Chapter 1 – When Sunday Comes
11:15 am. Sunday
Church was the last place she wanted to be. After the weekend she had, she just wanted to roll over in her warm bed and sleep the day away. But custom won over comfort. Sloppy rain patters on the windshield of her candy red 1999 Volvo C70 as she pulls up onto the nearly packed, gravel parking lot. She is quickly approached by two men in bright orange vests carrying wide black umbrellas directing her towards the rear in an adjacent field. She is so glad she wore her flats. It had been a rainy weekend, and the soil would be a puddled mess for her had she worn her pumps. Although, she’d rather be in bed, she hated coming to church late. It would likely mean she’d have to sit in the back pews stretching her neck to see the pulpit over the tall men and high hats. Maybe she’d luck out and get a good seat being that she had come to church alone. It shouldn’t be too hard for the ushers to find a seat for her towards the front. Besides, she had heard that it was good for TV for the pretty, young women to sit up front nearest the video cameras. But she felt nothing like pretty on a day like today.
With her skinny legs dangling out the driver’s side, she leans over the driver’s seat to snatch up her bible from the passenger seat door and leans up to swing her oversized bag over her petite shoulder. She slams her door shut as she quickly deploys her umbrella. She briskly trots toward the church building already feeling the vibrations of the music. The praise and worship team was likely already up at this time. Maybe it was a good thing, she was coming late. That would mean less focus on her from the church mothers who lined up the front row. She flashes a quick smile at the two, portly ushers posted at the double doors leading into the sanctuary as she dips into the ladies’ room. She bends to look for feet under the three stalls. Good. It was empty.
She puts her purse on the wet sink counter just before she yanks up her sagging pantyhose and straightens her slip. She finger-combs through her short coils and reapplied her lip gloss and headed into the sanctuary. Then she pauses. Her eyes are bloodshot and a little puffy. She forces a fake smile to go and face the crowd in the church. No one cares if you’re sad, so you might as well be glad.
The usher to her right greets her and enthusiastically stuffs a church bulletin program wrapping an offering envelope into her fingers while gently guiding her towards the usher who would seat her. The tall, middle-aged woman smiles gingerly at her and asks if she wouldn’t mind sitting up front. She raises her eyebrows and shakes her head to eagerly denote a yes. She was sat behind the deacon board whose deacons were seated in the front row opposite of the mother board. She is sat between a cute baby and his mother and two sleepy teenagers who apparently were not impressed with the service.
She sets down her purse, umbrella, and trench coat under her pew as she rises to her feet. She looks around to get a quick survey of the place. It had been so long since she had last visited. She had stopped by a few times about three years ago after she had graduated from college nearby. There had been a revival that her roommate had invited her to. Then she visited a couple of more times afterwards. They had since remodeled. A couple of pillars were added in the pulpit. A video camera was placed in the back. A few steps were added to serve as the choir stand. Same plush, violet carpet, same wooden benches with purple cushions, and same satin purple curtains along the back wall. Deliverance Temple Holiness Church was on display behind the praise and worship team in gold, glittery letters.
After a few more minutes of praise and worship, the praise and worship team recede into the choir stand as the choir members leave their seats in the pews to gather to sing a few selections. The announcements are pronounced by a brightly adorned lady in a wide-brimmed hat as the choir members are stationed into their respective places as sopranos, altos, and tenors. It was obvious that the choir had doubled in size from when she had last visited. As was customary for their denomination, the choir sang a fast song followed by a slow song. The slow song was to set the mood for when the pastor would pray and begin his homily. It felt good to get back into the swing of things. It felt to be back in the presence of the Saints. She said a quick prayer for God to let the sermon be what she needed.
After the pastor preached what he referred to as the last installment of his three-week series on deliverance, he said he felt led to pray for people. She too had found herself being pushed along the warm bodies and weeping faces flooding the altar for prayer. She wondered what all the people had come for prayer about. They were asked to lift their hands and to lower their heads in prayer while they awaited an olive-oily touch from the pastor, but Sarah couldn’t help but discreetly peek around to see who was up there. In front of her to the left was a young man likely in his late twenties who had his hands lifted as he rocked back and forth from his left foot to his right. He had a pained expression on his face. Maybe he had an issue with a court case. He looked like he might frequent the streets. Maybe he was facing serious jail time? Immediately to her right was a little girl who looked about curiously at what was going on around her. Sarah figured she had just came along with her mother. Behind her was a lady who was sobbing uncontrollably. Sarah noticed a small, gold ring on her left ring finger. A small group of church missionaries surrounded her while whispering in her ear. Sarah wondered if maybe she had marital issues. Or maybe she had a wayward son. Or maybe she had received a bad doctor’s report. She felt a pang of guilt for trying to judge people’s issues and decided it was best for her to just bow her head and focus on what she needed God to do for her. There was that unresolved issue with her ex. She closed her eyes and braced herself for when the heavy-handed preacher would slap his greased palm onto her forehead.
After the pastor briefly prayed for her, she returned to her seat to look at her phone. It was now 1:47 pm. Service had run much longer than she had expected. The lean, somber deacons took their place holding deep buckets to receive the tithes and offerings. As the ushers began to walk the aisles to disburse envelopes to the late comers who had slid past them earlier, a handsome man in his early fifties of middle muscular build approached the microphone with a charming grin. He either had good hair or a kit which allowed him to part his hair on the left and slick it down on the sides. His smile revealed a row of white, neat teeth. She stifled a giggle and figured he was supposed to be the man people could trust to sell them dreams. He was well-dressed, he looked educated, and he looked healthy. Who better to trust to raise a good offering? She looked down and thought, “But how can you sell dreams to someone who’s experienced nightmares?”
“Saints, it is time for the most important segment of this service. It is time for the ministry of giving.” The crowd applauded perhaps as they had been coached to do. “As most of you know, I serve as both the associate pastor and the treasurer of this here church. I know of every penny that comes in and leaves out. I assure you that you are sowing into good ground. I’m sure if we were to search the scriptures of the New Testament, we would find that 90% of what we read about Jesus pertained to His giving. Now how can we claim that we are Christians when we hate to give?” A few women in the church gave a hefty amen. “Please extend your hands. Raise them high, and an usher will serve you. Quickly, ushers! I see two hands in the back. Keep those hands raised, Saints. You don’t want to miss out on this part of the service!”
The ushers rushed to lower the waving hands with white and purple envelopes. She pulled a folded $5 bill out of her wallet and stuffed it into the envelope. She chuckled to herself when the teens beside her searched their pockets for loose change to put into envelopes while borrowing a pen to write $10 on the envelope. When offering time was over, Sarah anxiously checked her clock again. It was 2:05 pm. She grabbed her things and made a B-line for the door. She had only 40 minutes left before it would be too late.
On her way out, she bumped into two men knocking her umbrella and Bible onto the hallway floor. Both were about her age in their mid-to-late twenties. Both were handsome. “Whoa, slow down! We’re not going to raise another offering,” joked the taller one. He was brown-skinned with a wide, pretty grin. He bent over to pick up her things and handed them slowly to her. My name is Paul. What’s your name?” She laughed a little embarrassed. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m kind of in a hurry. My name is Sarah.” “Sarah, like Abraham’s beautiful wife?” “Yea, like that,” she said. The other guy asked, “I’ve not seen you around here before. I’m Dave. Are you a first time visitor?” “No, I’ve visited a few times before,” she replied. “Well, don’t be a stranger. Come back next Sunday.” This second guy was light-skinned with dreadlocks to his shoulders. He had on a plaid shirt and was a little muscular. He looked her in the eye for a brief second before they both looked away. “Okay, I’ll try,” she said. “Naw, don’t try. We want to see you again, alright?” “Okay, Paul and Dave. Bye.”
She grinned as she trotted to her car and sped away to the nearest pharmacist two blocks from the church. Both men were really cute. But she could not think about them right now. Not until she took care of business. There would be no dating if she did not get this done now. She warily looked about the parking lot to see if she could see any familiar faces. Good. No one she knew was there. She quietly asked the pharmacist for what she needed. She was relieved the pharmacist hadn’t looked at her with judgmental eyes. It was obvious that she had just come from church, and here she was asking for these pills. She slid the exact change over the counter; she knew exactly how much it would cost. She had never used her credit card for these kind of purchases. She had always feared that maybe some day, some one would trace the pills to her charge card. If she used cash, it would be more confidential. Sarah rolled the bag up three times to hide any words from the prescription box. She stopped by the front counter to purchase a bottle of water and sat in her car. As many times as she had used this product, she always carefully read the instructions as to avoid any mistakes. As expensive as this pill was, she just couldn’t take any chances taking it the wrong way. There were only 10 minutes left before the pill would be rendered ineffective. She popped the emergency contraceptive, swallowed a gulp of water, and threw the receipt and box in the garbage can before releasing an all too common sigh of relief. Now she could go back to bed.