When I arrived in Piney Woods I didn’t know that I was the subject of meetings of the Ministerial Alliance. In fact, I didn’t even know about the Ministerial Alliance. No one invited me to meetings.
A luncheon meeting of the local Ministerial Alliance was in progress. Forty ministers gathered in the private dining room of Gladys’ Country Kitchen for their monthly meeting. Rev. Thomas Haliburton sat at the head table. A tall man in his seventies, with a commanding presence and almond skin, like polished oak furniture. His snow-white hair crowned his head and gave him a distinguished air. He had been pastor of Morning Star Church for fifty years. Joining him at the head table were his two top lieutenants, fifty-year-old Rev. Cecil Jones, a stout man with long bushy sideburns, and thirty-four year old Rev. Clyde Williams, a man of average height and weight. The three of them represented the broad array of ministers serving the area.
“Clearly, we can’t allow this,” Rev. Haliburton said evenly.
Forks stopped clattering against plates. The ministers listened attentively to what Rev. Haliburton was saying. Heads nodded in agreement.
As secretary of the Alliance, Cecil wrote rapidly. It was his job to accurately take notes of each meeting and transcribe them. This usually meant that he did not participate in the discussions unless he was specifically asked a question. But today words tumbled from his mouth.
“It’s too late now,” he said.
“Where is your faith, Cecil?” Rev. Haliburton set his jaw in strong resolve. “The Bible says that women should be silent. They should not teach or have authority over a man.”
A man of strong convictions, Rev. Haliburton looked out over the men gathered in the room. Men who looked to him to lead them in the right way. They were all ages. Some he had known since they were babies. They all viewed him as their spiritual leader. He cleared his throat before continuing.
“Besides, I have a plan.”
“Can you share your plan with us?” asked Cecil. “If ever we needed a miracle, it is now.”
“She won’t be here long, Cecil,” said Rev. Haliburton. “I can guarantee you that.”
Clyde, trying to be the voice of reason, added his opinion. “The church has voted. Her appointment cannot be undone.”
“Watch me,” Rev. Haliburton said.
“What’s the big deal anyway,” asked Clyde.
Rev. Haliburton glared at him.
“You have a lot to learn,” said Cecil, whispering.
Rev. Haliburton resumed eating his meal. So did everyone else.
“She is misguided. That’s what schooling up North will do.” Rev. Haliburton pushed his dessert dish away and opened the meeting.
“Isn’t she from here?” asked Clyde.
“Her father was pastor of Greenwood before you. He was well-respected in these parts. He would roll over in his grave if he knew his little girl was up to this.”
“Sarah Alexander’s daughter?”
“Exactly. She should have stayed up North,” said Cecil. “Whoever heard of a woman pastor?”
His words reverberated throughout the room. No one replied. There was no need. All agreed with him.
Finally, Rev. Haliburton spoke. “It is ungodly. And it simply will not stand in Piney Woods!”
“But it’s a done deal,” said Cecil.
“Like I said, I have a plan. I left word over at Hopewell for her to come see me the minute she gets to town. Her father and I were friends. She will listen to me.”
“And turn back around and leave town?” asked Clyde. “That seems too easy.”
“I’ll take her under my wing and gently guide her to see that being pastor of Hopewell is not for her.
“She believes in the Bible,” Rev. Haliburton continued. “We will have weekly discussions where I will point out the Biblical way and what the Bible says about women being over men. There’s no telling what she learned in that seminary. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t even study the Bible.
“But I need your support in this, gentlemen. Cecil, take a vote.”
Cecil flipped the pages to the roll in his notebook. “Rev. Ambrose?”
In deep thought, he does not answer.
“Calling Rev. Anderson.”
“What about the ministries on television where a lot of the pastors have wives who are also preachers?” Rev. Victor Anderson asked. “The wives act as co-pastors.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Rev. Haliburton.
“Doesn’t that show that churches are accepting women preachers?”
“So what? It is your responsibility to teach your people that the Bible says that it’s wrong! You can’t go around doing what everybody else does. That don’t make it right.”
“We can vote and agree that a woman shouldn’t be pastor of a church,” Victor said, “But we all know that we are going to lose some members to Hopewell. People like to flock to the new thing in town. When Clyde came to town we all lost members.”
“If we do a good job of teaching our members what the Bible says about women in the pulpit that won’t happen,” said Rev. Haliburton. “Besides, this is different. Clyde is a man. I don’t see any defections from our churches in this case. If anything, people from Hopewell will be coming to us.”
Cecil cleared his throat. “I repeat, Rev. Anderson?”
Reluctantly, Victor said, “Aye.”
“But this is not progressive thinking,” Rev. Don Baskins said.
“Progressive thinking? We are going by Bible doctrine,” said Rev. Haliburton.
“All I’m saying is we need to think about this situation. Grace might be the first but she is certainly not going to be the last woman in Piney Woods that is going to call herself a preacher.”
“What’s the matter, Don?” asked Rev. Haliburton. “Don’t you know your Bible?”
Don was aware that all eyes were on him waiting for his response. This was not an issue he was willing to fight about. Grace was not coming to his church.
In the silence, Cecil spoke, “Rev. Baskins?”
Cecil continued down the list calling names. Receiving no other objections he placed a check besides each name. He reached the end of the list. “Rev. Williams?”
Rev. Haliburton, expecting no less, was pleased with the vote.
“Gentlemen, we are all in agreement.”
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