They started to gather as they always did. Like turkey vultures circling road kill. They gathered in groups of two or three, talking amongst themselves. Peeking over their shoulders after every three sentences, they threw a glance at the next one to be sacrificed. Bob had heard the rumors. He had seen the wounds of the ones who had gone before him. After six months at his first appointment he knew the honeymoon was about to be over. The time had arrived. It was 7:00 pm on a Monday evening as the members of the Administrative Council filed into their seats as the chair called the meeting to order.
At this meeting it was Bob’s intention to start a visioning process for the church. He had felt that his flock was a little stagnate and needed direction, any direction at this point would be good. He was proposing that the AC would do a Bible Study together on the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations and at the end of the study see what ideas emerged and what visions for the church could come out of it. He had heard there might be some resistance from the natives.
Bill Holiday was the grandson of a founding member of the church. His father still sat on many of the committees and the Holiday family was known to hold a lot of weigh among the membership. Bob’s predecessor giggled a little when he passed that piece of wisdom down and when Bob met ‘the oldest rat in the barn’ he knew why. Tom Holiday, son of founding member, Stan Holiday, and father to Bill Holiday and Mary Holiday-Eastern, stood 5 feet and 8 inches tall and 5 feet 2 inches wide. Bill was a little taller and a little less wide. They were like tractor trailers, except Tom had a sleeper compartment.
Tom was getting older and so Bill was stepping up and taking over, literally, all the rolls his father use to have at the church. He was as pig headed as they came and because he was also a successful business man, had more ego than his shoulders could carry. The vultures were circling the meeting because Bill was donning his war path necklace, a collection of skulls of past clergy who tested the natives. The locals knew what this meant and they could smell a fresh kill coming. Luckily, Bob was tipped off by some kind members and past clergy, but it didn’t take away the fear and nerves that was floating in the air around him.
The meeting started like normal and they moved quickly through the different committee reports. It was apparent nothing new was going to happen in this meeting, except for the minister’s report. The chair finally called on Bob. Bob presented his idea. He started off by pointing to their long and proud history. He brought up memories about hurdles they were able to get over as a community of faith and rough times that God had seen them through. He told them that he had been praying about where God was leading them and to give him guidance. He showed them their year end reports and the constant decline in membership but how the demographic of the community around them is thriving. Bob also showed them the breakdown of their congregation and what the congregation will look like in the next ten years and how few active people they will have, due to age and death. He then ended by explaining the current popularity of the 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations book and the coordinating study. “Lots of churches have found success and vision from this study,” Bob announced.
It was then that Bill started to laugh. It wasn’t a snicker, or a chuckle. It was more a noise that you hear when your uncle falls asleep on the coach and then wakes up suddenly to his own snoring. Bill knew this would get everyone’s attention and in fact all eyes were on him, some just to make sure he wasn’t actually sleeping. Bill took this moment to shift in his seat. He put his arms on the table and leaned over the front of his chair. It was like he was sticking his neck out to take a bite off a roast on a spit.
Bob’s stomach sank to his shins. His face went blank and he stared in Bill’s direction. “You don’t know shit about running a business, boy.” Bill knew the language would induce even more shock and demonstrate even less respect. “I have been a member of this church ever since I crawled out of my mama. We have done this before and we have followed the whims of only slightly more competent ministers than you. It always leads to the same place, you leaving, us staying. I don’t care how many ‘other’ churches found success with this book, it won’t work here. The only way to make a business better is to look where cuts can be made to increase your bottom line. I’ve looked at our books and the only source I can find that we can trim is the fat we call your salary. I say the way to make sure this church can be around for my great-grandkids is to cut our spending and rely on the people who have gotten us this far, us.”
Bill looked around trying to receive everyone’s approval. Some nodded, mainly out of fear and some in agreement. Others sat speechless, wondering if Bill would add another skull to his necklace. Bob stood there for a second; he had only blinked twice this whole time. He placed his dry erase marker down on the table, pulled his chair out from under it and had a seat. All eyes were now on him. Bob laid his arms on the table, intertwining his fingers and took a deep and hopefully unnoticeable breath.
He looked up at Bill and looked him in the eye. His stomach went from his shins to his ankles. He wet his lips hoping that some words would come to them. A shiver or maybe a cold chill from the angel of death went from his tailbone up to his neck and the hair on it stood up. In the next moment Bob had no clue what he said. His mind was racing too much to pay attention to himself. He felt like he was having an out of body experience and he was worried he went postal. He glanced around looking for signs of blood but everyone looked fine, except for Bill, who face looked like someone had just drained him of his. Finally his mouth stopped moving, everyone bowed their heads and Bob stood their silent. He thought, how and why am I standing? Who is leading this prayer? What in the world did I just say? After about 30 seconds he decided that he had to have asked everyone to pray and he said a closing prayer. Everyone got up and started to collect their things.
Some members of the AC came up and shook his hand. They were saying comments like, “thank you” and “I’m so glad you are here.” Bob started to feel better but still wondered what had come out of his numb mouth. Finally in the parking lot, while groups of two or three gathered around their cars to rehash the meeting, Bob was able to talk to his PPRC Chair, a friend Bob felt he could trust. He confessed that he didn’t really know what he said and asked George if he could tell him.
George replied, “Bob you said, ‘You’re right Bill I don’t know how to run a business, in fact I never even took a business in college. I do lack experience and I know I only have had six months here. There is a lot I don’t know about the future as well and I wish I could look ahead and tell you exactly what is in store for us here. There is a lot I don’t know but I do know one thing. I do know who’s in charge here. It’s not me and it’s not you Bill. It’s God. God is the one who inspired your grandfather to help start this church as a mission center for this community. God is who brought us through the dark times and great times. The future is God’s Bill and God is the one who will reveal that future to us.’ Then you stood up and continued, ‘There is a choice to make tonight. We can go with God or we can go against God. I’m willing to go with God who is telling me we should do this study and find out the path we as a church should be on. Tonight God is asking who will come along on this journey of faith.’”
George smiled at Bob. “The chair asked for an immediate vote and it was unanimous, even Bill voted to move forward to find our vision. Thank you Bob, that was one of the most God inspired moments I have had at this church. I’m truly am glad you are here.”
Bob said thanks, and walked across the parking lot to his front door. He looked back at the sanctuary which was illuminated by the moon and the street lamps. His eyes came to rest on the cross which was perched on the steeple. “Thank you.”