The Benediction

                                               by Mike Peters


Gathered around the table in their Marfork home, the sons of Burton  Peters and Sadie Stover learned, among other things, patriotism, family  values, work ethic and faith.

It was quite evident during an evening benediction some 40 years ago.

As was custom in our Southern Baptist Church, the organist played "Just As I Am," like the other times. Sometime during the first verse, I heard the glass doors out in the foyer open and close. I turned to see a stubble-faced man, smelling of alcohol and days without showering, stagger down the aisle.  His clothes were wrinkled and in need of a good cleaning. The knees of his pants were torn, but he knelt anyway.  He asked the Lord for forgiveness and said that he was tired of living in a bottle. A couple of deacons and my father  knelt beside  him, prayed with him, comforted him and told him what awaited him -- a long  road, whose path is straighter and less inclined when it contains a Christian discipline and friends to walk on either side.  I can still see Paul Patterson, my father's best friend, smile.  I can still hear his loud "AMEN!"

The back door opened again. This time it was a couple of police officers brandishing "Billy clubs" and handcuffs. They escorted the confused man out to a paddy wagon and drove him to jail. Another church member, and I use this term lightly, had called, after discussing "the problem" with the minister, a man more concerned with the clientele's ability to fill the collection plate than he was with their souls. The stranger was charged with public intoxication and trespassing.

There was outrage in the house of the Lord that day! What was going on? The deacons and my father were angry and a riot might have ensued, but there were more important things to do. Their job wasn't finished.

My father and those same deacons went to the police station and bailed the man out. They paid for a motel room. There they sobered him up with cups of dark, strong, hot coffee, prayer and sandwiches that the women of the church had prepared. The next day they took him to a barber and bought him a new suit of clothes. They helped him get a job interview and spoke to the interviewer on his behalf.  They also went to court with him.   Last we heard, the stranger still had his job and he was going to school to be a minister. "Praise the Lord," was uttered by Deacon Patterson, for a job well done.

I don't believe that I was ever prouder of my mother and father, that next Sunday, when they followed through on their convictions. Our family was part of a group of some 15 families, who left for another church. The preacher at the new place took the words to the benediction literally and seriously. 

And my father, even as he knelt with the stranger, stood for something that he had learned in a coal miner's shack in 1930s
Raleigh County.

Ya'll come! Sincerely,

Mike Peters            
Just As I Am (music)



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