The paving stones that led to the church were lined with the welcome of white and red impatiens bright in the summer sun, but the massive wooden doors remained shut as Jo approached. The sound of children’s laughter and the buzz of deeper voices lured her around the white clapboard building to discover what looked like the whole congregation spread out across the back lawn.
Today I worked from Jo’s point of view. Since I already know her pretty well from writing three books about her, the only trick was getting back into her irreverent frame of mind for this scene.
Awnings had been set out, and tables, like a picnic or potluck. Children were playing games off to the side, screaming with glee and encouragement to one another. Women gathered in clutches around the tables, fanning away the heat of the day with leaflets or church bulletins. The men all wore suits despite the heat. The females, regardless of age, all wore dresses, modest dresses with hemlines, at minimum, below the knee.
Two long tables were littered with the remains of a massive potluck, most dishes empty except for a few spoonfuls of casserole or salad or fruit cobbler at the bottom. A small woman with gray hair bound in a bun at the nape of her neck stood at one end of the banquet table, frowning at a few half-crumbled oatmeal cookies left on one plate.
She looked up as Jo paused next to her and asked, eyebrows drawn together, “Should I, do you think? Or should I save them for the children?”
“I think they sound like they’ve had enough sugar for one day, don’t you think?”
That made the woman laugh and she reached for a cookie, then a second one, and placed them on her plate. “Are you here as a guest? I don’t remember seeing you at services.”
“I’m new. To the neighborhood, I mean. Just checking out if I knew anyone here. Is this, um, is this where Lou Beckett goes to church?”
“Deacon Beckett? Why, of course. There he is talking to Pastor Oberhaus. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize him.”
Beckett had thin wavy hair that swept back from his forehead, graying now, but clearly the same mousy brown as his daughter’s. He appeared to be in deep discussion with the pastor, their voices low, both with serious expressions. Beckett’s eyes even darted side to side as Jo watched, as if he were making sure no one could overhear them.
Were they talking about Lily running away, Jo wondered? Maybe he was seeking counsel as to what he should do. Whatever it was, Jo decided not to interrupt the conversation but to watch for an opportunity to speak to him in private.
Keeping one eye on the two men, she wandered among the scene as if she were looking for someone. At one empty table, she picked up a brochure that had been abandoned next to a paper saucer of chocolate cake crumbs. Holy Trinity Revival Meeting, the cover read. Join Us For a Good Old Fashioned Call to Worship August 13 and 14.
She flipped it open to see several photos of worshippers sitting in folding chairs under a huge tent with arms raised. One photo showed the pastor, Martin Oberhaus, on stage behind the pulpit with one hand on a kneeling young woman’s head and his arm raised to heaven as he intoned something over her with open mouth.
It seems Christianity is either vilified and scorned, or elevated as a strict, unassailable path to follow in order to be acceptable in the eyes of the Creator. The belief of many Christians, regardless of denomination, usually lies somewhere between those two extremes, but their very moderation gets far less notice than the views on either end.
“Hoping to join us for the revival?” Lou Beckett’s voice made Jo jerk and she dropped the pamphlet as she turned, but Lily’s father only smiled at her. “Gertrude said you were looking for me? Do I know you?”
“No. I mean, I don’t know. About the revival. I’m just thinking of moving to the area.” How much had the old woman told him? “I’m church shopping. So … Maybe. I don’t know. You think I should?”
“Martin gives a rousing sermon anytime, but you should hear him when he’s under a tent. Just like Jesus himself must have sounded from the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, certainly. You must come and see for yourself. Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”
This last was asked in a tone that almost made it sound like a challenge. His eyes had darkened and he looked at her so intently she felt certain that if she had said no he would have condemned her for a sinner and begun preaching immediately. Just that quickly had he switched from a curious country churchman to a fire-breathing conservative Christian.