A Tale of Two Alberts


The Hand of the Lord . . . is all in the timing.

Prologue

Grantville, 1997

As they crossed the state line into West Virginia, Claudette said, “Albert Green, I did not marry you to be stuck in some backwoods little brown church in the dell. If I’d wanted to live in the hills I could have married Tom Anders right out of high school and raised pigs.”

“Why, Claudette Hawley, I thought you married me for my body.”

She laughed. “Seriously Albert, you’ve got too good a mind to let it go to waste. You should be teaching, preferably back at Louisville.”

“We both know why that isn’t likely to happen. The way things are going, a liberal Southern Baptist school is not going hire a teacher with my credentials, especially with my published credits. Not that a conservative school is going to overlook my published credits either.”

“Yes,” Claudette replied quite seriously, “you do seem to have a way of writing papers that upset both sides at the same time.”

“About my only hope of getting a teaching job is going to be a secular school or at least somewhere outside of the denomination and you know what kind of problems come with that.” He didn’t have to mention how close the latter part of that statement was to being true for pulpits also. The deacon board at the church he pastored in Dallas while taking his doctorate at Southwestern Theological Seminary grew increasingly uneasy with each paper he published. It was understood that he would move on as soon as his education was completed. Fortunately, they were gracious about things when it became clear that he was having trouble finding somewhere to go.

Grantville had never had a pastor with more than a B.S. They were willing to overlook his degrees just to get someone to come. So it did not matter if the degree was from a liberal or a conservative school. His published credits never came up at all. That his family lived just a few miles away in Shinnston did come up. That was how he heard of Grantville’s vacancy and Grantville of his willingness to come. It was assumed he wanted to be close to home and his aged and ailing mother. This often cited, and officially unmentioned, factor provided an acceptable, face-saving reason for his willingness to accept a smaller and less lucrative pulpit than the one he was leaving.

Grantville’s reputation for being rough on pastors was well deserved and things did not wait to get started.

On the day they arrived old Deacon Albert Underwood met them with the keys to the parsonage. He lost no time in letting them know just how things were in his church.

“Reverend Green, I thought I should tell you up front, I opposed calling you. Grantville is an old congregation with old ways. I was a deacon in this church before you were a gleam in your daddy’s eye. Preachers come and preachers go but the deacons remain. My daddy was a deacon here, as was his daddy. Both of them are still here, right out there in the graveyard. We ain’t never had a preacher with so many high-falootin’ certificates hanging on his wall. We don’t need one now. Shoot, all a fellow needs is an ordination certificate, saying he was called of the Lord and acknowledging that he has been with Christ.

“I’ve seen a lot of preachers try and make a lot of changes. Just leave things as they are and you will have a much easier time of it while you’re here.”

“If you didn’t want a seminary trained man, why did you call me?”

“It was the Lord’s will,” the old deacon said. By which Pastor Green assumed he meant they couldn’t get anybody else to come. “Here are the keys.”

When he was gone, Albert said to Claudette, “It was the Lord’s will. We’re a perfect match. They couldn’t get anyone else to come. We couldn’t get anyone else to take us.” They laughed when he said it. The laughter eased the pain at least a bit for a short time.

A warm crock-pot with a first-rate homemade chicken pot pie waited for them in the kitchen with a pitcher of tea in the refrigerator and complete picnic supplies including fresh homemade bread. A note said, “Just leave the crock-pot in the church kitchen.”

“Well, it looks like we won’t be going out for lunch,” Claudette said. The picnic table in the backyard hosted their first meal in the parsonage.

The moving van came promptly at one o’clock. Some volunteers showed up to help. By sundown half of Grantville knew most of what they had was too nice and the rest was shabby. Anything that wasn’t custom made or an antique came from a second hand shop. For once the gossip mongers got it, mostly, right. Claudette shopped the second hand stores of Dallas. A member of the congregation refurbished antiques and custom-built furniture as a hobby. Over the years they were there, with the help of a part-time upholsterer who worked on the pastor’s projects for cost of materials, the Greens ended up with a lot of very nice furniture.

Mrs. Myers stopped by while the furniture and boxes were being unloaded and looked up Claudette. “Claudette, I’m Amy. I don’t know if you remember me from when you and your husband came as candidates. Anyway, we had a big fight over who got to have you for dinner tonight and I won.” She handed Claudette a file card with a map and an address and a note: Dinner 6:00. “See you then.” She left before Claudette could say yes, no, or can we make it at 6:15?

Claudette was standing there with the note in her hand watching the whirlwind depart when Albert came up. “What’s that?”

“Dinner,” she replied.

“Looks rather small and dry,” Albert joked.

“An invitation to dinner,” Claudette replied just as dryly.

“Oh, that’s different.”

Over a substantial meal, through which Mrs. Myers talked nonstop, Mr. Myers said nothing beyond “Pass the potatoes, please.” When his wife went to get the cream-filled cake out of the refrigerator, her husband took that opportunity to get two cents in. “If I know Deacon Underwood, he’s already given you his, ‘deacons are here forever’ speech. I wish I could tell you not to worry about him. We’ve had five pastors and a lot of interims over the last twenty years. The longest anyone stayed was four years. He had a daughter in high school. They moved a week after she graduated. Underwood complained constantly about him not doing anything. If you try to change things, the old man is going to complain about it. If you don’t, then he’ll complain about that. So you can count on him complaining.

“I’ve been told that years ago, when he was a young man, he did some preaching. They tell me he was pretty good. But he wouldn’t admit to having a calling. They tell me he’s been miserable ever since. It seems like he’s always trying to prove that he could be doing a better job of being a pastor than whoever has the job. I’d tell you to ignore him, but he won’t let you. Underwood’s family goes way back. They were charter members of the church. That means a lot. People listen to the old fool.”

“Hale, you shouldn’t say things like that,” their hostess said when she returned to the table.

“It’s the truth,” he replied.

“Well, you’ll be old yourself one day if you live long enough.”

“What’s that got to do with this? Albert Underwood is an old ass; before that he was a young ass.”

“Dear . . . ” Mrs. Myers voice, dripping with honey, failed to hide the sharp taste of acrimony. “Albert Underwood is a fine man and I’m sure he has the best interest of the church at heart!”

****

Not long after the Greens arrived, Joe Jenkins’ wife said to her husband, “Joseph, you ought to come hear the new preacher. You’d like him.”

“So? If I like him that means he’ll be gone in two years instead of three. You can’t hardly get to know a fellow in that amount of time.”

She sighed. She knew Joe was bitter and she knew why.

****

Shortly after arriving in Grantville, Claudette started looking for a job. None of the elementary schools within driving distance need a teacher as late in the year as she started looking, so she asked to be put on the substitute list. The hardware store had a help wanted sign in the window and Claudette stopped in and filled out an application. That night Nina Underwood, the office manager at the hardware store, told her husband Albert, one of the deacons at the church, that the store was thinking about hiring her.

“Nina,” Albert said, “it isn’t right. A man’s wife shouldn’t be working outside of the home.”

“Yours does.”

“That’s different. She still has children in school and she should be there for them. It’s a bad example. A mother with kids still at home shouldn’t be working outside of the home. Raising kids is a full time job.

“When the women went to work in World War Two and the kids were left to raise themselves the nation went to hell and it ain’t ever come back.”

“Albert, maybe they need the money.”

“Nonsense! We’re paying them enough to live on. I wouldn’t let you get a job until the kids were all out of the house. It was hard, but we got by. He’s supposed to be setting an example. Besides, if she’s working full time then he’s likely doing the house work and he ain’t got time to be doing that.”

“Things are different now than they were back then. When our kids were growing up we kept a big garden and I canned a lot of what we ate. They don’t have room for a garden.”

“Nina, you know good and well that there are plenty of people who will invite her into the pea patch. She’s got two boys to help her. It will do them good to have to work some. Builds character. He’s just going to have to tell his wife to stop and that is all there is to that. You can still live on one income if you don’t go getting fancy. She don’t need to be buying more antiques. She’s got enough of them already.

“We went through all of this with the pastor before last and I’m sure the deacon board will see it my way.”

“They still had preschool kids and he was bringing them to the office and even on hospital calls once or twice. Her boys are in school. It’s different.”

“We didn’t let the last pastor’s wife work either and she didn’t have preschool kids.”

“And they left after one year. Don’t you want this one to stay awhile?”

“Nope! Not if he can’t lead by example and rule his household well like Paul told Timothy. We’ve got that deacon’s resolution that the pastor’s wife should not have a job if they’ve got kids and we can make it stick.”

Hale Myers stopped by and chatted with Pastor Green about it. “Look, I know it’s old-fashioned. But we’re an old-fashioned community and let’s face it, if you look at the make-up of the church it’s just a plain old church and a lot of them are living in the past. You’re going to have to tell her to quit looking for a job or it’s going to come up in a business meeting. She can substitute as a teacher a day or two every week or two. That’s seen as a service to the community. But that’s about it.

“I know that is going to leave you in between a rock and a hard place. Look, Rev. Jones and the Catholic priest put a 1964 Ford Town and Country station wagon back together. It’s a gas guzzler with a three ninety and a four barrel. It’s down at the body shop now. When they’re finished it will look brand new. It’s being converted to run on natural gas. Some of us have chipped in on it, when you leave we can sell it and get our money back out of it easy. You can go out to the Jenkins farm and fill up from there gas well anytime you need to. So your fuel is free. That way you can park your van and save it for when you’re going out of town farther than you can go round trip on a tank of natural gas. That will save you the money you would have spent on gas. And someone will be by with a pressure cooker and a mess of canning jars.

“But, if Claudette has to have a real job, it will have to go to the floor in a business meeting to overrule the deacon board.”

Later that evening Albert bit his lip and then after saying a short, heartfelt prayer, he said, “Honey, some of the deacons have chipped in and are going to provide us a car that runs on natural gas that we can get for free.”

Claudette looked at Albert. “There’s a ‘but’ attached to that. What is it?”

“They don’t want you getting a job.”

“What? Why the hell not?” Claudette’s hand went to her mouth.

“Because over half of the deacons are stupid, stubborn, opinionated, ignorant, old, asinine idiots who are living in the past and still think a wife is a chattel slave who shouldn’t work outside the home.”

The next day someone dropped off the cast off pressure cooker and canning jars. Claudette thanked them politely. When Albert came home for dinner the plaster clung to the ceiling for dear life.

“Yes, dear. You’re right. You could work for four hours and buy more vegetables than you can can in four days.”

“Yes, dear. It’s stupid.”

“Yes, dear. It’s a lot of hard, hot, nearly pointless work.”

“Yes, dear. The deacons are everything you say they are.”

“Look. I can tender my resignation. We can go move in with my mother while we look for another job.”

So Claudette dusted off the canning and baking skills her grandmother taught her. It was absolutely unreasonable. But unreasonable is simply part of a pastor’s life and his family pays for his folly whether they like it or not.

The parsonage’s large freezer was half full of beef when they arrived. One family slaughtered a beef every year and anything left when the next one was dressed ended up as a gift to the pastor. Since the parsonage did not have room for more than a tiny garden, the boys shuddered whenever certain ladies talked with their mother after church. The conversation was likely to include an invitation to come pick peas or beans or whatever was on the vine at the time.

****

The first year came and went without any real fuss or bother. After all, it looked bad to kick a man out the first year. Underwood asked that a pastoral vote of confidence be put on the August business meeting the second year, out of principle. That is: the principle of stirring up a fuss. He didn’t expect to win, but there was a good chance that it would result in the pastor volunteering to leave. There were only a handful of naysayers. After all, Green was a polished speaker, with a personable demeanor. Besides, it wasn’t like there were other candidates clamoring at the door.”

Grantville, Summer 1631

Deacon Underwood insisted that a pastoral vote of confidence be once again put on the agenda for the August business meeting in the year 2000 which fell in 1631.

Hale Myers asked Deacon Underwood about it. “Albert, if you did get him voted out, where are you going to find another pastor?”

“We can ordain someone. He don’t have to have a seminary education. None of the apostles did.”

“Are you fishing for the job, Albert?” another old deacon asked.

“I ain’t been called. I thought we would elect one of the young deacons to the job,” Underwood replied.

“None of them would be crazy enough to want it.”

“Wantin’ the job’s got nothin’ to do with it,” Underwood answered. “If you’re called, then you serve. My momma always said anybody who was crazy enough to want to be a preacher was too crazy to have the job, but anyone who was called and didn’t serve was crazier still. Wantin’ has nothin’ to do with it.”

Hale spoke up. “Well, no one has to because we’ve got Green.”

“That’s fine.” Underwood said, “As long as he’s still called of God to be here and I ain’t sure he is.”

This time there were a few abstentions and one vote of no confidence. There wasn’t another ordained Southern Baptist Pastor for over a hundred years in any direction.

****

In the weeks after the Ring of Fire Claudette blossomed, doing volunteer work with refugee relief in the broader community outside of the church.

Grantville, January 1632

Old Joe Jenkins walked through the service door of the grocery store carrying a covered bushel basket. By chance the produce manager was coming out of the office.

Lutz sighed. There always seemed to be someone who didn’t get the word. The grocery stores in town had their winter vegetable supply tucked away in cold storage. Even in the summer, when fresh produce was available, the stores only bought at the bulk market at the fair grounds or the retail market next to the swimming pool in town. So everyone knew there was no point in bringing their produce to the store.

Before Lutz could politely tell the old man to get out, Joe set the basket down and lifted the old quilt off of the top. The basket was full of ripe red tomatoes. Lutz’s face brightened and his lips turned up at the corners. His mouth actually started to salivate. For months the produce isle had been limited to things that kept well in storage like onions and cabbages, apples and pears, winter squash and root crops. Yes, the hippie commune would sell some fresh herbs out of their green house but, that was small change. Imported citrus would find its way onto the shelves, but, that was maybe once a month at best. Dried, pickled, and preserved fruits and vegetables were mostly sold at the bulk counter.

“Got a basket of cucumbers out in the truck,” Joe said.

“How much?” Lutz asked.

“Every penny I can get. Twice what they’re worth. Half of what people will pay. Ninety percent of retail. I figure you’re looking at your loss leader for the week.”

Lutz nodded. If the store advertised ripe tomatoes people who normally shopped elsewhere would come in for the fresh fruit and leave with a cart full of everything else. He named a price while picturing the ad and the presentation.

“You can do better than that.” the old man said.

Lutz upped it ten percent.

“Okay, but if that isn’t at least ninety percent of retail these are the last fresh vegetables you’re going to see before spring.”

“You’ve got more?”

“I figure I can bring a bushel a week into town till they play out, if it’s worth the bother.”

Lutz took the hint and raised the price another ten percent. The profit would come from the increase in other sales.

Grantville, August 1633

Several older men gathered on the old couch and comfortable chairs around the coffee table on the parsonage’s screened-in porch. Reverend Johannes Cloppenburch, pastor of the Reformed Church in Brielle, was in Grantville to use the library. While in Grantville he sought out the company of Reverend Albert Green and attended the Southern Baptist church services. The size of Green’s library left him light headed and disappointed. So much of it was in English; theological works should be in Latin.

A long evening of discussion and debate went through two pots of coffee, three plates of honey snap cookies, and topics from everywhere under the sun. It settled, as it so often did, on end-time prophecy.

Deacon Underwood looked sour and shook his head emphatically. “I don’t see how you can say that. No man knows the day nor the hour. Just because the second coming did not happen before the year two thousand in our old time line is no reason to assume it will not happen sooner in this time line. It could happen any day now.”

Lincoln Reynolds shook his head right back. “Nonsense! The prerequisites for a pre-millennial time line have not changed. Certain things have to happen before the rapture. That is why I can . . . “

Underwood interrupted him. “But there is no reason they can’t happen sooner in this timeline.” He glared a challenge at his pastor. “The generation that sees the budding of the fig tree will see the beginning of the end. Now most scholars agreed that in Matthew, chapter twenty-four, the fig tree is Israel.” He knew that Reverend Green held to a post-millennial theology and did not agree with him. Green’s published papers on eschatology were a large part of the reason he was in Grantville. Post-millennialism was pretty much out of fashion. Underwood looked back at Lincoln. “You agree the fig tree budded when Israel became a nation. Who is to say that it will take the Jews ’til 1948 in this time-line?”

Harley Thomas spoke up emphatically. “Israel happened under the British mandate, which only happened when they carved up the last of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One. Without World War One there will be no mandate. There will be no Prussia to unite Germany; it’s not even in the CPE so there will be no war. There is no way the Turks are going to let the Jews have a country of their own in Palestine. So there’s no way there’s going to be an Israel any earlier this time.”

Underwood smiled gleefully. He had a point that would let him squash Harley like a bug. “No way?” he asked. “I can think of three without trying. What if the Turks push through the Balkans toward Vienna? Austria would be so desperate for help they’d sue for peace and Sweden with our help could take the Middle East. In return for bankrolling the war, the Jews would get Jerusalem. That’s one. Yemen just tossed the Turks out. Egypt could try it, especially if they had help. You could end up with a free Jerusalem in the turmoil, with just a little outside assistance.”

Johannes Cloppenburch was in Grantville, in part, to size up Doctor Albert Green on behalf of several men in the theological department at the University of Harderwijk who were thinking of offering Doctor Green an invitation as a guest lecturer with an eye toward a full professorship. He had spent the evening posing questions and quietly listening to Pastor Green and the deacons debate. He spoke up to prompt Underhill to complete his thought. “You said three. That was two.”

Underwood scrambled for a third scenario and smiled when he had his answer. “Divine intervention.”

Johannes Cloppenburch sat back and nodded. “Well, I can’t argue with that one.”

The discussion continued, with Deacon Underwood going at it hammer and tongs with anyone who did not agree with his very narrow viewpoints. Cloppenburch watched them all, particularly Dr. Green. By the end of the evening, he’d made his decision. The next morning, taking pen in hand he wrote a letter to his fellows at the university.

. . . tarry a while longer to farther plumb the depths of the library.

As for this man Green, the fellow fully deserves the title Doctor of Theology for he is very learned. His Hebrew is good, his Greek is better, his Latin is acceptable. His knowledge of the classical thinkers is barely passable. He gives them little thought and less weight. But, he has an understanding of, and access to, the early church fathers the likes of which I have never encountered. He has works on his shelves purportedly from the second and third centuries that I was taught were lost for all time. He has others which we had no idea ever existed at all.

He is well able to defend his views in open debate. Alas, his beliefs are such that the resultant disharmony which would ensue if he were to join your staff would bring the whole educational process to an abrupt halt and leave time for nothing but debate on those topics his presence would introduce. We discussed adult only baptism, for example, and I thought, surely, he might waiver. He will not. Furthermore, this is not the only doctrine he holds to which we would find offensive in the extreme.

I cannot speak more strongly against having this man at the university than this: I would forbid it if it were in my power to do so.

Grantville, January 1634

There was a knock on the kitchen door, Claudette waved her guest in and held up one finger to ask him to wait. Then she told the phone, “Yes. That will do fine.”

There was a pause and she said, “No, I haven’t heard. But someone just came in. You’ll have to call me back.”

Joe Jenkins sat a half full paper bag on the counter, “I didn’t mean to intrude,” he said.

“She was about to tell me all about her latest round of feuding with her sister-in-law, along with a recount of the whole long story all over again starting at the wedding. With any luck she will find another victim and she’ll forget to call back.”

Claudette looked in the sack. Her voice was almost a squeal of delight. “Ripe tomatoes!”

“The winter crop in the green house is starting to come on. This is the early ones beyond what I can eat. There ain’t enough to bother taking to the grocery store and they won’t keep till next week when I’ve got a peck full.” The last was not quite the truth but Claudette wasn’t about to call him on it.

“Thanks, Joe. We’ll really enjoy these. You shouldn’t have made a trip into town on our account. It is good of you to do so, especially after the church voted to throw you out like that.” The church didn’t actually vote to throw him out. After all he had never been a member, but the statement, while technically incorrect, was still true.

****

Someone pointed out to Deacon Underwood that some of the Germans who were attending the separate German language service weren’t Baptist. Some of them were asking after training in military medical practices, wanting to serve but unwilling to fight. Underwood did some digging, asked some questions, did some more reading and threw a fit. Pacifism might squeak by; but some of the Germans were, in Underwood’s opinion anyway, Arminians. On that point, the shit hit the fan.

The pastor was called before the deacon board. “Green,” Underwood snapped as soon as the pastor arrived, “are you aware that some of the Germans taking communion at the two o’clock service aren’t Baptists at all?”

Green sighed. “On that point, Brother Underwood, you are absolutely mistaken. I am quite sure they are all Baptist.”

“No. they are not! Some of them do not believe in once saved, always saved.”

“You don’t have to believe that to be a Baptist.”

“Yes, you do,” Underwood almost roared.

“Albert,” young Deacon Myers said, calling Underwood by his first name rather than the formal Brother Underwood. The tone of voice alone would distinguish whether it was an insult or an endearment, and the tone was unclear. “Calm down. There is such a thing as General Baptist, and Particular Baptist. You are the latter. But they are both Baptist.”

“And these General Baptists don’t believe in once saved, always saved?” Underwood asked.

“No, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t Baptist,” Myers said.

“Here it does,” Underwood replied. “Which are you?” he demanded of the pastor.

“Brother Underwood, the argument between the pro-Calvinist and the anti-Calvinist Baptist theologians was still going on when we ended up here. The denomination was changing. When you were a boy the idea that everything was predetermined and unchangeable according to the will of God was a lot more common than it is now.”

“Which are you, Green?” Underwood demanded. “Are you a real Baptist who believes once saved, always saved or a General Baptist?”

In the course of the meeting, which started at seven o’clock and was over somewhere around midnight, Underwood proposed that all General Baptists be expelled. Additionally, the German language service should be shut down. He also proposed a by-law making English the only language for worship. All three proposals were on their way to a vote by the full body of the church at the next business meeting.

Immediately after the deacon’s meeting, Albert Underwood was a busy man. The deacons meeting fell on Monday. Wednesday morning, Claudette had three calls by ten o’clock.

****

“Claudette? This is Ruth Ann. Is it true? Are the Germans taking communion at the two o’clock service Arminians?”

“I wouldn’t call them Arminians, just like I wouldn’t call us Calvinists.”

“Well, it’s all the ladies down here have been talking about. I don’t think most of them had ever heard of an Arminian before yesterday. But now they’re sure the Germans are and that it’s something horrible and that they’re going to take over the church so they’ve got to be voted out. When I asked any of the Baptist residents why Arminians are so wrong, all they really seem to know is that they don’t believe once saved, always saved and that they’re horrible people who are going to take over the church and change everything. Shoot, you know as well as I do that there is no sin in the world to these ladies as bad as change.”

“Let me guess. Albert Underwood was through there yesterday flirting with them?”

“Well, he was here, and he usually does flirt. At their age, what difference does it make?”

“He’s got a burr under his saddle and . . . “

“Doesn’t he always?”

“This time he’s mad about the Germans and wants them kicked out.”

“Well? What would happen if they did become the majority?”

“Not a thing, Ruth Ann. They’re good Christian people, and on the average they’re putting more than their share in the offering plate but there’s no way they could pay the bills and I’m sure they know it.”

“But is Underwood right? Do some of them not believe in eternal security?”

“Ruth Ann, I’m sure they all believe in eternal security. What Underwood means is they don’t believe in unconditional eternal security.”

“Well, that’s the doctrine of the church isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Then Albert’s right. They need to be kicked out.”

****

“Claudette, this is Mary Ellen. What is going on?” The Methodist co-pastor asked the Baptist preacher’s wife. “I was visiting my old ladies at Prichard’s this morning and they’re all riled up. Seems your Baptist ladies are all up in arms about Arminianism. They want the Germans kicked out of the Baptist Church.”

“I got the same news from Bowers. Albert Underwood has been down there campaigning.”

“Well, considering the voting block in the nursing homes, and the way they like to use the phones, he sure knew where to start.”

****

“Claudette, this is Lorena, is the two o’clock German service really so big that it’s going to take over the church and throw us out?”

“No, Lorena. Why would they want to do that anyway? They need us to pay the bills.”

****

The expulsion of the errant Germans passed. The motion to shut down the German language service failed. The English-only motion died for lack of a second. After all, if shutting down the two o’clock service didn’t pass, why bother even discussing the other. Still it was a squeaky thing and would likely be seen on the floor again in the near future.

It turned out that Joseph Jenkins, whose wife had been a long time member of the local church before she died, was a General Baptist. Furthermore he had once, back in the fifties, been a preacher up in Michigan. He left with about a third of the Germans and started holding services elsewhere.

****

“I was comin’ into town to a doctor’s appointment anyway,” Joe said. “So I thought I’d drop these off.”

Claudette shook her head. “I still think it was wrong! Albert should have stood up to them.”

“No. It wouldn’t have changed things in the long run. He would have lost his job over it on the spot. He will lose it eventually, anyway. There’s no reason to hurry it up. The General Baptists will do better out on their own. Sooner or later, they’ll split again over the question of non-violence. They’ve got two different preachers in the group, so there’ll be no making peace and keeping them together for much longer.

“I need to get to the doctor’s office. Enjoy the tomatoes.”

“Is it any thing serious, Joe?” Claudette asked.

“Naw. Just getting’ old is all.”

****

The doctor listened to his heart and lungs, asked some questions and said, “Mr. Jenkins, you had a mild heart attack. You said you take an aspirin or two almost every morning for an allergy headache?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t stop. I’ll write you a prescription for nitroglycerin pills. That will help with the chest pains.”

“How long have I got?”

The doctor shrugged. “The way you work? Two weeks, two years, ten; who knows? When you have a massive heart attack, one that feels like an elephant sitting on your chest instead of like a strong case of heartburn, if you live through it, figure on counting your time in months. When you start getting pains shooting down your arm, figure it in days or hours.”

Grantville, May 1635

Albert Green looked up from the letter of introduction. It said Reverend Fleming was in Grantville to spend some time in Grantville’s libraries on behalf of the University of Edinburgh. It also said they had heard Reverend Green was a religious scholar with an extensive personal library and they were requesting access.

“Fleming? Would you be related to the Fleming that married a daughter of John Knox?”

“No. My first wife was John Knox’s granddaughter, Elspet Fairlie. But that is as close of as any Fleming ever got to being connected to the Knox family.”

“Oh. I must have misremembered. I have a photo copy off of a micro-fiche of a work on eschatology written by a man named Fleming that I thought the introduction said was the son of Martha Knox.”

Albert’s guest shook his head. “A grandson, maybe. My mother-in-law was never married to a Fleming.” Fleming was intrigued by the idea that he might have a son who would one day be a published authority. “A work on eschatology, you say?”

“It wouldn’t have been written for decades yet. In it he correctly predicted the year of the fall of the Church of Rome, if you interpret Rome’s lose of power over the Papal States as the fall of the church. But, then, history will be completely different now. Of course you may use my library while you are in town.

Albert couldn’t help it. He had to ask. “So, you were married to John Knox’s granddaughter?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any insights on John Knox?”

“I had the privilege of seeing some of his papers that have never been published. It was fascinating to see how his mind worked.”

“Would you consider giving a lecture, or even a series, on John Knox, while you’re in town?”

“I would be more than happy to share my insights on my first wife’s esteemed grandfather.”

****

On Saturday before the first lecture on Monday, Deacon Underwood stopped into the church office.

“Green, you can’t have that lecturer in our church!”

“Brother Underwood, I checked with you and the other deacons. Knox is a venerated figure in our church history. You agreed it would be all right.”

“That was before I found out that Fleming is an alcoholic.”

“An alcoholic?”

“Yes. He’s staying at the Higgins Hotel and taking some of his meals there. He has either beer or wine with his meals. We cannot have a drunkard in our pulpit.”

“Brother Underwood, having beer or wine with a meal does not make him a drunkard. They have a different attitude about drinking these days than we did back in 2000. But I will move the lecture series to the fellowship hall.”

You might have a different attitude about it. I don’t and the church don’t. If it was a sin then, it’s a sin now. The word of the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. You will not be moving the drunkard to the fellowship hall. He will not be speaking here.”

“Brother Underwood, the Bible does not forbid drinking in moderation.”

“Drinking is wrong. It is a sin, other than for medicinal purposes. The Bible says so.”

“No, it doesn’t,” an exasperated Albert Green rather unwisely snapped.

“‘Touch not, taste not nor handle not any unclean thing,'” Underwood quoted.

“Chapter and verse?”

“What?” Underwood replied.

“Give me the chapter and verse for that quote. You can’t, because it isn’t in there. The Bible forbids drinking to excess. It does not forbid drinking in moderation.”

“Are you a secret drinker, Green?”

“No, Brother Underwood. I am not. The custom of total abstention from alcohol, especially in a sub-culture where the point of drinking is to get drunk, is a wise custom. I abide by it. Both of my grandfathers had a drinking problem. It got them into other troubles.

“But the point of drinking in the here and now is not to get drunk. Drunks are frowned on in the community. The water isn’t safe to drink. You know that. Most of what they drink is small beer, anyway. It doesn’t have hardly any alcohol in it, just enough to make it safe. It’s a different culture.

“The bottom line is, you cannot take the Bible and forbid all drinking.”

“You’re wrong. I ain’t got the chapters and verses memorized but I can look them up. I am going to call a deacon’s meeting for tomorrow night and then you can apologize. Besides, we’re here now, so now they know the water’s safe if they boil it first. Sin is sin and the word of God is unchanging!” Underwood stormed out.

Albert sucked a long breath into his lungs and it hissed between his clenched teeth going in and coming out. “Oh, my goodness; what have I done?”

****

Underwood went home and took down his Bible and concordance and went looking for what he knew was there. His knowing it was there did not make any difference. He wasn’t able to find the verse he quoted in the pastor’s office. Instead of calling a deacon’s meeting, he had the deacons out to his house. Since it was not in the church conference room, it was not an official meeting. Claudette heard about it, as did Albert, of course. She and Albert knew what it meant.

That Sunday the tension in the air at the eleven o’clock service was so thick it almost stopped the words of the songs in their tracks. When the pastor announced that the lecture on John Knox would be moved to the fellowship hall, Underwood and another deacon got up and walked out. On Monday night there was another meeting of the deacons in one of their homes. After that Underwood was absent from the mid-week service and on Sunday he arrived at the stroke of the opening hymn and slipped out a side door at the close of the services to avoid the receiving line.

As Albert and Claudette walked home after the morning services, Claudette said, “Looks like they sat on the old man pretty hard.”

“Yeah. That’s it for now. But, you know, he’ll find something. It’s only a matter of time.”

Grantville, June 1635

“Mister Fisher? How about some twelve year old whiskey?”

Benjamin Tipton “Tip” Fisher, the owner of Tip’s bar, looked sour. “I ain’t got any,” he said.

“I wasn’t asking to buy. I was asking to sell.”

This caught Tip’s attention. It was embarrassing that you could get something in the way of liquor elsewhere in town and he couldn’t offer anything to compete with it.

Joe noted Tip’s complete lack of expression and raised his asking price. “I’ve got five gallons, twelve years in the keg, just tapped, out in the truck. Bring a glass on out and I’ll give you a taste.”

There were three five-gallon oaken barrels sitting on the tailgate. “Where’d you get the barrels?” Tip asked.

“Made ’em. Granddad said not to reuse ’em for whiskey so we always made a new barrel.” One of them had a hand-carved wooden tap. Joe turned the spigot and caught a half of a cup in Tip’s glass.

Tip held it up to the light. It was a soft amber color, not the clear liquid of white lightning. He sipped a taste. Then he chugged about half of his glass and felt the warm glow working its way down. If it wasn’t ten year old whiskey he couldn’t tell the difference. “What about those two?” Tip asked, nodding at the untapped kegs.

“That one is six and this one is two years old. Do you want one, two, or three of them?”

“Is that all you’ve got?”

“All I can sell.”

“I’ll take all three, as long as you’re reasonable about it.”

“The retail price in town is set, so I figure half that for wholesale. But I want that price across the board for all three.”

Tip nodded.

Grantville, July 1635

Ken Beasley stepped in from the back room and noticed Joe Jenkins sitting at the bar drinking a beer. Normally he would have overlooked the fact that he had once told the old man to get out and never come back. That was more than a year ago and in a bar like his, a year was forever. But the fellow recently sold Tip’s a stock of aged whiskey and now McAdam’s Gold was no longer the only aged whiskey for sale in town. Having the only aged whiskey had been the salvation of Ken’s business. He was feeling the competition and didn’t like it one bit. He walked up to the old man. “I told you once, you ain’t welcome in here.”

Joe Jenkins responded by lighting up a cigarette. Ken blinked. It was a real cigarette, not a small hand-rolled cigar, not a hand-made smoke in whatever paper was available, but, a real cigarette. The old man saw him looking and set an aluminum box, the kind designed to hold a pack of cigarettes, along with a lighter, on the bar and said, “Have one.”

Ken opened the half full box. He looked one over as he was lighting it. It looked right, it felt real. He pulled the smoke into his mouth and his brain spit out happiness at the mild tobacco taste, then Ken pulled it down into his lungs and his mind went wild with joy. He’d taken up smoking a pipe when he started stocking cheap clay pipes and loose tobacco for his customers, and he’d made do with the harsh, imported tobacco because it was all that was available. But this was what his mind remembered when he thought “cigarette.”

“Where’d you get them?” Ken asked.

“Made ’em,” Joe replied.

“I know people who’d kill for one of these,” Ken said.

“Can you keep a gross fresh long enough to sell them?”

“Mister Jenkins, I can sell a gross of them in a week at two or three dollars apiece.”

“Then I guess I’d better be getting a dollar and a half apiece for them.”

“Where’d you get the makings?”

“I’ve had a pot of tobacco in the greenhouse back of the barn for years. The wife bought me a cigarette roller and a crate of paper for Christmas one year.”

“And you’ve been sitting on them for all this time?” Ken asked.

Joe shrugged. “When they’re gone, they’re gone. ‘What is it that the vintner buys that is half so precious as what he sells?'”

Ken missed the quote but understood the question. “So why now?”

“Now I know how many I need to see me out. I had a heart attack last month. Felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I got something to get done before I start getting those shooting pains down my arm. So, I need some cash.

“Tell you what, Ken, why don’t you buy the papers from me at a dollar apiece? I’ll throw in the rolling machine and set it up so you get the ongoing tobacco production from the farm at a fair price even after I’m gone and the papers have run out.”

“How many have you got?”

Joe named a number.

Ken whistled. “Let me talk to the bank. I took a pretty deep bite out of my line of credit buying up McAdam’s stash. It’s paying off, like I knew it would, but that’s a lot of money. I’ll find some way to come up with it.

“By the way, where’d you get that fifty-gallon drum of twenty year old bourbon you sold to Tip?

“It was fifteen gallons in three kegs, one of them was twelve years old. They were all corn mash like my grandpa taught me, but if it ain’t from Kentucky is it bourbon or just corn mash?”

Grantville, August 1635

It took Albert Underwood three months before he thought he had the support lined up to try it again. On Monday, the deacons met. On Tuesday, the Baptist grapevine was so busy it was on the verge of a meltdown. Bernice reported that the church phone was ringing off of the hook. Albert Underwood’s main supporters, the little old ladies in the nursing homes, were calling anyone and everyone in an utter and complete panic. Once again their church was about to be stolen and this time by a pack of drunks. Sides were forming and reforming as views and tempers shifted. The voices calling for calm and reason were being overpowered by a well-orchestrated campaign of high-octane emotions, old favors and older feuds. This time, Underwood was sure he had things wrapped up. He certainly had things stirred up.

Tuesday evening, the deacons met at the Myers’ home. Wednesday evening saw five of the eight deacons gathered at Underwood’s. Having threatened to resign and leave the church if things went any further, Myers and two other deacons refused to attend. At ten o’clock that night, Underwood and another deacon came by the parsonage. Instead of ringing the door bell, they passed on by. The light was on in the pastor’s study at church. They knew that meant it was there they would find Albert Green.

Pastor Green looked up from the book he was pretending to read. The glee on Underwood’s face was painful to look at and probably wasn’t any good for the old man’s heart either.

The other deacon spoke, “Pastor Green, it has come to the attention of the deacons that some of our new members are not in compliance with our church policy of total abstention from alcohol. The deacon board would like you to preach on that this Sunday, making it clear that it is a test of fellowship for us and that anyone who will not abide by it should withdraw from the membership.”

“If you do this, you realize you will have cut yourself off from any outreach to the community?” Green pointed out.

“That’s the way we see things. If they don’t like it let them go elsewhere,” Underwood smugly chipped in.

“It isn’t biblical, it’s cultural and the entire German culture disagrees with you. You are turning your back on any chance of evangelistic outreach.”

“That don’t matter. Next business meeting there will be a motion on the floor that if there is ever again a worship service in this building in anything other than English the deacons will be required to close the doors of the church and disperse the assets. And this time, it will pass,” Underwood said with a certainty which was far from being as rock solid as he thought it was.

“So when your great-grandchildren are speaking a new language that is part English and part German, you will retain West Virginian English as a liturgical language?”

“What’s wrong with that? My great-grandchildren ought to be speaking English anyway. If they have to learn English to worship that’s okay by me. Are you going to preach a sermon telling the new members that drinking is a sin and that they got to stop or ain’t you?”

Hoping he could squeeze by Albert answered, “I can preach a sermon telling people that total abstention from alcohol is the custom of this congregation and a requirement of membership.”

Underwood pressed. “I didn’t hear you say anything about drinking being a sin.”

“I can’t. In and of itself, it isn’t,” Albert replied.

Underwood’s smile actually got even bigger.

The other deacon spoke. “Reverend Green, the deacon board does not feel that way about it. I have been instructed to determine if it is a fact that you approve of drinking. “

“I do not approve of drinking.”

“Then you can preach that it is a sin!” Underwood demanded.

“I can preach that drunkenness is a sin,” Green replied.

“Drunkenness, but not drinking?” the second deacon asked.

Green remained silent.

“Pastor, in your opinion does the Bible teach that drinking a sin?” Underwood demanded.

“The Bible teaches that . . . ”

Underwood cut him off. “I think that can and should be answered yes or no.”

The silence lingered. It was clear they would not let it be. At last Albert answered. “No.”

“Under these circumstances, since you do not agree with the teachings of this church, I have been instructed to tell you that we request and require your letter of resignation effective immediately.”

The instruction was by a majority vote of the deacon board. Three were absent, one abstained and one voted in the negative. But, five is a quorum and three is a majority, so the board had the authority.

“We would like you to be out of the parsonage within thirty days. If we are not in receipt of your letter before the next business meeting, which will be a called meeting and will happen as quickly as we can manage according to the by-laws, a vote of confidence will be called for. Either way, you are barred from the pulpit until such time as a vote by the body confirms or overturns the ruling of the deacon board. That has never happened in the history of this congregation, so I wouldn’t count on it happening now.”

Without another word the deacons walked out.

****

The shingle over the door read “Solomon’s Twentieth-Century Curios.” Somebody asked him once what defined a curio. He said a curio was a piece of junk some fool was willing to pay too much for. If it was from up-time, he’d buy it.

“Mister Solomon, I’ve got a truck load of stuff out back that I need a price on.”

“Let’s see what you have.”

Out behind the store, Joe nodded at the truck and said, “There’s ten boxes of up-time canning jars with metal rings and lids. They’ve been used.” The truth was they’d been used and re-used, but no matter how carefully you take a lid off when you open the jar, eventually they were not safe to use again, if they ever were. “But you sell them as curiosities, so that doesn’t matter.

“The rest of the truck is mostly my wife’s things; purses, shoes, hats . . . she loved her hats . . . wardrobe, stuff like that. All of it’s from up-time.”

From the tailgate, Solomon couldn’t see the cab. He glanced at Joe. “This is going to take a while.”

“Let’s get it unloaded and I’ll stop back in a week, if that’s long enough.”

A week later, Joe stopped into the curio shop. Herr Solomon looked pained. “Mister Jenkins. I can’t afford to pay you what you left with me is worth.” The German’s English was very good but still a bit awkward at times, “I’m going to have to float a loan. But I haven’t managed yet.”

“How much for all of it?”

Solomon named a price.

“How much can you come up with?”

Solomon named a sum.

“How much interest do you think you will have to pay on a loan?”

Solomon named a figure.

Joe nodded. “I’ll take a five year note at that interest, but I want you to price out another truck load before you write up the note.”

This time the truck was only half as full. There were some men’s clothes and kid’s clothes in just about every size under the sun, and a mixed bag of other odds and ends. Joe had cleaned out his closet and the attic.

****

Claudette knocked on the door to the home office. “Albert, Joe Jenkins is here to see you.” She stepped aside. The old man walked into the room. Claudette told her husband, “I’ll bring coffee when it’s ready.”

Al looked at his unexpected caller and wondered what to say. I guess you heard? came to mind. But there was no doubt that the old man knew all about it. He wasn’t part of the gossip mill but he seemed to know what was going on anyway. Can I borrow a gun so I can shoot some of my deacons? came to mind. But Joe might not think he was kidding. Besides, Albert really wasn’t sure he would be either.

I have absolutely no idea what to do, came to mind. Albert found he didn’t want to admit that to the self-sufficient individual who stood before him.

His guest spoke first and saved him from having to think of what to say. “Life’s a bitch sometimes, ain’t it?”

Al nodded. Joe was . . . well, the polite word would be earthy. Foul-mouthed, from time to time, would be a whole lot more accurate.

“Al, do you know what keeps Christianity from being the perfect religion?” Without a pause to let Albert get in a guess, Joe answered his own question. “Christians; sweet, loving, born again, self-righteous followers of Christ. It’s enough to make a man want to take up Zen Buddhism.”

“Is that what you did?” Green asked. “We never talked about it, you and I. Claudette talked to your wife. That’s how I knew you were ordained as a General Baptist when you were in Michigan. Your wife hinted that things got ugly for you just before you came back to the hills to look after your parents and take over the farm. That’s when you quit going to church anywhere until your wife had a stroke and needed help getting around. So when the deacons threw out the general atonement Anabaptists, I figured you would lead them. But you turned it over to one of them the first chance you got.”

Joe shrugged. “Well, I guess you might call me a Zen Baptist. I think it’s all about being one with the Almighty and as long as God calls me home when the time comes, I don’t much care what I’m called down here. Labels are more trouble than they’re worth. Back in Michigan, I said the Bible had to be right and if it said man had free will and that he was also predestined, then somehow he had to be both. People kept insisting I had to choose one or the other because they didn’t have a label for someone who believed in both at the same time.

“Do you know what you’re going to do next?” Joe asked.

“That’s going to depend on the vote of confidence. It might not go like Underwood thinks it will.”

Joe snorted. “If not this time, then next time, or the time after that. Too many of your people are moving out and Underwood’s people are stayin’ put. Word about the proposed crackdown on the beer ban is out, so I doubt very many of the Germans who have actually joined will still be on the rolls when the vote of confidence is called. Underwood is sure to bring up the drinking issue first thing and then exclude anyone who won’t take the pledge.”

“You’re probably right. He’s sure he can get the ban enforced. But he might be in for a surprise. It will be a lot closer than he thinks. I’ve talked to three of the deacons who weren’t at the deacon’s meeting and a handful of other leaders and they just might be able to get the ban lifted. If that doesn’t go Underwood’s way, then the rest of his package is dead in the water, at least for now. Even if he does get the ban enforced, I don’t think he can get an English-only rule passed. He’s wanted a ban on any Bible but the King James for years and hasn’t managed it yet either. It’s back on the agenda this time, too.”

“We both know you’d have been long gone by now if we were still up-time. So like I asked, what are you going to do next?” Joe asked again.

“Worse comes to worse, Claudette can get a paying job. She has a standing offer in administration at the hospital. We’ll get by until I find something. We can put our furniture in storage . . . come to that we can sell it if we need to. We’ve been offered the use of a guest room if we haven’t found something by the end of the month. But Underwood hasn’t won yet. And like I said, he might be in for a surprise.”

“You grew up on a farm didn’t you?”

“Yes, Dad ran a business in town. But he was always a farmer at heart. So he kept his hand in. More precisely, he kept my hand in.”

Joe nodded. “I’ve cleaned out enough space in the storage barn for your stuff. You can use the hay wagon to move it. But what I need to know is: what would you want to do if you were free to do it?”

“You know, when we first ended up here and now, I thought I saw the hand of the Lord in what had happened. I thought I was going to be the next Billy Graham.” Al snorted. “That sure didn’t work out. The church doesn’t want to grow. They say they do, but they don’t. Well, that’s not completely right. Some do and some don’t. Some want more members, as long as they’re just like themselves. If I could get their friends and families to come to church that would be fine, but it just isn’t in them to open up and make room for outsiders. Billy Graham had a backer; Billy Sunday did too. You can’t go on the sawdust trail without a backer, an organization and a lot of help in the community when you get there. So I don’t see it happening.”

Joe nodded. “So what do you want to do?”

“Joe, I’ve always wanted to teach. Being a pastor was never my first choice. Did you know I’ve been scouted and rejected by at least three universities, here and now? But they’re Lutheran, or Calvinist, or Presbyterian. There isn’t a Baptist university in the world, and if there was I probably couldn’t get a job teaching in it either.”

“Well, we’re getting, or we just got, a university or a college of some sort or other here in Grantville. Then, too, Jena’s just short train ride away. Don’t you think you could do something about a Baptist seminary? You could send the students to the university for everything except religion classes.”

“Joe.” Albert shook his head. “It’s a nice thought, but that would take a lot of money. Every school I can think of started out with an endowment or a land grant. And even if one of these peckerwoods I’ve got coming to church was willing to even think about it, I’m not sure they would hire me.”

The door opened and Claudette came in with a coffee pot and cookies. She sat it down and started to leave.

“Claudette, would you join us please. You need to hear what I’ve got to say, and I need to watch your face while I say it,” Joe said.

A very puzzled Claudette did as he asked.

“Al, Claudette, I’m dying.”

Reverend and Mrs. Green looked at each other, in shock. Yes, they knew Joe was old, but he was old like the root of a post oak, hard and gnarly, and seemingly eternal. You expected it to be there forever.

Joe let what he said sink in before he continued. “None of the family is interested in the farm. I don’t mean that there aren’t plenty of relatives who wouldn’t mind having the money when it’s sold, but to hell with that.

“Half of the fields and most of the woods were outside the ring. None of the fields were more than just three or four acres apiece anyway, so I didn’t lose much. There’s enough loft space for hay over the stock barn to winter over a couple of oxen or horses. I don’t but I could. The farm has a gas well, so I don’t need a team. So there’s room for half a dozen milk cows and three or four sows. The only limit on chickens is how many you want to fuss with. The place can keep a dozen people fed year round with some lookin’ after. The second story on the storage barn could be turned into a dorm for students.”

Joe watched as Claudette and Al began to figure out where he was going. “Look,” he said, ” I don’t know if you’ll survive this round or not. I don’t much care. If you don’t then you’ve got somewhere to go. Eventually, you’ll come around, because it’s a job that needs doing and you are the man for the job. I’ve got three young Anabaptists who will make preachers by and by. One of them can look after the place for now. He’s already working on living quarters over the storage barn for himself and his wife. So the house will just be sitting there empty.

“If you don’t move up to the farm, then I guess he and the others will have to come into town to study. Either way, when I’m gone you’re going to have to look after teaching them or leave them to study on their own. That’s between you and God.”

“But, Joe,” Claudette objected, “that’s your home. We can’t just move in. What are you going to do? I can’t see you in a nursing home.”

Joe laughed. “That’s for sure. I’d drive the nurses plain batty wouldn’t I?

“No, there are places I want to see and things I want to do. After a long and boring life I can go see them or I can set here and die like I lived. So I asked myself, why not. I don’t see why I should just go quietly into the long night. Whatever you do, I’ll be gone by the end of the month.”

Joe watched the faces of the Greens as he spoke so he knew the answer and never did ask the question. “I’ve been to see the lawyer and it’s all set up. The Mountain Top Baptist Bible Institute has its founding endowment. Turning it into a seminary . . . well, that is your problem.”

****

About Terry Howard

I have in my life been paid for working as, in or at: lawn care, onion topping, haying, fruit picking, general farm labor, fast food, retail, truck driver, construction, gear stacker, stock puller, truck loader, ice house production, auto body/paint shop, janitorial, tutoring, printer’s assistant, stage actor, plastic extrusion, sculptor, teacher, bus driver, direct sales, title examiner, interior decorating, route delivery, waiter, deck hand, marine engineer, reftan/dairy hand, aluminum extrusion and stamping, kosher chef, ren-fair manager, general contractor, landlord, several other things that I do not care to mention and, now, for writing.

I was born in Michigan City Indiana, where my father worked as a machinist while pastoring a General Baptist Church, which makes me a Hoosier, but in my family a Hoosier is an Ozarky who didn’t make it to Detroit. It has been said, and I attest to the truth, that the Celts are alive and living in the Ozarks under assumed names.

I have lived in nine states and abroad. After dropping out of high school to go to college I have studied formally in two colleges, one university, and one graduate school. I have learned much more from studying informally in other settings. My wife, Lauri, and I currently live in California.