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Calling

Not even the Bible's best could win congregational support.

When Pastor Rog left Springvale Church, there was no weeping or gnashing of teeth. Not that he and the members of Springvale didn't get along. Pastor Rog was easy to like—and he followed the rules. He wore the right clothes and sent his kids to the right school. He frequently attended local society functions—often enough anyway to keep up a presence for the church in the city. And his wife had a respectable part-time job at a local nursing home.

So the reason the people of Springvale Church weren't sorry to see Pastor Rog go had nothing to do with his family, his personality, or his willingness to work. It had to do with his preaching— which was at best ho-hum. Pastor Rog pursued texts with a kind of plodding persistence, rarely deviating from six or eight favorite gestures (a tightly clenched fist turned inward was his favorite). His sermons, to many of the good Springvale souls, seemed irri-tatingly predictable—which is to say, boring.

However, it's possible that the Springvale congregation wouldn't have been so eager to see Pastor Rog leave if they had been aware of the complex process of finding a replacement. Springvale hadn't been without a preacher since before the war. Furthermore, no one knew exactly which war people meant when they said that. Finding a new under-shepherd, the consistory noted in its July meeting, would be a challenge that would demand the best of all of them.

At that same meeting the elders and deacons decided that before selecting candidates for the new job, the consistory should survey the needs and wants of the entire congregation by polling the church's various groups and societies.

In the weeks that followed, brother Morse (a cassette-player repairman who had a degree in a field somewhat related to number crunching) prepared a fourteen-page questionnaire. The consistory distributed the assessment instrument to the congregation, giving members a strict deadline for completing and returning the pages.

In August most of the church's societies and groups spent a lot of time discussing the type of pastor the Springvale congregation needed.

The consistory devoted their whole August meeting to drawing a pastor profile. He has to be charismatic, they said, and scriptural; a man with the ability to write and speak not only fluently but passionately; a strong presence for the people; a compassionate listener; a man committed to kingdom work, blessed with intelligence; a man with a wise but gracious heart.

That profile, the consistory concluded,brought only one candidate to mind. If they were to call someone without the congregation's approval-—-in fact, were they that night to call the man of their choice—it would be, by unanimous vote, King David, the man God himself described as "closest to my heart."

Someone leaked the results of the consistory's deliberations to the Phoebe Society, who spent their August meeting drawing out their own agenda for the new minister. King David, they said in a twenty-page document filed only a week after the questionnaire had been distributed, certainly has much to commend him. However, because of "the Bathsheba affair," his "credulity with women" has suffered tremendously. Therefore, said the members of the Phoebe Society, "We're opposed to nominating David as our new pastor." Such a nomination, they insisted, revealed a rather "obvious disregard" for women's issues. Instead the women of the Phoebe Society recommended that the congregation call Jacob's son Joseph, a man they claimed had not erred as David had and a man who had showed great compassion in distributing foodstuffs to the needy during his tenure as Egypt's Secretary of Agriculture.

The Men's Society nominated Jeremiah in the only report not typed on a word processor. What's more, their report was remarkably short considering they had spent six weekly meetings brawling over their candidate's views of eschatology. The Society's second choice was Isaiah who, they claimed, despite some really beautiful verse, lacked the tenacity of Jeremiah. They warned against Hosea, claiming that the man couldn't keep his own house in order.

The youth pastor's response came on his personal stationery, decorated with unicorns and psychedelic rainbows. He claimed calling any one of the woe-speaking prophets would be in very bad taste and would likely alienate the kids. The candidate most likely to help his group, he maintained, would be the father of the prodigal son—although he wasn't sure a farmer could make it with big-city kids. If it had to be someone prophet-like, the youth pastor said, Balaam and his talking ass were the kind of act that would keep the kids' attention.

The Circle, a support group composed mainly of single individuals, made a rather convincing case for calling the Samaritan woman. However, because a woman pastor was not a likely possibility for the Spring-vale congregation, the Circle recommended the election of the apostle Paul. Despite his sometimes virulent sexism, members of the Circle pointed out, Paul at least understood the dignity of the single life.

Support for the apostle Paul also came from the guys who attend church only because they are dragged by their parents. Although this group submitted no formal report, one of the elders polled them unofficially as they were standing out on the sidewalk smoking after the morning service. "Paul was once a real bugger," one of them said.

In fact, the apostle Paul was also one of the two choices of the men of the Breakfast Club, a group who meets biweekly at the health club, where—in addition to playing racquetball doubles— the men eat yogurt and study Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis. The club's other vote went to Daniel, who, they claimed, was the most intelligent of all the prophets, well-educated in the ways of the world and obviously committed to the faith.

The reason Daniel fell behind Paul in the Club's final decision-making had to do with his on-again-off-again associations with the Hal Lindsey school of dispensationalism. Paul, on the other hand, met with stiff resistance from members who were uncomfortable with his spiritual fervor, a trademark those dissenters claimed to be an alarming symptom of the erratic and sometimes dangerous heat of the just-converted.

Al-Anon wasn't given to naming names but claimed they could live with any one of Noah's sons.

The liturgy committee felt Moses was the only man to decide once and for all what the laws of good music and proper worship styles should be.

The choir liked King David a lot but felt Isaac Watts would be a better choice.

The Sunday School wanted Pee Wee Herman.

And the janitor voted for Mr. Clean.

At its September meeting the consistory read through all these reports and recommendations. They wrote the names of the candidates on the chalkboard, listing some of the attributes each man or woman would bring to the job. Then they started calling. They called and called and called again, but for the most part— aside from a brief, unenthusiastic conversation with Pee Wee Herman's business agent—their calls were in vain.

Finally elder Brummel, wiping his forehead in the late summer heat, recommended giving a man named Verdean Sands a call. Brummel explained that when he was on vacation in a little resort town up state he had heard the man preach. Passable, Brummel said. Nice family. Good smile. Warm. Human.

"Human?" they said in chorus.

In spite of some misgivings, the consistory extended the call, and a month later Sands arrived in Springvale—slightly nervous, but eager.

Unfortunately,all is not well in Springvale. Some people just don't think Sands has the qualities they wanted in a minister. In fact, after hearing three sermons by the young Sands, the support group for reformed, ex-lottery players has already made book on his tenure at the church. They claim he'll never stick it out.They're giving him two years and posting odds at 3 to 1.