The noise level from the congregation grew from puzzled – underlying whispers and gasps – to cries of protests and disbelief and finally to shouts that demanded explanation.
Through it all, Pastor Griffin intoned. “Our Father, which art in heaven. Hallowed be they name . . .”
Deacon Hanson knocked the pastor’s hand from his shoulder; his demands for answers were added to the increasingly loud uproar of the crowd. Pastor Griffin ignored the growing storm and his lack of response fueled the rage that finally pushed the peacemaker of the group over the edge. While the pastor continued to stand above his congregation, head bowed, eyes closed, reciting the Lord’s prayer, Deacon Hanson snatched the folding chair from beneath the Pastor’s feet. Only the press of people below him kept the man of God from falling into the grass.
Another collective gasp and the crowd fell silent. Ethel Mae heard only the buzz of insects and the distant drone of an airplane high above them. No one seemed to breathe as they waited for Griffin’s reaction. A couple of the men assisted him to his feet and helped him brush away loose grass. Hanson held his ground, fists clenched at his side. Pastor Griffin turned his back to the younger man and addressed the crowd.
“As most of you know, the church is in default on a mortgage loan to the bank.” His words were measured and slow, the basso rasp of his voice carried easily across the tent.
“And whose fault is that?” It was as if a dam had broken. Hanson Perry was red-faced, his breath coming in heavy pants, fists still clenched.
Pastor Griffin continued as if there had been no interruption. “I have prayed and prayed. Seeking God for a solution to our current crisis. Yesterday morning, He answered me. God is good!”
The congregation responded automatically. “All the time.“
“And all the time,” Pastor Griffin called.
“God is good.”
Pastor Griffin gravely nodded his approval. “I know the deacons have been in communication with the bank people. Deacon Hanson, Deacon Frank, Deacon Noble,” he nodded to each man in turn. “These are good men and they have worked tirelessly for our congregation but God put it on my heart to go down there myself. He said ‘Brother Eddie’, hear my voice’ and like Moses was commanded to confront the pharaoh, I obeyed. God showed me the way.” Pastor Griffin paused for effect. “I purchased the loan. Our church is no longer in debt to the bank.”
The cries from the congregation were now cries of joy and praise.
Mama Lou turned to Ethel Mae and said, “I told you he wasn’t going down easy.”
Ethel Mae shook her head in disbelief. “I wonder how long before they realize that they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire?”
“Well, I sure as heck am not going to tell them.” Mama Lou reached out a hand for Ethel Mae and Mendoza. She started pulling them towards the parking lot. “In fact, we don’t even need to be around anymore. Mission accomplished. Let’s go.”
Detective Mendoza was an unmovable force. “He took out a mortgage loan on behalf of the church without telling anyone. Didn’t pay on it for over two years and then miraculously, he has enough money to pay off the entire balance with his debit card?”
“In a nutshell.” Mama Lou tugged on his arm again. “So, the church is no longer in danger of foreclosure. They can fellowship and eat in peace. Problem solved. Let’s go!”
“Pastor Griffin owns the land.” Detective Mendoza stared fixedly at the minister, who was drinking in the approval from the ecstatic members of the Fellowship Community Church. “Not the church.”
“Dagnabit!” Mama Lou gave up trying to pull the detective away. She’d seen that purposeful gleam in his eye before and knew, at this point, there would be no stopping him. “Okay,” she conceded. “What are we going to do?”
There was a shift in the tenor of excitement in the crowd. The ecstasy was now twinged with a hint of anxiety. Ethel Mae watched as the crowd parted in front of Pastor Griffin.
The Ice Cream Man
“Izzy?” Pastor Griffin appeared nervous, unsure for the first time since his arrival. “What, what are you doing here?”
“I can’t let you do it, man,” Izzy said, his swagger exaggerated as he neared the pastor. He planted his feet with one hand hooked in his belt, his head tilted slightly to the side, an arrogant sneer on his lips. Menace flowed off him as he stared directly into the pastor’s eyes. “These some good people, man.”
Pastor opened his mouth, perhaps to protest but Izzy moved in a step closer.
“Give. It. Back.”