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Even feisty prayer warrior Sister Betty has never seen the kind of trouble brewing at Crossing Over Sanctuary church. The financially-struggling members have until Christmas day to pay off millions in debt to The Cheater Brothers' Piece of Savings Bank. And Reverend Leotis Tom refuses to accept any of trustee Freddie Noel's sinful mega-lottery ...
Even feisty prayer warrior Sister Betty has never seen the kind of trouble brewing at Crossing Over Sanctuary church. The financially-struggling members have until Christmas day to pay off millions in debt to The Cheater Brothers' Piece of Savings Bank. And Reverend Leotis Tom refuses to accept any of trustee Freddie Noel's sinful mega-lottery winnings. Instead, he hopes bickering church mothers Bea Blister and Sasha Pray Onn's money-raising schemes will provide heaven-sent rewards--while he renegotiates with God.
The only way Sister Betty can help Freddie save his beloved church is to open the reverend's eyes to his congregation's history of wildly unholy--but profitable--secrets. . .and stay two steps ahead of the mothers' "Geriatric Mafia." Between scandal and near-disaster, Sister Betty will need all her faith to prove that blessings in disguise are blessings nonetheless. . .
"One of my favorite writers of all time." --Zane
He'd been only thirty-three years old when installed, and so fresh out of divinity college that he'd actually believed all he needed was a few words of "thus saith the Lord" scriptures and folks would fall in line; and with a touch of his anointed hands, he expected them to fall out, too. With his youthful ignorance he'd taken the helm, but not without controversy.
When the reverend's name first came up there was concern from one of the few remaining founding members of the church. Mother Sasha Pray Onn was in her late sixties and a tad bit neurotic. Widowed by choice was the rumor, although never proven. She'd always been the go-to church mother, the keeper of the church gossip-laced politics and all things that made the church's sanctified bus ride hazardous.
On the day when the reverend's name was laid on the sacrificial altar for pastorate, Mother Pray Onn had issues. Fired up, she had left subtlety behind and was chained to her seat in the first pew.
"He ain't been seasoned enough with trials and tribulations and some hawt church mess!" she warned. "We need a Man of God who can take a punch from ole Satan and then knows how to pray that demon back to hell without getting the church scorched! I'm telling ya, that baby preacher y'all are considering, well he ain't that man!"
The Church Board never took into consideration the old church mother might've known of which she spoke. After all, Sasha Pray Onn and her entire Hellraiser clan were Satan's first cousins, although they didn't brag about it a lot. Nevertheless, the Church Board took a risk and for the first time ignored Mother Sasha Pray Onn. It wasn't much of a risk. The old woman, by that time, had gone on a cruise.
Without the sanction of the other twenty-eleven boards, the Church Board invited the very handsome, six-foot-five Reverend Leotis Tom from nearby Anderson, South Carolina, with the ink still wet on his graduation parchment, to "bring the word." They'd also made sure it was for the fifth Sunday service. Back then and even now, folks set a limit on attending church more than four Sundays a month. Fifth Sunday remains the safest for church politics.
Even as naïve as Leotis Tom was then, he still knew that an invitation was really an audition.
When the day came, he'd arrived without a visiting preacher's usual church posse. There was no armor bearer to walk him up the three steps into the pulpit. He looked almost church-naked without some middle-aged nurse to wipe his brow or two or three Mothers to sit in the first pew and hype him and the congregation into a frenzy. Reverend Tom didn't even have a young minister-in-training to carry his Bible and his robe. Instead, he came prepared with faith and a vision from the Lord.
That Sunday morning, he'd stood at the pulpit, dressed in a black and purple, short-sleeved robe, with a modest gold cross stitched across the breastbone. His dark unruly hair was cut short. Whether on purpose or not his pecan brown muscles rippled, making his arms resemble the back of an alligator's tail splashing about.
Most folks probably couldn't remember what Reverend Tom preached that morning but the consensus was unanimous. The reverend was what the women folks and even some of the shameless men called, "hawt spiritual eye-candy who knew a little sumpthin' about the Word." The fact that the young man was single suddenly was in his favor, and most hoped that he'd never marry—unless it was to one of them.
That morning, the church's outgoing pastor, the Jheri curled and overweight Reverend Knott Enuff Money could only marinate in envy. All the time he'd been single and pastoring, he'd had to fight off the gay and the bi rumors. Reverend Tom came to church with muscular arms and no mention of a wife or a girlfriend and the congregation appeared to lose its mind.
Soon after, the conversation got around again to the urgency of selecting a pastor to take the place of Reverend Knott Enuff Money.
"We can't keep putting off getting a new pastor," one board member pointed out after learning Reverend Tom had an open invitation to preach at another local church. "I suggest we hire him immediately."
The naysayers who attended only a few services and even less board meetings usually did what they were supposed to do when it came time to confirm anything, by saying, "No," and "Hell No!" But that time, even they went with the program, and voted on a few limitations to put into his contract should he accept their offer. They kept it simple. They'd wanted shorter sermons during football and baseball seasons, and no evening service on the night of the Stella Awards.
With agreement in place on how to regulate the pastor's preaching schedule, they hired Reverend Leotis Tom and hoped for the best. They also hoped Mother Pray Onn had a good time on her cruise because she would raise hell upon her return.
The installation service was a grand affair. Churches, big and small, bishops and pastors, the saved and the unsavory were all invited. The Reverend Leotis Tom received many accolades, and large sums of cash; someone had warned him not to accept checks unless he was prepared to pay return check fees.
The food was first rate. Several overweight sisters hit that kitchen and anointed the oven. They cooked a feast big enough to feed a third world country. Of course, the auspicious event had local newspaper and television coverage. The video would be sold during a few upcoming conferences.
There was no doubt that Crossing Over Sanctuary had a new star. Everything was wonderful until later on that evening when the young preacher rose to say a few words.
The Reverend Leotis Tom gave the customary thank you and his vision for the church and community. Then he made a promise that set everyone on notice.
"There will be no politics inside the church or outside the church. Politicians are welcome to worship, but they will not receive special favors. We will not gamble on our salvation with unholy alliances and that includes gambling of any kind. God doesn't want nor will He accept tainted money or favors!"
But that was then.
A few days after the Halloween madness crept off the radar, there was a new holiday buzz all over Pelzer. Like most of the country, Pelzer townsfolk were broke. They faced turkey-free dinners and severe Christmas giving challenges.
However, from the schoolyard to the junkyard, with the jailhouse and churches in between, they still held hope for the upcoming holiday.
They snatched down their pumpkin front door decorations and got ready for the Thanksgiving and Christmas madness. Some folk were brazen and heathen enough to have a Tom Turkey figure in a manger with a huge Santa on the front porch. The Santa even had a sack of toys thrown over his back, and a Bible in his hand.
Pelzer folk never allowed reality to derail their delusions, and the Mothers Board determined the tradition should continue. When it came time for the quarterly meeting, the first Saturday in November, craziness and chaos tore down the WELCOME sign and moved in.
Extraordinary times called for extreme measures, and no one more extreme than the Mothers Board fit the bill. It was time for the bickering fundraising heads of the board to rumble. They shared the war-mongering crown: cantankerous Mother Sasha Pray Onn and incontinence-plagued Mother Bea Blister. With Thanksgiving and Christmas coming soon, it was time to put into play one of the fundraising schemes they'd hatched.
Their plots seldom worked, but like most old hens, they just kept on hatching them.
Early on, Bea and Sasha had asked for volunteers to aid in their latest sure-to-be fiasco, but only three members signed up. Those three forced labor workers, all either over or in their sixties, were Elder Bartholomew "Batty" Brick, Brother Leon Casanova, and Trustee Freddie Noel. They came aboard because Sasha and Bea had threatened to spread untruths, beat the crap out of them, or stuff laxative-laced meals down their throats.
Elder Brick had already served time and didn't need the rumors. Brother Casanova was scared of Bea's violent nature and Sasha's entire Hellraiser family. And malnourished-looking Trustee Noel just needed a hot home-cooked meal from anywhere with or without a laxative.
The weather held out the Saturday morning of the meeting. There was just enough of a chill in the air to chill out the old folk. The five seniors arrived at Crossing Over Sanctuary church with a combined five hundred years of senility, irregularity, and illusions of holiness.
The head of the Finance Committee, Elder Bartholomew "Batty" Brick entered first. Fellow committee members Brother Leon Casanova and Trustee Freddie Noel entered next. The men then escorted Mothers Sasha and Bea into the fellowship hall. They went to the rear of the hall and sat at one of the large tables.
The five already knew why they were there. Months ago, Bea and Sasha, referred to as BS, had suggested to Reverend Tom holding a Seniors Prom as a fundraiser. More recently, when Elder Brick slipped up and told Sasha that the church's intake had slipped dramatically, she'd suggested they come up with more ideas beyond just selling tickets to the prom.
"Okay," Sasha announced. "Batty, you lead us in a word or two of prayer so we can get started."
Elder Batty Brick jumped up quicker than his arthritis normally allowed. The overweight, tall, olive-complexioned man with snow-white hair winced. He dropped his head, clasped his hands, and blurted as if he were preaching, "You know our hearts, Lord." He let one hand sweep over their heads. "We come asking that You take our few fishes and stale crusty bread ideas and help us make some money with them."
All raised their eyes and palms toward the ceiling, and added, "Amen."
"We don't hafta read the minutes. We can just move on." The suggestion came from Mother Bea Blister.
Bea had been the Vice President of the Mothers Board for more years than she could remember. She'd also been Sasha's rival for anything she figured Sasha wanted. In her late sixties, so she said, Bea was a statuesque woman. She had a severely arched back, an extra hundred pounds, was dark as a sun-ripened raisin, and just as wrinkled.
She made her wishes known on her way out the hall to the bathroom. She'd felt an urge to go since she'd left home. Since there were men at the meeting, and she wasn't too sure if she could depend on the Depend she'd worn, it was as good a time as any to take care of business. The last thing she wanted was to be embarrassed, and definitely not with blabbermouth Sasha present.
By the time Bea returned, she found the other four seated just as she'd left them. "What did I miss?"
"When did you leave?" Sasha asked. She'd never tell Bea that she'd held up the meeting until she returned. There was no fun in that.
That set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
"I think we should sell T-shirts," Sasha suggested, "We'll have ones printed for the men, GOT AN XTRA BLUE PILL? For the women, ME & MY BREASTS R SOUTHERN GALS."
Sasha's suggestion caught Brother Leon's attention. Up till then, he'd been dozing. He leaned forward, his brow furrowed. His seventy-year-old cinnamon-colored cheeks appeared full as if he'd stowed away a few nuts instead of sitting among them. "Ahem," he said as he pulled on his gray handlebar moustache to give his coming words more weight.
"As I see it"—he looked around to make sure all eyes were upon him—"this hall holds about five hundred people comfortably. Since we're having a throwback to the fifties, sixties, and seventies dress theme for the prom, I'm sure most won't need to do anything but look in their closets and grab something to wear. Afros, conks, platform shoes, we all got some old clothes somewhere."
"Bea can wear what she wore last Sunday." Sasha chuckled. Her tiny parentheses-shaped legs spread and, of course, she'd forgotten her underwear again.
"And Sasha can just wear what she's wearing now," Bea shot back, "except she can add drawers."
One moment Sasha's knees were open and the next the springs to Sasha's knees shut hard enough to crack a bone. She grabbed her cane and was about go Darth Vader on Bea.
Brother Casanova jumped between them, "Ladies, please. Don't make me hafta use my Taser!" He'd heard that line on television and was glad it worked. He shook his head and sighed at their pettiness as they retreated. "Anyway, we're supposed to come up with ways to make money without going over the five-hundred dollar budget. Won't it cost most of that to get the shirts printed?"
Sasha didn't like her idea challenged, and she could almost feel her tight gray bun tighten. It threatened to cut off the oxygen to her brain, but she remained cool. "Of course, I already thought about that," she lied. "Bea is gonna handwrite every word on every T-shirt."
"What the ham and cheese!" Bea's spine almost straightened as she shot forward, her fists balled to strike. "Oh, forget a Ta—"
Sasha quickly cut her off when she added sweetly, "Bea has such lovely penmanship. Why should we pay for something that will have less quality?"
Bea's fist stopped in mid-air. She hadn't gone to college, but when Sasha put it that way, how could she refuse? "I do have good penmanship," Bea said with as much sincerity as an old con artist could muster. "How many T-shirts would we need?"
Elder Batty started counting on his fingers and when he added both knees to the count, he said, "Bea, I think we've sold about one hundred and fifty tickets with about two hundred more promised."
From the end of the table, someone spoke up and offered a semblance of common sense. "We do remember the Seniors Prom is the Saturday after Thanksgiving, don't we? That's less than a month away. It won't leave us much time."
Everyone turned to face Trustee Freddie Noel. Until that moment, they'd not heard a peep from the tall, lemon yellow, skinny man with squinty brown eyes, and a sharp nose that looked like a carrot stick. Not only was he very tall, but extremely unattractive. In his mid-sixties, he was so thin, he'd almost had to pin his pants to his skin to keep them up.
"It'll be enough time if we're not distracted," Elder Batty Brick replied. "So you can pencil that in your notes as a done deal."
The trustee shuddered a bit. He knew that Elder Batty Brick had only mentioned the word pencil because behind his back folks called him "Number two," saying he resembled a number two pencil with a chewed eraser.
"That reminds me," Brother Casanova added, as he turned to Trustee Noel, "we haven't assigned a job to you for that night."
"Let him take the coats," Bea snapped.
Bea always dismissed Trustee Noel because he didn't fit what she looked for in a man, a congregation member, or a potential helpmate. He was too thin, too poor, and she didn't think he could stand up to the job of giving her what she'd need. "Unless you're bringing a date or plan on having any fun, I don't think you'd mind taking the coats, would you?"
Before the trustee could respond Sasha added fuel to the fire, "He's celibate. Everyone knows he ain't never been married. I've never seen him dance and if he could, I'm certain he would. He ain't trying to have fun."
"Well, I'm certain he'll celebrate when he's no longer a celibate." Somehow Elder Batty Brick thought he'd helped the reclusive trustee, especially when he added, "I'm sure he's just waiting on a woman who'd have him."
As usual, the trustee's manhood always fed the gossip fire and if he wasn't weird enough for their chatter, he had a bad habit. The trustee had a sprig of silver hair resembling a half moon that peeked out from the crown of his head. Whenever he was nervous, which was most of the time, he twirled that sprig. When they finished berating him, the top of his head look like silver twigs.
Excerpted from No Ordinary Noel by Pat G'Orge-Walker Copyright © 2011 by Pat G'Orge-Walker. Excerpted by permission of DAFINA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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