Constance wrapped her arms around her littlest daughter, who stood, trembling, in the doorway of the little country church. Barnaby Simms had been at it again.
When Will and Constance Brady first came to little Clover Valley, the community welcomed them warmly. With Will installed as the new preacher, attendance at the church increased by half almost overnight.
As can be expected, that initial bump leveled off after a few months, but there were still some 75-100 souls who met each Sunday to worship the Lord and fellowship with one another. Not bad for a small but growing town established around a train stop in the middle of the prairie.
Then suddenly, six weeks earlier, attendance plummeted. There was a discord which split the congregation down the middle: one group solidly supporting their pastor, the other busily working to get him—if not run out of town on a rail—at least dismissed from his position.
The negative faction took their cue from Barnaby Simms, Will’s self-appointed overseer. Their chief complaint: Will refused to publicly speak against a small “holiness” sect which had begun Sunday services in a member’s barn, and were causing quite a stir in Clover Valley. It seems their services got a little raucous with the joy of the Lord.
Personally and privately, Will and Constance wished their own congregation had a little more spirit. His philosophy was that it was much easier to control “wildfire” than it was to get a little fire started in a cold field.
Simms’s favorite verbal response to Will’s public stand was “Hmph!” Preferably during congregational prayer when Will asked the Lord to bless the believers “who meet down the road.”
Simm’s greatest joy was to go from house to house with wild tales, a few with a tiny kernel of truth, about what the “holy rollers” did behind closed doors.
The incident which drove little Miranda to her mother’s arms was a confrontation with Mr. Simms in the general store. His parting shot to the shaking girl was, “Your father’s goin’ ta HELL!”
That evening Constance and Will had a serious discussion, after putting their daughters to bed in the cozy lamp-lit loft above the sitting room.
Keeping his voice low, Will said, “So which do you think the Lord would prefer, people speaking in tongues in church or a man who screams threats at a little girl?” His frustration and anger had set him rocking a little harder in the old cane chair.
“That’s not the issue, is it?” Constance responded. “What are you going to do about it?”
Will rocked harder yet, until Constance reached out and softly touched his arm. The warmth in her eyes quieted his soul.
“First, we pray,” he answered softly.
“I’ve already been doing that,” Constance retorted. “You know, sometimes action is required.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Perhaps it’s time you let everyone know how you feel, what you—Will Brady—really believe about the issues.”
During the next week, Will got the word out (which in most little towns was like the spread of the previously mentioned wildfire) that the following Sunday he would address the discord currently centered around the “Spirit of Holiness” church down the road.
Then Sunday arrived, too quickly for Will.
Will insisted the congregation proceed as usual for a Sunday service: they sang hymns, had a Scripture reading and prayed together for the needs of the congregation.
Then Will stood.
He spoke to a packed but hushed room: “The Gospel of John chapter 13 verse 35 says, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’.”
The room caught not the sound of rustle nor breath.
“There’s a group of people down the road whom we’ve heard this about: they laugh during their services, they hug one another, they shout glorious praises to the Lord.
“There’s a group of people in this room whom we’ve heard this about: they concentrate on what they think is wrong with others and speak ill against them.
“My question to you is: Whom do you believe Jesus would rather spend time with?”
Will paused, then: “Please stand for the benediction. Dear Lord, may our hearts be filled with the divine love of God, so that we see people as you see them, and act toward all people as you would. And may the Holy Spirit take up residence in the hearts of all those who yield to Him. Amen.”
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