The Pulpit Committee
After waiting almost a year I finally received a call from the chair of the pulpit committee at Lantana Road. I remember nothing about our initial conversation other than that I surmised my possibilities of becoming pastor at LRBC increased now that I was engaged to Shannon. I shall share that romantic moment in a future episode.
We agreed to meet at a neutral site so they could hear me preach “live.” I called a family friend, a man who had been called into the ministry from my home church, William Swanson. At the time he served as pastor of a congregation north of Chattanooga in Ooltewah, TN. The date was set. I would drive up from Cartersville. The committee would drive down from Crossville. I would preach and we would go from there.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting I counseled with Bro. Wayne on what I should do. To this day I remember only three things Bro. Wayne told me about the process: 1) When you get to the church, try to find out who is on the committee and introduce yourself to each of them individually. 2) When you are finished preaching your trial sermon ask them if they would like to go out and eat so you can talk things over. 3) Whatever they ask you will reveal what they didn’t like about the previous pastor. 3a) Don’t be that guy. Easy enough. I felt ready.
I worked for a couple of weeks crafting the perfect sermon. I preached it in front of my bathroom mirror. I even considered preaching it to Mr. Gunn’s Ostriches, but at the time I felt they were too mean and stubborn to listen. Now I know preaching to Ostriches would have prepared me well for the ministry. Finally trial Sunday came. I drove to Ooltewah. I was ready.
William’s church was fairly small. On a typical Sunday evening, even large churches are fairly small. There were probably less than 40 people in the building. William met me at the back door. We chatted for a bit catching up on one another’s families. Williams brother George and his now late father Belvis will ever be a comedic highlight of my formative years. After we talked family, William said, “There are six people sitting on these two rows.” He talked as he pointed toward them. “They are not my people. That’s your committee.” I knew they were already there because there was a baby blue church van in the parking lot that read, “Lantana Road Baptist Church.” After I became pastor of LRBC I appropriately nicknamed that clunker of a van “Baby Blue.”
I remembered Bro. Wayne’s counsel. It was time to implement axiom #1. I mustered the courage to step forward and introduce myself. Three of them sat on a pew right of the aisle. Three of them sat on a pew on the left side of the aisle. I approached the nearest lady, who I soon found out was the chair of the committee. Her name was Jenny and to that point she was the only person from Crossville, TN other than Uncle Roy with whom I had ever talked on the phone. I knew her voice. “Hello, my name is Brian, you must be with the pulpit committee from Lantana Road.” I didn’t stutter and I didn’t throw up. In my mind, I was doing well. She looked me in the eye and said, “No I’m not, but its nice to meet you.” I knew by her voice that she was either lying or suffering a memory lapse from carbon monoxide poisoning having ridden in “Baby Blue” for two hours. Without missing a beat I turned across the aisle and said to the lady sitting on the end of the pew, “Hello, My name is Brian, you must be with the pulpit committee from Lantana Road.” I found out later her name was Carrie (I will later share an episode about her husband Donnie and a gazzilion dying flies). Carrie broke what was apparently the committee pact. They had agreed not to identify themselves. Carrie did. She pointed across the aisle at Jenny and said, “And that lady and the people she is sitting with are with us too.” We all had a big laugh. If there was no other benefit of that moment of levity it was that the tension in the air was released, as were my nerves, and I was now confident I would not throw up.
After the service I remembered Bro. Wayne axiom #2, ask them out to eat. By the time I could get to the back of the small church the LRBC committee was out the back door and already crammed into the van. I was now back to nausea. This did not look good. I had to catch them. I approached the driver side window and asked, “Would you all like to go out and eat so we can talk things over?” I said it confidently but I was dying inside. They were leaving. I cannot remember who was driving, but they replied, “We will talk it over.” I conceded their request and walked back over to William. Surely they would accept my invitation. Was my sermon that bad?
I turned back around only to see “Baby Blue” back away from the curb, turn right on the highway and head back to Crossville. Without saying a word they were gone. To this day I am shocked I didn’t get sick right there in William Swanson’s church parking lot. Somehow I held it together and drove back to Cartersville totally defeated.
To be continued . . .