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Chapter 5: First Sunday

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Parsonage

A novel about life behind the scenes for an evangelical pastor's family: in the church, the parsonage, the community.

© 1996 G. Edwin Lint

 

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Even with twenty-five years in the ministry, Jim could count on one hand the times he had preached in a double-header service which began at eight-thirty Sunday morning. Remembering how he used to feel in his early-morning college classes, he wasn't sure how this was going to work out. He arrived at the Wesley Evangelical Church complex shortly after seven thirty and parked in a rear lot close to the entrance to the pastor's office. He was pleasantly surprised to find the main lots were beginning to fill, even at this early hour.

He went straight to the conference room and found Sandy, the pastoral staff, Grace Carson, and Miles Abbott, just as they had promised. In addition, there were five people Jim hadn't met. Although the hour was relatively early, everyone seemed alert. Cliff Graham, Associate Pastor for Music, introduced the people Jim didn't know as the special music for the morning services. Candace English would be singing a solo in each service. Two husband-and-wife teams, the Bakers and the Watsons, were a mixed quartet who would be singing in both services, also.

After shaking hands with the singers, Jim took a seat at the head of the table. "I asked you to come forty-five minutes early this morning so we could discuss the services and still have time for prayer around the altar. Sandy had distributed bulletins and Jim glanced over the order of service before continuing.

"We'll begin by my introducing you to the congregation," said Jason Mattern, Assistant Pastor. "Then you can make a few remarks, and if you will, I'd like you to offer the invocation." Jim liked this arrangement. So often he had sat in the congregation waiting through a full third of the service before he heard a guest speaker so much as open his mouth.

"Then after your invocation, Cliff Graham will start the song service," continued Jason. "And I guess you can see the rest of the lineup in the bulletin."

Jim noted that Jill Dawson, Associate Pastor for Young Adults would be receiving the offering, Bob Baker, Associate Pastor for Teens would be greeting visitors, and Emily Marlow, Associate Pastor for Education would be making announcements.

The bulletin showed that Jim would be leading in prayer. "Jason, tell me a little about your prayer time."

"We usually have an open altar with anyone who needs a spiritual or a physical touch coming forward to pray. The Assistant Pastors and myself will have oil for any who wish to be anointed for healing."

"Do you have a list of prayer requests I should mention or should I make a public announcement about requests?"

"The size of our congregations just about mandates that we have prayer requests in advance," responded Jason. "As people come in, they give any written prayer requests to the ushers. Then Sandy takes these and gets them typed up in a list which will be on the pulpit by prayer time."

"Sandy, I've been here less than two days and you've already become indispensable to me." The Administrative Assistant smiled with appreciation.

"We need to continue to remember Patricia Court's unspoken request," said Emily Marlow. "You may remember her as the director of Wesley Day Care. She has really been under quite a burden for several weeks."

Jim thanked Emily for her request on behalf of Patricia. "Anything special I need to know?" he asked, glancing down at his watch and noting it was close to eight. No one spoke. "All right, first I'd like to read my scripture lesson so you'll be able to pray in specifics and then I'd like us all to go into the sanctuary for about fifteen minutes of prayer around the altar. Jason, I'd like you to lead in prayer and then each of you can follow with just a few sentences. I'll close.

"My scripture will be found in the second book of Kings, chapter six, beginning with verse 24 and concluding with the first part of verse 9 in chapter seven. 'And it came to pass after that, Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. And there was a great famine in Samaria . . . '."

By eight fifteen when Jim finished leading in prayer at the altar, the sanctuary was more than three-quarters filled, including the balcony. Upon seeing the group in prayer down at the altar, many incoming worshipers had gone to the altar, also. Jim didn't realize it then but he had just set a precedent for pre-service prayer at the altar which would last at Wesley Evangelical Church.

Jim joined Cliff Graham and the choir in their practice room where he was introduced and led in a brief prayer. He was already getting a strong sense of fellowship with people of the church. He liked the spirit of friendliness and openness which seemed to be the pattern with all the people he met. Of course, the acid test of a congregation was the degree of spiritual freedom he would feel in the pulpit. He was convinced that freedom in the pulpit was an absolute indicator of the amount of prayer support he was receiving from the pews. It wouldn't be long until he knew.

At eight-fifteen, the pianist and organist began a prelude which was nothing less than outstanding. Not outstanding in the sense of a Bach classic, but outstanding in the variety of hymns and worship choruses and the manner in which they were played. Jim knew there is nothing quite like evangelical piano and organ playing and he had never heard better. All effective evangelical musicians know the arrangements in the hymnal are very dull and unimaginative. They consist of solid, four-note chords with few frills because they were written to be sung in four-part harmony. However, evangelical singing has given rise to a style of piano and organ playing which expands the basic melody and harmony into a lively and vibrant accompaniment. As Jim waited in the hall outside the entrance to the platform, he knew that these musicians would greatly enhance the congregational singing and special music. Later, he learned that Arnold and Betty Barnes were self-taught as far as their improvisations were concerned. They could play any song in any key by ear, and read music, too! Jim was sure that anyone who was used to hearing hymns played straight from the hymnal would be thrilled by this great evangelical accompaniment. Some might call this kind of playing a skill. Others might say it was a talent. Jim was convinced it was a gift straight from the Lord.

The choir entered the loft at eight-twenty and began to sing along softly with the prelude. Many in the gathering congregation participated, also. Meanwhile, the line of worshipers kneeling at the altar had increased until it stretched the full length of the padded rail. Their praying voices mingled beautifully with the piano and organ, the softly-singing choir, and the singing from the congregation until a powerful montage of praise was being lifted to the Lord.

By eight twenty-eight, all participants in the service had gathered with Jim in the conference room, across the hall from the platform entrance to the sanctuary. The processional was nothing fancy. Jason Mattern led the way, followed by the Assistant Pastors, the singers, and Jim. An usher was there to close the hall door as Jim went up two steps to the platform.

When the pastors and singers were standing in front of their platform chairs, Cliff Graham stepped to the pulpit. He lifted a silver trumpet to his lips and played a cappella the last phrase of the chorus of "How Great Thou Art". Each note of that simple phrase was liquid brass. Clear, flawless, powerful. Jim felt the short hairs at the base of his skull prickle and he knew his forearms were covered with goose bumps. A physical response to the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Then, with an upward sweep of the bell of his horn, Cliff began the chorus from the beginning. The piano, organ, and choir were right on cue. The entire congregation was instantly on its feet, many with hands raised to Heaven: "Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee, how great Thou art, how great Thou art. . .." Jim lifted his face and arms to the Lord and just listened. Normally he thoroughly enjoyed singing along with the congregation, especially on those rare occasions when Debra was by his side to join in the harmony. But this morning, he just worshipped. Tears flowed freely down his face and he said over and over again, "Come Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit."

At that moment, Jim was convinced that Cliff Graham was the best trumpet player in the evangelical movement. The first time through the chorus, Cliff had given heavy emphasis to the melody. But as the singing progressed to the second and third and fourth times through, Cliff added overlays of variations and embellishments. And Jim could sense that it was completely in the Spirit, not a demonstration of prowess with a trumpet. Just as Jim was convinced that Cliff could not add another variation to the grand old chorus, he led the singing through the fifth and final chorus by triple-tonguing an eighth-note running counter-melody.

As the song ended, the volume of praise and prayer which was being lifted to Almighty God was nothing less than a roar. Behind him in the choir loft, Jim could hear people crying, laughing, and praying all at the same time. To his right, Jason Mattern had his arms up and his head thrown back, saying over and over again, "Thank you, Jesus; thank you, Jesus; thank you, Jesus!" To his left one of the couples which made up the mixed quartet was standing with arms about each other's waists, free arms lifted toward Heaven.

Cliff Graham was more than a talented trumpet player. He was an expert worship leader as well. At the height of the volume of praise following "How Great Thou Art", he had signaled the pianist and organist to begin playing "Come, Holy Spirit", that powerful song of invocation by Bill and Gloria Gaither. When he began leading the choir in singing along with the instruments, the congregation quickly joined in. About half way through the second chorus, Cliff moved back to stand in front of his chair and Jason Mattern took his place at the pulpit. Jason made no attempt to lead but just waited for the chorus to end and then signaled for the congregation to be seated.

"That's the most excitement I've had at eight-thirty in the morning since last Sunday this time." Everyone laughed and many clapped. Jason went on to introduce Jim and to explain the significance of his being at Wesley Evangelical Church on this particular day. And then it was Jim's turn to step to the pulpit.

"In your bulletin, you'll notice that I'm supposed to offer the invocation. The word 'invocation' comes from two Latin words which mean to 'call in' or literally, to 'voice in'. This makes the invocation the act of calling in the presence of the Holy Spirit to the worship service. Well, I really don't need to do that because the Holy Spirit is already here in His fullness. And in addition, you have already sung the invocation with that beautiful song by Bill and Gloria Gaither. One of my all-time favorites, 'Come Holy Spirit'. But I will lead you in a brief prayer of thanksgiving.

"Heavenly Father, we praise you as the Great God of all the universe. You made this universe, and everything in it, including us. We thank you for loving the human race, even after we sinned. And we thank you for providing your great plan of salvation which took Jesus Christ to the cross to pay the death penalty for sin so that we won't have to die an eternal death for those sins. We thank you for the Holy Spirit, whose presence we are feeling in such great power this morning. And we thank for the Holy Angels whom you have dispatched to watch over us. We thank you for our material blessings, including the mental and physical ability to work. We thank you for this beautiful sanctuary and we thank you for the political and legal freedom to worship here in the beauty of Your holiness.

"May the Holy Spirit open our minds and hearts to receive your instructions, and may the Holy Spirit open my mind as I share your Word. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen." (Of course, he gave it the evangelical pronunciation of "a-men", rather than the more formal "ah-men".)

As Jim was saying "amen", Cliff was at his shoulder, ready to step to the pulpit for the first congregational song. "Turn to page one in your hymnal as we continue to worship the Lord in song. 'All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name'. I like to refer to this as the 'National Anthem of the Christian Church'. Let's stand together.

Jim watched Cliff carefully as he led the singing. The first word of the first verse was "All", and since this was a pickup note, Cliff signaled it with an upward sweep of his right hand. The second note was "Hail", the first beat of the first measure, and he signaled this with a straight-down stroke. The song was in 4/4 time so the second beat was signified by a curving movement which was up and to the left. The third beat sent his hand parallel right and on the fourth beat, his hand swept up to the point where the first beat had begun. After less than two measures, Jim knew that Cliff Graham was a true song leader and not just a page caller and an arm waver. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see that the pianist and organist were paying very close attention to Cliff's arm signals. Apparently all three of them realized that a song leader really leads the piano and organ only, and maybe the choir. The instruments, in turn, lead the congregation.

From time to time throughout the song service, Cliff would lift that silver trumpet and add its clarion call to the worship in music. Jim was already looking forward to the evening service when the orchestra would participate in the song service. His own trumpet case was in The Chief and it wouldn't take much persuasion for him to sit in.

After two songs, Cliff made a smooth transition to a worship chorus and Jim was pleased to see that twin slide projectors were displaying the words of the chorus on large screens mounted well up the wall on both sides of the platform. Later he would learn that the projected slide images were legible from any seat in the sanctuary. The crisp, clear characters on a contrasting background were far superior to the traditional overhead projectors with words written or typed on acetate transparencies. The slide projectors were mounted in recesses behind the wall and projected their images on the screens from the rear. They were synchronized by a single control in the audio booth. Jim wasn't at all surprised to learn that Sandy could create the two-by-two slides on her Macintosh computer in just a few seconds. At the bottom of each slide, Sandy had typed the copyright notice and the words "used with permission".

Then Jason Mattern was at the pulpit, opening the altar and inviting those who wished prayer for spiritual or physical or material needs to come forward. Within a few seconds, the altar was lined with supplicants while others stood three-deep behind them. As Jim took his place at the pulpit, his pastor's heart broke at the sight of so many needy people. Glancing down at the typed list of requests, he began to pray from his heart. Soon tears were flowing down his cheeks and his arms were raised heavenward as he poured out his spirit before God on behalf of the many needs represented in the altar area and throughout the sanctuary.

After prayer and when the people had returned to their seats, there was a time of fellowship when everyone was encouraged to shake hands and make a special point of getting to know visitors. While this was happening, Cliff led everyone in singing a chorus Jim had first heard on an Evie album many years ago: "I Love This Family of God, so closely knitted into one. You've taken me into your heart, and I'm so glad to be a part, of this great family."

The mixed quartet sang next and it was exceptionally good. The song was more on the southern Gospel side of the Christian music coin, but very well done. The accompaniment was live and consisted of the piano with amplification, an electric bass played by the tall man singing bass, and a skillfully-played trap set. Soon many in the congregation were clapping in time with the music and quite a few were singing along as well. Jim was pleased to note that Cliff did not restrict music with a beat to the evening service. Jim's foot began responding to the music and then he released all pastoral restraint and sang and clapped, also.

While Arnold and Betty Barnes played a lively offertory on the piano and organ, Jim took the opportunity to make a quick inventory of the sanctuary as it appeared when filled. Miles had told him yesterday that the sanctuary seated a maximum of twelve hundred on the floor with an additional three hundred in the balcony. Jim estimated that the congregation in the eight-thirty service was pushing twelve hundred, and that would not be counting the many children, teachers, and aides who were in the nursery and who were worshipping in cherub church and the junior church in other parts of the complex. As he contemplated the massive spiritual and administrative responsibilities represented by a church of this size and complexity, he was reminded of what Mordecai had said to Queen Esther when the king was planning to have all the Jewish people executed: "And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this." Could he say no because he was comfortable with his smallish church in Ashtabula? Could he say no because Debra was in love with the parsonage there in Ohio? Could he say no because he hated to disrupt Jessi's high school education?

Then Candace English rose to sing and Jim knew his message was next. Better get back in the spirit of the service and wait until the vote this evening before deciding whether to say yes or no. Might not need to say no.

The young lady took a hand-held wireless mike with a yellow wind-screen from a stand behind a potted fern and moved to a position to the left of the pulpit and close to the edge of the platform. She nodded slightly to Dick Allen in the floor-level sound room at the rear of the sanctuary and a prerecorded sound track began to play. Jim had never been especially fond of sound tracks in worship, feeling that the Holy Spirit couldn't very well move the singer to repeat a chorus or a verse unless the sound man was a genius at live cueing.

By the end of the first verse, Candace had turned Jim completely around on the sound track issue. The song was contemporary and one which Jessi might recognize but which Jim had never heard. No matter, though. Candace sang with the energy of Margaret Becker, the worship fervor of Twila Paris, and the commercial vocal qualities of Amy Grant. In addition to her musical skills, her mike technique was flawless. Jim suspected Cliff's coaching was in evidence here. There was never a hint of an acoustic pop, that unpleasant sound caused by pronouncing "P" and "B" sounds directly into a mike which is being held too close and directly in the air stream of the singer or speaker. And there was no distortion either, as she moved the mike closer to her mouth for soft, dramatic effects and farther away when high pitch and greater volume were indicated. In addition, Candace never held the mike in a way which would give the congregation the illusion that she was eating a lemon sherbet cone. Her mike was always below her chin level and never distorted her appearance in the eyes of the congregation.

Candace surely needed a mike which did not have a wire jacked into the floor somewhere. She took full advantage of her electronic freedom and worked the platform from one end to the other. But there was never a hint of excessive theatrics which would have been out of harmony with the way the Holy Spirit was working in the service. At the end, the congregation reacted with a full swell of applause, and Jim contributed whole-heartedly.

Now Jason Mattern, Assistant Pastor, strode to the pulpit and before he knew it, the introduction was over and it was time for Jim to rise and approach the pulpit for the morning message. While Jason was speaking, Jim had reached to his side inside his suit jacket where the wireless microphone transmitter was fastened to his belt. He moved the tiny toggle switch to the on position and glanced down to make sure he could see the red wink of the LED tally light. In the few seconds that remained, he prayed fervently God's will would be done during the next forty minutes or so, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Jim rose to welcoming applause and took his place at the pulpit. He placed his large, black Nelson King James on top of the pulpit and assumed the classic pastoral position with both arms spread wide and grasping the corners of the sacred desk.

"Thank you Pastor Jason for that fine introduction. For a moment there I thought I might have gotten into the wrong church and was starting to look around for the fellow about whom you were speaking." Appreciative laughter. "Now It's my turn to say nice things and I can't say enough about everything which has happened in this service to this point. I know this will sound trite but for me, it is no polite exaggeration when I say I've never been in a service where I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a more profound way. And the music! The music has been literally out of this world; it has been heavenly! Cliff, Arnold and Betty on the piano and organ, Candace, the Bakers and the Watsons-- thank you for allowing your musical gifts to be used by the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way."

Since Jim had already had an opportunity to speak in the service, and since he had spent quite a bit of time yesterday afternoon answering questions from some of these same people, he decided to skip any further pleasantries and move directly to his scripture lesson.

"Please turn in your Bibles to the second book of Kings, chapter six. This is one of the most exciting Old Testament Bible stories you'll ever read. And with the excitement, I'm going to show those who can testify to being born-again Christians a lesson you need to learn. And, I'm going to share some important information for any of you who might be chained by the shackles of sinful habits and practices. The title for my sermon is 'Beggars' Bonanza'."

Jim was very gratified by the rustling music of India paper as over a thousand Bibles were turned to second Kings six. "Let's begin the reading with verse twenty-four of chapter six. . .

 

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