Tom preached a sermon that first morning based on a short story from Tolstoy and a Biblical text. He also had an extensive knowledge of literature. The sermon had called for Christian action, love for the down trodden, and awareness of one's own shortcomings. Willie had stated after she gave Tom the little check from the church, "Can you believe that man preached a sermon about a story some Russian wrote?" On his way to his car, Tom Price smiled to himself and thought, "That was not the favorite sermon some of those people ever heard. But thank the Lord, they heard the truth."
On his first Sunday in Widespot, Marion Shirley had preached, or more accurately, mumbled and stuttered his way through a brief attempt to explain why he thought he should become a minister. He had no Biblical text, organization, or conclusion. It pleased Willie Wilson greatly. As she handed the quaking young man the check, she gushed praise for him, saying, "That was so nice Marion. You are going to make a fine minister. The church needs more dedicated young men like you to preach the gospel." Marion had limped to his car thinking, "Why on God's green earth did I ever think I could be a preacher?" For the first time in his life, he had come to an accurate assessment of himself. Willie Wilson had not.
The minister who had been serving the Widespot Community Church at the time of the first visits by Shirley Marion and Tom Price had returned from his vacation in Myrtle Beach to inform the church that another opportunity had been offered to him during his trip and he must resign. The opportunity had been in the form of the bikini clad daughter of a Georgia peanut farmer but the minister did not inform Willie Wilson or the church of that in his resignation. Instead, he simply stated, "I must leave within sixty days to pursue a career in agriculture in Georgia. I may also minister to a small flock there as well." He made no mention of the ministration he had in mind or the fact that they would be on the peanut farmer's daughter. She had assured the fellow "Daddy will take care of us and you can take care of me." Like many of Willie Wilson's former ministers he had found his natural calling.
The resignation had left a job to be filled and for two months the seminary president had sent a different seminary student or retired minister to Widespot each to preach while the church board reached a decision about which they wished to hire. The only two who applied for the job were Marion Shirley and Tom Price. Each was called back to preach one additional sermon prior to the meeting of the church board. Marion Shirley had blundered his way through an essay he had snitched from Reader's Digest about finding satisfaction. Tom Price had preached eloquently and well on a text from the New Testament with the title "Do You Know A Prostitute? Jesus Did!" Tom Price's sermon caught the hearts of Bobby Wilson and Jim Bob Johnson. Uncle Bert Small said he found the sermon interesting, "but I just ain't that interested in it at my age." Marion Shirley's blundering ineptitude and apparent malleability caught Willie's heart. She made the final decision of the church board with her hands deep in her biscuit dough.
Immediately after bringing the meeting of the church board to order, Willie Wilson stated to the group, "As you all know, we are here today to decide which minister we are going to hire for the church. We had two applicants, that wonderful young man of the cloth, Marion Shirley, and the old man from over in the flat land who preached about that communist writer when he was here. None of the women, including Willie, remembered, or wished to, that the sermon had been about nothing remotely related to communism. But Willie knew that since the story on which it was based had been by Tolstoy she could easily hang Independent Price from the yardarm which Tolstoy's words had created. The restless squirmings and unhappy mutterings of her minions told Willie instantly that she had chosen the correct method of getting her way.
After assessing the mood of her club members, Willie went on. "We have all seen the applications, (She did not know the word resume.) and it is obvious to me from the fine work Marion Shirley did in high school that he is going to do fine work at the Bible college and he will be a fine young minister. Would anybody like to make a motion that we hire one of the applicants?" There could only be one name placed in nomination. Willie waited patiently to see which of her underlings would nominate Marion Shirley. She knew that each of the women wanted to make the nomination but that they also would hesitate for some time in order to avoid the possibility of appearing to seek to take charge. Finally, Bert Small's half sister, Sally "Sweet" Small, a bitter, venomous old maid who might one day assume Willie's seat at the head of the table were it not for her lack of intelligence and overabundance of bad judgement, leaned forward and said, "I think we should assist the good Lord in doing his work and give that fine young man a chance to preach where we can help him along in a good way."
Willie smiled and accepted the nomination after it was seconded by Bobby's obese and timid Aunt Birdie Miles. Then Willie asked, "And would anybody like to make any other nominations?" Mercifully, she hesitated only briefly before closing the nominations lest one of her club members err by nominating Tom Price. Then she proceeded by saying, "Well, since we only have one nomination, we don't have to put it to a vote. We have just made the God directed choice of hiring that eloquent young man Marion Shirley to be our next minister." Then Willie brought the official meeting to a close by asking, "Birdie, did you bring any of that wonderful German Chocolate Cake today?"
The meeting broke up quickly and the women served the cake and coffee which had been perking in the kitchen and the conversation turned to grandchildren, spring greens, and ways to keep onions from going to seed. Then Sally Small asked, "Don't you think we should get that fine young man a welcoming gift before next Sunday? And who is going to tell him he has been hired?"
Willie gave a Sally a look that left no doubt who would deliver the message and then smiled benignly at the other members of the Widespot Women's Club, "You all can find him some kind of gift with the church money. But it should be small and we can give it to him after church on Sunday, I'll call him, as the chairperson, to tell him we have hired him. I might get him some kind of welcome gift of my own. But if I do, I'll give it to him when we meet in town to discuss his money and other stuff." Then she smiled sweetly, contentedly, and thought quietly to herself of that upcoming private conversation with the naive young man. Then as she helped clean the table of the cake crumbs, she said to no one in particular, "I think I'll bake biscuits in the morning. I swear I'm craving biscuits."
Author's Note: This story was originally published in "Orpheus Volume VI No. 1 Spring 2004". Orpheus held first publication rights only.
Copyrighted by Roger D. Hicks, 2003 & 2015.