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Authors: Francine Rivers

And the Shofar Blew (4 page)

BOOK: And the Shofar Blew
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Eunice dried dishes while Abigail washed. “How long have you been a member of the church, Mrs. Mason?”

“Oh, call me Abby, dear.”

Eunice liked Abigail Mason’s warmth, and thought she was the loveliest old lady she had ever seen, with her bright, sparkling blue eyes and her white hair pulled up into a Gibson-girl bun. She wore navy blue pants and a red tunic with a wide collar. Her only jewelry was a single strand of imitation pearls and clip earrings. Some people could wear polyester and still look elegant.

“Samuel and I were young when we joined this church. Let’s see now . . .” She paused, leaving her hands in the warm, sudsy water. “Our son, Donny, was about Timmy’s age. Our daughter, Alice, was six. Forty years ago. Yes, I think it was forty years.”

“Do your children still live in the area?”

Abby retrieved some silverware from the sudsy water. “Donny was killed in Vietnam. He was a Marine, stationed outside of Da Nang.” She scrubbed the forks and put them in the rack. “And Alice moved away when she married.” She scooped up more silverware and scrubbed. “She and her husband, Jim, live in Louisville, Kentucky. We don’t see them as often as we’d like. They would love to fly out here for a visit, but, with three children, it’s far too expensive. They offered to buy us airline tickets last year, but we didn’t go.” She put the last of the silverware into the drain rack.

“Why not?” Euny picked out the knives and began rubbing them dry.

“Samuel likes to keep both feet on the ground.” She pulled the drain plug. “I’ve tried to talk him into taking a tranquilizer as soon as we get on the plane, but he won’t have it. Flying brings back memories he would rather forget. The last time we flew back east, he had nightmares for days afterward.” She dried her hands. “Samuel served in Europe during World War II. He was a belly gunner on a B-17.” She put the towel aside. “Why don’t I show you your new home?”

Seeing Timmy was content playing with his cars and trucks in the living room, Eunice followed Abby through the house. Other than the kitchen with its nook, there was a living room with a fireplace and two bedrooms with a bathroom between.

“I’m so sorry we didn’t get more done,” Abby said. “We only had enough time to steam-clean the carpets and wash cabinets. The tile needs re-grouting and every room needs a fresh coat of paint and . . . ”

“It’s a wonderful house, Abby, and we’re grateful to have it. Give me a few weeks and we’ll have you and Samuel over for dinner again, and you’ll see what we do with it.” She and Paul had paid four hundred dollars a month for a two-bedroom house near Mountain High. This house was a gift from God. They would be living right next door to the church, and rent-free. Though Paul’s salary was very low, they might be able to meet expenses without her having to take a part-time job.

“Oh, dear,” Abby said in dismay. “I hadn’t even thought about what you would sleep on tonight.”

“We have sleeping bags. We can begin moving things in tomorrow.” She could go to the local hardware store to buy paint and rollers, and Wal-Mart for sheets to make curtains.

“It’s so good to have you here,” Abby said. “There are so few of us left, but what we lack in strength, we make up for in love.”

“How many do we have in our congregation?”

“Oh, not more than sixty. There are the Harrisons and Hollis Sawyer, the other two elders. And then there are the Bransons, Kings, Carlsons, Knoxes.” They returned to the kitchen and sat talking. Eunice soaked up everything she could about the families who had been faithful over the years. “Oh, and Fergus. How could I forget Fergie? Hank was visiting Fergus Oslander in the hospital when he collapsed. Poor dear. Fergus has been moved from the Community Hospital to Vine Hill Convalescent Hospital. We have several members there now.”

“If you’ll give me their names, I’ll take Timmy for a visit.”

Abby’s eyes lit up. “Of course! Let me know when, so that I can go with you and make introductions. They’ve all been told about Hank and Susanna’s retirement, but they won’t be expecting you. Oh, they will love Timmy. There’s nothing like a child to lift spirits.”

The men returned from their tour of the church and fellowship hall. “Can I help you carry in some boxes?” Samuel said.

“Oh no, sir; I’ll take care of that.”

Eunice saw the look in Samuel Mason’s eyes and wished Paul had accepted his offer of help.

Samuel slipped his hand to Abby’s elbow. “Well, I guess we’d better be going, so these young folks can get settled for the night.”

Eunice hugged Abby. “Thank you so much for your wonderful welcome.”

Paul thanked them as well and walked them to the polished DeSoto parked out front. When he came back inside, he caught Eunice up in his arms and swung her around. “What do you think?”

“If everyone is as wonderful as the Masons, it couldn’t be more perfect.”

He kissed her. “My thoughts exactly.”

“I think Samuel Mason would’ve liked to carry in a box or two.”

“I know, but the last thing I want to do is give one of our elders a hernia on our first night here. He’s got to be over seventy, Euny.”

“I know you didn’t mean to do it, Paul, but I think you may have made that dear man feel useless.”

“I hope not. I just didn’t want to impose on him anymore. His wife fixed us dinner, and he gave me a full tour of the church. I wasn’t about to ask him to move us in.”

“What are we going to do about the piano and refrigerator?”

“I’ll go by the high school tomorrow and find out where the local hangout is. Then I’ll go there and hire a couple of teenagers. It would be good to find a crew of workers. There’s a lot to be done on the church and fellowship hall.” He looked around. “And this place as well.”

Eunice knew it wasn’t just moving or working on the church facility that Paul was considering. She knew how excited he could get when put in charge of a project or program. No doubt, he was already thinking of ways to attract young people into this dying church. Which was exactly what Abby had said Samuel had been praying for over the years. Still, Eunice wanted to caution her husband. “Don’t move too fast, Paul. Wait and see the flock the Lord has given you.”

Telephones were busy all over Centerville as word spread among the congregation that the new pastor and his wife and son had arrived safely. Over the next two days, half a dozen ladies came by with offerings of homemade goods to ease the Hudsons’ burdens as they moved in and settled in the parsonage. Even Mabel rallied and sent a disgruntled Otis with a tray of lasagna fit for the mayor. There was hardly room for it on the counter already laden with other welcome dishes of fruit salad, apple pie and peach cobbler, meat loaf, chili, pork and beans, and carrot-and-raisin salad.

When Sunday morning rolled around, Samuel and Abigail Mason were first to arrive. Samuel offered to pass out the bulletins Paul had printed off the computer he’d set up in Hank’s old office. Abby took charge of Timmy, eager to return to her old post as Sunday school teacher. A large arrangement of flowers had been sent by Paul’s parents and placed on the altar, and candles were lit on each side.

Eunice came down the side aisle of the sanctuary and took her seat at the piano.

Hollis sat beside Samuel and read the bulletin. He leaned over. “Says here we should pray for our youth group.” He snorted. “What youth group?”

“Paul hired four students from Centerville High to help him move into the parsonage. They’re all coming back Tuesday evening for a Bible study on the book of Daniel.”

Hollis’s eyebrows shot up. “You don’t say!”

Otis leaned forward from the pew behind. “He’s wearing a suit! Why isn’t he wearing a robe like Hank always did?”

“You can ask him when we have coffee and cookies after the service,” Mabel wheezed testily. “In the meanwhile, stop your bellyaching.”

Otis harrumphed, sat back, and crossed his arms.

Samuel looked around. Every church member who wasn’t in a hospital or convalescent home was in attendance. Some whispered, nodded, smiled, their eyes alight with hope for the first time in years. Others, like Otis, sat alert and searched for anything out of order, anything that might press the boundaries of tradition.

“Well, I can say one thing for sure,” Hollis said out of the corner of his mouth, gazing at young Eunice Hudson at the piano. “She is a sight for sore eyes.”

“And ears,” Durbin Huxley said on the other side of him.

Elmira Huxley leaned forward. “I hear she’s already been out to visit Mitzi Pike at Vine Hill.”

“She took roses with her,” Samuel told them softly. Abby had told Eunice that Fergus had been a high school English teacher and Mitzi won prizes at the fair for her roses. When Eunice came by the house the next morning to pick up Abby, she had a bouquet of yellow roses for Mitzi and a tape player and several tapes of classic novels for Fergus.

“Oh, you should’ve seen Mitzi’s face, Samuel.” Abby had dabbed tears. “And Fergus . . . Eunice won their hearts before I even had a chance to introduce them.”

Within moments, Eunice’s piano playing silenced everyone in the sanctuary. They all sat moist-eyed, listening to a beautiful medley of familiar hymns.

Paul Hudson came up the center aisle, went up the steps, and sat in the pastor’s chair against the wall. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head while his young wife continued to play.

Samuel studied Paul Hudson. How strange it was to see such a young man sitting in Hank Porter’s place. He prayed for the old friends scattered around the sanctuary, knowing some would see Paul Hudson as a boy to be coddled and cajoled, or controlled and commanded. A new pastor was bound to bring new ways.
Lord, only one thing is important. You are Lord,
our Lord. Keep us united in Spirit and in love.

Trust wouldn’t come overnight. He hoped Paul was up there praying for wisdom as he sat in Hank’s old chair. Hank may not have lit fires in the hearts of his parishioners, but he had kept them safe in the sheepfold through four long decades. Samuel hoped when Paul Hudson looked out over his small flock that he wouldn’t see just age and infirmities, but hearts needing to be built up in the Spirit of the Lord.

Eunice’s prelude ended with a melodious cascade of notes and a delicate chord. She rose gracefully, came down the steps, and took a seat in the front pew. A waiting silence fell over the congregation. Samuel doubted he was the only one holding his breath when Paul rose and stepped up to the pulpit.

Paul hoped those looking up at him couldn’t tell how nervous he was. His palms were sweating, his heart pounding, his throat dry. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled through his nose as he looked out over his small flock of elderly parishioners.

Samuel Mason was sitting in the second row, flanked by an older man with a cane and another elderly couple. Paul smiled at him, thankful for his presence. Old couples were scattered around the sanctuary, probably sitting in seats they had occupied for the past forty-plus years, the empty spaces between vacated by those who had gone to be with the Lord. He looked at Eunice in the front row, relieved at the love shining in her eyes. She smiled, and his heart ached with love for her. He wanted to make her proud.

Oh, Father, give me Your words to speak to these people. I’m like a frightened
child. I don’t want to fail You. I want to build Your church so that Your light
will shine in their hearts. They look so old and frail.

“I am humbled to be called here to serve you.” Paul made eye contact with as many as he could. He acknowledged his youth and inexperience and talked about youth and passion, using the apostle John and disciple Timothy as examples. He talked about how the Lord measured success, and how God chose farmers and shepherds to do His work. He spoke of the few faithful who had stood at the cross, and the frightened disciples who had hidden themselves behind locked doors until the risen Jesus had appeared to them. He spoke of the small number of faithful disciples who returned from witnessing Jesus’ ascension and waited in the upper room, of one mind and heart, continually devoting themselves to prayer as they waited for the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Holy Spirit.

“And when the Lord Himself indwelled them, those few faithful saints carried the gospel of salvation out into a dying world and brought new life to thousands.” Paul held his hands out, palms up. “From a small handful of people, the Lord spread His Word to the world.” He looked into the faces of the people God had given him to shepherd and felt a welling love for them. Some listened intently. Some dozed. “Yes, we are only a few. But God only needs a few to accomplish much. On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples. They ran into the streets of Jerusalem, and proclaimed God’s message of redemption and salvation! Three thousand souls were saved that day. And from those three thousand came thousands more as they carried the message back to their homes in Crete, Mesopotamia, Asia, Cappadocia, Greece, Rome.” He smiled tenderly at the elderly men and women.
Lord, revive them.
“We are few in number, but strong in faith. Let us pray.”

Eunice returned to the piano and led the congregation in several hymns. Paul stood before the altar, a plate of crackers in one hand and a tray of small glasses of grape juice in the other. “The Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”

Eunice played and sang another medley of hymns as Paul served Communion to each member of the congregation. “May the Lord renew your strength and bless you,” he said softly to each member of his congregation.

He spoke briefly about the blessings God promised to pour upon a cheerful giver and gave the brass offering plates to Samuel and Otis. After collecting the gifts, Samuel stacked the plates and brought them forward, placing them on the altar before returning to his seat.

Paul stood on the platform before the altar and prayed for the congregation. He prayed for open hearts and passion for the Lord. He prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit to renew their strength so that each could carry the message of salvation out into the world. And he asked for the Lord’s blessing on each individual who had come to the service that morning. Then he and Eunice walked up the aisle to the front door of the church and shook hands as the parishioners filed out, inviting each to stay for coffee, tea, and cookies in the fellowship hall.

“I hope he doesn’t expect us to go into the mission field,” one old man said, taking his wife’s arm before hobbling down the steps.

“Why would we be going to a missile field?”

“Mission field, I said.

His wife tapped her hearing aid. “I think my battery is dead.”

Paul’s shoulders drooped. His sermon had been received by deaf ears.

Samuel Mason was the last one out of the church. His eyes were moist, his handshake firm. “Good sermon.”

Eunice put her arm around Paul’s waist as the last couple went down the steps. “Your sermon brought tears to my eyes and a song in my heart.”

Paul wished everyone else was as easy to please.

BOOK: And the Shofar Blew
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