The parson sat in his office pondering a heavy question of ethics. He possessed knowledge that, one the one hand, should be disseminated to various members of his church. But, the dissemination of that knowledge could color the attitudes of those members toward another, or could in the case of a few could engender hostile feelings. The parson was stymied.
He sat back on the sofa and rested his head on the back. The stained glass window across from him glowed from the security light on the utility pole beside the parking lot. Charlie Brown, his faithful canine companion, was curled in a ball beside the parson's now empty rocking chair, seemingly torn between watching for the parson's signal it was time to depart and drifting into slumber. The parson heard the distant voices of the people in the kitchen cleaning up from the Family Night Supper. Those people were part of the parson's ethical question.
It had begun when Florence, one of the sometimes homeless women who came to the soup suppers, decided she was part of the congregation. When word of the Family Night Supper rolled around, Florence made a decision to participate. Helen brought her fought-over squash casserole; Vivian brought her usual five bean salad; Alice plopped her secret recipe for an avocado dish with her usual fanfare of “Oh, I was so rushed today I just whipped something together.”
The table was full of dazzling dishes, delightful desserts, pitchers of tea and urns of coffee when Florence entered. She greeted the familiar faces from the soup suppers and bowed her head in a shy way when passing others she did not know. On the end of the table she placed her dish, whispering to the parson as she did so.
“Oh, Florence, that looks delicious,” exclaimed Wanda Carter in an effort to make her feel at home. “Let's put it up here with the other meats.” She moved Florence's offering to the proper place and then graciously introduced her to some other people.
The parson prayed the blessing and everyone formed a line to heap their plates full of the gastronomic gifts. Maybe it was a sign of the character of the church members, maybe it really did look delicious as Wanda had said; whichever it was, Florence's platter was emptied before half the people had an opportunity to select a piece.
The evening went well. Even those who'd not met Florence at the Monday Soup Suppers seemed pleased that one of “those homeless people” was taking part in the evening. And Florence endeared herself, infecting the people with her belly laugh at the appropriate times during the program. The evening was a smash. Florence walked out to her broken down Ford Ranger with her empty platter under her arm in the company of several members as though she was a charter member of the church.
It was shortly after her departure the parson bumped up against the ethical dilemma that drove him to his office to ponder his role as the moral leader of the church. As the parson walked through the kitchen where about five women and two men were cleaning up the conversation centered around Florence.
“I think it's wonderful Florence felt at home here,” said one.
“I do, too. And I must admit that dish she brought was delicious,” replied another.
“It was,” said one of the men. “I tell you from the texture of the meat I think that chicken was an open range hen.”
“Ah, now that you mention it,” said the woman at the sink, “that must account for the difference. I loved the flavor, but the texture was different.”
“You know, the parson said she lives in the outdoors in a tent. The woman is virtually penniless. I wonder how she manages free range chickens.”
It was at that point the parson retreated to the study to contemplate the ethics of sharing or not sharing his knowledge. And there he sat, as the members finished the kitchen police duty, unsure of what to do. He could not resolve his problem. In desperation he turned to Charlie Brown and said, “You know Charlie Brown, I'm not sure I know what a free range chicken tastes like. What do you think? Do you think I should tell them that Florence cooks up the best squirrel I've ever eaten?”