You never know what’s going to happen in church. I pastor a little bitty, bitty, I mean tiny church. I pray four times during the service, sometimes five because Aunt Hermona is the only one who is willing to pray out loud, and by the time she gets through blessing the missionaries and confessing her husband’s sins, most folk would just as soon she didn’t. Anyway…it was a cold morning, and the major source of warmth in that little building is a space heater that came over on the Mayflower and couldn’t pass a safety inspection if you paid the inspector. Since the space heater is on one side of the room, it is cold on the other side. Being a small crowd, everyone decided – by everyone, I mean all six of us – to move the congregation close to the heater. We were doing just fine blasting out a fine mix of Christmas songs and can’t-wait-till-I-die hymns, when it happened. Deanna, my wife, who was sitting right next to the space heater started sweating. Now, it is not unusual for a woman of her age to have flashes, but this one seemed not to be of her own making. She turned toward me, cocked her head, looked down her nose through her thick readers, and shrieked in a barnyard whisper, “It’s hot in here!”
In a whisper that went unnoticed – mostly because everyone is deaf and was trying to figure out why we had just sung the second verse of “The First Noel” twice, I gently answered, “Move.”
Not phased Deanna, with sweat dripping off her nose, responded, “No. I am not hot; it’s the wooden bench I am sitting on. It could catch on fire!”
I thought, “That bench has sat in that spot in front of that space heater for 40 years and hasn’t caught on fire yet.” But “the glare” has its way of moving wayward husbands, so I got upright during the middle of the first verse of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” crawled over my wife and knelt in front of the space heater. Now if you have ever tried to turn down the flames on a fifty-year-old, antique ceramic tile heater, you know there is an art to it. You have to wrap your arm around the back, move your hand under the gas line and over the backstop until it rests on the knob. You do this while craning your neck at just the right angle to watch the red-hot, sparking flames. You don’t want to turn the heater off, you just want to turn it down. You do this while holding the rest of your body up with your other hand so you won’t fall face down on the floor into the old carpet. I had finally contorted my body into just the right position to turn the heat down so my wife, who was not concerned for her comfort but for the safety of the wooden bench, would be happy, when all of the sudden, Deanna starts screaming and hitting me on the top of the head! Whack! Whack!
“Yeow! Ouch! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WOMAN! QUIT HITTING ME! WE ARE IN CHURCH!”
Whack! “You’re on fire!!”
Sure enough, large tufts of hair and ash were tumbling off me with every slap of my dear wife’s hand. I had gotten too close to the heat, and my very tender and thin hair had gone up in smoke like toilet paper in a late-night campfire!
Finally, after a dozen whacks and having to do CPR on L.V. MacDaniel, who had witnessed the whole affair and had a terrible jerking spell laughing while his pastor burned, we got the fire out. By this time nobody was singing except the song director and the pianist, who had begun to wonder why the rest of us were howling, jerking, burning, or getting whacked. Burnt hair has its own foul smell, and I was severely tempted to change the Christmas message into something with fire and brimstone but refrained because the sermon was about God using strange people with surprising messages to get His across. I am still not sure what He wanted to say today, but as soon as I figure it out, I will be sure to pass it on.