|Ever watch those cable stations with those early-morning, bible-thumping preachers who answer scriptural questions from curious viewers? The other morning I was sitting there on the couch with my coffee watching what the world had been up to while I'd been sleeping, and when the station I was watching went to a break I, as usual, went surfing around to see what else was on.
Right off, I noticed that this particular cable station had gotten itself a new preacher. This new preacher didn't seem as colorful, and didn't do anywhere near as much bible-thumping as the station’s old preacher. I wondered why they decided to make the change.
Coming from a small Maine town I know that getting a new preacher can cause an upheaval that can really shake up things badly. Some people get so upset they up and quit the church go off and form a new one.
A few years ago in my hometown they got a new minister down at the church. His name was the Rev. Charles (“Call me Chuck”) Sylvester - a descendant of old Huguenot stock fresh out of Bangor Theological and newly ordained. Like most new ministers he wanted to tear up the Pentecostal pea-patch, so to speak, and light a fire of righteousness under our town's complacent congregation.
As sometimes happens with any crusader Rev. Chuck got off to a bad start with several church members when he tried to get the smokers in the church to quit their “filthy, unhealthy habit.”
One smoker he went after with all the irreproachable zeal of a non-smoking man of the cloth was Esther Farnsworth, as stubborn a Down Easter as you'll ever run into. She was in her 90s and had been smoking a pipe and chewing snuff for as long as anyone could remember.
Rev. Chuck went to visit her one day and after a few pleasantries, he couldn't help but remark that he had never seen Esther when she wasn't smoking one of her smelly pipes, or chewing her awful snuff. Didn’t she know it was bad for her health?
Esther didn't mind being preached to on Sunday about scripture. She didn't even mind being preached to about sins she couldn't commit anymore even if she had a mind to. But Esther decided she wasn't about to sit there in her own her sunny parlor and let this youngster preach to her against one of the few genuine pleasures she had left in life.
"Listen, Reverend," she said, "I'll be 96 on October 14, and I've been smoking and chewing every day since my early 20s. I defy you or anyone else to prove to me that it wasn't all that fine pipe smoke that's preserved me this long."
Seeing that Ester was getting a tad upset and not wanting to argue the point but not the least deterred Rev. Chuck came about and tried another tack.
"At your advanced age, Esther," Rev. Chuck said, cautiously, "you must spend a lot of time thinking of the hereafter. Do you think for one minute that Saint Peter is going to let you through the Pearly Gates if he detects the strong odor of tobacco on your breath?"
By now Esther had just about had it! She took her pipe out of her mouth, looked quizzically at the good reverend and said, "My breath, is it, Reverend? I thought it was for want of a BREATH that folks like me ended up before the Pearly Gates in the first place!"
Rev. Chuck didn't limit himself to improving the physical health of church members. He also wanted to improve the looks of the church.
Soon after he arrived he went to the chairman of the Board of Deacons, Thurland Grant, and asked if at the next deacon’s meeting Thurland would ask about buying a new chandelier for the church. Although he wasn't too keen on the idea, Thurland told Rev. Chuck that he would ask the other deacons about it.
The morning after the meeting Rev. Chuck went to see Thurland to ask how the meeting went.
“I raised the question of buying a chandelier like you asked me to do, Reverend, but the idea was rejected for what I thought were three pretty sound reasons.
First, none of us could spell 'chandelier' so we'd have trouble writing out the order. Second, there's probably no one in the church who can play a thing like that. And, third, we felt that before we wasted church money on a 'chandelier' we should look into getting some new lights!”