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If This Altar Could Talk

by Melissa Martin  
11/08/2011 / Short Stories

The elderly preacher kneeled down by the old wooden altar for the last time. Tears filled his eyes. He thought about the last fifty years at the little white church in the backwoods of West Virginia. His grandson sat in the front pew and observed. "What stories this altar would tell if it could talk," Pastor Robert Henderson confided in Bobbie, his youngest grandson.

"Please tell me some more stories!" Bobbie shouted in anticipation.

"I remember when Aunt Sadie's husband got right with the Lord. That scoundrel Sam! He had a wild streak in him, but one Sunday morning he found God," Reverend Henderson exclaimed as he slapped his knee and chuckled.

"Grandpa, tell me again about the mean lady in the haunted house," Bobbie insisted.

"Well, Widow Cunningham kept nearly fifty cats in her house, used to scream at the neighborhood kids and shoot her rifle at Mr. Osteen from the bank 'cause she didn't want to pay her property taxes. But, when she kneeled down at this altar, Jesus came into her heart and she danced around the whole church and shouted with joy!" Rev. Henderson laughed in delight and continued, "Then, would you believe that she paid her taxes in full!" Grandpa's face reddened as belly laughter erupted. "Then the old widow made Mr. Osteen promise to adopt her cats when she passed away!"

"Tell me some more stories, Grandpa," Bobbie demanded as he jumped up and down in the pew.

"Well, your cousin, Lewis used to drink moonshine and chase women, but Eleanor, his wife, caught him one night at the Dew Drop Inn and then Lewis got me out of bed at midnight and we rushed to church and he got saved right here at this altar. Three months later he became a deacon, the best deacon I ever had." Rev. Henderson shook his head as if still amazed at the permanent transformation in Lewis.

"Grandpa, if the altar could talk what would it say?" Bobbie asked curiously.

"This old altar would talk about the weddings and funerals it witnessed over the years." He stared at the altar for a long time and then commented, "Six generations of Henderson's were married at this altar." Bobbie closed his eyes and tried to picture the weddings.

"I remember when old maid Emma got hitched. Oh boy! Was this town surprised. Folks thought she'd never find a man, but she did!" They grinned at each other.

Rev. Henderson stared into space for a few moments before he spoke. "I preached the funeral for the Bailey twins. The church women cried buckets of tears that day. Jim Bailey, their father, kneeled at the altar and found salvation while I was preaching the funeral. What a day that was." The preacher wiped the tears from his eyes as Bobbie gently patted him on the back.

"Grandpa, what else would this alter say?" Bobbie inquired.

"Well, it would list all the names of the babies I dedicated to the Lord." Tender memories flooded it.

"Grandpa, what would this altar say about me?" Bobbie asked.

"It would talk about the time when you attended Vacation Bible School two years ago and after the invitation from Brother Earl, you walked down the isle and asked Jesus into your heart." The two smiled.

"I remember when those ornery Baker boys stole the town's Fourth of July firecrackers! Their daddy marched them to the church and made 'em confess on this altar. What a sight! To my knowledge they never stole again," Rev. Henderson commented with his eyes twinkling.

"Do you have any stories about my dad?" Bobbie asked.

"Well, one time, your daddy and his brother, David, played hooky from school and went to the fishing hole and swam all day long. The principal called me, but when the boys came home, I pretended like I didn't know. Their consciences bothered 'em so bad that they raced to the altar at church two days later. I guess my sermon about lying got to 'em."

"Grandpa, do you have to retire?" Bobbie asked, "You're the best preacher this church ever had. That's what everybody says!"

Rev. Henderson gently rubbed the top of the altar before he answered. "Bobbie, it's time for a new pastor to take over. Times are changin'. I'll have more time to weed my garden and more time to spend with the other grandkids and my great grandkids. Besides, your grandma's after me to rest." They turned off the lights and walked home to eat Grandma Betty's fruit cobbler; a ritual they had performed every Sunday night since Bobbie was a youngster.

Fifteen years later, Reverend Bob Henderson preached his first sermon at the little country church. The church board unanimously voted him in as the new pastor after he graduated from seminary. His grandpa sat in a wheelchair beside the front pew and shouted, "Amen!" throughout the service in his crackled voice.

"I want to tell you a story about this old altar and what it would say if it could talk," Rev. Bob continued as he winked at Grandpa Henderson, "This altar would talk about all the sinners that found Jesus, all the church saints, all the tears and the laughter, the birth of babies, all the weddings and funerals it witnessed and it would talk about the best preacher this church ever had and his name is Rev. Robert Henderson!"

After the congregation trickled out the two men stared at the church altar in
silence. "Grandpa, tell me some stories about what this old altar would say if it could talk," Bobbie whispered. Grandpa's eyes sparkled as he began to reminisce about the old altar.

Melissa writes about the God and human connection and condition.

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