The Following is part one of a short story I wrote in 2002.
Andy and Caroline stood briefly outside the study as Andy gave the slightly open door a short rap.
“Come in,” a booming voice responded. Andy opened the door and allowed his wife to enter first. A tall, balding man in his mid-fifties was hunched in front of a computer screen as he deliberately stabbed a keyboard with his index fingers.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he spoke into the air as he made one final poke and rose to greet them. “Sending off the weekly prayer e-mail,” he explained as he reached for Caroline’s hand, “I’m not much of a typist.” He paused for a split second, “Let me see if I can get this right. Carol, isn’t it?”
“Of course, my apologies. Andy, nice to see you again,” he shook their hands in turn and led them to two imitation leather chairs, of which there were three arranged in a conversation grouping in the corner of the study.
“Thank you for seeing us on such short notice, Reverend,” Andy began.
“Oh, call me John. I don’t like titles.” He took the third chair, which was arranged in such a way that his long legs had a chance to extend without danger of kicking his guests. “I continue to get a handful of folks calling me ‘Pastor’ around here, but I am trying to break that habit. Religious formality just gets in the way. That’s why I like to come out from behind the desk, and avoid as many of the religious clichés as I can. The world has too much religion, not enough Jesus, I always say.”
Andy was silent, not really having a clue what the distinction between “religion” and “Jesus” was, or how you could have one without the other. He glanced over at Caroline, who nodded knowingly. Right, he thought. She doesn’t get it, either.
“Can I get you some coffee?” Pastor John broke eye contact momentarily as he reached behind him for his well-used but seldom washed mug on his desk. The couple both replied to the negative as Pastor John readjusted himself in the chair.
“This is certainly a pleasure,” he affirmed. “We are all so excited to ‘adopt’ you into our family. It’s rare to have a couple come forward together, but definitely a plus.” Seeing their somewhat confused looks, he continued, “you see, when a husband or wife accepts Christ alone, it can create great stress in a marriage. However, as you are both beginning your new lives together. A most wonderful opportunity, both for you, as for us, as we get to participate with you in that journey. Yes, a very wonderful thing indeed. As I mentioned Sunday, the Bible tells us that the angels rejoice when one is saved. I’d say they had quite a celebration last Sunday!”
Andy and Caroline smiled politely, still not quite sure what kind of a journey they were on. This was all very new to them, as neither had come from a family where religion played a part. Caroline responded first, “This is all very new to us.”
“Of course, of course,” John jumped in. They could see that he was obviously used to doing most of the talking. “I understand completely. Don’t try to figure everything out all at once- you’ve got plenty of time to learn the ins and outs of Christianity and church life. We’re just glad you’re here.” He took a sip from his cup. “Tell me,” he said, looking at Andy, “a little about your backgrounds.”
“Well, neither Caroline or I have ever been what you’d call religious.”
Andy was interrupted by a knock on the study door. “Excuse me,” said John, rising to get the door. The church secretary, Joan, according to the nameplate on her desk, handed the pastor two cardboard boxes, about the size of boot boxes, but with a hinged lid, similar to a cigar box. He thanked Joan and re-closed the door.
“Carry on,” he nodded to Andy as he returned to his chair, setting the boxes on the floor in front of them.
Andy’s eyes fell to the boxes, which he noticed had “Andy” and “Caroline” lettered on the front. “As I was saying, we’ve never been what you could call religious. Neither of our families ever attended church, and at least in my family, the subject of God never came up.”
“Unless somebody was swearing,” Caroline added, smiling. She continued, determined to carry her side of the conversation. “My family went to church for weddings, funerals, and sometimes Christmas, if there was a special program. My mom believed in God, and even claimed to have seen Him once. She quickly added, “she used to do acid in the 60s.”
Pastor John nodded silently, either not catching or not acknowledging the humor.
“Religion never made any sense to us, to me,” Andy continued. “In fact, it still doesn’t.”
Caroline nodded in agreement, “I’m not even sure why we came on Sunday, other than the Nelson’s had been after us forever to come and I told Andy, ‘we’ve got to go once, then we can tell them that it’s just not for us.’ But, “she paused, looking over at Andy to make sure she had his agreement, “we both felt something Sunday that we’d never felt before. I guess you call it the presence of God, or at least that’s what I think it was. I thought it was just me, but then before I knew it, I was kneeling down in front next to Andy. I don’t even know how I got there!”
“I’m still not even sure what it all means,” said Andy earnestly. “I mean, I feel different – lighter, I guess you could say – but I have absolutely no language to explain it. I started reading that Bible you gave us on Sunday, but to be honest, it hasn’t helped explain anything at all to us.”
Caroline was shaking her head, “It’s all so foreign. It’s like a different language, a different culture. I feel inside that it’s true, but I guess my head hasn’t arrived there yet.”
With that the pastor smiled. “I am very excited for you two. I really am. You are in the best possible place to learn about God and what it means to be a Christian.”
“What do you mean?” Caroline asked.
“What I mean is, most people have preconceived notions about God and Christianity, especially if they have watched Christian TV or have been reading that so-called Christian fiction that is so popular now. It’s sometimes very hard to shake those notions loose and get them on the right track.”
“My mom always said – in fact, she said it again yesterday – that there are many tracks, that’s why there are so many churches,” interrupted Caroline.
Andy grinned, “Caroline’s mom is sometimes on several of them at once.”
Caroline gave him one of her looks, and continued, “I mean, Judy Nelson warned me about that church down on the corner of 5th, to make sure we didn’ t go there instead. She said they had some strange ideas. How do we know which church has it right?”
Pastor John sat for a moment, his hands pressed together with the index fingers pressed against his lips. “I can tell that you are both real thinkers,” he said slowly. “That’s good . that’s very good. I think our church is a good place for you. We have classes that will help you to sort out all of these questions.”
With that, he reached down and picked up the two boxes, and handed one to each, glancing at the names to make sure they had the right ones. “These are for you,” he said.
John took the box, which was obviously empty. Caroline opened the lid on hers anyway, then after a moment looked up. “What is this?”
John smiled warmly, “These are your God Boxes.”
To Be Continued …