A Father’s Day story about the Holy Ghost

Before I experienced life as a pastor in such teeming south Georgia metropoli as Statenville, Fargo, Bainbridge, and Marshallville, I was certain that my hometown of Chester, South Carolina was the smallest place on the planet. It was so small, in fact, that my father (pictured, left, with my younger brother and me, circa 1970), a prominent member of the City Council, had to commute thirty miles north to the border town of Fort Mill to find gainful employment to support a wife and two children. Meanwhile, his father, my paternal grandfather, was never without work as the local TV repairman and my maternal grandfather (pictured, right) was equally busy as the town barber.

With Chester being such a small town, most of the people would have only two reasons to make the trek to the downtown square. They either needed a haircut or their TV was on the blink. The City Barbershop, as might be expected in any small town, enjoyed a well-earned reputation as a breeding ground for tall tales. There, my maternal grandfather trimmed the sideburns of Chester’s leading citizens for over 20 years and shared with them his abundant knowledge of current events between snips. But he got some serious competition from Gibson’s TV and Appliances, where my paternal grandfather held fort for over forty years, fixing TV sets and somehow finding the time every day to engage in a game of checkers and swap fish stories with the local intelligentsia.It should not be surprising, then, that a story like this would begin to make the rounds and eventually find its way into the local newspaper. The following article actually appeared in the Chester News and Reporter in 1974.

 

Sunday morning services came at Chester A.R.P. Church recently and City Councilman Jimmy Gibson, garbed in a choir robe, was seated in the choir loft lending his vocal support to the service. His attractive wife, Jackie, was seated in the congregation with their children, when she happened to look out a window and see some boy entering their car, which had been parked along the street.

Hastening to tell her husband, Mrs. Gibson made her way to the choir loft and whispered what she had seen to her husband. Those who know Jimmy can guess the rest, but we’ll tell it like we heard it.

Out of the loft Jimmy came, leaving the church and giving chase to the culprit. The boy, spotting the man running after him, must have been dumbfounded for there was the long-legged Gibson giving that All-American try with a billowing choir robe flapping in the breeze. We understand the boy’s eyes got as big as saucers (maybe a little exaggeration there) and could hardly run for looking over his shoulder as if to figure out what that was running after him. No doubt, he had heard of the “Holy Ghost”, and chances are that’s what he thought was after him.

At any rate, Gibson called for help and a city policeman was close by, joined the chase, and apprehended the culprit.

So the moral is, if one has notions of tampering with automobiles on Sunday, be prepared for a “Holy Ghost.”

That may not be exactly the way it happened, but that’s the way we heard it.

A Memorial Day memory a pastor can never forget

Erasing Memories

Memorial Day is a national holiday of purely secular origin; a day set aside to remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country. This presents churches with something of a dilemma every time the last Sunday of May rolls around. How are they to worship in a biblically faithful way while acknowledging, in some appropriate manner during the service, the nation’s honored dead? I have no intention of delving into that question here. I mention it only as a serious lead-in for this recounting of what will probably be considered one of the more light-hearted moments during my early years in ministry.

I had been at my first parish, serving a small suburban congregation in southern Ohio, when I first encountered the Memorial Day dilemma. The chairwoman of the altar guild told me that it was customary on Memorial Day weekend to place an army rifle with a combat helmet upright against the communion table. This struck me as something less than appropriate but, not wanting to cause an uproar so early in my tenure at my first church, I deferred taking any action at the time. I simply made a note that the issue would have to be addressed before the following year.

It so happened that when the following year rolled around, all too soon, Memorial Day weekend coincided with Pentecost Sunday, another one of those celebrations in which it was “customary” for the altar guild to place a special decoration in the sanctuary. Hanging over the communion table was a huge brass cross. For Pentecost, the altar guild would place at the top of the cross a white dove, descending.

On Saturday afternoon before Pentecost/Memorial Day Sunday, I walked into the sanctuary and was greeted with a most hideous sight. There was the dove, descending from the top of the brass cross, directly in the line of fire of the army rifle standing upright against the communion table! If I had any hesitation about finally addressing the issue of having a gun in the sanctuary, I overcame it in an instant. There was no way I was going to allow such a sacrilege to take place.

Taking a deep breath, I called the chairwoman of the altar guild. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But this arrangement is inappropriate.” I then suggested we remove the rifle from the sanctuary and place it in the narthex so that the worshipers could acknowledge Memorial Day as they entered the building and then celebrate Pentecost as they entered the sanctuary (I was a Methodist at the time, not yet familiar with that wonderful Anglican term, “nave”). The plan seemed good to the altar guild and, amazingly enough, I did not hear one complaint from any church member over the change.

A confrontation I had dreaded for over a year ended, literally, without a shot being fired. Nevertheless, that image of the sweet heavenly dove in the crosshairs of a musket is a Memorial Day memory a pastor can never forget.