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Chapter 7: Moving

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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.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint

 

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By the time Jim finished praying at the close of the eight-thirty service, people were kneeling three-deep the full width of the altar and in the first two rows of pews across the front of the sanctuary. A chorus of oral prayer began to build as dozens of prayers were lifted by seekers and counselors alike. Little by little, counselors began to lead weeping seekers to more private places in other parts of the church complex. Many seekers who remained in the altar area began raising their hands as shining smiles of victory covered their faces.

Many people in the sanctuary who were not directly involved in seeking or counseling left to attend the Sunday school classes, which began at ten. Still others stayed near the front of the church as vicarious participants in the spiritual victories which were being won around the altar. Throughout the prayer time, Arnold and Betty Barnes maintained a flowing piano and organ medley of praise and worship choruses. As the praying began to diminish because of victories being won, many in the mini-congregation began to sing along with the choruses.

Jim had stayed behind the altar rail throughout the prayer and praise time. Occasionally he would lay a hand on a seeker's head and pray for the spiritual victory that person was seeking. From time to time, he would kneel down and ask if a seeker would like to have prayer for a specific problem or need. Then, as people began to move away from the altar and take seats in the front rows of pews, Jim felt led to speak.

"Some of you have experienced some real spiritual victories around the altar here this morning. I know, because I can see it on your faces, and I can feel it in my heart. Seems to me like you're already out of the walled city of sin and are beginning to get a whiff of that roast beef dinner and seafood buffet. Now I've already told you in the message that after salvation, you must learn to share your new joy and freedom with others. And there isn't a better place to practice doing that than around the very same altar where you just found spiritual victory. Don't worry about the evangelical buzz words you may have heard people use. Just talk to us in your own words and tell us what happened to you. Pretend you were shopping at K-Mart yesterday and you took advantage of a fantastic blue-light special. All right, who would like to be first?

The first to stand was an attractive couple with their arms around each other's waists. Jim judged them to be in their late twenties or early thirties. The man spoke first. "Pastor Jim must have been listening through our keyhole last night because his sermon this morning hit us square in the bull's eye." Everyone laughed. "We have three small children out in classes right now, so that makes us doubly ashamed by what I am about to--"

Jim interrupted softly but firmly. "Before you say anything else, my friends, I must tell you that you are under no obligation to confess any sins in public. In fact, I prefer that you not do that. What I meant a while ago when I talked about sharing your victory did not include confessing your sins in public. You confess your sins to God and God alone. Then you can testify to the fact that those sins are under the blood of Jesus Christ, but in a generic instead of a specific way. Does that help?" he asked, looking directly at the young couple standing near the altar.

"It sure does," smiled the man, taking a deep breath. "Just let me say we've been having some very serious troubles in our marriage and I've been at fault. Then, last night we got into a major argument and at the end of it, we both agreed we would see our lawyers and start divorce proceedings. And then when we came down to pray at the altar--" At that point, the man's voice broke and he covered his face with his handkerchief, his shoulders shaking with sobs.

His wife spoke. "Bob doesn't need to take all the blame because I've been at fault, too. I've been cold towards him, and selfish. But when I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior just a few moments ago, it was like I felt all brand new inside. For the first time in my life, I understand what people mean when they say 'born again'. That's exactly how I feel. Born again! And as far as a divorce is concerned, the things we were fighting about last night just aren't important any more," and suddenly she needed her handkerchief, also.

Meanwhile, Bob had regained some of his composure. "I've been going to church for over twenty years and this is the first time I ever found out what it's all about." He then turned, took his wife in a full embrace, and they both cried their hearts out while everyone clapped for joy.

The testimonies continued on for some time but Jim asked Jason to take charge so he could return to his office and prepare for the eleven o'clock service.

Later, as he lay stretched out on his bed in the Holiday Inn for his traditional Sunday afternoon nap, Jim marveled that the two morning services could be so different in tone but so similar in outcome. In the eleven o'clock service, Cliff Graham didn't touch his trumpet. The singers used different songs. The spirit of the service was soft and mellow, but definitely sweet. And then during the open-altar prayer time, the Holy Spirit broke in upon them in a mighty way. Several began to seek in earnest for spiritual help and the pastors and counselors were kept busy moving from seeker to seeker, praying with each one. No sooner would one person get up from prayer when two or three more would come running down the aisle and fall on their knees at the altar.

Thinking about it later as he began to doze off for his nap, Jim was convinced that God was teaching him a lesson with the two completely different services that morning. God had used two different styles of services to achieve a comparable outcome. Dozens of people sought and found God in both services! Jim had eventually preached his "Beggars' Bonanza" sermon in the second service, also. But if was after the altar call instead of before. God works in mysterious ways . .

His wrist Seiko beeped him awake at four thirty and he rose fully refreshed after two hours of solid sleep. On a whim, he packed his suitcases and got them ready to take down to the car. He decided that if he got a positive vote in the evening service, he would drive straight home to Ashtabula instead of staying overnight and leaving in the morning. With his good nap and the adrenaline of a pending move pumping in his veins, he wouldn't be able to sleep a wink anyway if he did stay over night in the Holiday Inn.

When he left for the church shortly after five, he took the room key with him. If he did decide to leave for home tonight, he'd leave the key with Miles and he could check him out in the morning. The church had on open account with the hotel and would be direct billed for Jim's charges anyway.

He got to the church around five fifteen and went immediately down to the altar for personal prayer. He knew the orchestra would be tuning up in about thirty minutes and he wanted to have some prayer time before then.

At quarter of six, he got his trumpet from his office and met Cliff Graham in a Sunday school room which doubled as the orchestra warm-up room Sunday evenings. About a dozen volunteer musicians were already there, tootling and strumming a variety of instruments. Quickly Cliff got them settled and introduced Jim to those who didn't already know him. Then he blew a solid B flat on his trumpet as a basis for tuning up. At ten of six, the musicians took their places on the platform. Jim made the third trumpet player, sitting between Cliff and an elderly man with a dull and battered cornet. For the first song of the prelude, Cliff whispered a number which turned out to be "Such Love". Most of the players just glanced at the book to check the song title and key and then closed the book. Arnold and Betty Barnes played a full verse and chorus on the piano and organ while the musicians got situated and blew the last globules of moisture out of their spit valves. Jim noted that aside from the three pieces in the trumpet section, there were two trombones, one E-flat alto horn, a baritone, three saxes, three clarinets, a couple flutes an electric bass, an electric lead guitar, and the drummer who had played traps for the mixed quartet in the morning services. Jim didn't know what type of sound to expect from this group, especially with so few people paying any attention to written music.

Cliff was sitting in first chair, front row. At the end of the piano and organ introduction, he signaled the pickup note and the entire orchestra was right with him. Except Jim. He had decided to sit out a few measures in the beginning and try to get a feel for what was happening. And the pastor was surprised and pleased by the solid harmony which surrounded him. Lively beat, too. On his left, Cliff's silver trumpet was leading the way. To his right, the battered cornet was playing a lively and mellow second part to Cliff's strong melody. That left the way clear for Jim to play the third part in the middle register, his favorite part in any instrumental ensemble. "Such Love" was an ideal selection for a volunteer orchestra in several ways, especially with so many playing by ear. The song was in 4/4 time, it was written in 4 flats (2 flats when transposed up to the piano key for B flat instruments), and it had no more than four chords.

Jim was swept back to his teen years in Ohio on the platform of the Circleville Camp tabernacle where just such a volunteer orchestra had belted out the old camp meeting and revival favorites night after night during the song services and offertories. There always seemed to be plenty of trumpets playing melody and alto so Jim had learned to play a third part which did not include the notes which either of the other trumpet parts were playing. And not only had Jim learned to play third part accurately, he had learned to play third with a running counter-melody and lots of variations.

With the enthusiasm of a teenager, Jim jumped in on the second line and played a strong running third part which blended perfectly with Cliff's melody and the cornet's alto. At the end of the first verse and chorus, Cliff tapped Jim's knee. Then Jim realized that all the horns were resting and the second verse was being played by reeds and strings only. Then on the chorus, the brass came back in and everyone played the chorus twice. On the final chorus, Cliff led them through the triple "wonderful" which Jim had been itching to put in all along. "...How wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful is love like this!"

The congregation, which had been rapidly filling the lower level of the sanctuary, clapped their appreciation. The next song in the prelude was "Glory to His Name", also 4 flats, 4/4 time, and no more than four chords. Cliff Graham sure knew his stuff.

The remainder of the service moved rapidly, it seemed to Jim, and in no time, Jason was calling him to the pulpit for the evening message. Jim chose as his scripture lesson Paul's second letter to the church at Corinth, chapter six, verses fourteen through eighteen. The text for the message was verse seventeen: "Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you."

The thrust of the message was based on the concept there is a vast difference between being average and being normal. Being average is doing what most of the people do most of the time. Being normal is living according to the moral absolutes which God has spelled out in scripture and which never change, down through the centuries. Although the spiritual tide was not as high as it had been in the morning services, Jim still felt complete freedom in the Holy Spirit and the people in the congregation followed him just as closely as they had in the morning, with nearly everyone using the Bible and many taking notes. Jim closed with a simple prayer of benediction.

And then it was time for the pastoral vote. Jim slipped away to the office and waited for the result.

Grace Carson stepped forward to conduct the proceedings in her capacity as chair of the church board. The voting bar was established as the first thirty pews in the three center sections. Members in good standing fifteen years of age and older were asked to move into these seats. Non-voting constituents and visitors were free to leave or watch the balloting from outside the designated voting bar.

Grace called the church meeting to order and Jason led in prayer. After prayer, she asked for the pleasure of the group regarding tellers. A motion was immediately made and seconded that the evening's ushers serve as tellers. Grace appointed Miles Abbott, the chair of the search committee, as head teller. She then instructed the tellers to distribute one ballot to each person inside the voting bar. The ballots were slips of blank paper, salmon in color.

Grace stood on the sanctuary floor between the first pew and the altar. "For many of you, this will be the first pastoral balloting in which you have participated. Can you all hear me?" There were several calls of "no" from the pews farthest back in the voting bar and Jason quickly handed her a wireless hand-held mike. "There, is that better? Good. Now, as I was saying, this is the first pastoral election for many of you. So I'll take a minute to explain. As you can see, your ballots are blank. To vote, you write just one word on your ballot. Vote 'Yes' if you want Jim Hogan to be our pastor. Vote 'No' if you do not want Jim to be our pastor. Then, if two-thirds or more of the ballots say 'Yes', we will have called a new pastor. If one third or more say 'No', the search committee will continue looking for candidates. Any questions? All tellers, distribute the ballots. Immediately after you get a ballot, mark it yes or no--do not fold it, please, and be ready to put it in the offering bag as it is passed down your pew.

"Pastor Cliff, can we have a couple choruses while the balloting is taking place?"

 

 

The Chief hummed along through Clearfield County over bare pavement where Friday evening, there had been fifteen inches of unplowed snow. The dash clock glowed 11:30 with another five hours or so of travel until Jim was back home in Ashtabula. Not home for long, though. Although the highway was bare, Jim still was on a constant lookout for ice patches where during the day melting snow from the plowed ridges along the berm had caused water to flow across the highway. Jim knew that with nightfall and lowering temperatures, such wet spots could freeze and become a serious hazard.

As The Chief rolled smoothly westward across I-80, Jim thought about the vote which had been taken earlier that evening. It had been a lot closer than he would have predicted. Closer than he liked, actually. When Miles had knocked on the office door and told him the results of the balloting, he wasn't even sure he wanted to go back out and talk to the people. Too close.

At the close of the service, Jim had said nothing about the closeness of the vote. He just thanked the folks for the call to be their pastor, thanked everyone again for a very pleasant weekend in Mechanicsburg, and said he would be getting in touch with Grace regarding his final decision. Jason offered the benediction and it was over. Jim said a few brief good-byes, hopped in the Grand Cherokee, and was on his way home to his family in Ashtabula.

 

Debra couldn't get to sleep. She hadn't slept well Friday or Saturday night, either. She and Jim were contact sleepers, weather permitting. Throughout the night, they were touching or snuggling in one way or another. When Jim was away over night, she never did sleep soundly. With the added tension of the purpose of this current trip, she probably wouldn't sleep a solid minute all night long. With a bored instead of a sleepy yawn, she reached for the remote control and turned on the bedside thirteen-inch Sony. Nothing looked good as she flipped through all available channel at least three times. Finally she decided on a black-and-white movie on the PBS channel. Before getting settled, she pressed the remote control's sleep button. This would turn off the TV automatically in the unlikely event she dropped off to sleep before the movie was over.

Suddenly Debra felt warm lips pressing on hers. She jerked and twisted violently only to hear a familiar voice chuckling in the dark. Then she opened her arms and the Hogans completed the interrupted kiss.

"So I see you welcome strange men who kiss you in the dark," Jim murmured in her ear.

"You're strange, all right," she said, biting him lightly on the right ear lobe. Then she turned and looked at the clock. Four fifty? "I thought you were going to stay overnight. What happened?"

"Missed you and came home early," and he kissed her again, this time a little longer.

"Didn't you even stay for the vote? Come on, Jim. What happened?"

"I'm in the mood for love and all you want to do is talk church politics," Jim said with another chuckle. He rose from the bed, turned on a dim light, and started to get undressed for bed. "Here it is, plain and simple. Fourteen hundred and forty members voted. Nine hundred and ninety-five said 'Yes'. So that means they called me to be their pastor."

Debra did some mental arithmetic. "What was two-thirds? Nine fifty something?"

"Nine sixty, to be exact. I got thirty-five over the minimum."

Debra didn't know whether to be glad or sad. On the purely human and selfish side, she had been wishing that he wouldn't get enough votes to be called to Mechanicsburg. But now that the vote was so close, she felt like her husband had been sullied somehow. "Why do you think it was so close? How were the services?"

"To answer your second question, I've never found it easier to preach. The power of the Holy Spirit broke in upon us in a very unusual way in both morning services. The evening service was about what you would expect, with an important church meeting coming up afterward. Had fun playing in the orchestra, though. Reminded me of Circleville Camp."

"What about my first question," Debra persisted. "Why do you think it was so close?"

"Not sure," said Jim from the bathroom, through a mouthful of tooth paste foam. He finished brushing his teeth and then slipped into bed beside her. "I have a theory, though."

"What's that?"

"Well, I told you they were going to set up this interview thing Saturday afternoon, remember?" Debra nodded. "They did that and they came up with some pretty tough questions. Not that I didn't know all the answers."

"Questions about what?" asked Debra with a perplexed frown on her brow.

"Abortion and homosexuality, to name just two. Some lady from a newspaper asked the abortion question and that triggered a mini demonstration, complete with marchers and TV coverage. And then," Jim continued in a tone tinged with exasperation, "I get this homosexual couple asking what I think about homosexuals being ordained into the ministry."

Debra snuggled closer to her husband and put her arm around his neck. "Honey, you know the Biblical answers to both of those questions backward and forward. What was the problem?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with the controversial nature of those questions. Some others, too, like what version of the Bible you should read, and is the entire Bible inspired of God?"

"Yes, but aren't those kinds of questions pretty standard for any group of evangelical Christians?"

"They are. But I think the thing that made the difference was the tape. They taped this whole thing Saturday afternoon and then passed out copies in the worship services Sunday morning. My guess is, never in the history of the evangelical movement has a congregation known as much about what a minister thinks until they've heard him preach for a year or so. Maybe I'm just looking for an ego shield but I think the interview and the tapes on top of that have a lot to do with all the no votes."

"I know one thing for sure," said Debra softly. "Those no votes weren't because you aren't handsome, intelligent, a powerful preacher, and a great husband!"

"Not entirely relevant, but I love to hear it anyway. Hey Debbie, I've been away since noon Friday. Too sleepy to really welcome me home?"

"Bright as a new penny and worth twice as much," she said gaily, giving his ear lobe another light nip.

 

Jim slept in Monday morning and missed seeing the kids before they left for school. But when he got home from the office at five thirty, all three pounced on him. The twins moved in first with a chorus of redundant questions.

"Are we moving, Dad? Are we? Are we? Why do we have to move? We like it here? We don't want to move!" Ben tried a different tack. "If we move, I'm running away from home," to which Jim gave his standard answer, "Save your money."

Jessi stayed in the background and said nothing. However, the stoney look on her face told Jim she was guessing a move was imminent. Jim glanced at Debra, standing in the arch to the kitchen. Her sly smile said, I saved it all for you, Honey.

Jim sat in his favorite chair and took Ben on one knee and Shelly on the other. He motioned for Jessi to sit on the couch across from him. "Kids, you know I love you all very, very much. And it makes me very unhappy when what I do makes you unhappy. But in the type of work a preacher does, the Big Boss is God. And when God tells me to do something, I have to do it. The people at the church in Pennsylvania have said they want me to move there and be their pastor. I'm not sure yet what God wants me to do. Maybe he wants me to stay here in Ohio, and maybe he wants me to move to Pennsylvania. As soon as I know what he wants me to do, I'll tell you."

"Yeah, but why would God want to ask you to do something that makes us so sad?" asked Shelly plaintively. Jessi smiled slightly and inclined her head to say, you took the words right out of my mouth, Shelly.

Ben had an idea. "Hey, Dad. Would it be okay if we prayed and asked God to tell you to stay right here in our old church?"

Interesting theological quandary, thought Jim. "You can always ask God for anything you want and he will always answer you. Just remember. Sometimes he answers 'yes'. And, sometimes, he answers 'no'."

"Bet He answers 'no' on this one," Shelly sulked.

"How was your trip, Dad?" Jessi asked sincerely. Jim told her about the snow on I-80 Friday evening and his run-in with the Ram Charger truck.

Debra, who had been listening out in the kitchen, called in to Jim, "What time did that happen?" The whole family got a blessing when it was learned the incident with the truck happened at exactly the same time as when Debra was on her knees in prayer at the church altar.

"Do you like cops now?" Ben wanted to know.

"I like that one a lot."

 

Jim remained in limbo regarding the Mechanicsburg situation for over two weeks. He prayed about it daily but couldn't seem to get a clear indication of what God wanted him to do. Debra never spoke with him about it and tried to deflect the kids' constant "are we going to move" questions.

The answer came on Wednesday January 31st. After prayer service he got to visiting with some people in the church vestibule and absent-mindedly left his Bible on the pulpit. The church was locked and dark and he was ready to pull out of the parking lot when he asked the kids if his Bible was in the back seat. When he learned that it wasn't, Jim put the car in park and opened the door.

"Jim, can't you get it in the morning. You'll be right back here at eight o'clock."

He knew Debra was logically correct but still he felt a strong need to go back in the church and get his Bible. When he re-entered the church, he flipped on the light for the stained-glass picture only. As he approached the platform and started to step up to the pulpit, he stopped and looked at the image of Christ praying in the garden of Gethsemane, as he had done so often before. And in that moment of quiet meditation, the answer came. And it was yes. It wasn't a voice. It wasn't a vision, either. He neither heard not saw anything unusual. But the answer was still a definite yes.

He dropped to his knees at the altar, thanking God for giving him the answer, and asking for the Divine help he would need in fulfilling the mammoth responsibilities which that yes represented. After about five minutes, Debra came looking for him. Instantly she sensed what was happening and silently knelt beside him, putting her arm around his waist. In another couple minutes, the kids became restless in the cold car and all three trooped into the church, looking for their parents.

Jessi, too, sensed in her spirit that this was a special moment for her family. She took the twins by the hand and led them to the altar to kneel on the other side of their Dad. Ben and Shelly never remained still for more than three minutes at a time, even while sleeping. But for the next fifteen minutes, the entire family bowed silently and humbly before their God in prayer.

Then Jim rose and the others rose with him. All five embraced in a tight circle of unity and love. As they were walking down the aisle to leave the church, Ben paused and tugged at his father's hand.

"Dad," he whispered, "He just said 'yes', didn't He?" Jim nodded, too choked to speak. "And you know what, I'm not running away from home, neither?"

They all felt a subdued sense of peace as Jim relocked the front door and they drove home to the parsonage.

Jim's Bible stayed on the pulpit all night long.

 

Parsonage Table of Contents
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How to Download DiskBooks Files
Return to Parsonage Home Page
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