Not too long ago, I was volunteering at a church-affiliated social service organization in my home town of Oregon City when I was overcome by the memory of one of my last Sunday mornings spent inside a church, some 40 years ago. I had stopped going years before this particular morning, and no longer remember why I went. Wait! Now I do. I was taking my grandmother to church because my mother was away on a trip. The incident that triggered the memory so arrested me at the time that I wrote a little piece in my journal about it and then typed it up 25 years later. I never finished it…until now…just in time for football season.
(Started in 1982)
“…as we stand and sing…”
Reverend Jim Bland had just finished his usually unceremonious sermon. He descended from the pulpit and stood directly in front of the communion table awaiting some poor soul to repent. Bland, looking somewhat tired, seemed almost distraught. His lesson on the evils of greed had run overtime and he was hoping, as all the other men, that nobody would come forward today; the N.F.C. championship game was starting in 15 minutes. The song of encouragement dragged into the third verse and its inspiration was wilting in the voices of the 200 that sang it.
Bland’s face suddenly stiffened with attention. Within seconds, he would have to administer sound religious advice without any proportion or previous knowledge. I turned around and saw what triggered the rigidity in Bland’s face. A wormy, black-haired, middle-aged man ambled up the aisle with everybody’s probing eyes searching for clues. He was attired horribly in a checked polyester leisure suit that was no doubt sacrilege in two Almighty’s eyes. The song ceased rather abruptly and the song-leader whispered boringly into the mike, “Please be seated.”
Bland sat the man down in the first pew and conversed with for what seemed like an eternity. Dammit, the kickoff was only a few minutes away! I prayed the man would be brief with the explanation of the crisis. If he was to be baptized, the pre-game would certainly be lost and maybe the entire first quarter.
Finally Bland broke away and climbed the steps to the pulpit. He nearly tripped on the plastic foliage surrounding the elevated platform, but he managed to get there intact. “Friends,” Bland droned, “today Ed Wilson has come forward with a special problem. He would like to say a few words. Ed.”
Bland disappeared quickly from the podium and collapsed into the first pew. Ed started up the stairs bypassing the mic located at the communion stand which was usually used for people addressing the congregation. Obviously Ed was really hurting since he ignored this custom. His trembling hands seized the mic violently. Wilson wanted everyone to know that he was in command. After 30 seconds of restless silence, Ed spoke. His voice had an Irish quality about it. The tone was nervous yet deathly serious. C’mon you broken down man. Spill your guts, repent and get the hell out of there—the Cowboys were battling San Francisco.
“Everybody. I have sinned…”
(Completed in 2021)
I must jump forward in time almost 40 years to complete this story of Ed’s repentance and the cause of me missing part of one of the greatest games in NFL playoff history. As I recall, it went on forever and he apologized over and over to his wife Myrna, who was sitting in one of the pews behind me. I sorely wanted to turn around and look at her, but did not. How could I when Ed was putting on a show up there! I got the feeling that Reverend Bland, and that was his real last name, was desperate for it to be over. I think he actually went up to Ed at one point and whispered something in his ear, like, “Wind it up! I don’t want to miss the damn game!”
Ed never specified the reason for his spectacle of public repentance, but this being a Christian church with a somewhat evangelical bent, we all knew the reason. At least if I was going to miss the first half, Ed should have told the sordid story with a little sizzle to it.
He finally wound it down by calling Bland back up to the pulpit. Ed asked him to lead a special prayer of forgiveness and then Bland went on forever!
By the time we got out of there and taking my Grandmother to her Portland home, then driving back to Oregon City, it was well into the third quarter. I whipped up a TV dinner and went down to the basement to watch the game with my beagle Tex on a mammoth Zenith floor console.
As it turned out, my beloved Cowboys lost to the 49ers on the greatest catch in NFL history. At least I didn’t miss that!
I wonder if Ed’s repentance worked.
So that completes a vignette I started in the early years of the Reagan Presidency.