by John B. Jamison
As the congregation sang the last verse of the closing hymn, he made his way to the back of the sanctuary. When he first came to the church, someone had told him that this was where the preacher always stood to shake everyone’s hands, so he dutifully took up the tradition and found his mark.
Every week it worked out about the same. Half of the worshipers filed past him, shaking his hand and muttering a “Good sermon Reverend”, or “That was an interesting talk”, while the rest of the crowd went out the other door without casting their vote on the word of the day. It was the same each week.
This week the voting was quite positive, with “Good sermon” outnumbering the “Interesting talk” by a wide margin. Next in line was a little old lady. The pastor smiled and reached out his hand to shake hers. She leaned over and bowed her head towards him, and took hold of his outstretched hand. And she bit it.
He was in mid-sentence with the next person in line when he let out a yelp and jerked his wounded hand away. He looked at his hand, and to his surprise saw blood. She had taken a bite out of it. By the time he looked back up, she was gone out the door. He wrapped his hand in his handkerchief and finished shaking with the rest of the crowd using his other hand. But his handshake was no longer as firm and confident as it had been. The old lady had taken something out of it.
By Tuesday evening his hand had begun to heal. As he made his way around the tables at the church school meeting, he shook almost as firmly as before Sunday’s incident. He sat down next to the church school superintendent and the meeting got underway. The pastor and superintendent had been at odds over several issues concerning Sunday School, and he hoped that by sitting next to him they might be able to work together a bit more.
Near the end of the meeting, a difference of opinion arose. The Sunday School picnic was being planned, and the pastor thought it would be the perfect opportunity to attract new people to Sunday School and church. The superintendent felt that the picnic was a chance for the regular attenders to enjoy each other’s company and that a bunch of new faces would just complicate things. As he made his point about opening the church up to new members, the pastor stretched out his arms like doors opening to the community. The superintendent bit him. Bit him right on the arm stretched out in front of him. The pastor pulled back in surprise and was even more surprised to see the blood on his shirt-sleeve. For the rest of the meeting, the pastor kept his arms folded in front of himself, and there were no more dramatic attempts to open any doors.
On the way home, the pastor stopped by the hospital to get a tetanus shot and decided to call on a couple of church members who were patients. While visiting one member, he struck up a conversation with the woman in the next bed. She was facing surgery the next morning and, having no church of her own, asked if the pastor would say a prayer for her. As the pastor bowed his head, the church member slipped unnoticed from her bed and crept up behind him. And she bit him. Took a chunk right out of the pastor’s leg. He held his breath as he tried to finish the prayer, and then limped from the room and drove home. One there, the pastor and his family did their best to tend his wounds, but it was only a matter of time.
Over the next few weeks, more church members bit their pastor. Nibble by nibble, they tore pieces from him. His handshake became weaker, on those few occasions he even offered it. His enthusiasm became less enthusiastic, and he didn’t pay as much attention to new folks out of fear of turning his back on the old ones. Finally, at the end of the month, he was so chewed-up that he left.
The pastoral search committee got together, and after deciding that the old pastor hadn’t tasted all that good anyway, settled on a new one and invited them to the church.
On their first Sunday in the pulpit, the new pastor was met during the closing hymn and shown where to stand to shake everyone’s hand.