Theron Ware goes to the annual statewide meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church with great expectation of being appointed to the large church in Tecumseh. He is greatly disappointed, therefore, when he is sent to Octavius, a small rural community. To the minister and his wife, the town and its citizens do not appear formidable at first, but a hint of what is to come occurs the first morning after their arrival. A boy who delivers milk to Mrs. Ware informs her that he cannot deliver milk on Sunday because the trustees of the church will object. Shortly afterward, the trustees tell the new minister that his sermons are too dignified and that Mrs. Ware’s Sunday bonnet is far too elaborate for a minister’s wife. Theron and his wife are depressed. Unhappy in his new charge, Theron decides to write a book about Abraham.
One day, Theron assists an injured Irish-Catholic workman and goes home with him to see what help he might give. At the man’s deathbed, Theron observes the parish priest and a pretty young redhead, Celia Madden, who assists him. Upon their acquaintance, the minister is surprised to find that his earlier hostility to Catholics and the Irish is foolish. These people are more cultured than he, as he learns a few evenings later when he goes to the priest for some advice in connection with his proposed book.
At the priest’s home, he meets Dr. Ledsmar, a retired physician interested in biblical research. The priest and the doctor know a great deal about the culture of Abraham and his people. They try to be tactful, but the young minister quickly sees how wrong he has been to think himself ready to write a religious book on any topic; all he knows is the little he was taught at his Methodist seminary.
Upon leaving Father Forbes and the doctor, Theron walks past the Catholic church. Hearing music within, he enters to find Celia at the organ. Later, he walks home with her and discovers that she is interested in literature and art as well as music. Once again that evening, Theron is made to realize how little he actually knows. He goes home with the feeling that his own small world is not a very cultured one.
Three months later, there is a revival at Theron’s church. Mr. and Mrs. Soulsby, two professional exhorters, arrive to lead a week of meetings that are designed to pay off the church debt and to put fervor into its members. The Wares, who entertain the Soulsbys, are surprised to find that the revival leaders are very much like insurance salespeople, employing similar tactics. During the revival week, Theron is nonplussed to discover what he thinks are the beginnings of an affair between his wife and one of the trustees of his church, Mr. Gorringe.
In a long talk with Mrs. Soulsby, Theron tells her that he almost decided to give up the Methodist ministry because of the shallowness he discovered in his congregation and in his church. Mrs. Soulsby points out...
(The entire section is 1198 words.)