(Seventeenth in a series.)
The town church was steeped in pride and doctrinal and moral failure. We’d not known this when we took the call, but it wasn’t long until the facts were clear. As soon as we arrived, we noticed the people of the church avoiding any acknowledgement of what was immediately obvious to Mary Lee and me, which was the serious moral failure of people at the very center of the church and its leadership.
Last chapter I mentioned the case of the girl ordained and installed as an elder of the church when she was in high school, and her refusal to submit to the elders’ request that she meet with them to hear their admonition concerning her fornication now that she was off at college. But this was the tip of the iceberg.
Meanwhile, the rural church was growing in repentance and godliness. Earlier, I recounted Don and Evelyn Jerred’s repentance over Evelyn serving as a woman elder, after which Don himself finally agreed to stand for nomination as an elder (which for years he had refused to do). Too, I outlined the decision of the elders of that church to go out and visit those on their membership roll who never attended worship except at Christmas and Easter.
There were many other indications of spiritual fruit out in the country at Rosedale Presbyterian Church while First Presbyterian Church back in town continued down the path they had chosen of pride in the midst of doctrinal and moral degradation.
There are a number of things I could recount. The worst accounts I will not give here, but some may be told without discouraging the godly and repentant.
One day, the husband of one of the regular attenders called requesting a meeting. He was in his late fifties or early sixties, and although his wife was a faithful attendee, he rarely showed up. His wife was tall and he was taller. They had very tall sons who were already adults and never darkened the church’s doorway.
The day for the meeting arrived and we sat down for our talk in the pastor’s office. He was an imposing figure, both in stature and self-confidence. He quickly got to the point. He told me he (but by implication, also his wife and other church members) did not approve of my preaching. If you ask why, I would say because I preached Scripture and applied it to our consciences.
Having enumerated his objections to my preaching, he looked me dead on and asked, “How long do you think we’ll keep paying you if you keep preaching the way you are?” Keep in mind that he never attended worship.
He’d thrown down the gauntlet and I responded, “I don’t know, but you know what?”
“What?” he responded.
“Look over there in the corner of my office. You see what’s there?”
“What, the vacuums?” he answered.
“Yup, the vacuums. The school district had an auction last Saturday, and I won the bid on those vacuums. I love vacuums. In fact, until I arrived here, I worked cleaning carpet and upholstery, and washing windows. I love cleaning. I love stripping and waxing floors. I love painting. In fact, I’ve been missing that work. You know why?
“Because when I finish washing windows and stripping and waxing floors and cleaning carpet, I can tell what I’ve done. I get to walk backwards and survey my work and see what I’ve done.
“I’ve discovered the frustrating thing about being a pastor is that you never can see what you’ve done. You never can take pride in it. You’re never able to step back and look at your sermon, for instance, and say ‘Oh boy, what a good job I did!’
“You know, I find that frustrating. And that’s why I went to the auction last Saturday and bought those vacuums. I’m missing my work. I want to clean.
“Honestly, I’d love to have an excuse to start cleaning again. Those are good vacuums. I can fix them up real quick and they’ll be like new. So if you and others in this church don’t like my preaching and stop paying me, I’ll be happy to start cleaning again.
“But I won’t stop preaching to you. It doesn’t matter if you pay me. I’m gonna keep preaching. I’ve been called and this is my responsibility before the Lord.”
You can imagine he was nonplussed. He bid his goodbye and left. No scene. He was just quiet. He never attended worship, and my recollection is his wife became infrequent, herself. I felt badly for her.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)
A couple years later, this same man asked for another meeting. The day arrived and he was as imposing as before. Sitting down, once more he quickly got to the point.
“I know you are lying on your IRS forms.”
It was blackmail. He wanted me gone and assumed I was an IRS cheat (which I admit I’m entirely capable of being, save for the grace of God).
But by that same grace of God, I was able to respond, “Please report me to the IRS. I’d be grateful to be audited.”
Nonplussed for the second time, he left my office shortly, and I never heard from him again.
Twenty-five or so years later, though, one of his sons posted a nasty attack on one of my social media pages. Like father, like son.
Some readers may have been scandalized that I didn’t take my Dad’s advice and resign my call to this church after the session approved the church-house being used by the former pastor and our teenage elder living in fornication.
But remember, ours was a yoked parish and the rural church was repenting. They owned me body and soul.
It’s such a wonderful story of God I am allowed to tell!
Mary Lee says, “Yup.”
(Seventeenth in a series.)
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