The parson and Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion, were resting. The parson sat on a rock with his back against a larger one. Charlie Brown was sprawled on the ground beside him working on a chewy while the parson munched on an apple. Wadded up beside the parson was the bag that only a few moments ago had contained a sandwich and some dry dog food.
The parson finished the apple just about the time Charlie Brown looked up as if to say, “Anything else?” He stuffed the crumbled bag and the empty water bottle into the small back pack beside him. He stood at which Charlie Brown also rose with an audible moan. The parson threw the apple core over the edge of the canyon on along which rim the two had been hiking.
The parson hadn't moved fifty yards beyond his lunch site when he saw one of the younger pastors of his area hiking toward him. The parson called out a greeting and the pair stopped, seemingly grateful for the break in their trek.
“Parson, what in the world are you doing here?” asked Robert the young pastor. “Hello, Charlie Brown,” he greeted as he knelt down to pat Charlie and pull his ears. Charlie Brown promptly sat in eager anticipation of attention.
“Just trying to stay in shape,” the parson said. “It takes a bit more effort at my age. How are you doing, Carole?” the parson asked. Carole and Robert had been married a little over two years. She was a talented writer who'd published a few fiction books under a pseudonym. The parson was one of her biggest fans, and probably the biggest in the clergy ranks as Carole didn't reveal her true occupation to many in the ministry.
“Really good, Parson. Really good. It's nice to see you again.”
Before the parson could reply, Robert asked, “Do you come up here often? This is a bit from home.”
“Oh I try to hike in one of the state parks at least once a week, Robert. It keeps the batteries recharged.”
I really wish I could do that, Parson. I don't know how you get the time.”
“I don't get the time, Robert,” the parson replied. “I make the time.”
“Thank you, Parson,” said Carole. “Are you listening to him, Robert?”
The parson picked up on a tone that indicated this hike might have been a grudging concession by Robert.
“I suspect the Parson doesn't have the pressures I have, Carole,” said Robert. “No offense, Parson, but you are serving a smaller church since your retirement.”
“Serving your church takes more time than serving mine?” the parson asked.
“Ah, Parson, I didn't mean anything by that. I know you work hard. But this appointment I have just eats up every hour in the day.”
“How so?” asked the parson.
Carole had now moved away from the parson and Robert taking Charlie Brown with her. Charlie Brown seemed to prefer her scratching and ear pulling abilities much more than Robert.
“Look, Parson, there's not only the sermons to prepare, the sick to visit, other pastoral calls, but I have to make the bulletins every week. I have to prepare all the media for the praise songs. I lead the choir practice. There's just a never ending list.”
“Who did the bulletins before you got there?” the parson asked.
“Well, a woman named Ellen Hanson did. But she seemed really relieved when I took over that for her.”
“Who led the choir before you got there?”
“Okay, Parson, I see where this is going. Look, they found out I knew a little about music and let me do it.”
“Who's going to do the bulletins when you leave?”
“Okay, I get it.”
“Who's going to lead the choir when you leave?”
Robert started to say something. The parson held up his hand. “Listen, Robert, a very, very long time ago on the day I was leaving to go to my first church, my daddy gave me the best advice I've ever received. He said to me, 'Son, you will be a success if, when you leave that church, those people say: Look what we did.'”
The parson looked down at Carole. He made a sucking sound with his lips. Charlie Brown immediately came to his side.
“When's the next novel coming out?” the parson asked.
“June,” she said.
“Same one. Look, Parson, don't buy one this time. Let me give you one with an inscription.”
“I'll treasure that, Carole,” the parson said as the two hugged.
During the hug Carole whispered in his ear, "Thank you."
Carole leaned over to say good-bye to Charlie Brown. As she did the parson grabbed Robert's arm, pulled him a step away and said in a quiet voice, “Listen to me, Robert. Whenever you have a choice of doing the damn bulletin or taking a nap with Carole, you take a nap.”
Breaking his new commitment to retirement, the parson had traveled halfway across the state to speak at a civic club meeting. The exception to his rule was a response to the request of an old friend from high school. Now, the club meeting over, the parson walked with his friend Roger Gilbert across the high school football / soccer field. Roger had been anxious to show off the complex to the parson.
“Isn't it great?” said Roger.
“It's certainly impressive,” the parson responded. “Isn't this a little expensive, though?”
“Well, hell yes it's expensive, Parson. But over the years we'll save money. No more watering the field, no more cutting the grass, no more fertilizer, no more marking the field before every game. Eventually, it will pay for itself.”
“How long is eventually?” the parson asked.
“Well I don't know how long before the cost saving kicks in, Parson. It'll be a couple of years.”
“How much did it cost?”
“Well, the total cost, now, mind you this includes ground preparation, installation costs and some minor improvements to the stands, the cost was a little over a half million.”
“So, it's going to take more than a couple of years to recoup the cost?”
“Don't be a stick-in-the-mud, Parson. This field is not the envy of every school in this region. When visiting teams show up here they know we're serious about this sport.”
The parson and Roger had now exited her field and were walking toward their cars. Roger made his final point.
“Look back there, Parson,” he said, pointing to the field. “You have to admit that's an impressive sight.”
“It is, Roger; it is.”
“Well, I can't figure you out, Parson. You've played sports all your life. I'd think you'd be more responsive to our efforts here.”
“You know what would be really impressive, Roger, impressive not only to us used-to-be-jocks but to the entire population?”
“What?” asked Roger.
“It would really be impressive, Roger, if you guys would put this much effort into raising money to keep and recruit better teachers for your kids. Football for you and soccer for me lasted as long as our knees." The parson pointed to the classroom building a block down the street. "But the education, Roger, the education is forever.”
The parson was making a few phone calls to encourage local pastors to support a missionary from the area. Near the end of his calling, he made contact with James Varnell, the pastor of a small but extremely active and slowly growing congregation.
“I hope you can get your folks to consider letting one of us come and talk about supporting this mission, James,” the parson concluded.
“I'll talk to them. That's a promise,” said James.
“I'm grateful, James. Really grateful.”
Parson,” interjected James, “I'm glad you called. I've been meaning to talk with you anyway.”
“You've got me now, James,” said the parson. “Go ahead.”
“Have you heard anything about open appointments this coming conference?” asked James.
“I haven't, James,” said the parson. “The days of my paying attention to those kind of things are over. Why do you ask?”
“Well, Parson, I can't help but want to move beyond where I am. I mean, this is a nice congregation, but I think my talents could be better used at a larger church.”
“Define 'larger',” said the parson.
“Well, I guess I'm talking about a church of, well, maybe, two thousand to twenty-five hundred members.”
The parson thought a moment. Then he asked, “How many churches that size do you think there are in this episcopal area?” the parson asked.
“I don't know, a couple dozed, I would imagine.”
“You know, James,” the parson said, “there are a thousand churches in our conference and there are fifteen hundred clergy. Now, you should think about the fact that of those fifteen hundred clergy fourteen hundred and ninety-two think they, too, should be in that mega church you want to serve. So, your odds are a bit narrow.”
“Nevertheless, Parson,” James began, but the parson interrupted.
“James, do you mind if I tell you a quick story?”
“I guess not,” said James.
“Way back in the last century,” the parson began. “I was a young upstart pastor. I wasn't familiar with all the protocols of the church. I certainly wasn't on speaking terms with bishops. So, we were having this special effort at our little church. Now, note I said 'little',” the parson emphasized. “I wrote the bishop and invited him to speak at the church's event.”
The parson continued. “Now, you'd think the worst thing that bishop could have said to me was 'no.' But it wasn't. He wrote me back and said, 'I give one Sunday a year to each district in the conference. On that Sunday I go to the most important church.' Well, like I said, James, I was young and not particular tactful back then. I wrote that bishop back. I wrote him back and said, 'Dear Bishop, wherever you appoint me is the most important church in your episcopal area. We look forward to having you visit us.'”
“Did he come?” asked James.
“The parson smiled at the memory. “Actually, he did, James. He did, and I think he enjoyed himself. But that's not the point of the story, James.”
“The point is?”
“I hope you'll come to see the church where you now serve as that important.”
“Parson,” said Nelson Carlson, “what do you think the prospects are for moving this coming year?”
“Moving?” the parson intoned. “I really haven't planned on moving.”
“Oh, no, Parson,” said Nelson, “I didn't mean you. I meant me.”
“You're thinking about moving?”
“I am. I have my meeting with the superintendent next week. The wife and I are thinking about asking him to move us to another church.”
“That's always an option, Nelson. You've only been at Harmony Chapel for two years though.”
“Two years, yes, sir. But we've been looking at the churches where there are obviously going to be moves and it seems to be a really fluid time. It's an opportune time to move. Wouldn't you agree?”
“I tell you the truth, Nelson, I really don't know how many moves there will be this year.”
“But you know that it will be more than usual and that would make it an ideal year to move for career advancement?”
The parson thought a long moment. Then he replied, “Nelson, the answer to that question would rest in how you define 'career.' If by career you mean advancing into a position of influence and power, maybe even a bishop, then it might indeed be a good year to move. But if by 'career' you mean fulfilling the vows you took at your ordination then Harmony Chapel or First Cathedral of the Ascending Ladder would either be equally good for your 'career.'”
So, in the interest of full disclosure, let me begin by
saying I’m one of those weird parsons who believes God did not dictate the last
verse of the last chapter of the Book of Revelation and then close the book and
for the last, give or take, two thousand years has had nothing else to say. I
fully believe that God intends for us to explore the amazing mysteries of God’s
universe and use them for the benefit of God’s creation. As such, I’m just slap
dab in favor of scientific research that enables humankind to evolve into the
creation God intended.
WASHINGTON – A federal
judge Monday temporarily blocked government rules expanding stem cell research,
a blow to the Obama administration that could stall potentially lifesaving
Nightlight Christian Adoptions contends that the government’s new guidelines
will decrease the number of human embryos available for adoption and
For some reason I felt compelled to go to the Nightlight
Christian Adoptions website. Once there I quickly found this statement: “In general, the cost of an agency adoption
through Nightlight will be approximately $18,000.”
Are there any dots here crying out to be connected? Or am I
just a cynical old parson?
parson sat on the sofa in the corner nook of the coffee shoppe. He took
a moment to arrange the pillows behind his aged back to accommodate his
five foot six frame on the furniture designed for five foot seventeen.
Having adjusted to the maximum he took a sip of the rich java, and
enjoyed the full body and rich flavor which belied its decaf makeup. Two
seminary students sat across from him, one working on his Master of
Divinity the other working on her Ph.D. in a yet to be narrowed down
field of American religious history. Both were drinking a mixture whose
name the parson might once have recognized when he was learning ancient
trio shared news of various acquaintances. The students asked the
parson if certain rumors about certain better-know pastors were true,
and asked for the parson’s evaluation of the new bishop. The parson, in
turn, asked them what they’d heard about the better-known pastor. Their
revelations he added to his otherwise empty store house of gossip. As
for the new bishop the parson pleaded ignorance, as the bishop’s as yet
never extended invitation to dinner at his residence deprived the parson
of adequate knowledge to make a determination.
the M.Div. student, fired up his notebook to share with the parson an
article the new bishop had written. The parson promised to read it later
in order to become better informed.
“So, are you’re finishing seminary this year?” he asked James.
“I am, Parson. Finally.”
“Have you started the process with the Board of Ministry?”
closed his notebook, glanced over at Monique, the doctoral candidate,
then back at the parson. He cleared his throat and said in a quiet
voice. “Actually, Parson, I haven’t,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going
to take the path toward ordination.”
not!” the parson stammered, forcing himself forward on the sofa. The
statement had caught him completely by surprises. He’d known James for a
decade and his whole life journey had been leading toward ordination.
James smiled at the parson a moment, then he asked, “You don’t know?”
what?” The parson looked over at Monique whom he’d know just as long as
he’d know James. She was smiling, obviously at the parson’s
“Parson,” said James, “I’m gay.”
room seemed to shrink. The parson was completely surprised. He’d never
considered this. He’d never had occasion to consider this. The parson
sank back into the sofa. A thousand emotions surged through his body. He
stared at young man he’d thought so long to be a rising star of the
church. He did not know what to say. Sorrow wracked his being. The
consequences raised their head and impaled his spirit.
It seemed a short eternity before the silence was broken.
“Parson, are you okay?” asked Monique.
“I guess so,” said the parson. “This is why you’re not going before the board?” he said to James.
“It is,” said James. “I’m not going to lie.”
“Are you going to another denomination?” asked the parson.
“No, Parson, I’m not going to do that. I’m sticking around and I intend to make a nuisance of myself.”
The parson smiled. James was a delegate to the Annual Conference. He might start attending more frequently.
“What about you, Monique,” the parson asked.
“I’m not going to be ordained either, Parson.”
“I know you’re not gay, Monique.”
Parson. But the more I’ve thought about it the more I’m uncomfortable
with the thought of being ordained. I think it would be more than
two-faced. I can’t reconcile the enormous amounts of money the church
spends on itself while the world is hungry. I’m fed up with the
hypocrisy. I could go on and on, Parson.”
parson said nothing for a couple of minutes. James excused himself to
get another cup of the concoction he and Monique were drinking. Monique
leaned forward, “Aren’t you going to show off any grandkids pictures?”
The parson smiled at her winsome way. He pulled out his iPhone. Monique
moved to sit beside him on the sofa as the parson began to flip through
the pictures. James returned and sat on the arm of the sofa to view the
while later James moved back to his seat. Monique remained on the sofa.
James said, “Are you okay with what I told you, Parson?”
James, I’m not. And I’m not okay with what Monique tells me. I’m
disturbed that folks like you can’t find a home in the church. I’m just
conversation continued for another hour. At that point it moved to the
restaurant two blocks down the street, and from there it continued at an
Irish pub another block down.
was almost midnight when the parson left for home, exhilarated from
having been with two young people who’d skipped through is parish almost
two decades ago and sad, so sad.
The parson’s old friend Buddy “Roll Out” Hathaway had
invited him to speak at a community meeting. The parson had readily accepted,
mostly as an excuse to travel halfway across the state to visit with his former
high school classmate. Now, the morning after the speech, the parson was
walking to his car from Roll Out’s office at the school where he was a part
time teacher and part time administrator.
Roll Out had convinced the parson to talk a longcut through
the campus in order to show him the new athletic field.
“Look at that,” said Roll Out, “this new artificial turf
makes this school the envy of every sports program in the area.”
“It looks impressive,” said the parson. “How did you get the
board to approve this expenditure.”
“Oh gracious, Parson,” said Roll Out, “the board didn’t put
a dime toward this. We raised this through private donations from businesses in
the community and through some fundraisers by the football and soccer boosters.
No, sir, this was done with a dime of school money.”
“That’s really impressive,” said the parson. “What did this
Roll Out broke the numbers down for the parson, the turf,
the installation, the markings so it could be used for both soccer and
“Have you ever seen a high school athletic field any better
than this?” asked Roll Out.
“I truly have not,” said the parson. “Let me ask you
something, Roll Out. How many furlough days, without pay, were the teachers
required to take last year because of the economy?”
“Let’s see,” said Roll Out as he closed his eyes and
mentally calculated. “I think it was six.”
“How many will they have to take this year?”
“Oh, this year it’s ten. Why do you ask?”
“I’m just thinking how it the booster clubs and all these
local businesses had a fund raiser to supplement your teachers. How many
furlough days do you think this field would have covered? You know, Roll Out,
doing that would really have been impressive.”
“Hello, Parson,” she said, “you don’t remember me, do you?”
The parson studied her features. She seemed familiar but he
could not place the face. Fortunately, she continued without leaving
opportunity for him to stutter through the ritual of the forgetful.
“I was in the Lay Speaking class you taught at Ripe For the
Harvest Church a few years back. I don’t know if you remember or not you
suggested I should consider full-time Christian service. Well, guess what? I
did, and here I am. I got appointed to the Church By the Meandering River. And
here I am at my first preacher’s meeting. Pretty cool, huh?”
The parson sat down beside her and the two talked. The
parson now remembered her and the penetrating questions she’d raised. He also
remembered the emails they’d exchanged for a few months following the classes.
She was excited about her new church, and the parson got a confident feeling
the church was in good hands.
They went into the meeting. The parson headed to a pew in
the rear and off to the side while she headed further down the aisle to join
some friends. The various presentations were made by church officials.
Exhortations were made to pay the denominational asking despite the lagging
economy. And then the group was adjourned to the fellowship hall for a light
The parson, after placing a portion of goodies on his paper
plate, the size of which would not bring insult to his diet, settled at a
corner table where three colleagues as old as he were telling well-rehearsed
stories of better days gone by. After the meal, the parson rose to place his
plate in the trash, and started toward the meeting room again.
“Excuse me, Parson,” said a man in his fifties with
premature gray hair. “You don’t remember me, do you?” The parson had to admit
he did not. “I’m Edward Howard. Back in the 1970s I was at a meeting at your
church. I talked to you about speaking at my church on Laity Sunday. I’d never
done any public speaking, and you sat down and let me go over my ideas with
you. You won’t remember but the scripture was the Prodigal Son. When we were
talking about it you mentioned that was the only time in the Bible that you
knew of when God was in a hurry. Well, that was my sermon: “God In A Hurry.”
The parson smiled and acknowledged that he remembered the
“I want you to know, Parson,” said Edward, “I’m preaching at
that church again this Sunday. But this time it’s not Laity Sunday. In fact, I
preach there every Sunday now. The bishop appointed me there in June. I just wanted
to thank you for helping me find this path.”
They walked into the meeting together. As the proceedings
progressed, the parson sat in his pew near the back and off to the side and
decided that maybe it all had been worth it.
It was hot, Georgia July hot. The browning grass crunched
beneath the feet, the red clay cracked like parched lips on a shipwrecked
sailor. It was hot, Georgia hot. The birds did not chirp but took refuge in
shaded trees. Cows pushed against each other to claim small spots of shade in
virtually treeless pastures.
The parson and Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion,
wandered the back roads taking the scenic route from one appointment to the
next. Just past the Peaceful Valley Community Church of the Redeemed, the
parson approached the wooden bridge spanning Possum Run Creek. He noticed a
small plastic box sitting on the rail of the bridge and pulled the car off the
road. He opened the back door and Charlie Brown bounded out. He sat and
observed to determine the parson’s direction, then followed when the parson,
after picking up the box, turned toward the path that led down the embankment
beside the stream.
At the bottom of the bank the parson followed the path among
the hardwoods. His body shivered unexpectedly when he stepped from stifling sun
into the cool of the forest. Charlie Brown
jumped into the creek and began lapping the water. Persnickety dog, thought the parson, you’ve got a water bowl in the car, but you prefer drink the organic
stuff. The parson continued walking knowing it was impossible to separate
himself from Charlie Brown for more than a few minutes.
A hundred yards further the parson paused and spoke, “Catching
The man sitting on the bank of the stream turned and, seeing
the parson, smiled. He looked to be in his late fifties or early sixties. A
three or four day growth of whiskers embraced his face in a salt and pepper
pattern. Crow’s feet accentuated his eyes. Despite the heat he wore a long
sleeved denim shirt, whose dark blue color only showed itself under his arms
and other places where the sun did not bleach.
“Naw, Parson,” said the man, “ain’t much biting today. Too
hot, I guess. I’ll come back in the late afternoon. Sit a spell. Where’s
“He’ll be along, I’m sure,” said the parson. “I’m surprised
to see you.” The parson held up the plastic box. “You left this on the bridge.”
He looked toward a large back pack leaning against a tree. “Gracious,
I guess I did. Getting old, I guess.”
The parson handed him the box. “Hold my line a minute,” said
the man. He took the box over to the pack and secured the two together. “Thanks,”
he said, taking the limb with the string, hook and cork tied to it from the
parson. “Hey, you had lunch yet?”
“No, not yet,” the parson replied.
“I’d love to,” said the parson.
The man again returned to the pack. He unzipped a side
pocket and withdrew a box of soda crackers, Vienna sausage, and several fast
food packets of mustard. Reaching into the pack again he brought out a bandana
and spread it on the ground. The lunch entrees were placed on it.
Charlie Brown wandered up to where they sat and sniffed at
the table cloth. “Sit,” said the parson. Charlie Brown sat.
He divided the sausage into three equal portions. For the
parson and himself he carefully sliced a sausage in half long ways, placed both
half flat side down on a cracker and spread a line of mustard in a zigzag pattern
from the small corner he’d cut in the packet. For Charlie Brown he cut the
sausage the same way and placed it on the cracker but dispensed with the
“Want to bless it, Parson?”
The parson asked God to bless the meal. Following they ate
without too many words, as he occasionally handed Charlie Brown a bite. ‘
After the meal, he shook out the bandana and placed it back
in the pack along with the unused crackers. The Vienna sausage can he put into
a plastic grocery bag and started to tie it to the pack shoulder straps.
“I can take that,” said the parson.
“Much appreciate it,” he replied. He extended his hand, “Thanks
for stopping by, Parson,” he said. “I appreciate it, but I know you weren’t
passing by here without being on the way to someplace.”
“I do have a little errand,” said the parson.
“Well, you be on your way. I’m going to wait until later and
catch a couple.”
“Are you going to hang around this area long?” the parson
“Actually, I think I’ll head up into the mountains. It’s a
lot cooler up there. I’ll pan a little gold. If it’s as good as last year I’ll
have enough to carry me through the winter. I even put a little in savings this
“I guess you don’t know when you’ll get back.”
“No, I don’t. Tell you what, I’ll leave you a message at
After farewells were spoken, the parson and Charlie Brown
headed back to the car and their appointed destination.Along the way, the parson’s memory projected
upon his conscious a day when he felt called into the ministry. He had been
sitting in a pew listening to a sermon preached by the father of the man with
whom he’d just shared a meal.
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