Dinner with Martin
Martin didn’t want to do it, but his wife had insisted. “Grace is the new pastor,” Mary Joneson told her husband. “You’re the church council president. Having her over for dinner is not only proper, it would be fun! She seems like such a lovely young woman.”
When Grace got the invitation to dinner at prickly Martin Joneson’s home, she wasn’t surprised in the least. Martin’s wife, Mary, was as outgoing as Martin was closed-off, and when Mary asked her to come to their house for dinner, Grace accepted warmly. As she bundled up in hat, coat, and scarf on her way out the door to Martin’s house, Grace felt the familiar pangs of nervousness in the pit of her stomach. Dinner with Mary would be pleasant and fun, but Martin was an enigma still. He would never be so rude as to tell her that her youth and gender made her unqualified in his eyes, but Grace knew. What she didn’t know was how to react to it.
That February was one of the coldest on record, and Grace arrived at the Jonesons’ in a gust of snow and icy wind. Martin and Mary’s house was a sharp contrast to the barren winter landscape outside: Warm and friendly, the brightly lit windows showed a tastefully decorated home full of family photos, well-worn books, and comfortable, slightly threadbare furniture. It was a house that spoke of love, laughter, and family.
Mary greeted Grace at the door with a wide smile, taking her snow-dusted coat and leading her into the living room, where a fire roared in the fireplace. Martin sat, staring into the flickering hearth, and he gave a halfhearted wave as Grace sat down.
“I’ll just be a few moments,” said Mary. “The chicken is in the oven, and dinner’s almost ready.” Mary hurried off into the kitchen to finish preparations, leaving Grace and Martin in front of the crackling fire.
Grace was prepared for the silence that ensued. She was, after all, a pastor. Part of a pastor’s job is to get through to everyone in the congregation. She’d done a great deal of thinking about what to say to Martin, that wouldn’t alienate him further.
“It’s good to see you, Martin,” Grace began. “I’m so happy that you invited me over. I’ve been looking forward to the chance to get to know you better.”
Again, Grace was prepared for the silence that greeted that comment. She forged on before the silence got awkward. “I understand that your family has been attending Hope for several generations now. What was it like, growing up as a kid at Hope?”
Martin shifted his weight and raised his eyebrows; although he didn’t make eye contact, Grace was relieved when he began speaking. “Well, it was interesting.” Martin paused, still staring into the fire. “You know, Hope had a lot more congregants back then.”
“So I hear,” replied Grace, leaning forward a little. “Is it true that there were once more than 60 kids in the children’s choir?”
Martin cracked a little smile. Victory, thought Grace. I got a smile out of him, at least. “Yeah,” Martin said slowly, “there were 65 of us kids in the choir during my time. Our choir director back then was Mrs. Mumphrey — Mrs. Lavinia Mumphrey, although we didn’t know her first name ’til it was read at her funeral.” Martin shifted in his chair again, this time moving to face Grace. “Everyone remembered Mrs. Mumphrey telling us to ‘stand up straight, arms at your sides, and remember, God is watching and listening.’”
Grace chuckled softly. “So she was a bit of a taskmaster?”
“She was,” agreed Martin. “Yet, she made every kid feel exceptional.”
‘Not on my head’
Mary Joneson bustled into the living room, pot holders in hand. “Dinner’s ready!” Martin and Grace got up from their chairs and entered the dining room, which was set with mismatched but antique china plates. The roast chicken sat at the center, surrounded by a heaping plate of butter-drizzled corn, a basket of rolls, a green salad, and a huge crystal bowl full of fruit salad. Grace smiled as she noted the fruit salad — chunks of fruit mixed with whipped cream — was the same kind her mother used to make. She wondered, “Is it Midwestern or Lutheran or both?”
Martin would never be so rude as to tell her that her youth and gender made her unqualified in his eyes.
As they dished up plates of food, Mary smiled warmly at Grace. “I hope you don’t mind the dinner. It’s nothing fancy, but for us, this is comfort food.”
“It looks delicious!” said Grace, helping herself to extra chicken and fruit salad.
“So, Grace,” Mary continued, “I’ve been wondering. I know you’re from out of state, but what made you decide to accept the call at Hope?”
“I had interviewed at a few churches in this synod,” Grace explained. “Hope was at the top of my list, though, because my Uncle Dave had lived right down the street, and I know the neighborhood from the times I came to visit him.”
“Oh, really?” exclaimed Mary. “Was your uncle a member of Hope?”
“No,” said Grace. “He had a job that required him to work on Sunday mornings. Besides, Uncle Dave just wasn’t a churchgoing type.” Grace took a bite of chicken. “He was, however, one of the people who influenced me to be a pastor, believe it or not. I was nearing the end of my undergrad years, and although I wanted badly to go into seminary, being a pastor isn’t the most lucrative career, so I had my doubts. Uncle Dave sat me down — he was a classically-trained musician and sometime Shakespearean actor — and he told me this quote from the Bard that I’ll never forget. ‘My crown is in my heart, not on my head; not deck’d with diamonds, and Indian Stones, nor to be seen: my crown is called content; a crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.’”
Nearly choking on his fruit salad, Martin gulped some water. Mary patted him on the back. “Are you OK?” she asked her husband.
He stared at Grace, who was contentedly gobbling down a roll. He knew where that quote came from. He’d heard it before.
As the rest of the meal went along, Grace sensed an easing of the tension between Martin and herself. She wasn’t sure what had caused the thaw but she said a silent prayer of gratitude later as she got in her car to drive home. Inside the Joneson house, Mary turned to Martin and said, “See, isn’t she great?”
“She’s going to be all right,” Martin said as he thought to himself, “She has the ‘Lucky Dave’ seal of approval.
To read the background story to “Dinner with Martin,” click here. That column is titled “December 1964.”
Mike Mann is a speaker, trainer, and award-winning storyteller. He is co-founder of the Center for Imagination (www.CenterForImagination.org). © Michael Mann, 2014.