They Couldn't Hear the Preacher

His life spoke louder than his words.

ANNE B. RADFORD, Reprinted with permission from "Church Management

This proposition of being minister to three rural churches, . . . and toting a family of four here and there as a rural pastor's life demanded, was always rushing bus­iness. Edwin had stopped "briefly," he said, on his way past "Singing Pines," our house and ten acres, to leave with me, as pianist, the program for Rally Day at the church. I was always glad to have a chat with him or Mary when their children were not around. (Such a problem—their children!) And I anticipated a good talk now, but Ed was saying he must hurry on, so I offered a parting remark which, to the surprise of both of us, precipitated the best sermon I have ever heard from Ed. As it progressed, I sat on the piano bench in house­dress and wet rubber gloves listening. He talked about this story of Christ. How different it would look if we could shed the frills, furbe­lows, traditions, and symbolisms added by church denominations. . . . If we could drop all those, take the simple account of his words and actions, thus catching the practical message of a life of "doing good," how different our world would be! How much more progress we would make toward that kingdom for which he bade us to pray and work!

With an intensity of feeling, Ed was shouting so that old deaf "Mort" Jones could have heard him in the back pew of the church. But only I, Anne Radford, alone with him in our little living-room, heard it. How I wanted all the rest of the church to be there! For, dramatic though Ed's word-images always were, he was seldom so stirred as now, with a sermon springing full-grown at birth direct from his mouth.

Finally, he brought himself up short.

"Oh, Anne! Here I am, preaching again! And, of course, on my favorite topic! Well, anyhow, when I leave this charge, they'll say," curling his lips with disdain, he brushed his hands as though to remove the dust, "'Well!

That's that! There goes that fellow who would preach at the drop of a hint! And he could talk on only one subject: "Don't Talk Your Religion. Live It."' If they do say that of me, it will be the finest compliment they can pay me."

With his last words, he was opening the door and sliding out, shutting it without a good-bye. We both understood why: if he didn't shut the door promptly at the end of a good closing sentence, I'd say something that would start him on a new seonon, and finally he'd be late for class.

When he had closed the door, I sat looking at it. His last words were echoing: "When I leave here, people will say, 'Well, that's that!'"

And I thought at him as though my ideas would speed across the space he was rapidly put­ting between us: "Yes, Ed, they will. But, Ed, they won't make that remark about your one subject. They don't know what you've been preaching about. Your words from the pulpit have never penetrated their thick eardrums—eardrums thickened by the screams and screeches of your five-year-old daughter and the yips of that three-year-old son, when he is 'company' with you at someone's house."

Then I fell to thinking of times Ed's family and ours have parted after a few minutes or a few hours together, and that man of mine, who always insisted on decorous behaviour and quiet ways in company for our two, shakes his head. "How," he asks, "can intelligent adults let their kids get away with behaviour like that? How can Ed talk about Christian love, when he ignores the simple consideration for others in­volved in keeping his children from raising Cain among other people? It just makes you wonder about his theology and his applied religion."

Surely Sid has a point, but it isn't all in Ed's failure to curb his children. Some of it is in his failure to let them out, encourage them, hear them, laugh with them, and otherwise feel with them. I was remembering the day he left Nancy with me while he and Mary went shopping. Nancy is such a beautiful child with charmingly short brunette curls and such an eagerness to be doing!

When Ed and Mary had gone, we sat at the piano and sang nursery songs for fully a half-hour, then went to the laundry where she played with my children's outgrown toys, as I ironed. At noon, we fixed lunch together, and as it warmed, she set the table and put away food supplies. Her part in the preparations was deftly done; my praise of her results was most sincere, and her eyes glowed with hap­piness.

When we had finished eating Ed and Mary appeared with Johnny and the baby. At my suggestion, Nancy began on new sandwiches for her parents. Mary hung over her. "Not so much mayonnaise, Nancy! Oh, don't do that, Nancy! . . . Now, stop that!"

Nancy became rebellious. "I'm doing this! You keep out of it!"

When Ed and Mary were finally seated and grace was said, we became involved in a dis­cussion of what ails Women's Society in the Rathbon Church. Nancy came into the midst of it with the song book, wanting to sing to her father.

"Be quiet, Nancy! Go away!" was his only re­sponse, as he scowled at her. Then I asked him to listen to her, telling him how we had been enjoying these songs together this morn­ing. But his answer to me in both speech and glance were forbidding. "We were talking about Women's Society. I want to hear the rest of this."

My heart was bleeding for both Nancy and Ed. I wanted to say, "Oh, Ed! Enjoy her! What are the ups and downs of Women's Society compared to the building of a comradeship be­tween you and your daughter? Don't you know how to love a child—your child? Or is love just a mouthing of words from the pulpit?"

That was six months ago. And as these pic­tures faded from my mind, I realized it had been only fifteen minutes since Ed had closed the front door. For fifteen minutes I had been sitting on the piano bench gazing at that door while my dishwater cooled in the kitchen. So, with a sigh, I arose and went back to it, but as

I wiped the dishmop across the plates, my tears mingled with the suds.

"What you are as a father, Ed, speaks so loud we can't hear what you say as a minister," I caught myself saying aloud. But my words were wasted. The man to whom they were addressed was three miles away. He was about to talk in his public speaking class on "How to Get a Sermon Across."

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ANNE B. RADFORD, Reprinted with permission from "Church Management

April 1956

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