to successful pulpit ministry was not in a swagger or a method but simply to love the people he taught. Before surrendering the pulpit he wanted Phil to hear his Pulpit Power message at the conference; perhaps he would learn from it.
Mac loved his people. He loved them as a shepherd, a good shepherd, loves his sheep. Mac was hired but he was not a hireling. He often carried their burdens, and would not hesitate to protect them with his life. Certainly he must be cautious whom he allowed behind his pulpit. He knew he was accountable to his superiors but a good account was not his prime motive for service. He ached for a good outcome for the peoples’ lives, wanting them to be rich in good works.
How are they doing? was a painful question he seldom asked himself lately. It was not like the old days. Church enthusiasm, though certainly not extinguished, was not as was. The breeze was no longer fresh, the bread was getting crusty, the old man’s shoulders were stooped. And Mac was frustrated. Had he not preached with unpretentious passion, reproving and encouraging and directing, and even scolding when scolding was due? Did he not set an example of selfless service, outworking everyone? Was there any other church in the community that worked as hard, did so much? And was he not always in the forefront, leading and setting the example?
They had come far, but progress had stopped years ago. Their numbers hadn’t dropped but only by the force of his strong will. He always felt like he was in the ninth inning, his energy sapped.
And now the Reuben Tanner problem. Didn’t need this.
Reuben, Reuben, Reuben, he thought. What are you up to? What motivated his strange request? A need to be heard, a need for the spotlight? What could he possibly have to say that Mac hadn’t said many times? What subject had Mac not thoroughly covered? Did Reuben want to vent his understanding on tithing? Church structure, perhaps? End-time revelation? Why would he require two Sundays?
And what would he do if his request were denied? What could he do? Any attempt to reach the people without the blessing of the board would call for a heavy reprisal. If Reuben wanted a fight he would get it, but the consequence would be awful; the entire church could be injured. The problem with Reuben was that he was so popular. He and his family were loved and appreciated. The Tanners were a pillar in the church community, have been for years, and church life would be poorer without them. Mac must be sensitive; congregations have been permanently split over less critical issues. Already the board was divided.
The board. Mac was surprised, yes, he had to admit, impressed, by the board of elders. They were different somehow; they were acting like…… like men. David Tomas shook them all with his suggestion that they close the Bible decorating the boardroom table. Let us not give allegiance to man while pretending to give allegiance to God’s Word, he declared with unfamiliar boldness. But was he right? Did he have God’s perspective on the matter? Did the Lord really care how men ran the church as long as His principles were not violated? And were those principles violated? So many questions Mac had never asked before. He attended Bible school with the premise that they knew and he didn’t, they being the teachers, he the student. That premise he carried through school and into the Center, passing it on to his people. Never before had it been challenged. Not until David Tomas suggested they close the Bible. Still his confidence in those above, though shaken, was still firm. Perhaps he should settle the matter by simply phoning Martin Johnston, the superintendent.
Sir, I have a few questions regarding the structure of our denomination, he imagined himself saying. Some of the boys on the board wanted to know how solidly we stood on the Bible, this in regard to the way we run our churches. Can you help us out?
Terry! I am delighted you asked! Mac could not imagine the superintendent replying. I would be more than pleased to answer any questions you have.
Mac knew instinctively such forthrightness would jeopardize his future. He thought he had a chance to be seated in the superintendent’s chair some day. Secretly, he hoped his chances would be enhanced by his message at the conference. He didn’t want to blow away his hopes by asking questions that would cast doubt on his loyalty.
He had read Johnston’s book, Building A Church On Wisdom’s Foundation, years ago and credited the growth of the Center to its insights. No, Mac concluded, I must not do anything stupid. No boat rocking. No hero stuff. Go with the flow. God has everything under control.
Church politics is a subtle thing. The heart, who can understand it?