The musty smell of old hymnals and bibles permeated the air. It didn’t matter if the books were changed; they immediately seemed to pick up the dried-out crinkly scent of ancient pages. Every sound seemed muffled. Maybe it was the carpeting, or the purposeful design of architects, or the hushed tones people seemed to exercise when engaging in conversation during this time. The fact remained that nothing echoed in the sanctuary chamber that Paul felt so comfortable in.
The sanctuary itself was as full as usual this Sunday morning. Paul loved it here, and rested comfortably in his ‘unofficial’ seat on the end of the fourth row, outside seat, right behind Mr. Cecil and his wife Margaret. He made it a point to say hi to them last before he sat down each Sunday. It had become a ritual, and they were always there before he was, even when he came early.
As usual, he had greeted his friends in the same fashion he always had … with overflowing bigheartedness and good will. It was always returned. There was nothing different or unusual about this church service than any other he had ever attended in his life. That is, if it wasn’t for the jack-booted police squad lining the back wall in full riot gear.
They waited patiently. They waited for the early morning fellowship greetings to subside. They waited for the opening prayer, the songs of worship, and the welcoming of guests. It was only when Pastor Sanderson rose to approach the podium that they began to rustle. As soon as he spoke, “Good morning, folks,” they begin to move down the center and outside aisles. One of the police officers, a different colored helmet under his arm, separated himself from the rest and walked up the steps to approach Pastor Sanderson.
“Dr. David Sanderson,” he began. His words came out like a staccato drumbeat, as if he had memorized them precisely as ordered and was now repeating them as a robot might. “You have been warned to never speak from the podium of this church again. In choosing to do so you are now in violation of the new U.S. Congressional Anti-Hate Act. You are specifically charged with hate crimes against the homosexual community, and violation of the Civil Rights Act by your comments regarding women who choose to exercise their civic rights to an abortion. In addition, there are thirteen minor counts listed in this order of arrest. Please extend your arms and you will be taken into custody.”
Pastor David said only a few words as he extended his hands and was handcuffed: ”And Peter said, ‘but if, when you do well, and suffer for it, you take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.’ ”
As their Pastor was led away, the congregation buzzed, but did little else … including Paul. Then, the police officer stepped up to the microphone, and said, “This church is closed. Everyone has exactly fifteen minutes to exit the church or they will be arrested and charged with the same offense.” He held up his right arm, pressed a button on his watch, and said, “Beginning now.”
Almost immediately there was a rush toward the door. Paul dropped his head in shame and shook it from side to side. He folded his hands and began to pray:
Father God, please give me your guidance now.
My wife is at home today with my sick baby girl.
I cannot leave them. I know I should not rise to
follow the others, but what about my family?
Please, I beg you, show me the way.
Seconds became minutes, and time seemed to drag. What was he to do? He felt a shadow fall across him before he saw it. As he opened his eyes, he saw a policeman standing next to him.
“Your fifteen minutes are up. What’s it to be?” he asked.
Paul glanced around. There were still a few members still seated. Suddenly a verse came to him, and he rose to face the policeman. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” he said, holding out his hands.
Walking out of his beloved sanctuary, handcuffed, he said a quick prayer asking God to safeguard his family and to give them understanding. He knew he was leaving the warm embrace of old hymnals and bibles behind forever, but was happy in the knowledge of what he was walking toward.
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