Preacher Norton was a little unsettled. It was Easter Sunday and the church house was packed with ladies in the latest fashion, beautiful little children in frilly lace or bow ties, men who seemed uncomfortable in their slightly better than usual outfits. There were even a few visitors, but that was to be expected on Easter. Mayor Harrison Winfield was present. A newcomer to Croweville, Mr. Derek Dant, had announced his intention to challenge the long time Mayor in the summer’s Democratic primary, so Harrison had started making a concerted effort to be seen attending worship. He knew his Republican opponent in the fall, whoever he or she might be, was bound to make religion an issue, especially if folks had the idea that Harrison wasn’t faithful to go to church. The mayor fully understood the importance of a religious facade in the south.
Anyway, that’s not what worried Preacher Norton. His anxiety had one specific source: J.J. Jackson. J.J. was not a church going man. In fact, the only son of the well known Jackson family was kind of reputed to walk on the wild side. J.J. didn’t mean to be unlawful; unlawfulness just seemed to find him. Usually at the bottom of a bottle. Still, he was a charmer; a kind of lovable rascal that folks felt pity for rather than anger. Kind of like Mayberry’s Otis. He was in and out of jail, mostly on disturbing the peace charges. Preacher Norton didn’t mind J.J. being present in church. In fact, he wanted J.J. to hear the Gospel. But since trouble seemed to follow J.J., well, Preacher was just hoping for the best. All was well through the first part of the service. The loud singing of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” helped settle his mind. He loved to hear the congregation sing and it seemed Easter brought out the best.
J.J. looked scruffy and sweaty. He was constantly looking around, was a bit fidgety, but he was not bothering anyone, so all was well. As the congregation stood for the doxology just before the message, Deputy Howard Davis walked in and found a spot on the back row. Howard was in uniform and his presence caused some obvious discomfort. It was hard for Preacher Norton to focus. Fortunately he had preached the Easter message numerous times and he delivered the sermon well. The congregation stood to sing “Up from the Grave He Arose” as the hymn of commitment and Preacher Norton gave the altar call, inviting folks to come pray or seek counsel if they wanted to follow Jesus. As the song began, J.J. hit the aisle. He grasped the Preacher’s hand and said “Preacher, I need to go to the counseling room with someone to help me learn more about being saved.” For the first time in his life Preacher Norton was speechless. He just stood staring at J.J. Jackson, wondering at the miracle he was witnessing. Without saying a word, he managed to hand off J.J. to Deacon Mark Simpson who guided J.J. from the sanctuary. Just as the congregation started the second verse, Preacher Norton turned to find Deputy Davis coming down the aisle. “Preacher, I need to go to the counseling room to learn more about being saved.” It had been quite awhile since Croweville Baptist had seen two souls come searching for Jesus in one service and Preacher Norton was almost beside himself. Before another Deacon could come escort the Deputy out, Davis took off, nearly running out the side door. The hymn ended and they sang another song, Norton feeling as though he was on the very precipice of revival. Preacher Norton wanted to sing some more to extend the invitation even further, but it was already fifteen past noon and folks were obviously ready to get on to dinner. You can’t let a thing like revival get in the way of Sunday dinner!
During the closing prayer, the preacher made his way to the front door so he could greet everyone as they left. He particularly wanted to see Mayor Winfield. As he opened the door, he was greeted by four patrol cars and Sheriff Mike Long himself escorting J.J. Jackson, in handcuffs, from the fellowship hall. It seems that J.J. had busted up a pool hall on Saturday night and had been on the run from the law pretty much all night. He had holed up at an old friend’s house until deputies had been seen in the area. He slipped out and made his way to church thinking he would not be found at an Easter service. However, Margaret White, a shut in who live across from the church had seen him. For someone who claimed to not be able to get out Miss Margaret never seemed to miss anything. She especially had an eye for trouble makers and called the Sheriff’s office when she spotted J.J. sneaking around that morning. Deputy Davis had been dispatched and, not wanting to disturb Easter morning worship, just bided his time on the back row. He didn’t get to go to preaching often due to his job and he enjoyed the sermon, even though he kept an eye on J.J. When J.J. tried to give him the slip by heading to the counseling room, Deputy David thought the best course of action was to follow. He had recommitted his life numerous times at the local Church of Christ so he knew all about walking the aisle. He caught up with J.J. in the kitchen when J.J. stopped to grab a few left over doughnuts from the morning fellowship time. While they waited for the Sheriff, J.J. and Deputy Davis shared a couple of chocolate iced doughnuts that were so much better than prison food that was soon to be J.J.’s Easter dinner.
Preacher Norton learned a lesson that day. Just because they walk the aisle don’t mean they want Jesus. That’s it from Croweville where mischief hangs in the air like the lovely aroma of a gardenia blossom in spring.