Featured Stories, Life with Hope

Judge not, lest …

There are a lot of stories within the walls of Hope Lutheran Church. Even the building itself tells a story, from the Sunday school drawings in the foyer to the deep, timeworn patina on pews that have witnessed a century of Sunday services. When Hope was built, the surrounding community was heavily Scandinavian and German Lutheran; Hope essentially functioned as a community center as well as a house of worship. Hope’s congregation used to be much bigger; these days, although it’s dwindled in size, people still fill the space with laughter, tears, and most importantly, stories. This is one of them. This is life with Hope.

George Hernandez, church administrator, poked his head into Grace’s office. “Good morning, Grace! I see you got your car back.”

Grace looked up from her sermon preparation. “Yes,” she replied. “Billy interceded on my behalf with the towing company and my car was returned before the end of the day. They even washed it.”

Mike Mann

George chuckled softly. “Reverend Billy is quite a force.”

“Reverend Billy?” Grace asked.

George leaned on the doorframe. “Irene Dooly, who lives in the apartment next door to his, claims she overheard him telling someone on the phone that he’s a minister of the church of I AM, whatever that is. Anyways, Irene is not one to sit on a piece of information if she knows she has an exclusive. After that, everyone started calling him Reverend Billy, though not to his face. … Then it’s just Billy.”

Grace quirked an eyebrow, “I’m going to have to have coffee with Billy. Is he a member of Hope?”

“Used to be,” said George. “I’m told he was a close friend of Pastor Davidson, the senior pastor back in the heydays of the ’70s. Dr. Davidson spent a lot of time on the streets and Billy was often seen with him. After Dr. Davidson left, we had several sort of temporary pastors, and many members left Hope. Most joined the great exodus to the suburbs. Billy left Hope too, but stayed in the neighborhood. Don’t worry about contacting him though. Even the sharp-eyed Mrs. Dooly loses track of him. He’ll find you. Billy spends time with each new pastor; says he wants to see if they are worthy. You might say he left the church but he didn’t give up Hope?” George smiled at his pun.

“Well, I look forward to the next encounter with Reverend Billy,” said Grace. “By the way, have you seen Mick?” The erstwhile church custodian was noticeably absent — he could usually be found puttering around with the plumbing or fiddling with the prehistoric boiler in the basement, but today the building was silent.

“No,” George replied, scratching his head. “I haven’t, which is odd. Maybe he’s mowing the lawn. I’ve got to take Izzy to the bus; if I see him, I’ll send him in.”

Receiving a call

Grace had been so focused on writing her first sermon for Hope she hadn’t noticed Izzy. She saw two large, round eyes peering out from beneath George’s desk. Grace waved at Izzy, who stared silently through giant reading glasses she had found in the lost and found box. The phone rang and Grace picked up. “Hello, Pastor Larson,” said Martin Joneson, his cool, studied voice crackling through the receiver.

Martin was used to running things. He had been church council president three consecutive years, and had advised the call committee. Grace was not aware that the call process had been anything but peaceful. However, Martin had been gently asked to not attend the final meetings. Martin felt Hope had thrived in its heyday under the pastorship of several brilliant men. When several women were considered, Martin bristled. It’s not that he didn’t like women; some of his best friends were women. He would be outraged at the suggestion that he was misogynistic. There was just something that didn’t sit right with him when he envisioned Hope under female leadership.

Returning Hope Lutheran Church to prominence required the right “man.”

What if the woman has kids? Wouldn’t she need to sacrifice her time and energy for her family, thus having less time for Hope? How would older congregants feel about a female pastor? He simply felt that returning Hope Lutheran to prominence required the right “man.” Martin wondered if the committee had called Grace just to spite him.

Martin was polite to Pastor Grace. The Machiavellian posturing of the call committee was not her fault. But he planned to keep a watchful eye on things, and be prepared for when he was proven right.

What’s the story?

Grace wasn’t quite sure what to think of Martin Joneson. He was nice enough, but there was clearly more to Martin than he let on. She was unrelentingly cheerful towards him, figuring that if she kept a smile on her face, he might open up enough for Grace to catch a glimpse of the person beneath the veneer.

“Hello Martin,” replied Grace. “Please, call me Grace. What can I do for you?”

“Could we meet soon?” asked Martin. “There are things I’d like to discuss with you.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Grace cheerfully. “What does your schedule look like?”

“Friday morning would work best.” Martin’s reply was curt.

Grace paused for a moment, choosing her words. “Friday will be my day off. Is there another day that might work?”

Martin hesitated. Grace sensed resistance, and quickly continued, “But this is important, so let’s make Friday work. How about meeting somewhere for coffee at nine?”

“We wouldn’t meet at the church?” asked Martin.

“We can meet at the church,” said Grace.

“Good, let’s make it 8 a.m. Friday, at church,” said Martin triumphantly, as if he’d won a skirmish.

“Eight it is,” replied Grace before the other end clicked off. She wondered whether or not she was reading Martin correctly.

Grace recalled advice her father had given her years before. “Don’t judge anyone,” he’d said, “until you know their story.”

Suddenly, it hit her. That’s my sermon! Don’t judge anyone until you know their story. Grace sat a moment, savoring the memory of her dad who had been gone two years. She smiled softly picking up the picture of her and her father from her desk.

The brief silence was broken when Grace’s office door swung open. In hobbled the custodian on crutches. “Mick, what happened?”

Mick sighed. His clothing and hair were rumpled, and he looked winded. “I fell in the alley.”

“You fell? Doing what?” As Grace went over to Mick to assist him, she had to suppress her smile. Everyone has a story, and here’s one more.

Mike Mann is a speaker, trainer, and award-winning storyteller. He is co-founder of the Center for Imagination (www.CenterForImagination.org). © Michael Mann, 2013.

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