A HIGH CARD ENTERS THE GAME
The tolling of the church bell woke her with a start. Her memories of the night before came back in a flood, leaving her in confusion and sorrow about how to handle her relationship with Jeremy.
With a jolt of electricity she realized that she would have to appear in church, and then run an activity at the outdoor gathering. ‘I’m already late!’ she thought. ‘I’ll look terrible! Everyone will stare at me.’
She dashed through her morning routine in panic, and quickly walked across the churchyard. Tables were already lined up under the maple trees. The side door of the church was propped open. She entered timidly, wishing she were invisible. The pews were packed, no empty space to be seen. A ripple of movement spread through the crowd as Abby walked up the aisle all the way to the back. The feeling of eyes staring made her flush with embarrassment. Finally she found standing room behind the last pew.
‘Who’s that sitting next to Reverend Tuck?’ she wondered. At that moment Tuck stepped to the podium and announced that the church had the honor of receiving Richard Becket, Bishop of the River Valley Region, at today’s worship service.
Abby was entranced by the bishop’s costume. He wore a sparkling white gown with a red embroidered vest and a high pointed white hat. He held a tall staff made of thick, gleaming brown wood. There were small leaves carved in the spiral top. She was captivated by the resemblance of the staff to the mapstick. The bishop was middle aged, tall and clean-shaven. His dark skin stood out in contrast to the white gown and hat. He seemed very solemn, quiet, and confident. Finally the time for the sermon arrived, and he came to the podium to speak.
‘Here he is!’ thought Abby.
In a calm, even tone – with a faint accent, possibly Jamaican – the bishop expressed his happiness in being called upon to visit the Middletown United Church, one of the best-attended churches in the entire Half Moon Valley. He appreciated the commitment and vitality of the congregation, and its willingness to take on the most pressing issues of the day. But gradually his tone and subject matter changed. He began to comment on the terrifying problems in today’s world, the endless brutal conflicts and civil wars destroying whole cultures and nations. “Christianity,” he said, “is not owned by any cult, tribe, culture, nation, or political party. It makes no person or group automatically superior or inferior to others. And it is available to any person on earth.’ He added that no religion or denomination has a monopoly on absolute truth. "God is not owned by anyone, but is mysteriously in and for all of us."
Heads began turning, and whispering fluttered across the church like leaves in the breeze. People knew something was coming, and were getting anxious. Abby was thrilled, and listened eagerly to every word. As expected, the bishop brought the sermon back to the town and the situation of this particular church. He admitted that he had followed recent controversies in the media with concern. He did not want to see the town break into rival camps, and would not tolerate the church being used to attack any group, or to express hatred of any kind. And he was also aware that the congregation had not elected a new trustee for twelve years, and therefore needed guidance.
For these reasons the bishop had decided to oversee the process of electing a new trustee. He was glad to hear that two worthy candidates had offered their time for this important responsibility.
The bishop paused and surveyed his audience, looking people in the eye. “I expect,” he said, “a friendly and positive reception for both candidates. No slander, street corner campaigning, or scapegoating will be permitted. People already know each other, and the two coming church events will be more than enough time for those who wish to engage a candidate in friendly conversation.”
He paused again. His tone became firm and forceful. Noise rippled over the audience. “I have decided,” he said, “to attend both this afternoon’s gathering, the festival next Saturday, and the election itself next Sunday. My letter outlining the rules of the election will be handed out at both exits today. Let us all move forward with faith and love…. And now let me turn this service back to Reverend Tuck.”
‘We have hope with this man,’ said a voice inside Abby’s mind.