Good morning, y’all. Wow, is there anything sadder than seeing an elderly widow being placed in a boat to escape the rising flood waters that have surrounded her home? Louisiana is being absolutely battered right now by more than two feet of rain in the last couple of days. I don’t think that any area of the country could handle that kind of runoff, least of all an area that is largely under sea level. Our hearts, and hopefully soon, our tax dollars go out to the people affected by these disastrous floods. Disasters can occur, even when Congress is not in session.
Speaking of disasters brings us back to the retelling of history of The Full Gospel Original Church of God. Sunday arrived on schedule, as did the buses chartered to carry the faithful to the new church in Blairsville. There were three large Greyhound style buses, each carrying about fifty-five passengers. The overflow traffic would be expected to follow caravan style behind the buses to the Crystal Palace.
As the plan unfolded, parishioners were met in the parking lot of the church and shepherded to the sign in desks setup next to the church. Each signup was given a colored ticket, red or blue, that had to be presented to enter the buses. Assignments for buses had been drawn up the day before and were a reflection of the “importance” of the parishioner. The first one hundred numbers were given to people that the Elders felt were important to the church’s mission and were assigned to the first two buses. The red tickets, or “A listers”, were given the opportunity to ride in the lead bus with the Reverend Helena Handbasket. The blue tickets, the “B listers”, were in the second bus and given over to the care of the Right Reverend Dale E. Bread. The Ladies Auxilary provided coffee, tea, and little snack cakes to each of the parishioners as they entered the bus assigned to them. The Elders were in hopes that the preference shown to certain members would salve their feelings about the move. It was an indication that while the location might change, the old relationships would remain the same.
There were three buses provided, but the church could have easily filled five. Despite the bus driver’s warnings, the third bus was filled with people who would stand in the aisle for the trip to Blairsville. The overflow crowd was encouraged to use their own transportation for the caravan bound for Blairsville. As Elder Cheatum walked back and forth monitoring the efficiency of the operation he noted that the last bus was filled with the same folks who are always clambering for the last seats in church as the service begins.
The Elder had originally planned on being the “tour guide” for the third bus. It would be an opportunity to get to know some of the new members better and get a feel for their expectations. As the driver of bus number three closed his door Elder Cheatum could see that the passengers had left the driver barely enough room to drive. There would be scant opportunity for the Elder to “work the crowd” based off of the current conditions.
Channel 99 had assigned a cameraman to the first bus and another cameraman was shooting from the Channel 99 van in the caravan. The camera was rolling in the first bus and recording the Reverend Helena Handbasket leading the “A listers” in a fiery version of “Onward Christian Soldiers”, when Reverend Helena broke her song with cries of, “stop, stop”. To everyone in the caravan’s surprise, the lead bus pulled from the road with a sudden swerve that sent gravel from the side of the road flying. The bus pulled into a parking lot and the faithful were completely clueless as to what the diversion was about. The followers were questioning one another as to the sudden deviation from their charted course when one member looked through the back window of the bus and spied the infamous sign of the “Boobie Bungalow“, one of Blairsville’s centers of exotic dance.
Like ants bringing food back to their queen, the congregation of The Full Gospel Original Church of God were out of the buses and their cars and drawing a circle around the Reverend Handbasket who was standing at the doors of the club. The shot that was later broadcast by Channel 99 van was legendary. The faithful were milling in a circle around the Reverend Helen Handbasket, standing in the parking lot of a strip club, with looks approaching rapture on their faces.
In the broadcast shown at the regularly scheduled time, it could be seen that many of the followers were confused as to whether or not this was the intended destination, or if it was just serendipity. Some of the male members of the congregation milled about with what appeared to be sheepish looks on their faces as they waited for the other shoe to drop. Every ear was attuned for the Reverend’s voice, but she had to wait to speak until the Channel 99 crew provided her with a microphone.
Once “miked up”, the Reverend Helen Handbasket unleashed a furious condemnation of women who sold their bodies for the lustful eyes of men, and the men who lusted after them. There were strong words describing the “blight” on the community that the establishment imposed, and the need for the righteous to cast out this “den of inequity”. After ten minutes of intense fire and brimstone, the faithful were loaded back onto the buses to complete their journey.
The walk around the “Crystal Palace” was anti-climatic to the guerilla like raid on the “Boobie Bungalow“. The tour of the church more closely resembled an “Open House” with a realtor, than a congregation entering the Promised Land. Reverend Helena gathered the faithful around her after the tour was finished and pronounced a blessing on the new church and all of those who would worship there. While Channel 99 was denied another altar call, and a testament of faith, they were rewarded with being on the scene when the area’s most important news story of the day was being created.
The telecast ended with the faithful being loaded back onto their buses. As each member climbed onto the bus they were handed a box lunch and cold drink provided by the Ladies Auxilary. The closing scene was bus number three leaving the parking lot, headed back to Nunsuch. The telecast couldn’t have appeared more like a documentary if it had been directed by Michael Moore.
As Elder Cheatum texted the other Elders to meet him later for dinner, he reflected on the multi-faceted gem that was Reverend Helena. Clearly she had a mind of her own, and, maybe that was a good thing. The Elder just needed to caution her to never, ever go off script. Dumping the congregation with camera crews on the doorstep of a business that was owned by very influential members of their community was not wise. He was sure that he could convey the message to “curb her enthusiasm” in a positive way. If not, well, the church had been looking for a preacher when they found Reverend Helena.