Sometimes, Brother Holland was inspired.
What’s more, he knew it. He’d wake up, and hardly be able to finish his Rice Krispies because he knew that today, there would be a bumper crop for Jesus at the altar call at his church. He’d almost trot from the parish house to the church, eager to get about the business of clearing that church of Satan.
But one Sunday, something just wasn’t right.
Brother Holland thought that he had gotten everything ready for a splendid morning of soul-winning. He’d picked very convicting hymns that reminded folks of how desperate their spiritual plight was.
He’d dropped some particularly gory comic-style tracts in the church pews, in the church bathrooms, and at various places downtown where his congregation were known to frequent. These tracts showed Satan hovering over sinners and seeming as hungry as the monster in the movies that showed on Saturday night at the drive-in theater.
Why, sometimes, he’d leave a few tracts at the Howling at the Moon Club, but he’d do it in the early afternoon, before the dancers were ready to bare all, and he’d skidaddle fast, so that no one thought he might like such a den of iniquity.
But there came a Sunday when all his efforts seemed for naught.
He was concluding a sermon designed if not to convince, then to terrify. His devoted wife, Gussie Fay, given the signal, started playing “Just as I am.” It was time for the altar call, and for all Brother Hollands efforts to be rewarded.
No one came.
Who knew why. Maybe Brother Holland was really that good, and had cleansed his whole congregation of the scourge of sin. Maybe he had run the devil smack out of town. People stood, uncomfortable, as verse seven of “Just as I am” was played. Gussie Fay knew when a convicted soul came forward, she could stop and give her fingers a rest.
No one was coming.
Brother Holland reared himself up to his full 6 feet seven in a terrifying fashion. “Some of ya’ll out there ain’t made a decision.” He crowed, his eyes seeming to burn into the pupils of each person assembled, one by one. “You know it, I know it, and what’s more, Jesus knows it. And we’re just going to stay here until we get this little problem worked out. You hear?”
His congregation heard, and some groaned. Brother Holland had gone a bit long on his sermon that day already. Some wanted to get home to tune in to the Sunday football, and didn’t want to tune in late. Some were just plain hungry and wanted to get to Bertha’s Broasted Chicken Breasts before the Methodists got all the Sunday lunch.
But no, the wayward sinner had yet to show his face, and Brother Holland kept signaling to his wife to keep playing. The folks were too intimidated by their good pastor to stage a walk out, and continued to sing “Just as I am” again, and again and one more time after that. Things were getting desperate.
Folks started to grumble against who the hold out was in the congregation.
Finally, Aunt Ginny had had enough. She looked about the congregation and sized up who all was there. Then, carrying her large black patent leather purse, she crossed aisles and sat behind Terry Jenkins and his two boys, Simon and Sylvester. She fumbled in her purse, and then finding what she was looking for, got a big smile on her face.
Terry Jenkins was a big, strong fella, foreman at the local lumberyard. He rarely came to church. Usually, it was because he’d either had a wild night out at the Howling at the Moon club or had lost big at a poker game across the county line. Either way, he was usually hiding out from his wife, Rebekkah.
He was a good husband, but in his mind, after he got through providing for the week, the rest of the time was his to do as he saw fit. And what he saw fit to do, Rebekkah and nearly every one else in the town saw as the devil’s own business.
Terry had come stumbling in at about 8:30 that morning, reeling and beginning to feel very hungover. He hoped Rebekkah would be still asleep. Instead, she stood in the hall, glaring at him, with a wicked looking broom in her hand. “You need to go to church, Terry. You need it bad.” Rebekkah told her husband.
“I don’t.” He swore, trying to look determined, but really only looking very green around the gills.
“You do, and this morning you will, to show your boys what a real father does instead of chasing hussies all night at that strip club. You either go, or I’m going to beat you silly with this broom! Any questions?”
Terry had a few questions, but none that wouldn’t have hastened the beating with the broom. So, grumbling and mumbling, he went and stood under the shower until he near about drowned.
Then, feeling really bad, struggled into the suit jacket, dress shirt and tie his wife had laid out for him along with his newest Wrangler blue jeans. By then the beers of the evening before were trying to re-visit him, so Rebekkah took the car keys from him and loaded everyone in Terry’s truck, putting Terry in the truck bed so he could lean over and throw up if he needed to.
They had gotten there right on time, and Rebekkah had nagged Terry to the front pew. The boys sat on either side of him, which was good, because at parts of the service, they had to hold him up and keep him from pitching forward.
He was a man in misery, but not because of any crisis of the soul. He was just plumb sick from about 15 too many the night before. He sat, hardly hearing Brother Holland rave about sin, wondering how deep in hell he’d go if he puked on the plush red church carpet.
He stood as the sermon was over, and was so miserable he didn’t see Aunt Ginny come up behind him. The congregation was in about verse 14 now, and some had to go answer the call of nature. They began to openly hate and resent the unknown sinner that was keeping them there. Who was he or she?
They were about to find out.
Just as Gussy started on the 15th verse, thinking her fingers were about to give plumb out, a wail of intensity filled the room. She stopped playing, looking for the soul in distress.
What no one knew about, even in the pew with Aunt Ginny was that she’d just taken her sharp hat pin, held it in her fingers so no one could see, and poked Terry hard right in his Wranglers. He jumped, howled, and danced around, but could not figure out who the source of his torment was.
Brother Holland, nearly about to give up, looked at Terry with an eager look on his face. He hadn’t been wrong! Surely, this was the hold-out he’d known was in the congregation. He reached out his hand, putting on his best parental look. “Come on, Son. We all understand. You just have to let go of the world, and give it all up to Jesus.”
Terry looked at Brother Holland dully. He didn’t want to let go of anything. He looked at his wife, who was looking back hopefully, tears of expectation in her eyes. If he gave it all up to Jesus, that would mean giving up the great beer, the gambling and the girls at the Howling at the Moon club. Surely Jesus wouldn’t be that unfair.
“Uh-Uh.” He said, shaking his head.
Aunt Ginny let him have it again. He slapped his buttocks where the pin had gone in, and howled yet again. Ginny whispered sharply in his ear, her voice like a hiss.
“It’s the devil, Terry! It’s the pure devil! He’s come to get you. Don’t you feel his pitchfork?” Then, she let him have it again.
Now, in all of this, Terry didn’t think of a better explanation. All he knew was that something had to change and change fast. Grabbing his sons by the hands, he ran up to Brother Holland and near about climbed him.
Half an hour later, having declared Terry, Simon and Sylvester, free from the scourge of sin, Brother Holland, smiling widely, told everyone they were free to go.
The congregation took off out of there as if some one had just found Termites in one of their Jim Walter Homes.
And as far as everyone knew, Terry never visited any dens of sin again. For the rest of his life, he went around, twitching a little bit, seeming to be afraid that he’d get the pitchfork again. He became the model husband and father.
And Aunt Ginny put her hat pin in a place of honor. From time to time, she’d look at it and smile, thinking about how greatness could be achieved if applied with the right force and in the right place at the right time.