The cloudless sky was a tranquil blue above the small town of Babylon, North Carolina. Locals went about their normal routines. The cafe on the corner was busy with the lunch crowd. The old post office had a steady stream of the usual foot traffic. A weathered American flag swayed above the entrance.
The pastor of the Baptist church on the corner of Main Street sat quietly eating a sandwich in his office, overlooking the activity of the town. The subtly warped view through the aged window bore the distinct marks of historic glass.
Out on the street below there was a small commotion. The pastor quickly set his sandwich aside and watched as the scene unfolded. A large, dark SUV had just screeched to a halt within a few feet of several startled pedestrians who had been walking in the crosswalk. The man in the SUV yelled a few choice words out his window at the pedestrians. They stood aside with shocked and worried expressions as they muttered to one another and pointed.
The pastor said a prayer of thanks that no one was bodily hurt, and on realizing that the man in the dark SUV was turning into the church parking lot, he proceeded to break into a sweat, panicking briefly and then calming himself, turned from his anxiety again to prayer.
Within minutes the church secretary knocked gently on the pastor’s office door and plainly announced that he had a visitor – it was the businessman, who had been buying up commercial real estate around town. Rumors abounded about his intentions, but it was no mistake that he had certainly made up his mind to run in the upcoming election for a new town mayor. The pastor paused at the door for a moment as the church secretary went to fetch this visitor, the businessman – the man in the SUV, who moments ago almost mowed down a handful of pedestrians.
The businessman was not originally from the area but now lived on the edge of town in an oversized house on a farm that seemed to gain land each year as he bought out neighboring farms, one by one. He grazed cattle and kept a sizeable vineyard with the help of a dedicated team of farm managers and a rotating cast of cheap laborers. He was a tall man and as the pastor greeted him at the office door he had to look up to him as they locked hands in a long and awkward handshake. They exchanged pleasantries and finally continued into the office.
The pastor closed the creaking wooden door as the businessman stood at the pastor’s bookshelves, thumbing through the dusty collection of theology and American history books.
“I’m an avid reader…” the businessman forcefully exclaimed. His words, came across as a demand – though he was not outwardly demanding anything. “…And you have quite the extensive library here!”
The businessman slapped the pastor on the back as he grinned and pulled out a couple of imported cigars. Offering the pastor a cigar and a light, the businessman boasted about how he was going to bring the town’s economy back to life. Before he could refuse, the pastor found himself standing with a lit cigar in hand. The businessman puffed away as the pastor sat down at his desk – cluttered with sermon notes and various Bible commentaries.
The pastor sat in his seat letting the smoke rise from the cigar, like the prayers of forgiveness he whispered under his breathe. What would his congregation think if they saw him smoking? He cringed inwardly but held the gaze of the businessman as he began to monologue.
“Pastor, I have alot of plans for this town – to bring it back to the glory days, when this was really a destination. I know that our local economy has been struggling, farmers have been trading in their farms for cash, small businesses are barely staying afloat, manufacturing is long gone. I hear the Main Street Hotel may not make it through the year! We need real vision, pastor. No politician is going to turn this town around. We need real bricks and mortar folks, like yourself. And with my business mind, there’s no telling what we can accomplish together!”
Seemingly pleased with the words coming out of his own mouth, the businessman paused, as if to visualized the grand future that lay before them.
It was hard to deny the truth of what the businessman was saying. The pastor, though unsettled, found himself agreeing with the businessman’s assessment. If church attendance and tithing didn’t pickup soon, he was going to find himself without a job and without a home. Something needed to change.
“Can I count on your support in the upcoming election for mayor? If you are willing to lend your voice to the cause, I promise to make sure that you get what you need to fix this old building up – maybe some kind of historic restoration grant from the town – or hell, I’d make a sizeable donation myself!”
The businessman stood up, took his cigar out of his mouth, leaned in close and continued, “Pastor, I know your old bell tower has been empty for years. That’s no way to run a church! What about a new bell to ring out the new year?”
Sunlight streamed through the window. A clock ticked in time to the pastor’s heartbeat. Standing to his feet the pastor verbally confirmed his support as he shook the smiling businessman’s hand. The pastor, for a brief moment felt a strange tinge of regret – unsure if he was shaking hands with the devil or an angel. The feeling was swept away as he glanced at the water damage on the wall in the corner of the room. He came back into the moment and smiled.
The businessman, smoke still rising from his cigar, looked him in the eyes and said, “You won’t regret this! I’ll have my campaign manager and media guy come by tomorrow to interview you. All you need to do is smile on camera and give me a good word.”
Later that day, the smell of cigar smoke still hanging in the air, the pastor again looked out his window. Could this businessman really turn this town around? Having a church bell again after all these years would be a historic moment in the life of the congregation. And if building repairs could be made without having to launch a protracted fundraising campaign, he could spend more time on what really matters – pastoring. He neatly folded all these thoughts into the back of his mind.
Glancing down at his neglected sermon notes he sat down as the late afternoon light threw shadows around him. He turned on his desk lamp just as the phone beeped. It was the secretary at the front desk. There was a phone call for him. It was the businessman.
“Ah! Pastor! So glad I caught you! Look, my daughter is getting married next Spring out at our farm. It’s going to be a beautiful wedding with lots of guests I am sure you would want to meet. I’m trying to convince the young lovebirds to move to the area and help me with my real estate business. Anyway, I was wondering if you would be willing to do the wedding ceremony? You would?? That’s fantastic! I have a feeling we’re going to make a great team!”
The pastor hung up the phone and sat, dazed. How quickly his fortunes had changed. He turned back to his sermon preparation as the light of dusk settled over the town. As the pastor worked in his office, hammering out words in the silence of the empty church building, most of the town residents ended the day around dinner tables with family – talking of the upcoming election for mayor and other news of the day. Rumors were flying that the hotel was soon for sale and that the businessman was going to buy it, and it would be the beginning of revitalizing tourism in the town.
The faint sound of a clear bell was ringing in the pastor’s tired but churning mind as he locked the church door and made his way home in the quickly fading light as day turned to night.