Continued from the previous chapter, here.
Reverend Kerr continued. “If, as the ushers will come forward, you’ll think about what you can do to follow truth, I’ll awkwardly ask you for money so that we can keep the lights on and I can get a bit to eat every now and again.” Some laughter percolated through the congregation as four people wearing suits and dresses approached the altar, plates in hand. “Let us pray.”
Over a sea of bowed heads–and Asa’s watching eyes–Kerr stretched out her arms. “God Almighty, You are the bread of life, and we ask that You bless the offerings made so that they will go forth and become the bread for others. We ask it in Jesus’s name. Amen.”
The congregation responded, and the organ played a soft, contemplative tune as the ushers walked back down the aisles, passing collection plates back and forth. At length, they assembled as one, and the organ struck a different chord. The congregation stood, its members lifting their voices up in song, proclaiming their thanks for what had been given them. Asa stood with them, but he did not sing. I don’t know this piece, and why would I be singing to a god I don’t believe in?
Reverend Kerr accepted the collection plates from the ushers, offering them up and placing them on the altar. As the song concluded, she turned again to the congregation and called for another hymn. Asa stayed standing as many voices rose up in song around him again, and he continued to hold his peace, recalling, too, the wincing of those around him earlier. It is not the kind of impression I wanted to convey. And he found his gaze repeatedly returning to Reverend Kerr and the drape of her tartan stole. I wonder what she would look like in nothing else–dammit! Stop it, Asa!
The hymn concluded, and Reverend Kerr called out “May you go in peace, and may your peace be a beacon to the world! Be well, be safe, and be in service to Christ!”
The congregation responded “And you,” and the two boys from before advanced up the aisle, lit tapers from the altar and stifled the flames from the candles upon it. They retreated, Kerr following as the organ played a triumphant recessional. The congregants remained seated for the most part, save for a few who advanced up the sides of the church and knelt before the altar in private prayer.
At length, as the organ ceased its song, Asa’s parents stood to leave, and he joined them as they merged into the stream of people leaving the church. Ahead of him, he noticed many people stopping to shake Reverend Kerr’s hand and exchange a few words with her. From her smile–It is a nice smile, Asa thought–they seemed to be pleasant ones, and Asa overheard more than a few as he and his parents approached her.
“Al, Matilda, I’m glad to see you!” Kerr stretched her hand out to Asa’s parents in turn.
Al took her hand in his, shaking it briskly. “Good sermon today, Rev’nd.”
She smiled–It’s a really nice smile, Asa thought, and he could feel himself redden a bit–and replied, “It’s easy with good congregants.”
She then turned to Asa, hand extended again. “Asa, was it? It’s a pleasure to meet you more personally.”
Asa shook the extended hand. “And you, Ma’am.”
She laughed. “I never do get used to the ‘Ma’am’ here. But I gather you’re Al and Matilda’s son? You’ve got good folks, you know.”
Asa smiled tightly. “I am, and I know it well.”
“I’ll be happy to talk with you again later, Asa, if you’d like.” She looked more closely at him. “I’d guess you could use someone to listen.”
Asa reddened a bit more, and Kerr laughed again, winking. “Just a guess. Go in peace!” And she turned to the next congregant in line. Asa hurried out of the church, finding his parents waiting in front of it for him.
“Told you she was somethin’, didn’t I?” Asa’s father smiled at him, almost laughing.
Asa nodded. His face reddened again.
“Honey, don’t harangue him.” Asa’s mother came up and slipped her arm around her son’s, guiding him along. “Come on, Asa, let’s go get some lunch.”
Asa nodded again, mutely. Food would be good right now, he thought. And figuring out what the hell just happened would, too. I’d’ve sworn she was talking straight to me a few times during that sermon, but that can’t be right. Unless…
“Mom, Dad,” Asa said as they proceeded towards the car, “did either of you tell Reverend Kerr I was coming with you to church?”
Asa’s father shook his head. His mother said “No. Why do you ask?”
“Eh, I’m not sure. The thought just occurred to me that you might’ve, is all.”
As they reached the car, Asa’s mother looked at him, an eyebrow raised. “What, you think I’m some kind of gossip?”
Asa’s father suppressed a laugh, and Asa answered in a deliberately, ostentatiously flat tone “Yes. Yes, I do. Because you are, Mom.”
“Don’t insult me!” She smiled as she started to climb into the car. “I’m the gossip! Credit where it’s due!”
Asa laughed as he joined his mother in the vehicle. His father climbed in and started it, and they joined the parade of cars leaving the church parking lot. “I feel like some Chinese,” he said. “That okay with you two?”
Asa’s mother said “Yes,” and Asa shrugged. “Is the Chiu place still open?”
“Good. I always did like their hot and sour soup.”
“Bit warm for that, isn’t it?”
“Probably, but the food’s still good.”
And they drove off that way.
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