"They're nothing more than a bunch of modern day gypsies. It's obvious they live in that rusted van. They probably travel from town to town, begging for handouts," said Elaine Walters, wife of the head deacon of the Heights Community Church.
"Our parking lot is not a campsite for travelers," added her husband, Richard Walters, with a tone of finality.
All of the deacons were there except Jim Stephens, who everyone knew would have held a dissenting opinion. As it was, though, the vote was unanimous. The trespassers who had sought permission to stay for a few days on the church grounds would be told to vacate the premises immediately.
Bob Morris, the pastor, was disappointed in the response of the deacon body. What could he do, though? The board had more authority than he did, including the authority to throw him out as their pastor. His hands were tied.
As soon as the meeting was over, Pastor Morris walked toward the van. The sliding door was open.
It was pleasant outside, cool and breezy. The sky was blue and cloudless. 'At least it's a nice day for traveling,' thought the pastor, groping to put a positive spin on his joyless task. Then he noticed how vacant the van appeared.
"Hello? Anybody there?" he called out.
A rustling was heard and a teenage girl, with a finger over her lips, climbed carefully out of the van. "My baby sister is asleep," she said in a whisper.
Lowering his voice, the pastor said, "Oh, sorry. I'm Pastor Morris. And you are?"
"Felicia," she said, smiling, her hands on her hips.
"Where's the rest of the family, if you don't mind my asking?"
"My grandfather is in the van napping, too. My parents have gone with Mr. Jim to the hospital. My little brother has asthma, and it's been awful lately. I hope they can help him. The poor kid can hardly take a breath. I've never seen it so bad."
His mission of expulsion forgotten, the pastor called Jim from his cell phone and then drove to the hospital.
Before Wednesday night service began, the deacon body had met again - - both Jim Morris and the pastor were absent this time - - and they decided on a course of action. Just before the opening worship songs were sung, Richard Walters stood at the pulpit and made his announcement, his voice shaking with rage. "I'm going to get right to the point. The deacon body, minus Jim Stephens, has agreed that Pastor Bob Morris has chosen a course that is not in the best interest of our congregation. We recommend his immediate dismissal."
Mouths flew open throughout the congregation. In spite of the shock of it, 80-year-old Grandmother Lewis stood without hesitation and said, "What course of action is that, Ricky?"
Frowning at the lack of respect the church member had shown him in calling him by his childhood handle, Richard shot back, "He defied the wishes of the board, which had instructed him to evict a homeless family from the parking lot. Instead, he opened the doors to them, as though the church were some kind of a hotel for deadbeats. He made the showers available to them, as well as the guest cots and the kitchen!"
She had been slowly walking from the back of the room, where her family sat, around to the side. Then Felicia boldly lifted her voice and addressed the congregation. "My brother is a lot better now. His asthma had us scared out of our wits. The kindness that has been shown to us has been something different, very wonderful. We don't want Pastor Morris to get in any trouble because of us. We'll leave right this minute." She walked quickly toward the back exit.
The pastor stepped up to the pulpit. "Don't leave, Felicia. Please sit down," he said into the microphone. Then he looked at the congregation, "No need for a vote. If Felicia and her family leaves right now, I'm right behind them."
Jim Stephens and practically everyone in the congregation -- many of whom had helped pay the family's doctor bills -- stood up and said, "Us, too."
Grandma Lewis stood and said joyfully, "Ricky, some of you are forgetting. We're supposed to bring people into God's family, not lock them out. Now, what do you folks say we all worship the Lord together!" She turned to Felicia and said, "You, too, honey," and soon wrapped her in a warm embrace.
Stephanie Anne "Stevie" McHugh is a published poet, songwriter, newspaper columnist, short story writer, and Texan. Stevie is a member of numerous writing groups and leads poetry workshops for young people. Her website is www.faithadventure.blogspot.com.
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