“She's spunky as ever. Say, Parson, look, Harvey Nelson and I are down here at the church. We were working on that leaky faucet in the kitchen. We got to thinking about some things and thought we'd ask you to come down and talk with us a bit.”
“Can't do that today, Jim.”
“No, I'm sorry. Maybe some other time.”
“You're doing something special today?”
“No, I'm not doing anything special.”
“Then why can't you come talk with us?”
“It's my day off, Jim.”
There was a moment of silence, then Jim continued. “Your day off. You have a specific day off. I didn't know pastors did that.”
“This one does. Been doing it for, gracious, let me think, about forty plus years.”
“This won't take long, Parson.”
“What is so important, Jim.”
“Well, we've been talking about that literature they've been using in the Sunday School.”
“That's something to take up with the Council on Ministry.”
“Okay, maybe, but we thought it might be more productive to talk to you about changing it before that.”
“Do you know who suggested that literature, Jim?”
“No, I don't.”
“Well, you bring it up at the Council on Ministry.”
“So, you're not going to talk to us today. So, let me ask you this: Suppose I called and told you Alice was in the hospital on you day off? I guess she wouldn't get to see you.”
“No, as a matter of fact, Jim, if you called me to tell me Alice was in the hospital I'd be there in a heartbeat day off or not.”
“But you won't come and talk to me and Harvey about the literature?”
“No, Jim, not today.”
“Because, Jim, you're not in the hospital and it's my day off. But please tell Harvey I'm appreciative for you both fixing the leak.”
“How do you know we fixed it right?”
“I don't, Jim, but I'll check it tomorrow when it's not my day off.”
The parson was strolling down the sidewalk of a country town that had been restored to a turn-of-the-twentieth-century village. The transformation was apparently a success, All the businesses within the restoration area seemed to be thriving.
As the parson peered into the window of a store that was now a combination antique and sandwich shop he noticed a familiar figure inside. Heather Swathmoor, newly graduated from seminary and about to be ordained and appointed to her first parish, was sitting at a table with a Ruben sandwich and a book before her. The parson envied her and the anticipation that must be hers with this appointment. His mind wandered back to the really old days, when pastors of Heather's age were usually told they were being sent to “a wonderful opportunity.” The parson headed to the door.
Approaching Heather, he greeted, “Well, hello, Reverend Swathmoor.”
“Oh, Parson,” exclaimed Heather as she rose and hugged the parson. “How good to see you. Please sit down. What are you doing here?”
The parson took the table opposite Heather. “So, I hear you're getting a church.” The parson was aware of Heather's appointment, and he was aware of the church to which she was about to become pastor.
“I am; I'm so excited. I'll be there in three weeks. It's called Gregory's Chapel. It's in the Southeastern district. It's a country church. I know it has problems,” she continued, “but the district superintendent said there was a possibility I could make a name for myself there.”
The parson smiled. He indicated to the server who'd approached he only wanted a decaf coffee. “It sounds like a wonderful opportunity.”
“Well, that's the way I'm going to approach it,” she said. “I've done a lot of research to prepare going. The church was founded in 1842. It saw some real growth when the railroad came through the area just before the Civil War. For a while the town was really growing. It was a kind of hub of the cotton trade in that area. Around the 1950s they had their largest membership, but in the late 70s the membership stopped growing.”
The parson sipped the decaf and studied Heather as she talked. He tried to remember if he'd been this expectant when he headed out for his first church.
“The tragedy is, Parson, they have been losing about ten to fifteen percent of their membership every year for the last five or six years. I know it has to be disheartening to them. So I'm going to set a goal for myself to increase the current membership by fifteen percent next year. I think with hard work I can do.” it.”
Heather finally turned to her Ruben. The parson continued to study her. Placing her sandwich on her plate she took her napkin and wiped a smear of Thousand Island dressing from her lips.
“So, what do you think, Parson. It's possible to do that; don't you think?”
The parson leaned over the table and said softly to her, “Heather, let me make a sugges.tion to you. If you slow the decline to five percent, that will be a victory. And then you can move to other goals from there.”
Heather stared at him a moment. She finished the sandwich as she watched him. “Slow the decline and then work on increasing the membership.”
“That sounds like a plan to me,” the parson smiled.
The parson was selecting some choice meats for the week's groceries. As was his custom he scoured the meats first, looking for values. Once the values were chosen he headed to the produce section where he'd round out his menu planning for the week. Produce was the challenge for the parson. Choice meats could be sliced up and frozen for several day's consumption. Fresh vegetables usually had to be purchased in quantities that did not lend themselves to freshness at week's end. It was the challenge for a widower living alone.
The parson had made his selections, had wandered up and down the aisles selecting the items needed to round out his week's menu, and was now browsing the beverage section in search of some Alice White Australian and Robertson South African wines. As he puzzled for another time over the reasoning behind the store's place of the various wines on the shelves, he heard a voice.
“Parson, what are you doing on this aisle?”
The parson turned to see Freddie Chambers, pastor of the Gird Thy Loins From Sin Lest You Fail to Obtain Celestial Glory Church of the Blessed Redeemed, looking at him with a puzzled look on his face.
“Ah, Freddie, I'm on this aisle because I'm looking for a nice red wine to compliment the pasta with asparagus sauce I'm planning to cook tonight.”
“You drink, Parson?” asked Freddie.
“Sometimes I do,” the parson replied. “Sometimes I use a funnel.”
Immediately the parson realized Freddie didn't get the joke. He decided to drop it but was now conflicted as to whether to direct his full attention to Freddie or to continue looking for the distinctive Alice White label. Freddie helped guide him out of his dilemma.
“Parson, you fascinate me. You know, here you are on the wine aisle of the church, and I know that a couple of days ago you were at one of the Rome Braves game. My nephew said he saw you there. I read your column in the newspaper and you mentioned that you spent time hiking at Cloudland Canyon State Park. I also know you're taking time off to go to Alaska. I don't understand how you can spend so much time in secular activities and still preach the gospel every Sunday.
The parson hesitated in his answer, not because he was at a loss for an answer but because his eyes had just zeroed in on the distinctive teardrop bottle of a Robertson wine.
“It's called preaching from life's experiences, Freddie.”
“Well, I prefer to spend my time in communion with the Lord in my study each day,” said Freddie.
“You're much more lucky than I,” the parson responded. “God seems to have chosen not to inhabit in my study.”
“Bruce, how in the world are you? It's great to hear from you.” Bruce was fresh out of seminary. He attended the parson's church during his college years, and, then, spent a tour with the United States Marine Corps as an intelligence officer. Upon his discharge, eight years later, he entered seminary.
“I'm doing really well, Parson. Really well. Jane said to tell you hello.”
The parson, after smiling inwardly as he remembered Jane's natural beauty and genuine personality, remembered that day almost eighteen months before. It was one of those occasions when the parson as he led them through the ceremony had no doubt this marriage would last forever.
“You give her my love. What are her plans after you get to your appointment?”
“We really don't know yet, Parson. We're hoping she can find some meaningful work there.”
The parson again smiled to himself. Jane was an educational psychologist who was fluent in Spanish and Japanese. He didn't think she'd have a problem finding a job as Bruce moved into serving his first church in three weeks.
“I don't think Jane will ever lack for employment,” the parson offered.
“I don't either, Parson. Look, the reason I called was first to thank you. I know the district superintendent and maybe the bishop called and you gave me a good recommendation.”
“Don't discount the impression you made yourself, Bruce.”
“Look, Parson, the second thing is Andrew Jenkins mentioned that you were taking some grandchildren to Alaska and wouldn't be at conference.”
“That's right,” said the parson. “I'll think of you sitting in the gathering of the ordained as we bounce along in our raft through the rapids of the Nenana River.”
“I somehow don't think you're going to give us a thought, Parson. But, since you're going to Alaska, I won't be able to see you at conference. So, I wanted to call and see if you might have any advice for a novice pastor.”
The parson smiled. He remembered the best advice he'd ever received. “I do, Bruce. I do. You know, the best advice I ever got was when I was backing the car out of the driveway of my parent's house to head for my first appointment. My dad was retrieving the mail from the mailbox. He came over, leaned down, and said to me: “You'll be a success if, when you leave that church, the people say, 'Look what we did!'”
The parson was at the bottom of the really big slide, the kind that's a tube. From inside the slide came a squeal. The squeal proceeded the appearance of a three-year-old grandson from inside the tube.
“Okay, let's go again,” shouted the grandson. “You can go with me this time.”
The parson turned to follow his scampering feet to the ladder which would take them to the platform where the bridge that led to the really big slide on the other side of the playground apparatus. A voice beckoned him.
“Parson, how are you?”
The parson turned to see Quincy Edwards, a lay leader in a nearby congregation. “Hello, Edward. I'm good. In fact if I felt any better the Baptist might call it a sin.”
Quincy sat on the bench next to the playground area and replied, “Funny, Parson. I'll have to remember that one. Look do you have a moment to answer a question?”
“Sure,” the parson replied, “what's up?”
“Do you know a preacher named Ronald Letterman?”
“I can't say that I do; why do you ask?”
“Because we just learned that he'll be out next pastor. Some of us are a bit concerned about it.”
“Have you met him?”
“No, we haven't.”
“Then what are you concerned about?”
“It's like this, Parson. We're told he's a little over sixty. This will probably be his last appointment before he retires.”
“That concerns you?”
“Well, yes, it does. Look, Parson, we suggested that the only way our church was going to grow was if we got a young pastor. We need someone young to bring some new life to the place.”
“Hey, are you coming?” came a cry from the ladder as the grandson began his ascent to the top of the slide once more. “Come on, we can go down together.”
The parson turned back to Quincy. “Look, Quincy, I don't think you have a worry.”
The parson was halfway up the ladder when he answered, “Because, Quincy, the youngest pastor in Northwest Georgia is seventy.”
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