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Department of First Stories

When Baptists Go Bad
by H. Hodgkins

First I saw that snake-green car, long and low and not quite Christian. Next I noticed the intense dark eyes in the face of our new Baptist pastor, Raymond Lee Makepeace. Of course, soon as Pastor Makepeace opened the door I began scanning the parsonage living room to see what our previous minister stole.

Leather couch? Still there. Antique grandfather clock? Check. Hummel figures? Hmm. Alvin Jones—I can’t dignify him with the title of
“Pastor”—had a weakness for knickknacks. He also possessed a weakness for cash from the offering plate, which led to his covert midnight flights to Vegas. Or was it the other way around?

We hoped for better things from Pastor Raymond Makepeace.

“Miss Hunt? Umm, do you prefer Ms.? Can I help you?”

He had a deep voice, which would boom from the pulpit. This morning the man seemed surprised to see me, but by 7:40 a.m. any decent Christian should rise and shine. And get dressed: that tattered corduroy robe was barely decent.

Averting my eyes from Pastor Makepeace’s hairy legs, I proffered my gift of banana bread. He stared at my nice wrapped loaf as if it were dog doo.

Then he looked at me—me, Melvilla Hunt, church secretary for thirty-four years.

The pastor’s eyes were black burning holes in his head. (I am not usually poetic.) He gazed at me as if he saw through my purple dress, right to my Maidenform bra, and didn’t think much of what he saw. (I would not confide this detail to Mark Vole or Luis.)

Then, from deep within the house, Wilma Lou Allen giggled. I’d know that soprano anywhere. What was Wilma Lou doing in the pastor’s kitchen?

It was sort of obvious. I heard clinking sounds, and light steps tripping here and there. It was easy to picture Wilma Lou’s rosy face above the starched apron she wore at La Café.

I sure hoped the man didn’t find any long blond hairs in his breakfast grits.

In response to my raised eyebrows, Pastor Makepeace blushed. His big hands fiddled with the banana bread till I thought he’d break it in two.

Then he got ahold of himself and did the polite. Following his “Oh you’re so kind” and my “Don’t mention it no I can’t stay,” I stumbled back down those peeling-paint steps in confused annoyance. As if I’d sit in the living room with a man in his bathrobe! And only his bathrobe, I was pretty sure.

Wilma Lou was only sixteen.

More than annoyance, I felt sad disappointment. Clearly, Shrinking Springs Baptist Church had, yet again, made a bad mistake.

“Again?” Mark Vole slammed his coffee cup on my desk. I picked it up and wiped the space with a Kleenex so it wouldn’t leave a ring. “We just got rid of Joltin’ Jones!”’

From the doorway, leaning on his mop, Luis added, “And it is so hard, getting rid of a bad Baptist pastor! The denominación has no sympathy for our troubles.”

“Sit down, Luis!” I snapped. “And shut the door. We need to talk, but we shouldn’t panic. Yet.”

“He’s a womanizing hound—”

“When a young pastor has no wife—”

I interrupted them both. “All I know is, he answered the door in his bathrobe. And Wilma Lou was fixing him breakfast.”

I feared I’d jumped the gun. It wasn’t as if we had evidence of evil-doing.

Mark Vole’s eyebrows lowered. “Why, Wilma Lou’s only fifteen! It’s—”


“—practically child abuse.” He breathed heavily. Mark has five children, a sickly wife, and a puny farm. He gets riled easily.

Luis lowered himself into the chair by the door. I knew before he opened his mouth what he’d say.

“Maybe Pastor just needs a cook? Maybe, no wife, he needs help?” Luis looked hopefully at each of us, and his face fell.

Mark Vole banged his cup on my desk again, so hard that little dark drops splashed my pecan-wood finish.

“You said that about Pastor Bookman! Then the sheriff caught him doing wheelies on Highway BB, with a car-trunkful of Jim Beam and Grandma Annie’s Special De-Lite. And he was singing—” He closed his eyes, unable to continue.

Luis nodded helpfully, and started singing “Stairway to Heaven.”

Luis has a sweet tenor, luckily. The choir always needs more male voices.

Mark—who has no ear for music—closed his eyes briefly, then opened them to glare at Luis. “Yeah. That. Then, when Pastor Jones kept flying off to Vegas, you said—”

“I know, I said maybe he had a sick mother to visit. Or grandmother.” Luis’s brown eyes were tragic. “I wish it had been so. And I wish it wasn’t so hard to remove bad pastors.”

Tempted to snap, “Boys, boys!” I instead reminded them that our new pastor, Raymond Lee Makepeace, was innocent until proven guilty.

We agreed to observe him for a few weeks and then consult again.

That night, I found it hard to concentrate on Hind’s Feet on High Places. After a drunkard and a gambling addict, was Shrinking Springs Baptist to be terrorized by a womanizing pastor?

“Let it not be so, Lord!” I prayed.

Still, I felt those burning dark eyes as I brushed my teeth, smoothed Oil of Olay on my face, and put on my pj’s.

*   *   *

In the next few weeks, Pastor Makepeace led the men’s Bible study (consisting of Mark Vole, two old farmers, and two teenaged boys sentenced to attend after skipping school too many times). The new pastor penned dull but scriptural meditations for our weekly newsletter, Drips from Shrinking Springs. He also drove to the Baptist Retirement Community to visit its white-haired denizens. How, I wondered, did those dim old ladies enjoy the feel of those intense black eyes? I pushed away the thought as unworthy.

Wonderfully, each Sunday morning eighty-plus people came to see and hear Raymond Lee Makepeace. Mark Vole, who is Shrinking Springs Baptist’s only deacon, reported that the offering plate garnered enough to pay my salary and that of Luis, which was reason for gratitude.

When thieving Alvin Jones was pastor, I—like Luis—subsisted on rice and beans.

Pastor Makepeace preached first on love (decent and biblical) and the next week on faith, “the evidence of things not seen.”

We kept our eyes peeled for evidence of unseen things in our new pastor’s life.

Sadly, we observed telltale signs of ill-doing. He talked to girls in the grocery store, fixing them with his magnetic gaze. He pressed and held women’s hands at the church door, after Sunday service. He accepted an invitation to Scarlett Smith’s house, where he dined with the divorcée tête-à-tête (so far as I could make out), not emerging until after eight p.m.

Above all, Raymond Lee Makepeace continued to abuse the innocence of Wilma Lou, who I observed cleaning his house after school, cooking him breakfast each morning, and leaving a casserole every night. He didn’t touch my ham loaf for two days, as I saw when I dropped off some lime jello salad. (True, there was no beer in his refrigerator, but he had cans of a drink called “Monster,” which must be the next worst thing.)

And I’d bought a new jar of pickle relish specially, to put in the ham loaf.

Once, as I just happened to pass by the kitchen window, I heard Wilma Lou singing: “I’m Baptist born and Baptist bred! And when I die I’ll be a Baptist dead . . .”

By our next emergency church meeting, Mark Vole was ready to dump Pastor Makepeace.

“Scarlett Smith, that easy woman, at eight o’clock in the evening!” he hissed. “Along with young girls! My Josephine is twelve. What if he corrupts her?”

He slurped his coffee. “Remember how, after Pastor Bookman said Jesus drank wine, young Joey Macleod started imbibing beer, whose lips had never touched alcohol? And that Jones taught the Royal Ambassadors youth club to play card games, using memory-verse cards for money! Now this Pastor Makepeace,” he spoke sarcastically, “just cause he smiles at the ladies—and I tell you, after my wife came to church she stayed in bed for two weeks—just cause he smiles and they put money in the plate, we’re supposed to overlook his shortcomings? I tell you, there is nothing worse than a pastor gone bad.”

Mark Vole slammed his cup on my desk. I wiped up the drops.

Softhearted Luis twisted his fingers together, staring at the floor.

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2024 When Baptists Go Bad by H. Hodgkins

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