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Chapter 7: Moving
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novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the
church, the parsonage, the community.
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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.
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.
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.
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?
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--"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!"
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
Cliff, can we have a couple choruses while the balloting is taking place?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
I see you welcome strange men who kiss you in the dark," Jim murmured in
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?"
you and came home early," and he kissed her again, this time a little longer.
you even stay for the vote? Come on, Jim. What happened?"
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."
did some mental arithmetic. "What was two-thirds? Nine fifty something?"
sixty, to be exact. I got thirty-five over the minimum."
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?"
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
about my first question," Debra persisted. "Why do you think it was
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."
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."
about what?" asked Debra with a perplexed frown on her brow.
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."
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?"
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?"
but aren't those kinds of questions pretty standard for any group of evangelical
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."
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!"
relevant, but I love to hear it anyway. Hey Debbie, I've been away since noon
Friday. Too sleepy to really welcome me home?"
as a new penny and worth twice as much," she said gaily, giving his ear lobe
another light nip.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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?"
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'."
He answers 'no' on this one," Shelly sulked.
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.
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.
you like cops now?" Ben wanted to know.
like that one a lot."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Bible stayed on the pulpit all night long.
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