Reverend Turley called the bewildered congregation to the scarred altar table. Ed removed the bread, the juice, and the chalice from the grocery sack and laid the elements before the people. Some wept. A few spontaneously held hands. Most just stood quietly as the pastor prayed. It was a quiet, forlorn little prayer, very unlike his usual expansive style. The words he had originally prepared no longer mattered, no longer fit.
“Amen,” said the pastor.”Amen,” murmured the people. Then he gave thanks for the bread and started the paper picnic plate around. He gave thanks for the juice, and since they had no little plastic cups, they the filled the altar chalice and passed it around as well.
It was Clara Ernst who first lifted her quivering voice in song. “Amazing grace . . .” she began, and within moments the rest had joined her. “How sweet the sound . . .” By the last verse, even some of the gawkers from town, who had kept a respectful distance from the impromptu service, were singing. The familiar hymn faded into a prolonged, ‘Amen.’ The congregation fell silent. They turned to view the ruins once more and then, amidst the rustle of conversation, headed slowly toward the cars.
Reverend Turley remained until the end. Having spoken to the final member of the elder’s board about an emergency meeting Monday night he waited for the drone of the last car engine to leave him in silence, then. Turning toward his car, he suddenly realized that he was not yet alone. An older man stood in the midst of the burned building, scuffing his work boot against the concrete slab. Turley knew him. He was a fairly consistent attendee, although he generally kept to himself and avoided involvement. He was a rugged looking man who seemed to have been in his sixties all of his life. His name was Clarence Dearborn, the owner of the town hardware and sporting goods store. He was not only a hunting enthusiast, but also a popular figure among the town’s outdoorsmen so it was not surprising that all who knew him called him “Buck.”
Reverend Turley waded into the ashes. “Thanks for coming, Mr. Dearborn,” he said.
Buck did not look up. “What’s ‘G.’ for?” he asked.
Turley was confused. “I beg your pardon?”
Buck nodded toward the charred plywood sign that lay a few feet away. “It says your name is, ‘G. Robert Turley.’ What’s it stand for?”
“Oh. Uh, it’s Gordon. That’s my first name.”
Buck studied the pastor through the lower half of his bi-focals, grunted and said, “Gordon, huh? That’s a good name. My uncle’s name was Gordon.” He scanned the remains of the sanctuary, and then settled his gaze on the communion table. “Church was on fire,” he said simply.