“Today’s Scripture reading,” said Pastor Mandeville, “says that ‘the end of all things is at hand.’ People back then thought they were living in the end times, but we know we are. We know because we can discern it from the Bible, which is God’s inerrant Word.”
The congregation murmured approval. Some sat with their hands folded in their laps, while others took notes. If they had any reaction to Pastor Mandeville’s preaching other than passive acceptance, their faces did not betray it.
“And that’s what the life and ministry of this church have been leading up to since this denomination was founded,” continued the Pastor. “Now, I see some new faces in the congregation today, so let me say for their benefit what the church members already know, so please bear with me. The Holy Spirit called certain men to found the United Church of the Saints in 1934 to restore the church originally founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ in the year 33 A.D. and to prepare for His second coming.”
If anyone wondered what had happened between the years 33 and 1934, no one let on.
Among the congregation was the Overton family, pillars of the church and of their working-class community in suburban Kingsbridge Township. The Overtons were at first glance the picture-perfect evangelical Christian family. The head of the family was Saul Overton, who had done well selling cars and ended up owning one of the metropolitan area’s largest car dealerships, on Route 1 in Elrod Township; the people of the church knew that the Lord had blessed him financially to reward him for his faith. He had decided to keep the family in Kingsbridge rather than move to one of the more expensive suburbs west of the city because he preferred the traditional family atmosphere of Kingsbridge.
The Overtons’ second son, Sam, was in attendance, although he had not attended regularly since going away to college and then moving from Kingsbridge into the city. The first son, Nathan, was not in attendance and was no longer welcome since having been disfellowshipped. He had asked enough difficult questions during Sunday school that he was eventually determined to have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. He was also living in sin with his girlfriend, Tracy.
That week, Sam had brought his, um, “friend,” Ernie Butler, of whom no one was sure what to make, and of whom no one was quite sure what to say, at least to the face of anyone in one of the church’s most important families. Besides, neither Sam nor Ernie seemed like, well, you know, those people, at least as the media had portrayed them to be. For one thing, Ernie was a police officer, and what could be more respectable and upstanding than that? Rumor had it that they were having difficulty in their relationship, although no one felt like asking Sam or anyone else who would know for sure; besides, who wanted the details? Ernie had also grown up in a churchgoing environment, although Catholic rather than evangelical Protestant, and he had learned to avoid all but the most superficial discussions of theology, so he knew how to make small talk with the people in the congregation with few missteps. Some of the church members were cordial to him, while others were polite but cool, and still others avoided him. At least Nathan was living in sin in a heterosexual way. The churchgoers would certainly not have known what to make of the circumstances under which Sam and Ernie had first met.