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Authors: Francine Rivers

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Samuel was dozing in his chair when the telephone rang. Abby set aside her crossword puzzle and answered it. Samuel still dozed. The drone of television always served to put him to sleep. He would start out on ESPN, fall asleep, and wake up to Turner Classic Movies, the remote firmly in Abby’s possession.

“Just a minute, please. Samuel.
Pssst. Samuel!”

Samuel raised his head.

“Paul Hudson is calling for you,” Abby said.

“Who’s Paul Hudson?”

“A pastor from Mountain High Church in Illinois. He’s calling in regard to your conversation with Dean Whittier.”

Samuel came fully awake. “I’ll take it in the kitchen.” He slammed his recliner down and pushed himself up, giving a cursory glance at the television. He gave her a mock scowl. “Pulled another fast one, did you? Since the Dodgers game would be over by now, you can finish watching
The
Sound of Music
with my blessing.”

She gave him a smirk as she lifted the telephone. “My husband will be with you in just a moment, Pastor Hudson.”

Samuel picked up the telephone in the kitchen. “I’ve got it, Abigail.” His wife hung up. “This is Samuel Mason speaking.”

“My name is Paul Hudson, sir. Dean Whittier called me last week and said you’re looking for a pastor. He thought I should give you a call.”

Samuel rubbed his chin. How did one go about this? “What do you think we should know about you?”

“What are you looking for?”

“Someone like Jesus.”

“Well . . . I can tell you straight up that I’m a long way from that, sir.”

Paul Hudson sounded young. Samuel took a pad and pen. “Why don’t we start with your qualifications?”

“I graduated from Midwest Christian College.” He hesitated. “It might be best if you spoke with Dean Whittier about my work there. Since graduating, I’ve been on staff at Mountain High Church.”

“Youth?”

“New Christians. All ages.”

Sounds good.
“How long have you been there?”

“Five years. I just completed my master’s in family counseling.”

A jack-of-all-trades.
“Are you married?”

“Yes, sir.” Samuel could hear the smile in Hudson’s voice. “My wife’s name is Eunice. I met her in college and married her two weeks after I graduated. She was a music major. She plays piano and she sings. I don’t mean to brag, but Eunice is very gifted.”

Two ministers for the price of one.
“Any children?”

“Yes, sir. We have a very active three-year-old son named Timothy.”

“Children are a blessing from the Lord.” Samuel was about to launch into stories about his daughter and son, but pulled himself up short as the pain of Donny’s loss struck him again. He cleared his throat. “Tell me about your relationship with the Lord.”

He leaned back against the kitchen counter as Paul dove enthusiastically into his personal testimony. Born into a Christian family. Father, a pastor of a church in Southern California.
Hudson?
The name was ringing bells in Samuel’s head, but he wasn’t certain if they were fire alarms or chimes.

Paul went on talking. He accepted Christ at the age of ten, active in youth groups, counselor at church camps, worked summers for Habitat for Humanity. Between college classes, he volunteered at a senior-citizens center near the college. He worked with disadvantaged youth and tutored students in reading at an inner-city high school.

Paul Hudson sounded like a gift from heaven.

There was a long pause.

“Mr. Mason?”

“I’m still here.”
Just flabbergasted at the energy of the young.

“Should I e-mail my resume?” Paul sounded embarrassed.

Samuel was drawn to his youthful zeal. “We haven’t got a computer.”

“Fax machine?”

“Nope.” Samuel rubbed his chin again. “Tell you what. Send your resume to me FedEx.” Since there wasn’t anyone on staff at the church, Samuel gave Paul his home address. “What’s your situation? I’m assuming you have responsibilities at Mountain High Church.”

“I work in a number of areas, but my primary responsibility right now is teaching two foundational classes.”

“How long is the course?”

“Both classes will finish in three weeks. We have a covenant ceremony the week after for those who have made a decision for Christ.”

“So you wouldn’t be available for four to five weeks.”

“That’s right, sir. And if I was called, I’d need time to pack and move and settle my family.”

“That would be no problem. But we don’t want to move too fast. I’ll notify the other elders. We all need to pray about this. Considering all your qualifications, this may not be the best place for you. We’re a small church, Paul. Fewer than sixty people.”

“It could grow.”

It would have to grow or they couldn’t afford to pay a new pastor. “Send your resume. I’ll talk with Dean Whittier again.” Samuel wanted to make sure Paul Hudson was the young man the dean meant. “I’ll get back to you in a week or so. How does that sound to you?”

“Wise, sir.”

“I’d hire you right now, Paul, but we’d better slow down and see if this is where the Lord wants you.”

“I can tend to run on overdrive, Mr. Mason. I’ve been praying that the Lord would call me to pastor a church.”

Samuel liked the sound of his voice. “Nothing you’ve said to me will work against you.”

They exchanged a few pleasantries and Samuel hung up. He went back into the living room. “Do, a deer, a female deer,” Julie Andrews sang from the screen.

“You know this movie by heart, Abby,” Samuel said. “How many times have you seen it?”

“About as many times as you’ve fallen asleep to
Monday Night Football.

” She picked up the remote and turned the television volume down, then put it back on her side table. He sat in his recliner, tipped it back, and waited. He knew it wouldn’t be long.

“So . . . ?”

“Give me the remote and I’ll tell you.”

“You know I’ll get it back again when you fall asleep.” She gave up the remote.

“He’s twenty-eight, happily married, and has a three-year-old son.”

“That’s all you learned about him in thirty minutes?”

“Master’s degree. Zealous.”

“That’s wonderful.” She waited while he considered. “ Isn’t it?”

“Depends.” Fire from on high could raise a church from the ashes. Misplaced zeal could burn it down.

“You could mentor him.”

He looked at her over the rim of his glasses.

“Well, who else would you suggest? Otis? Hollis?”

Samuel pushed his recliner back. “We might see if we can find someone older, more experienced.”

“You aren’t that fainthearted, Samuel.”

“I’m not exactly a mover and shaker anymore, my dear.”

“You know what they say: ‘Youth and skill are no match for old age and treachery.’ ”

“A bowl of Rocky Road would taste good right about now.”

She sighed and got up. Samuel caught her hand as she came near his chair. “Give me a kiss, old woman.”

“You don’t deserve a kiss.”

He smiled up at her. “But you’ll give me one anyway.”

She leaned down and planted a kiss on his mouth. “You’re an old codger.” Her eyes twinkled.

“You can have the remote when you get back.”

He began praying over Paul Hudson the moment Abby left the room. He prayed while he ate the ice cream. He prayed while his wife watched
The Sound of Music.
When they went to bed, he prayed with her, then lay awake praying long after she went to sleep. He prayed the next day while mowing the lawn and oiling the garage-door hinges and springs. He was still praying while he added motor oil to his DeSoto, rubbed a few bugs off the car’s grille, and went out to trim the hedge.

Abby came out to the garage with a FedEx envelope. Paul Hudson’s resume. No moss would grow on this kid. Samuel opened the packet, read the resume, took it inside, and put it on the table. “See what you think.” He headed for the door.

“What about lunch?”

He took a banana from the bowl on the nook table and went back outside to talk some more with the Lord. He didn’t come in until she called that lunch was ready. The resume was on the table. “Well?”

Abby let out a soft whistle.

“Precisely.”

He called Dean Whittier that afternoon. “He had to work to prove himself when he came here.”

Samuel frowned. “Why would he have to do that?”

“His father is David Hudson. It would be hard for any man to live up to that kind of reputation.”

Before Samuel had an opportunity to ask who David Hudson was, the dean charged on with the various projects Paul had started and finished while in college. The dean’s secretary spoke in the background. “I’m sorry, Samuel, but I have another call. Let me just say this: Paul Hudson has the potential of becoming a
great
pastor, maybe even greater than his father. You’d better grab him while you can.”

Samuel went looking for his wife. “Ever heard of David Hudson?”

“He’s pastor of one of those megachurches down south. His sermons are televised. Pat Sawyer loves him.” Her eyes lit up. “Oh my goodness! You don’t mean to tell me Paul Hudson is related to him, do you?”

“You could say that. He’s David Hudson’s son.”

“Oh, this is more than we ever dreamed . . . ”

“Don’t start doing cartwheels yet, Abby.” He headed for the door.

“Where are you going now, Samuel?”

“Out for a walk.” He needed time alone to think and pray before he called the other two elders.

S
AMUEL WENT to the hospital the next day and spoke to Hank and Susanna Porter about Paul Hudson. Hank said he was relieved that the church was moving ahead and looking for someone to replace him. Their son would be in Centerville on Saturday. “He’s not taking no for an answer this time. He’s moving us to Oregon.”

When Hank’s mouth trembled, Susanna put her hand over his and squeezed tenderly. “We’ve been talking about this for the last few years, dear. It’s time.”

Hank nodded. “I’ll leave my library of books with the church.”

Susanna looked at Samuel. “Most of the furniture will stay. We can’t use much. We’ll be moving into Robert’s granny unit. It’s one room with a kitchenette and a bathroom. Just our bedroom set, the nook table and chairs.” Susanna dabbed tears from her eyes. “How soon do we have to be out of the parsonage?”

Samuel swallowed hard. “You stay as long as you need, Susanna.”

Hank looked at Susanna. “I’m sorry to leave you alone to do it, but the sooner you can have things ready, my dear, the better.” He looked Samuel in the eye. “If you call this young man to Centerville, he and his wife are going to need a place to live.”

A nurse came to the doorway. “It’s time for my patient to rest.” Samuel rose reluctantly, put his hand on Hank’s shoulder, stepped away, and bent to kiss Susanna’s cheek. He couldn’t speak past the lump in his throat.

Samuel left the hospital, sat in his old DeSoto in the parking lot, and wept. Then he drove home and telephoned Otis Harrison and Hollis Sawyer.

They met at the church on Wednesday night, and he presented them with copies of Paul Hudson’s resume. They were impressed. After a long prayer, they talked for two hours about the good old days of the church and what this young man might do. Samuel suggested they pray more before they decided. Otis said they would, and then he and Hollis discussed football, aches and pains, and the idiosyncrasies of their wives. Samuel suggested they adjourn and meet again in a few days.

By the following week, they were convinced that Paul Hudson was the answer to their prayers and voted unanimously to call him and offer him the pulpit—providing the congregation agreed.

The members of the church were notified by telephone of an important congregational meeting following the worship service Sunday morning. Thirty-seven people sat through Otis Harrison’s slides of the Holy Land. Twenty-one were still awake when he finished.

Abby served coffee in the fellowship hall. Samuel read Paul Hudson’s resume. Someone said it was a pity there were no cookies to go with the coffee. It was suggested the congregation hear Paul Hudson preach before they made a decision. Otis announced the church didn’t have the money to send a round-trip airline ticket for an audition, and it was going to take a miracle to scrape together enough money to move the Hudsons, if they were lucky enough to get them. Which led to a discussion of Hank and Susanna and the parsonage and how they felt about someone being called to take Hank’s place.

Someone asked why Hank wasn’t preaching and Susanna wasn’t in church. The news of Hank’s heart attack was repeated—louder. Someone said Susanna had been at Hank’s bedside from dawn to dark every day since the Tuesday Hank had collapsed in the corridor of the hospital.

A member noticed a water stain on the ceiling and said the roof must need fixing, which led to another discussion about the repairs needed in the sanctuary, fellowship hall, and parsonage, which in turn led to a discussion of the lawn, the hedge, and the beetle or blight killing the tree on the corner. That led someone to the Medfly, past governors, the sharpshooter attacking California grapevines, droughts, blackouts, floods, and the downturn in the market, which led to rambling conversations about the Great Depression and World War II.

It was two hours past Otis’s lunchtime, and his patience was thinner than flatbread. He called, loudly, for a vote. Hollis seconded. Someone asked what they were voting about. “All those in favor!” Otis shouted, face red. Two people were startled awake. Twenty-eight voted yes. Ten voted no. One was told she couldn’t vote twice, so she crossed her arms and refused to vote at all.

Otis assigned Samuel Mason to call Paul Hudson and offer him the pulpit of Centerville Christian Church. “Since you were the one to call him in the first place.”

Paul Hudson spoke with the senior pastor of Mountain High.

“Actually, Paul, I’m surprised you’ve been here as long as you have,” Pastor Riley said and encouraged him to step out in faith and accept the call to California.

After speaking with Eunice, Paul called Samuel Mason with the good news. During his remaining few weeks at Mountain High, Paul finished the foundational classes, rejoiced in welcoming ten new Christians to the fold, and wrote an inspiring piece for the church newsletter about accepting the call of God to go out into the world with the gospel. He had the family car serviced, washed, waxed, and the tires rotated.

A bon voyage party was thrown for the Hudson family. The love offering was generous.

“There’s more than enough for our moving expenses.” Paul and Eunice both saw the gift as a reaffirmation from the Lord that Paul had made the right decision. They would even have extra to put in savings for whatever they might need when they arrived in Centerville.

On moving day, Paul rose before Eunice and packed the last few things before he awakened her. While she made coffee and put doughnuts on a tray, a crew of friends loaded the U-Haul truck.

By eight, the rental house was empty, thanks expressed, prayers offered, and good-byes said. Paul climbed into the driver’s seat of the U-Haul and started off for California, Eunice following in their red Toyota, Timmy strapped into his safety harness in the backseat.

Paul had prepared two maps, with the shortest route between two points marked on both. The mileage was divided by three, and each overnight stop circled in red. Late arrival reservations had been made, confirmation numbers recorded. Paul and Eunice wanted to waste no time in getting to California and beginning their new life.

When word spread through the church that Hank and Susanna Porter were leaving for Oregon, the entire congregation showed up to bless them, hug and kiss them, and promise to stay in touch. Even Mabel came, dragging her portable oxygen tank behind her, Otis beside her with a picnic basket of goodies his wife had cooked up for the trip north.

Tears flowed freely. Hank reminded everyone to love the Lord and love one another. He told them to embrace the young pastor coming, for Paul Hudson was the answer to many prayers. Hank told his friends to keep the faith, and then could say no more. He shook hands with some, hugged others. He finally gave in to his son’s urgings and was helped into the Suburban, where a bed had been prepared in the back.

Abby embraced Susanna again before she got into the car. “We’ll miss you, Susie,” she said through tears.

“I’m so sorry to leave the house in such a mess, Abby.” She pressed the key into Abby’s hand. Leaning close again, she whispered, “I’ve put names on a few things in the house. Whatever’s left can go to the Salvation Army.”

Abby hugged her dear friend again. “Write as soon as you and Hank are settled. Tell us how you’re doing.”

“We’d better go, Mom,” Robert Porter said.

Abby stepped back as Susanna’s son helped his mother into the car and closed the door firmly. Samuel stood beside Abby and put his arm around her shoulders as the Suburban and trailer pulled away from the curb. No one moved until the trailer disappeared around the turn onto the main street. No one said a word as they walked away. Some were close enough to walk home. Several came together. One was wheeled back inside the courtesy van from a residential-care facility.

“The only one who didn’t make it was Fergus Oslander,” Abby said sadly.

Samuel smiled. “They said their good-byes at the hospital. Hank told me the nurse caught Fergus trying to put his pants on and ordered him back to bed.”

She gave a teary laugh and blew her nose. “Well, I guess we’d better get started.”

They spent the rest of the day washing out cabinets, scrubbing floors and bathrooms, and vacuuming the worn rugs. The Salvation Army truck came and took what furniture was left. Samuel and Abby loaded the few things marked for friends into the old DeSoto and dropped them off on the way home, keeping the two small boxes marked for themselves unopened until the following morning.

Abby cried as she lifted a Blue Willow teapot out of its nest of tissue paper. “She loved this set.” Susanna had also given her the matching creamer, sugar bowl, and two cups and saucers.

Hank had given Samuel an olivewood carving of St. George and the dragon.

Paul called Samuel Mason from a motel in Lovelock, Nevada, to let him know they would be arriving in Centerville by mid-afternoon the following day. “It’s been a good trip. No problems.”

“We’ll be ready for you.”

Paul hit traffic coming through the Sacramento area, but after nine years in the Chicago area was not undone by it. He kept a watchful eye on Eunice in the side mirrors so he would not lose her. Once through the jam of cars, it was easy going down Highway 99 to the Centerville turnoff.

There were only two main streets in town. Paul spotted the landmarks Samuel Mason had given him: an old courthouse that had been turned into the town library, four palm trees in front of a Mexican restaurant, and a big hardware store. Two blocks down, he turned right and drove three blocks east. The steeple towered above a line of maple trees. Paul drove slowly past the quaint New England–style church, made a U-turn at the residential intersection, pulled up behind an old DeSoto parked in front of the small corner house, and got out of the truck. Eunice drove by, made a U-turn at the corner, and pulled up behind the U-Haul.

Standing arms akimbo, Paul looked up at the church and felt joy flood him. This was his church.

Eunice came to stand beside him as Timmy headed for the courtyard. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Like something you’d see on a New England postcard.”

“Yes, it’s beautiful.” He looked up. “It needs a lot of work.”

“Pastor Hudson?”

Paul turned and faced a tall, thin, whited-haired, bespectacled gentleman walking toward him. The man was neatly dressed in tan slacks, a white button-down shirt open at the collar, and a brown alpaca cardigan sweater. “I’m Samuel Mason.” He had a firm grip for an old man.

Paul introduced Eunice and Timmy. “Could we look around, Samuel?”

“Oh, there’s plenty of time for that later.” He extended his arm toward the small house on the corner. “My wife has dinner ready for us.”

Paul was too excited to be hungry, but Eunice was quick to thank Samuel, call Timmy, and fall into step beside the elder as they walked along the unkempt hedge to the narrow cement walkway leading to the parsonage. The house was a simple rectangle without any adornment, probably a prefab added to the property.

Paul smelled the tantalizing aroma of beef stew as soon as he walked in the door. Samuel Mason ushered them through the empty, dingy living room into a lighted kitchen, where Mason introduced his wife, Abigail.

“Please, sit down.” She gestured to the small table with five place settings. “Make yourselves comfortable.” She ladled stew into bowls. “We found that booster seat in the fellowship hall storage room.”

“It hasn’t been used in years,” Samuel said ruefully.

Abigail put a pitcher of milk and a basket of French bread seasoned with garlic and cheese on the table. When everyone had a bowl of stew, Abigail took her seat and took her husband’s right hand. When the circle was formed, it was Samuel who thanked God for traveling mercies and for sending a new pastor to the church. He asked the Lord’s blessing on the food, conversation, and Paul’s ministry. “Amen,” said Timmy and they all laughed.

Paul was eager to ask questions about the congregation, but Abigail was quicker with questions about their cross-country journey. Eunice talked about the beautiful spaces and historical places they had seen. Paul was thankful she didn’t mention they had merely driven by them all due to his eagerness to reach California.

Samuel apologized for the condition of the parsonage. “Every room could use a fresh coat of paint, but we didn’t have time.”

“Or the money,” his wife added apologetically.

“We have some money set by,” Paul said. “And Eunice is a terrific decorator.” He took her hand and squeezed it.

Abigail told them how hard the Porters had worked for the church. “His health has been failing for a number of years.” She told them about his collapse. “We were so sorry to see them go.” She blinked, blushed, and quickly added, “Not that we aren’t delighted to have you three come to us.”

Eunice put her hand over the older woman’s. “We understand.” She told them how she had grown up in a small coal-mining town, where her father was a miner and pastor. He had served his congregation until he died of black lung disease. “The congregation never really recovered.”

Paul was taken aback by Euny’s comment, and prayed the same wouldn’t happen here. “That was a different situation, Eunice. The mines were closing, the town dying. Centerville is small, but it’s going to grow. God willing. It’s within commuting distance of Sacramento.”

While decaf coffee burbled in the percolator, Abigail served warm peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Timmy finished and fussed. “He’s been a good traveler,” Eunice said. “But I think he’s had enough of sitting.” She excused herself and went out to the car to get his box of toys.

Paul helped clear the dishes.

Samuel pushed his chair in. “Would you like to take a look at the sanctuary and fellowship hall?”

“Very much.”

The church had been built in 1858 and was considered a Centerville historical landmark. “The citizens built the church before they built the court-house you passed on Main Street,” Samuel said. Over the years, the church had housed several denominations, the last of which had been Baptist. “That was in the early fifties.” When word spread that the church was going to be sold, a group of ten families bought it.

“We hired Henry Porter and built the fellowship hall and the parsonage on the corner.” The church enjoyed growth for two decades and then began a slow decline in membership. Children grew up and moved away. The town fell on hard times when the highway bypassed it. Local farms were purchased by corporations, almond orchards pulled out in favor of the more lucrative vineyards.

Samuel Mason unlocked the front door of the church and gave Paul a set of keys. The responsibility they represented weighed heavily in Paul’s hand. Was he up to the job of reviving this church? Paul looked around the narthex, seeing the dust and cobwebs. Samuel opened a door into a small office off the narthex. There was an old oak desk, shelves still lined with books, some so worn Paul couldn’t read the titles, and a large, black, rotary dial telephone. Euny would love that antique! “Hank left the books for you,” Samuel said.

“That was kind of him.” Paul hoped he wouldn’t be expected to keep them. Most were years behind the times, and he had been building up his own personal library.

The sanctuary was cold and smelled musty. A dozen things needed fixing, painting, replacing. Some of the work he knew he could do himself. His mother had told him long ago that a pastor had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Though his father had laughed at the idea, Paul had enrolled in carpentry and plumbing classes. His skills would come in handy here.

The high, octagon-shaped pulpit was the most impressive thing in the sanctuary. It was to the left of the altar area and high enough that his voice would carry even without a sound system. He was tempted to stand in it now and try it out. Samuel opened a door to the left and led him into a wide hallway. At the back were two single-stall bathrooms and a door that led into a room that had been added behind the church. The air was cold and still. “This was the nursery,” Mason told him. “It hasn’t been used in ten years.”

When they came back out into the corridor outside the side door of the sanctuary, Samuel opened double doors. Paul’s spirits lifted as he walked into the fellowship hall. He could see the possibilities! “We used to hold cantatas every Christmas on that stage,” Samuel said. There were three classrooms along one side of the hall, and a large kitchen with a functioning stove and refrigerator.

They exited through the kitchen and went down brick steps into a courtyard dominated by a towering evergreen. The lawn was patchy, but reseeding and some fertilizer would solve that. Six picnic tables with benches sat in no particular pattern. The handicap access ramp ran from the sidewalk along the west side of the church in through the back door to the corridor off the side of the sanctuary.

“So, there you have it,” Samuel said, the afterglow of sunset behind his back. “There’s a lot to do.”

Paul smiled broadly. “I’m eager to push up my sleeves and get busy.”

BOOK: And the Shofar Blew
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