Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Charade (08/14/08)
TITLE: Stage Presence
By Gregory Kane
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He had joined Oscar’s ministry straight from seminary, graduating summa com laude. Not for him the unrewarding tedium of pastoral ministry. Terry had seen the price his own father had paid, leaving him exhausted, disappointed and treated with disdain by the high-flyers in his beloved denomination.
Oscar was a man on a mission and Terry was more than willing to hang on to his coat tails. His duties were largely administrative but he sometimes took time out to pray with the callers on the ministry’s popular teleprayer service. But Terry was quite content to remain in the background and let his mentor strut his stuff on stage. Oscar was a pro, knowing exactly what the punters wanted at any given moment. He could shift effortlessly from a rant to a growl to an easy conversational banter and leave the crowd hanging on his every word.
It was the miracles that had first attracted Terry. In a lifetime of ministry, his father had seen no more than perhaps a dozen indisputable healings. True, there had been countless more whose lives had been transformed through his gentle manner and strong personal faith. But Oscar recorded scores of miracles every time he took to the stage. And quite a few of these had been verified by medical experts.
The inevitable criticisms didn’t bother Terry. He understood that lesser men often felt jealous about the success enjoyed by God’s truly anointed. Of course Oscar’s correspondence had to be answered by computer - one man could hardly be expected to respond to fifteen thousand letters every week. And so what if Oscar made the occasional error in his sermons? No one ever claimed he was infallible. And as for all his prancing and rolling about on the stage, if people preferred boring, predictable preaching, there were plenty of half-empty churches they could patronise on a Sunday. What was important was that people were meeting with God. If the sceptics didn’t like it, they should just shut up and allow Oscar to do what he did best.
It was Roger’s dismissal that sowed the first seeds of doubt in Terry’s mind. All the events manager had done was to remark in casual conversation that he had gone looking for Oscar and found him with his masseuse behind locked doors. The evangelist had exploded, firing Roger on the spot and stressing his devotion to his wife. Yet immediately after this Terry started to notice just how frequently Oscar was sequestered with female members of staff.
The second nail in the coffin came in the form of an offensive joke about a cripple. Oscar had coaxed an elderly lady out of her wheelchair during that evening’s revival meeting. He marched her across the stage to great acclaim and finally deposited her on one of the comfortable VIP armchairs before moving on to pray for someone else. There were so many people at these celebrations, it was virtually impossible to keep track of everyone. But Terry had been passing through the reserve car park when he chanced to see the same lady back in her wheelchair and clearly in some pain. Terry had stopped to offer counsel and a word of prayer. But later on, when Oscar cracked a snide joke at her expense, a peculiar thought slipped into Terry’s mind. How often had he seen the evangelist sit down with someone who wasn’t a donor or a media person and counsel them over their problems? Curiously Terry couldn’t think of a single occasion. Yet his father was constantly occupied with such activity. Not at all glamorous but the bread and butter of ministry.
The scandal took everyone by surprise. Oscar was led away in handcuffs, accused of tax evasion and suspected money laundering. Terry understood that unquestioning loyalty was expected of him. But his pronouncements to the press lacked conviction and he found himself re-reading old reports and balance sheets with fresh eyes. Could Oscar really be guilty? Or was he, as he claimed, the innocent victim of an overzealous prosecutor? Terry couldn’t tell.
The telephone warbled over the crackly line. After a long minute and a half, a tired voice announced, “St. Chad’s.”
“Dad, it’s me, Terry. Can I come down and talk with you? I’m not sure but I think I may have made a massive mistake.”
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