Printed from https://shop.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2318242-The-Exorcism-of-First-Baptist
Rated: ASR · Short Story · Satire · #2318242
A satire of a pastor's attempt to save his church from Satan, sound equipment, and women.
         Spit spewed from his mouth like a fountain. The water of life and all of its truth poured forth from behind the pulpit like a torrent so strong that no dam could hold it. His voice shook the stained glass effigy of Jesus at the back of the small sanctuary. Like an earthquake even Jesus himself was surprised by.
         Mrs. Patterson, bless her heart, could hardly tell if the preacher would cry, laugh, faint, or become possessed by the Holy Spirit. She barely noticed the lines of empty pews behind her until Mr. Ryan quietly yelled from 7 rows back, “Father's really going at it today.”
         Mrs. Patterson blushed but made no indication other than a nod that she agreed and then she resumed her stoic transfixed gaze on the pastor. The only respite for her ears came in the few milliseconds it took for Father Henry to reload his lungs with air and force his throat to take a seldom but much belabored swallow of spit.
         “The meek shall inherit the earth!” He cried. With his large hands and plump fingers pointed skyward like a man warning of a freight train about to crash through the ceiling. He breathed in deeply and put almost all of the weight of his heavy frame on the pulpit. Small fuzzy swirls danced in his eyes and he paused for just a moment, a slight tingle in his thumb.
         He looked up to the back of the sanctuary. Eleven o’clock. He’d been at it for an hour and a half. If he went much longer he wouldn’t beat the lunch rush at Frany’s Diner.
         He abruptly broke into a prayer and Mr Ryan used the time to motion for the Parker boys to get in their places for offering. As the organ played the tune of Amazing Grace and the Parker boys, aged 10 and 12, zigzagged through the dozen or so pews of the mostly empty sanctuary, a cough rang out and all eyes momentarily darted towards its source somewhere in the back row. The organ player lost track of her place on the music sheet and began to search for the correct note with her fingers, but by the time she found it, the tempo had changed into something more appropriate for an alternative rock station than the dignified confines of a sweet country church.
         The pastor stood up quickly, and with his loud booming voice, and a wave of his hand he quitted the demonic organ music and caused the two Parker boys to skip the aisles where they knew no one was going to tithe.
         The pastor blessed the congregation in his normal fashion, but added a few new lines to allow time for the ushers to make their final rounds. When he got to the final prayer he lifted his hands to heaven at roughly the same time that another cough billowed its way through the church. Everyone looked up, even the deacons opened their eyes in the middle of the prayer to see the originator of the cough. But it seemed that no one could identify the assailant.

         After the ceremonial hand shaking as the congregants swiftly left to make sure they had time to still make the lunch special at the diner, the pastor pulled Mr. Ryan into his office, “Did you hear that cough Mr. Ryan?” Father Henry blurted out, even before the door closed.
         “Sure did pastor, and it sure was mighty distracting. And in the middle of worship no less, not to mention prayer.”
         “Do you know who coughed Mr. Ryan?”
         “No idea, I asked around after service but naturally no one would fess up to it.”
         The pastor let out a loud belabored huff of wind, “I see. I don't want to be alarmist” He said with a great deal of alarm, “but I think it was the devil. Whether it was the devil working through a poor soul in our congregation or if the disembodied sound was from Satan himself I am not sure, but the Bible says that God is a God of order and not a God of disorder. That cough caused disorder, which means that I have no doubt that there was evil in it.”
         Mr Ryan nodded his head in solemn agreement, “I agree, pastor. Maybe if he'd coughed before worship or after the prayer I would be inclined to disagree with you, be his sneeze made old Mrs. Snellers skip a whole line of Amazing Grace. If that ain't a disorder I don't know what is.”
         Father Henry dropped himself into his office chair across from Ryan. Noticing for the first time the immense amount of sweat that had soaked through his undershirt, “We need to pray. No doubt Satan is here because my sermon must have stirred the hearts of those in the congregation. I've seen this type of thing before. First Satan uses a cough, then a sneeze, then a crying child, then he starts to possess the sound equipment. In my last church I saw Satan inflict a child with hiccups so severe that you would have thought she was a child of Satan himself. The entire sermon was ruined and I could physically feel the Holy Spirit leave the room.”
         Ryan craned his neck, “What should we do about it, pastor?”
         “We have to be on our guard. And we must do a lot of praying.”

         The next Sunday the pastor tugged nervously on his tie as the choir sang a four part harmony of a Mighty Fortress is Our God. Or at least that's what Mr. Ryan assumed they were singing because Mrs. Marcy's voice seemed to grab all other voices out of the air and wrestle them to the ground in the same way that a cat fights in a dark alley. When the last drone note of the organ played the pastor took his assigned spot behind the pulpit. His billowing voice welcomed the congregants, and announced that Mrs. Gergory's 78th birthday would be coming up next next week and that Mr. And Mrs. Falls would be having their 51st wedding anniversary later this month. And to make sure that anyone using the bathroom should know that you have to jiggle the handle a little.
As the sermon on the virtues of marriage started, he saw Mr. Ryan pointed discreetly to the speaker on stage. The pastor reached into his back pocket for the transmitter for his wireless mic as he continued to speak. The batteries were dead.
         “I'm sorry,” he explained, “it appears as though the man who is in charge of making sure I have charged batteries in my mic has made a mistake.”
         Mr. Ryan quickly ran into the back room and collected two new batteries and brought them to the pastor. The Pastor clumsily installed them but a shrill screech, much like Mrs. Marcy's singing, cut through the congregation. The blood rose to the pastor's face as the whole church reeled in their pews.
         “Christians!” The pastor yelled as he turned off the mic, “the devil is in our midst. He does not want you to hear what I have to say. He has possessed this microphone in an attempt to keep your ears from hearing the truth of God's Word. But we do not need to fear, for God will always provide a way out. We must pray that God will send Satan away. Come let us pray!”
         The pastor ordered that the congregants link hands and about a minute passed to give the families time to shuffle together close enough so they could traverse the multiple rows to get to the next family. The pastor then ordered that they lift their hands to heaven and then he pleaded with God,
         “God, you know that what I have to say will change lives. That it is through my words that this church can be changed and these poor wretched people may come to know you as I know you. I know that the devil is here to corrupt my message and to distract people from listening to me. God I pray that you would cast the Devil from this microphone and send him into the abyss where he belongs. You say that there is nothing greater than the feet of those who share the gospel, and I know that my feet are the sweetest feet since the apostle Paul. I know I have the ability to change these hearts. Lord, all you have to do is cast this demon from my presence. Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus. Amen.”
         As he opened his eyes and the congregants found their way back to their seats he let out a long sigh and repeated silently to himself, “Amen Jesus. Amen.”
         He picked up the mic in much the same way that he took the communion cup from the altar. He studied it, almost as if he expected it to be lighter or to have physically changed. He ceremonially flipped the switch and spoke into the mic. No blood curtailing squeal. He triumphantly smiled and raised the transmitter in the air, “My prayer has made Satan flee. Satan has fled. Hallelujah!”
         No sooner had the cloud of Satan left then the illumination of the Holy Spirit returned. The Pastor announced to the church that he would be deviating from his prepared sermon and instead would preach on the condemnation of the devil, his angels, and all those who follow him. And all at once, the undoubted passion of the pastor returned with a renewed vigor. But just as he approached the spit-flown narrative of the final destruction of Satan as laid out in Revelation, a cell phone pierced through the Holy Spirit's illumination and immediately caused every heart to become callous to its workings.
         At first the pastor tried to ignore it, but upon the second ring it appeared as though not a single person other than Mrs. Patterson was interested in the final destruction of evil. By now the whole church had ascertained that the phone must be coming from the young lady in the back row who rooted nervously through her bag. The pastor glared at the women. Had God allowed Satan to return so soon after he had been expelled? Clearly this was the work of the devil.
         The lady finally found her phone, but instead of acting with dignity and quickly shutting it off, she excused herself from the feeding of the word of God and exited the sanctuary through the back door. The pastor attempted to finish the sermon, but his mind, like the mind of the congregants, pondered more about the indecency of the young women than about the destruction of evil.

         When the service ended the pastor skipped the traditional hand shaking and immediately pulled Mr. Ryan aside, “The Devil's back. And he's back with a vengeance. Why weren't my batteries changed?”
         “I don't know, usually Dale does all that stuff, but he wasn't here today.”
         “What!” the pastor snapped, “Our sound guy skipped church?”
         “I suppose”
         The pastor huffed, “This is the devil's handy work if I ever saw it. If my prayer didn't chase Satan away it can only mean one thing.”
         “What's that?”
         “There must be sin in the camp. We need to find out who has brought this curse upon us and then punish the sinner. It's the only way to chase the devil away.”
         Ryan nervously stuttered “W…W…Well how do we do that?”
         “We do what God told Joshua to do. Next Sunday we will confront the church and tell them that there is hidden sin in the church and that the one responsible must come forward.”
         “And what if he doesn't come forward?” Ryan asked, a bit confused.
         The pastor closed his eyes and attempted to regain his composure, “God will reveal to us who is in sin.”

         Although only Mr. Ryan and the pastor knew the plans to oust the sinner from the church's midst, somehow the news ran through the small town like wildfire. By the time of next Sunday's service all the rumors had matured by a week. Everyone in town, even if they had no previous connection to the church, was in eager anticipation to see the mighty power of God reveal the culprit of what was now being called “The Exorcism of First Baptist”. By the time the shrill of the choir had died down and the pastor took his place, the church teemed with townsfolk that had never previously contemplated the idea of attending a service. Even Peter Pestroli, the town gambler, found a seat near the back. Although many thought he was only there because he had money riding on which parishioner would be exercised. The pastor began his speech and the audience went deadly quiet. After an hour of meticulous sermon on the godliness of being orderly and free of worldly distraction, including cell phone calls, crying babies, skipping church, sneezes and hiccups he finally laid out the true issue at hand in no uncertain terms,
         “There is sin in our camp.” He screamed. Attempting to point in a way that would make everyone there think he was pointing at them. “We can not expel the devil until we have unearthed this secret sin and punish the one who is responsible.” His finger began to wag wildly at the audience in rhythm with the specks of spit that arched down onto the front row, “I ask you but once. If you are the man, then stand now and confess your sin.”
         The audience held their breath as their heads swiveled from one side to the other trying their best to appear guiltless but not overly pious. Some wives stared uncomfortably at their husbands. Some husbands stared uncomfortably at other men's wives, but no one said a word.
         “Fine.” The pastor broke the uncanny silence, “If you won't come forward, then God will have to show us who is in hidden sin.”
         The pastor pulled out the latest version of the church directory and scanned his finger down the page. It couldn't be Mrs. Asa, she died last year, but the Barlow family… his daughter got pregnant at 17, maybe his family harbored the secret sin?
         “Mr Barlow!” The Pastor called, “Will you and your family please come to the front.”
         As the Barlow's sheepishly scooted past the others in their row, indistinct whispers floated through the air, “I wonder if it's about their daughter?”, “I knew it”, “I never...”
         The pastor had assumed that he would be given divine revelation as to the culprit of whatever vile act had been committed, but as the Barlow's approached he received no such illumination. Luckily, he did not have to speak. The guilty conscience of the Barlow's was enough to loosen their tongue.
         “Pastor, I know that Sarah got pregnant a few years back and we as parents take full responsibility for raising our child incorrectly, but we are not hiding anything from the church.”
         Just then Barlow's daughter stood up with her baby in her arms and yelled across the church, “Leave them alone, you jerk. You've already ruined enough lives!”
         The whole audience gasped but was careful to keep the gasp quite in case they missed the next comment. The pastor's face turned as red as a tomato. He was just about to publicly rebuke her just as Paul had rebuked Peter, but then he noticed another young woman besides her. In fact it was the same young woman whose phone had rang during last week's service. The young woman touched the young mothers shoulder and tried to speak to her, but as her hand touched the mother, the baby erupted in blood curtailing tears.
It was not the poor Barlow's who were in secret sin, it was this woman. No doubt she had intentionally invited this young mother to the service in order to disrupt it. He paged through the directory until he found her picture. Of course! This young lady was the daughter of Dale, the sound equipment man. The pastor practically jumped for joy at his discovery,
         “Ms. Jessica” he called out, as the young lady attempted to escort the mother out of the church, “I know who is in secret sin, and it is none other than you and your father.”
         The crowd gasped. Even Mrs. Patterson expressed a quick look of indignation before quickly returning to her stoic spirituality. The pastor went on, determined to make his case, “Her father skipped church and has not been seen for weeks, and he didn't find anyone to replace himself on sound and because of that my microphone died last week.”
         The crows seemed unimpressed. Father Henry clenched his fist, “Also, young lady, your phone went off during last week's sermon, and not only that, but instead of turning it off, you left church and answered the phone.”
         This time small murmurs rang through the crowd. She couldn’t possibly deny those allegations.
         The pastor pointed his plump finger at the women and even descended the stage and made his way past the Barlows towards her. With each step his eyes borrowed deeper into hers, until he was only inches from Jessica's face.
         Jessica scowled and her face went slightly red.
         “Sin loves the darkness Ms. Jessica,” Father Henry yelled, the fuzzy swirls returning to his vision. “And now that the piercing light of          Jesus is upon you, I demand that you repent and turn from your evil ways!”
         The pastor's comments only made her face turn more sour and she spoke with stinging hiss that seemed to come from the serpent himself, “My father is sick and could be dying you moron. Maybe if you cared for your congregants instead of accusing them, you would know that!”
         The crowd gasped. Never in the history of First Baptist had any pastor been called a moron, not even 20 years ago when the search committee accidentally invited an amillennial Democrat to speak on Revelation.
         Father Henry's eyes bulged and his heart rate quickened, “How dare you insult a man of God!”
         But the young woman had not yet completed her mockery of Christianity, “Doesn't the Bible say...” she asked between gritted teeth, “to let him who is without sin cast the first stone?”
         This time Father Henry gasped. Not only was this woman hiding sin in the camp, and showing a complete lack of respect for the elders of her church, but now she, a woman, was attempting to exegete sacred scripture. This was no ordinary woman caught in sin, this was a Jezebel, the false prophet, the one that Revelation warns leads many men astray with her sexual promiscuity. Father Henry had no doubt that this was the woman who not only was harboring sin but was even possessed by the Devil himself. Why else would a woman attempt to interpret scripture?
         Father Henry stood silent for a second as he contemplated his next move. A loud pounding noise rang through his ears. As he faced the devil, he felt fear for only a moment before looking towards the stained glass Jesus at the back of the sanctuary, “It is clear Ms. Jessica that there is only one way to save you from the damnation of hell.”
Father Henry remembered the story of the man with a legion of Demons where Jesus cast them into the swine. He placed his hand on Jessica's forehead and looked to the sky, “In the name of Jesus!” He screamed with almost panic in his voice, “I command the many demons in this young girl to leave and… and...” Father Henry paused. Exorcisms were usually only done in Africa or South America where he was sure swine could be found anywhere, but what would he cast these demons into?
         Father fanatically looked around the room, his heart beat getting even faster, but could not find any unholy item to cast them into. Then he saw farmer Brown. Father screamed with all his might, “I command you to leave into farmer Brown's swine! In Jesus name!”
         Farmer Brown rose to his feet, already on edge by the proceedings, “No, father, no! Not the pigs!”
         “It has to be done, Mr. Brown!” Father cried as sweat poured down his brow, “What is more important, this woman's eternal soul or your pigs?”
         Farmer Brown protested, “Well her soul of course, but why my pigs, why not cast them into the raccoons that keep getting into the church garbage. Just not my Bertha father, not my Bertha!”
         Jessica violently smacked the pastor's hand away from her forehead and he stumbled backwards.
         The pastor to sway, “It's too late Mr. Brown, I already sealed the prayer in the name of Jesus.”
         But Jessica's unbiblical scowl still remained on her face and it was her turn to point her finger. “You are a terrible person! How dare you accuse me of being demon possessed! I'm already going through enough with my father dying! Or did you not hear me say that? You are a ffff….” she paused, “You're lucky we're in a church! I was just going to walk out of this church and never come back but I have had it with you. Now the whole town sees the type of person you are and I'm not going to leave, instead, I think you should leave!”
         Father Henry gasped. The fuzz in his eyes blurred his whole vision as he blindly grasped onto the edge of a pew, “How dare you!” he shouted. He looked around the sanctuary. It seemed like every face from the church and from town was bearing down on him, the exorcism had failed. He opened his parched mouth and addressed the congregation, “Do not be fooled by this Jezebel, clearly her type of demon can only be expelled through prayer and fasting!”
         The congregants checked their watches, it was only 15 minutes to lunch time, murmurs rumbled through the crowd. Jessica simply stood at the end of the rows of pews with her hands on her hips, eyes burning holes into Father Henry. The pastor slowly went back towards the altar at the front of the church, using the pews to support his weight as he gasped for breath, “Pray! My children! Pray!”, he pleaded as he saw the confused and bewildered looks on the faces of his fellow Christians. With sweat pouring off his face and dark stains under his armpits, he loosened his collar and leaned against the altar, almost sitting on it. He raised his hands to heaven and desperately cried, “Father! Expel the evil from this place! Strike it down and show no mercy. Vanquish thine enemy and shine your light into this dark place! Do not suffer this evil to continue!” With his hands still uplifted, he shrieked, and then his arms went limp and his body fell backward onto the altar.
         A few Christians from the Assembly of God church down the road thought that perhaps he had been slain by the Spirit. But, as Mr. Ryan, from the front row examined the pastor's limp dangling hand; he knew that Father Henry had indeed been slain, but one from which he would not recover.
         Ryan took the pastor's hand and felt for a pulse but could find none. He turned to the shocked horrified faces of the congregation and made his pronouncement, “He's dead.”
         Immediately hysteria gripped the entire church. Women fainted. Men lept up from their pews, leaving behind their own wives and children, screaming wildly, “Forgive me God! Please don't kill me! Have mercy!”
         Mrs. Patterson, the stoic baptist who had led the campaign to go through all 3 steps of church discipline to stop Mrs. Smith, from raising her hands during worship, stood on the top of her sacred pew with her arms outstretched and begged God for sweet mercy. Farmer Brown swore to God that he would donate Bertha to an orphanage if God would just choose to spare his life.
         For the next few hours everyone in the community either confessed a secret sin or rededicated their lives to God. There were 75 Baptisms the next day and Jessica's father received over 50,000 dollars in gifts and donations, and Peter the gambler won 2000 dollars for correctly guessing who had sinned in the camp.
         Over the years the story has turned into legend, but the old timers still love to tell it to any young man who seems to be going down the road of destruction. Of course, some argue that Father Henry had just worked himself into a tizzy and his already weak heart couldn't take the stress. But even the most vocal of unbelievers still call it ‘The Exorcism of First Baptist’.
© Copyright 2024 James Vogner (jamesvogner at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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