Chapter 6

© Copyright 2006 by Kendra Cornell

Pastor Paul Coburn sat at his desk late that same night, his head in his hands. The wiry, dark-haired preacher finally laid his glasses on the table and prayed.

“Lord, I feel your hand on me tonight. I don’t know what I’m praying for, but I pray that the Holy Spirit will intercede before Your throne,” he waited for a few moments before continuing. “Lord, if someone needs Your help, I pray that you will provide a double portion- that Your angels would intervene on his or her behalf.” Not receiving any further leading, he continued, “And tonight, I also bring before you our struggling little church. Lord, you see and know the numbers. I don’t have to tell you that our membership is dropping, or that the church is practically falling down around our ears, or that our finances haven’t been stellar in years. I know that You will provide, in Your time and in Your way. And I pray that my faith will be strengthened as You have provided this time of challenge. May I give thanks in all things. In the name of Christ Jesus, Amen.”

Paul rose from his desk and looked out the window into the night. The news tonight had been typical- murders, kidnappings, all tragic events sensationalized for the sake of ratings. It preyed upon his soul. There were some days when he felt his prayers were ineffective- like shooting a bebe gun at a freight train.

His gaze shifted in the direction of the little house across the street. It lay in the darkness, waiting for him. No signs of life issued forth from its windows- no music blaring, no light from lamps or televisions, no familiar conversation. So far, the Lord hadn’t seen fit to introduce him to the woman with whom he would spend the rest of his life, but his little congregation didn’t much care about that. The attendance might have dropped, but left were the most caring, diligently prayerful people he had ever had the blessing to know. And they were hard at work in the community- running a food bank, helping the elderly with home upkeep, and trying to draw the community to a closer relationship with God… whatever the Lord called them to do. Despite the lack of funds, Paul truly loved his work, and he loved the congregation at Refuge Christian Church.

Days like this just wore on him. With the drop in membership, Paul acted as the pastor, treasurer, cook, counselor, and general handyman. He glanced again at the letter on his desk; the one in red writing that demanded his immediate attention. He knew, even without his glasses, what the letter said verbatim. ‘Foreclosure Proceedings Imminent’ was printed in bold, black letters at the top. He knew he was current with the loan payments on the church and its property- perhaps a little late, but still current.

It seemed that several years prior to his arrival, the church had borrowed a sizeable amount of money from a private investor, who also happened to be a member. However, during the mass exodus of the congregation over the last few years, this investor had decided he no longer wanted financial ties to Refuge, and had sold his interest to another investing group. Unbeknownst to Paul, an unfortunate piece of the situation was that the church property had been levied as a guarantee that the terms of the loan would be met- and one of those terms was that each payment be made exactly on time, or the property could be seized by the investor.

Paul had no idea who this private investor was- the terms of the loan had been made several years before he had even been called here. But the bulk of the responsibility fell on his shoulders. I’m no lawyer or financial expert, he thought. I’m just a pastor trying to keep up with ten thousand things that need to be done. If I need to hire someone to figure this out…

“Where are we going to get the money for that?” he breathed aloud. Just as soon as the words issued out of his mouth, he stopped. The Lord had always been faithful to him- in every circumstance. Paul had no doubt He would be faithful in this one.

“Please show me what to do Lord. I’d like to say I’m not worried, but You know I am. I commit to you everything- this new letter seems awfully imposing, and I don’t even know where to start… But I know You’ve got this handled, Lord and I give it all to You now,” Paul prayed. Waiting a few moments, he mentally relinquished control of the situation, knowing it was more than likely that he’d just grab it back at some point- another one of his bad habits.

But now, it was late, and Paul thought he should get home. Replacing the gold-framed lenses on the bridge of his nose, he turned out the lights in the office, and made his way down through the church, which he locked behind him. He hated locking the church. Paul desired for it to be open to anyone that needed it. They were a place of Refuge- by all rights, the doors should remain open. But in this day and age, people were more likely to vandalize than go before the Lord. Knowing this, the insurance company required the doors to stay locked when not in use.

Oh well, Paul thought, The church is in His hands- the only place it’s ever going to be safe, regardless of any insurance company.

Paul walked up the porch steps and sat on the swing. He imagined the neighborhood as it might’ve been fifty years ago- the architecture much the same, but other factual changes evident. The cars would’ve been bulkier, rolling down the narrow streets on white-walled tires. Had families spent long summer evenings on porches, children running rampant throughout the neighborhood, while they sipped lemonade and watched the sun go down? Did young couples walk down to Pearl Street to catch a movie, waving to familiar faces as they strolled hand in hand to catch the latest Humphrey Bogart or Jimmy Stewart picture? Perhaps, even where he sat now, tired men had sat smoking glowing cigarettes in the darkness.

Paul felt loneliness threatening to creep in again. Would there ever be a time when he was capable of thinking about being alone without feeling lonely? Forget it… I’m not doing this. This is where the Lord has put me and that’s where I’m going to be. If there comes a day when someone comes into my life, well then… I’ll just be that much more thankful for it when it gets here. The words were brave, but Paul was aware of an unwanted sense that the sentiment didn’t translate to his heart.

It wouldn’t be so bad if people didn’t keep trying to set him up. There had been one too bad dates where Paul ended up dragging his tie through the soup, tipped over water glasses, or spent long afternoons trying not to say the wrong thing out of sheer abject boredom. Paul often wondered why he’d been called into ministry- he was the world’s most awkward human being when he was nervous.

Dismissing the thoughts, he stood up to retire for the night. Someday, maybe… this house will be filled again. We’ll just have to wait and see.

HEY! and don't forget to e-mail Kendra Cornell if you have a comment! She would really like to hear from you.

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