July 14
8:25 a.m.

I’m motivational speaking myself all the way to church.

“You can do it.”

In my mind I see Darlene’s scowl and try again.

“Smile and sunshine surrounds you.”

Not working. And that is absolutely stupid. Whoever says smile and sunshine surrounds you is an idiot.

“Don’t worry. They’re not in today.”

Pete is ecstactic. Well, in his Pete-ish way.

Woo-hoo!

“I’m sure Darlene said she’d see me today.”

“They were in very early. Said they had to drive to denominational headquarters. It could be Timbuktu for all I care.”

Pete really doesn’t care much about what people think about him. And doesn’t care much for too many others.

He does like Tav.

Tav to my mind is becoming like a magnet to steel. Or is that steel to a magnet.

Doesn’t matter. I’m going to enjoy my day.

Freedom!

________

12:45 p.m.

Don and Darlene have loaded up the work on me. I can’t even take a lunch break. Not going to tell Gwen, she’ll only worry some more.

And Walt comes to my rescue. He has just handed me a bag from In ‘n’ Out Burger when I got back from the post office.

“Walt! You are a life saver! Thanks so much! Wow! Hambuger, fries, and a chocolate milkshake! How did you know?”

I guess that’s why people love Walt. He’s so caring.

“I don’t like them.”

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out whom he was referring to. Happily munching, I just grunted. He could make of it what he did.

“If they’re any trouble, I can take care of them for you.”

“Thanks Walt. And thanks for the lunch. You are amazing.”

“Natalie!”

I spin around on my chair to face…

“In fact, I don’t think it’s professional for you to be eating at your desk, in fact.”

Darlene is back early from lunch. Does this (insert my favorite French word) have secret cameras on me and know what I’m doing?

“Hi Darleesh…”

“In fact, don’t talk with your mouth full…”

So she’s very intent on telling me off (I’ve never heard so many in facts), she ignores Walt, stomps out of my office, whipping out her cell phone from her handbag, and I’m sure she’s calling Don.

“I just wish they would disappear and never…”

“Don’t forget what I said. I’ll be happy to take care of your trouble.”

Oh yes. I had forgotten Walt was still in my office.

“Thanks.” I wave him bye with the half-eaten hamburger in my hand.

“What trouble is he talking about?” Yes, she’s back. That was quick.

“With Walt, who knows?” I respond. Better to leave some things unsaid.

_______________

July 15
9:30 a.m.

If I hadn’t dreaded staff meetings before, this one would definitely do the job. Charlie just called about the financials right before the meeting so I am already late for it. Church treasurers…bah humbug! I can only think of one nice one.

I’m rushing in to Mark’s office to take my usual meeting place. Bad surprise! Darlene is already occupying my chair by the door…knitting. Madame Thérèse Defarge, I’m thinking.

“Glad you decided to join us after all.” Don waves me into a folding chair someone has brought in.

“I’m sorry…Charlie just called…”

“Let us pray…”

One totally ignored and rebuked church secretary tries to take her place. The chair squeaks as I try to settle into it. Everyone looks at me. I mean every single one.

Wait. Who are all these people? I don’t recognize half of them.

Don prayed for what seemed like hours. This was an opening prayer? He rebuked, hedged, armored, and then rebuked some more. I’m beginning to feel like it’s all about me.

Again.

I felt like someone was staring at me so opened my eyes. Darlene. Maybe I could make a face. Nah. Too juvenile. I pretend not to be fazed by her—wasn’t she supposed to be closing her eyes in deep prayer?

And now Darlene’s praying. “In fact, may we all close our eyes and focus on Je-suuus, in fact, praise Je-suuus, come Lord Je-suuus…”

Yes, Lord. Just finish her off. I’m sorry…shouldn’t have said that, but I think she does deserve it, don’t you think?

“Amen.”

“Amen,” I echo sincerely because I seriously thought prayer time would never end. It felt like a Scripture quote-off contest.

“Five minute break. And don’t be back late. Last person in buys donuts tomorrow! Ha haaa!” Don being funny is just…like…just lame.

And awkward. SO awkward.

Anyway, I’m willing to be the last person back and will happily buy donuts all week long as long as I don’t have to go back in there.

Or if they leave.

______

10:35 a.m.

Pete has just stopped me. Someone has been helping themselves to drinks from the vending machine in the café area…they’re using his key.

Might be the youth. But how would they know where the key was? Need to check with Brad on that. This is bothering me because I’ve noticed some missing change. Can’t find my receipts for the petty cash.

Great.

______

10:55 a.m.

Couldn’t find any other reason to stay away from the meeting. I know Don was not happy that I was late, but Pete was really concerned.

And I was really bored. A fate worse than death for me.

“Now let’s start with introductions here. I’m Don and this is my beautiful wife Darlene…”

He paused as everyone looked in Darlene’s direction. Of course, I would have chosen another adjective that began with the same alphabet, but nobody asked me…and she is his wife.

“…and we’re very happy to be here, and I’m especially delighted to be your pastor. We really do believe God called us to lead this church.”

No, no, no.

This is wrong.

Very wrong. Doesn’t anyone else see it? This is not their church.

I looked around the room and Brad was bored and flicking through his iPhone—what a surprise. So there’s Brad…and me…and… Brad and I are the only “old” staff members at the meeting?

Whaaaat? Where did everybody go?

Okay, there’s Faith. But I don’t really consider her staff, just a Tav groupie. I’m watching fascinated as she nodded her head vigorously to let the waves in her hair, fresh from the salon, bounce around. But the others—who were these other people?

“We welcome the new summer interns Josh and Talia. Josh will be leading the high school youth, and Talia will be taking care of our junior highs.”

Murmurs of “Welcome aboard, Josh and Talia” and then further introductions.

“We’ve asked our sister Faith to join us. As you know, she’s a talented musician and she has very graciously agreed to direct the summer music program. You already know and love her.”

We do? Obviously someone here doesn’t know the whole story.

“And after meeting with my execs yesterday, they’ve very generously consented to let us have this group of mission volunteers fill in the personnel gaps for the summer.” Don’s doing this dramatic wave of his hand. I expect him to stand up and take a bow.

“In fact, God is going to bless them, in fact, for giving up their summer vacation for his work, in fact.”

I’m exhausted from mentally autocorrecting Darlene’s grammar. In fact.

“But what happened to the other summer interns that were hired by the church?” Brad’s not asking, so someone has to…me.

Several glares in my direction, except Brad who was still busy texting.

Loud sniff and mutter from Darlene.

“Pastor Don spoke to Charlie and Derek and told them that his denomination was very generously going to send us volunteers so we could save the church some money.”

Thank you Miss Kiss the Pastor’s…feet…Faith.

And so typical of Charlie and Derek. Anything to save a dime.

One church sold for thirty silver coins.

______

12:20 p.m.

My stomach was growling furiously after another extra half-hour of what the mission volunteers are going to do…I’m still trying to figure it out. They don’t seem to know what they’ll be doing either. And I was sitting quietly. There really wasn’t anything to say. So I gave Brad’s foot a kick to catch his attention and see what he thought about the situation.

I must have kicked too hard. My aim reached his shin instead. He yells out, drops his smart phone, adding some of his favorite cuss words (obviously not intended for this churchy group’s ears).

I guess the shocked silence and the stress of the meeting was too much for me. Brad’s expression was just too funny. I started to giggle, and pretty soon I couldn’t stop laughing.

“Natalie, you may leave the room if you can’t control yourself.” Don is not happy.

“In fact, you are too flippant…in fact.” This only makes me laugh more.

“I’m sorry, it’s just that…” I start to apologize, and resort to biting down on my tongue to stop from another fit of giggles.

“I think we need to pray for Natalie. The pastors have really spoiled her.” Thank you, Faith. Let me just smack that smirk off of your face…in Christian sisterly love.

“Natalie, you may leave. Brad, you will stay for a few minutes after the meeting.” Don is commanding us around. Brad throws himself back on the sofa with a very loud moan.

“Let’s get back to the business of God and focus our minds on his glory and work.” Don’s back in control of the meeting. “I have my preaching schedule here and Faith has the music to go with it.”

So I’m on my way out…

“Actually…”

“What? I thought I told you to leave.” Did I mention that Don is not happy before? Not he definitely looks like he’s going to explode.

I’m not really wanting to stir anything here, but there was no one else, “Actually, we follow the Lectionary, and the music has already picked out for the summer. We have different visiting musicians as well as members of the church who contribute to our summer music program.”

Deep, long silence.

“Well, we’ll just have to see about that. I’ve been listening to Mark’s sermons and there are some wrong teachings that need to be corrected here.”

“But Mark’s theology is affirmed by his elder board,” I’m saying. “They haven’t found anything wrong with his preaching.”

“Natalie, do you have a degree or anything in theology?”

“No, but…”

Faith cut in, “Pastor Don, Natalie is just the secretary, please don’t let her interrupt you. She thinks she knows the Bible because she’s a pastor’s kid.”

“Thanks, Faith,” Don smiles at her as Faith does her fake humble-me pose. “I just wanted to add that my dear wife Darlene has her Masters in Spiritual Studies, and I have my Masters in Bible. I think we both know what we’re talking about.”

Now that stubborn part of me kicked in.

“Maybe.” Did I really tell him that they maybe had their degrees? Might as well sink or swim. “But, as you pointed out, this is not your denominational church so maybe you should check with Allan before you change anything. Let me see…”

“In fact, Natalie, you are excused.” Darlene is up from her chair and virtually throws me out of the office.

________

12:45 p.m.

Sink or swim? Or float?

I quickly dial Allan’s number. Please be there.

“Allan? Hi! This is Natalie. Sorry to bother you but I have a quick question.” Without waiting for him to respond, I ask, “Do we have to follow the Lectionary?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Because Don says…”

“Let me speak to him.”

Stationary five second jog.

I head back to the office. Shock registers on some faces. I had just opened the door and walked right in, praying my knees wouldn’t give way as I handed my precious telephone to Don.

“Elder Allan would like to speak to you.”

“Allan! Good to hear your voice, brother… Yes… Uh-huh… Hmmm… (forced laugh) Okay… You’re the boss…(ha haaa)… Bye Brother… Bless you.”

Red faced, with a trembling hand and not a word, I’m sure he’d have flung my cell phone back to me…

“Well, let’s say this meeting is over. Brad, I’ll talk to you later. Natalie, you may return to your duties. The rest stay of you, please remain here with Darlene and me…and pray.”

“Someone has to put Natalie in her place. I think the pastors are too kind to her. She…”

Faith was carrying on a conversation with Darlene about me. No amount of Jesuses added to that conversation could baptize it into anything else than just plan old-fashioned gossip…and slander. I didn’t hear more as Don walked Brad and me to the door and shut it behind us…with a loud bang.

The sound made me jump. Brad shrugged.

My stomach is in knots. I’m sensing a lot of tension. I dislike drama. I might have won the battle, but the war has just begun.

The slammed door sure sounded like the first shot had been fired.

Where are Mark, Kate…and Tav?

____

5:00 p.m.

I’m getting ready to leave and Darlene walks into my office. I haven’t seen her since the meeting earlier. I think we all sort of mutually consented not to see each other for the rest of the day.

But here she is. I’m hoping she doesn’t want me to do any extra work.

“Natalie, I’m going over to the nursery school. If anyone needs me, I’ll be there. Also, there might be some phone calls…”

“Is Pastor Don going with you?”

“No. That’s not his area of calling. You’ll never find him near a nursery school.”

“I thought it was part of his job description to visit the school too.”

“’Calling,’ Natalie, in fact. In fact, this is not a job for him, in fact. He does what he is called to do, in fact.”

Ooooh. I am spiritually rebuked.

Another day of work.

Done.