Albert Smitts held up his chin and smirked. He loved it when the people of his ministry looked up at him as he stood on his elevated pulpit. Albert could quote chapter and verse from the Bible and often did, after all, he was a minister. He’d been duly ordained by his father, the Right Reverend Paul David Smitts on his eighteenth birthday, a proud moment for the boy. Only his father could have ordained him because the church and ministry were the results of his father’s own efforts and no part of any recognized or registered church. When Paul Smitts was twenty eight he bought an army surplus six post medical tent, a heavy canvas structure that when erected was 30 feet wide and 40 feet long. With red paint, he lengthened the bottom of the red cross painted in a white square on the roof of the tent so that it looked more religious than the medical symbol it began as. Setting the tent up on the outskirts of a small Oklahoma town and spreading leaflets he had mimeographed by a friend who worked the office of an elementary school, Paul ordained himself and began to hold revival meetings.
The Reverend Paul Smitts had a great talent for oratory and people were soon flocking to hear him preach the gospel with drama and verve, happily placing their hard earned coins and dollar bills into his collection plates. He preached on and on, sharing his dream to build a large and beautiful church on the very spot his tent was pitched, sayong that all he needed was the money to satisfy the greedy claws of the property owner and the owners of the lumber yards from which he would get his materials. He preached and he preached and people came and listened and contributed to one of the two meetings a day he held to standing room only crowds. Then one day the tent was gone, along with Mary Lou Marshall, the wife of the local county sheriff.
Unbeknownst to the angry people in Oklahoma, the Reverend Smitts relocated to southern Georgia where he rented an old one room school house, had a steeple erected on it with a white cross illuminated at night, and went back to work building a new ministry as well as a family. From those humble beginnings, the Reverend Smitts built a ministry of nearly 40,000 people if you included both the local church attendees and the contributors to his television preaching. A ministry that put love and faith into the hearts of God’s children and nearly a million dollars annually into church coffers. Which coffers were equivilent to the pockets of one Reverend Paul Smitts. As his son Albert started his teen years he also began to assist his father in church duties. When his father ordained him on his eighteenth birthday, it was so that Albert, now the Reverend Albert, could build yet another ministry and ostensibly double the monetary intake of Reverend senior.
It had been going tremendously well, and now, looking down at the member of his ministry, Albert Smitts was feeling proud of himself. Proud of his father. And, just a bit smug. He gave the benediction and watched his flock move herd-like to the door. Reverend Smitts moved the the pulpit and down to the door where he shook hands with people as they filed out of the church. He stood at the door and watched until the last car was on the road and heading away before he stepped inside, closed the doors and made his way to the plus rectory that was his home. He looked at his watch and saw that it was a little after eight o’clock on a summer night, and so he picked up a bottle of Maker’s Mark from the bar that stood next to his 52 inch wall mounted plasma television, grabbed a glass, and went to sit on the back porch and watch the sun go down. Ninety minutes later it was dark and Albert had consumed no fewer than six two-finger pours of Maker’s Mark and was feeling well past buzzed. He heaved himself out of the chair and had to steady himself by grabbing a roof post. Picking up the bottle, he wove his way inside, put the bottle on the bar, and went out to lock up the main doors of the church.
As he walked down the center isle he realized there was a man sitting in one of the rows of benches. “I’m sorry, but the church is closed. I was just about to lock up.” said Reverend Smitts. He stood at the row and held a gesture directing the man to the church door. The man didn’t move. Instead he spoke, quietly.
“Our father is disappointed.” he said. He spoke so quietly that the Reverend could barely hear him.
“Do I know you?” asked Smitts.
“We have not met.”
“But you’re here from my father?”
Albert Smitts thought for a minute, having some difficulty doing so through the haze of single malt. For some reason it didn’t startle him that he was finding out he had a brother, it startled him that his father was disappointed in him. Why? Didn’t he always send eighty percent of his collections every week? Weren’t the collections steadily climbing? What had he done to disappoint his father? “What’s your name?” asked Smitts.
“What is important is that you have disappointed our father.” said the man, still speaking quietly.
“What? How have I disappointed him? What’d I do wrong?” Smitts whined.
“You are a hipocrite. A panderer to money. A promoter of a false God.” The man said it matter of fact, with no apparent malice but it still inflamed Alobert Smitts.
“You call me a hipocrite?” sputtered Smitts. “I’ll have you know I can quote the Bible, any part, any line. Name it and I’ll do it. I’m am annointed by God to bring his message to my flock. I am a good and Christian man with my own church and you call me a hipocrite? How dare you!”
“I make no judgement. I merely pass the message of our father.” said the man quietly. “But God did not annoint you, a man did. This is not your flock, it is your fathers flock. It is your church though. That you have memorized the Bible is no indication of your love of God. What demonstrates that is that you follow the ten commandments and use your free will to make choices that advance love, understanding, tolerance, acceptance, patience and peace. Our father is not interested in the money you collect or the size of your church. Our father is interested only that you walk the path of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
“Our father is too most interested in money. That’s why I send it to him every week.”
“That is your father, not our father.” said the man.
“What? Riddles?” Reverend Albert Smitts stomped to the church doors and threw them open. “Get out of here!” he snarled. But when he looked, the man was simply gone. Smitts blinked and walked back to where the man had been sitting, looking to see if perhaps he’d ducked down out of sight. He checked each of the rows but the man was gone. Alarmed, Smitts wondered if the man had gone into the rectory. Lord only knows what he might damage or steal from there! Albert raced through the door and searched all over, but there was no trace at all. Confused, he went back through the church and closed and locked the doors. As he walked back towards the door to the recotry, the quiet voice spoke again.
“Our father is disappointed in you.”
Reverend Smitts again searched the church and recotry but the man simply wasn’t there. Perplexed, he returned to the rectory and his bottle of Maker’s Mark.