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Chapter 1: Dedication

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Parsonage

A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family:
in the church, the parsonage, the community
.

© 1988, 1996 G. Edwin Lint

 

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The third Sunday in June was a major holiday for several familles in the church. Babies would be dedicated today. Of all the professional duties a pastor was called upon to perform, dedicating babies was Jim's favorite. He loved to hold each precious bundle of potentiality and ask God to use this child in His service. Maybe this one would be a missionary or an evangelist. Or maybe this one would be a born-again teacher or typist. No matter. Each bundle was precious to God and to the families entering into the covenant of infant dedication.

The organ was softly playing "Jesus Loves Me" as the baby processional started to move slowly down both central aisles. Jim had asked Sandy to make up the order for the processional in alphabetical order according to the baby's last name. Sometimes a baby would be presented by both parents and both sets of grandparents. Older children were dedicated, also, when parents came to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior after children were already born into the family.

In today's dedication, the Court family led the procession down the left aisle. Patricia and Dave were both from the west coast so the grandparents would not be able to attend. However, the Court entourage did include one other person. Dave carried their new daughter on his left arm, and Patricia walked at his right side. And Jim smiled broadly as he watched the fourth person in the Court party walking sturdily down the aisle and holding Patricia's right hand. Two-year-old Tessa Stetson had been named the baby's God-sister and would be a proud witness of Beth Ann's dedication.

The fact that Tessa was even in the service was something of a minor miracle. Her mother, Carla, had been opposed to the idea of her little girl having anything to do with the dedication of the Court baby. She had refused to discuss it with either Jim or Dave. Ever since the trial, Carla had been very cold to everyone having anything to do with Wesley.

Then Thursday night at eight o'clock, Carla had left a message in the church voice mail. It was very short and simple, and the caller didn't identify herself. But that brief message would bring much joy to Dave and Patricia. The voice was very faint. Friday morning when Sandy took the messages off, she had to listen several times to make sure she understood what was said. When she was satisfied that she had it right, she typed it up and put it on Jim's desk:

"I got Tessa a new dress, and she can do it Sunday morning."

By the time the organ had completed the third verse of "Jesus Loves Me," there were five family groups across the upper platform, facing the congregation. While the procession was moving down the aisles, an usher had placed a small lectern down on the floor and facing the congregation. Jim now took his place at this lectern.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the ceremony of infant dedication is a very important element of worship here at Wesley Church. If this is your first time to attend a dedication, I'd like to outline what is about to happen. There will be two separate parts of the service. First, I will ask the parents to make their vows of dedication as a group. Then, I will pray a prayer of dedication for each child in turn. The processional was in alphabetical order, so the prayers will be in reverse order, with Elizabeth Ann Court being last."

With that, Jim turned and faced the group on the platform. He had a special smile for Tessa, who looked cute in her new long, white dress trimmed in pink.

"Do you covenant before God and in the presence of these witnesses to do everything in your power to raise these babies and young children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? If so, answer 'I will.' And do you covenant to bring them regularly to God's house for instruction and worship? If so, answer 'I will.' And do you covenant to strive to bring them to an early knowledge of Jesus Christ as a personal Savior? If so, answer 'I will.' And do you promise to give your child over to God's service, in whatever area He sees a need? If so, answer 'I will.'

"Now that you have promised in the presence of God and these witnesses to discharge your scriptural responsibilities as parents, I will dedicate each child in turn, beginning with--" and Jim glanced down at his list, "beginning with Aaron Zettlemoyer."

Baby dedication was a joyful church ceremony, and at times it was somewhat noisy. Not all babies take kindly to being passed to a stranger in the midst of a Sunday morning nap. But when Jim had worked his way around to Beth Ann, she was lying quietly in the crook of Dave's left arm. The pastor took a moment to congratulate the happy parents and had a special wink for the God-sister. Then he picked the baby up in his arms and turned to face the congregation.

"This is Elizabeth Ann Court, the daughter of David and Patricia Court, born May fifteenth. Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of life with which you have blessed the Court family. Surely this is an answer to prayer and we rejoice with Dave and Patricia in the coming of this blessed child. We pray that you will give these parents the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of David, and the strength of Samson, as they contend against the forces of evil which will strive to destroy her never-dying soul. Now, we dedicate Elizabeth Ann Court to You and to Your service, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Jim always watched and prayed, and as he concluded the prayer for Beth Ann, he was aware of a person moving very slowly through the dimmed sanctuary, right down the center aisle toward the altar. It was Carla Stetson, Tessa's mother!

At first, Jim was concerned there may be another eruption similar to the one in the court house the day of Dave's arraignment. But this time, Carla appeared calm. However, Jim sensed a monumental spiritual struggle, with the young woman at the epicenter. In her face, there was evidence that Satan and all his demons were doing their utmost to keep Carla from moving toward that altar. Dave handed Beth Ann to Patricia, as he and several prayer warriors started to move toward Carla in her support.

But, Jim signaled them to stay back and pray from a distance. This was to be Carla's struggle, and Carla's victory. The spiritual confrontation was great. God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, all the Holy angels-- they were all urging her to move forward toward forgiveness. Toward reconciliation. Toward peace.

However, Satan and all his demons were using their powers to hold her back

Suddenly, the woman fell down flat on her face, and began clawing her way along the carpet, toward the altar. Immediately a mighty volume of oral prayer rolled up from the congregation. Little Tessa's eyes were huge with fear but she took her cue from her Unca Dave. She folded her tiny hands, bowed her head, and joined her small voice with the many prayers which were being lifted for her mother's deliverance.

"Please Jesus, please help my Mommy. Please help my Mommy!"

Carla worked her way beyond the last pew to within five yards of the altar. A lady usher dropped a light blanker over the struggling body as Carla inched along. Her face was covered with tears and perspiration. Her voice was hoarse with the prayers of supplication.

As she came within eighteen inches of the altar, the congregation rose to its feet and the volume of oral prayer became a mighty roar. Inch by precious inch she moved ever closer until she was able to reach out and just touch the base of the altar with the tip of her index finger.

Instantly her faith was rewarded and she was delivered from the demons which had plagued her for so many months. Demons which had caused her to hate her church, hate her pastor, hate her God. Tessa ran across the platform and leapt into her arms. They hugged each other fiercely. Then Carla turned and hugged Dave, hugged Patricia, and then everyone was hugging everyone in a spirit of true revival.

Many years later, Beth Ann would ask Mommy and Daddy about all the tear drops on her Certification of Dedication. Her parents would be too choked with emotion to do a very good job of telling her why.

 

That night, Jim lay in bed, too emotionally keyed up to sleep. Downstairs the grandfather clock sang it's Westminster song of midnight. Debra couldn't sleep either.

"Jim, ever wish we were still back in Ashtabula? That you never made that trip here to Mechanicsburg in that snow storm?"

"Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. I think this morning's dedication service was definitely one of the no times."

Debra yawned, feeling more sleepy. "I still miss the old parsonage, kind of. Don't you?"

Jim was flat on his back, sound asleep, snoring softly, and dreaming of driving through a Pennsylvania blizzard.

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