Sam Gardner’s experiences during his first year as pastor of the Harmony Friends meeting trigger flashbacks to his boyhood. Although he has been a pastor for twelve years after completing seminary, Sam learns about human existence only after unforeseen circumstances make him a spiritual guide among people he knew as a child. He chronicles the events of this year, blending humor and thoughtful reflection and always including his own shortcomings.
Several incidents are highly comic. Early in Sam’s tenure, Elder Dale Hinshaw hires Billy Bundle (the World’s Shortest Evangelist) to hold a revival. Formerly a wrestler known as the Mississippi Midget (though technically only a short man from the Bronx), Billy applies unusual showmanship techniques to preaching, but Sam sees the usual six people publicly repent, while Hinshaw calculates the high cost per soul.
More difficult than Hinshaw is Bob Miles, Sr. Displaced as newspaper editor by his son, Miles has become the town’s ultraconservative activist, berating the group regularly during services. The elders make him the Prayer Warrior, who must pray scripturally—that is, alone in the basement closet. They fail to realize that his loud prayers will boom through the heat ducts, louder than before. Sam must confront and admonish this elderly man, who angrily transfers to the Baptist Church, as he has done several times before.
Several incidents involve Sam’s gaffes. Repairing the church’s ancient freezer, he forgets to plug it back in and ruins the Women’s Friendly Circle’s prized chicken and noodles. Caught between Hinshaw’s objections and the women’s demands for a new toilet, Sam and his boyhood friend Uly Grant install the toilet late at night. Driving by, Hinshaw sees a light in the church building and uses his new cell phone to call the police.
Both Sam and Hinshaw are involved in the church bus fiasco. Venom (a rock group) abandon their worn-out bus at Harvey Muldock’s garage, suggesting to Hinshaw an inexpensive way to begin a bus ministry. When the bus keeps breaking down, Sam proposes giving it to Brother Norman’s Choctaw Mission, but the drive to Oklahoma takes them through St. Louis on the...
(The entire section is 904 words.)