Good morning, y’all. We have a saying that “third time’s the charm”. It generally refers to the number of times the uninitiated can attempt a task before getting it right. Hopefully, the old saying will apply to the third death of an innocent child on an amusement park ride this week and force various states’ legislators to better regulate the industry. Accidents happen, and we acknowledge the possibility for lightning striking or some other force majeure occurring. That said, every precaution should be taken to ensure the safety of the little ones who are just trying to have fun. Maybe a ratio of one dollar spent on safety to one dollar spent on advertising would be a good starting point.
Talking about lightning striking is a good place to begin the retelling of the history of The Full Gospel Original Church of God. Following the Altar Call that failed to materialize, Elder Cheatum drove off up Highway 60 into the mountains to clear his head. When he got to Morganton, he pulled into the Morganton Grill exactly thirty minutes after his departure from the church. The Elder had covered the winding, snaking twenty-six miles of mountain roads faster than he could remember. As he removed the lemon from his glass of ice tea, he reflected that he did not remember much of the drive to the little eatery. The Elder sorted over his feelings and questioned his decisions as he tore into a rack of ribs. By the time the blackberry cobbler arrived the Elder was almost back to himself.
The drive back to the little church took forty-five minutes, more in keeping with the speed limits and highway safety. The Elder knocked on the door of the rectory and was greeted by Reverend Helena in her customary jeans and sweatshirt. As he was led to a seat in the living room, the Elder noticed what a dramatic change the Reverend had made to the decor of the house. It was almost like generations of Hawker families had been erased through the tasteful use of paint and fabric. Refusing a glass of tea, the Elder plunged right in.
“I think I’ve made a big mistake”, he started, “I think I’ve greatly misjudged what our congregation wants, or expects, and, I’m not sure how to quantify those concepts.”
Immediately tears rose up in the eyes of Reverend Helena and she began to appeal for another chance, “I can change, just tell me what you want me to do, I’m young, I can learn”, she said while maintaining control of he voice.
The Elder realized he had led the Reverend to the wrong conclusion and was quick to quell her panic. “No, it’s not you, it’s how I have placed you in the role of the traditional preacher, and what we have here is anything but traditional.”
The Reverend’s face became calmer as she asked, “It’s not me?” “I thought sure you were coming back to fire me after the poor Altar Call.”
“No, it’s not you”, replied Elder Cheatum, “it’s how we make use of your talents, and that’s my job.” The Elder continued, “I thought that placing you at the front door after the benediction was the right thing to do; it’s the traditional thing to do.” “Like I said, you are anything but traditional.”
“What do you want me to do”, the Reverend asked.
“I want you to make the Altar Call and then stay in front of the Altar for maybe fifteen minutes, and then exit through the stage.” The Elder answered, “I don’t care if there’s a hundred people still standing at the altar, when fifteen minutes has passed, you bug out, got me?”
“Got you”, replied the Reverend, “anything else?”
“Yes, now that mentioned it”, replied the Elder, “no more sermons on temperance unless one of our young people is killed in an accident.”
A look of surprise came over the Reverend’s face, “Why?”
“Because something didn’t feel right during your sermon, the congregation just didn’t seem to be with you”, the Elder responded, “let’s just leave it alone for awhile, ok?”
The Elder stood up to leave. He looked at the Reverend and smiled, “It’s not like you’re going to run out of sins to talk about.”
“I guess that’s true”, said the Reverend, “so, fifteen minutes at the Altar and scoot, and we’re good?”
“Exactly”, said the Elder and he was out the door.
Wednesday morning’s unofficial board meeting at the IHOP found the Elders more out of sorts than usual. Elder Cheatum was still smarting over his mishandling of the Reverend’s talents. Elder Diggum was smarting from having to twist, wheedle and cajole the management at Channel 99 into going along with the documentary idea. Elder Diggum was also smarting that he had had to call Elder Wiley in to “get the deal done.” Elder Wiley was smarting because he’d been called in. Elder Diggum was unable to find the joy in the clown face drawn on his pancakes in whipped cream and fresh fruit.
“Anything?”, asked Elder Wiley as he reached for the latest copy of the North Georgia Gazette from Elder Cheatum.
“Nope”, replied Elder Cheatum as he handed the paper to his friend. “It’s like this guy works as the spirit moves him”. “He must be independently wealthy or a relative of somebody.”
“Well, I’m sure he’s somebody’s relative”, replied Elder Wiley, “but I get your meaning.” “He’s like a baby copperhead”, Elder Wiley continued, “you can’t hardly see them, but you don’t dare not watch for them because if you do they’ll alter your day for you.”
Elder Wiley exposed the webbing between his thumb and first finger for his partners to see the darkened skin and scarred tissue. The partners nodded in agreement.
“Do we even know who this Doohan fellow is”, asked Elder Cheatum, “does he have family in the area.”
“The Gazette isn’t giving anything up,” replied Elder Diggum between mouthfuls, “I called them, even said I was interested in having the guy do an article on us, and they wouldn’t give me any information at all.” “I think it’s a nom de plume.”
“You just like saying ‘nom de plume’ you french fry eating son of a gun”, joked Elder Wiley.
“Well, I’m glad you guys got Channel 99 squared away”, said Elder Cheatum, “I’m sorry I let everyone down Sunday, but I think we’re back on track.”
“How did Reverend Helena take your suggestions”, asked Elder Wiley.
“Good, I think she thought we were going to fire her”, replied Elder Cheatum, “have you all seen how she’s fixed up the rectory?”
“Can’t say that I have”, answered Elder Wiley.
“Well that girl’s got decorator skills”, replied Elder Cheatum, “you’d never know a man had lived in the place to see it today.”
“Here Barry, why don’t you catch this one”, Elder Cheatum said as he slid the check to his friend, “I hate to break a hundred”.
“You hate to use your own money”, replied Elder Diggum.
“That’s right, I do”, said Elder Cheatum as he passed through the door of the restaurant,
“See you in church”, the three friends called to each other as they began their day.