Fen Sloughheart lay upright in the hospital bed typing away on his laptop. Luce didn’t realize it, but what he meant for good, Fen Sloughheart was desperately trying to turn into as much of a salvaging program for himself as possible. He had resigned the pulpit, and any and all positions, at the Ebenezer Independent Fundamentalist Bible Church and School, but he felt compelled to offer more than some short and vague explanation to his followers … and to the community, for that matter. Consequently, he was carefully wording what would be first his letter to the congregation, then his press release to the public; after all, he would no longer be broadcasted on television and radio either.
Sloughheart thought that, if he played his cards right, he could possibly come out of this whole mess nearly unscathed, such was his delusional thinking. He had been informed that morning that the Verdure County Ministerial Association wanted nothing to do with any joint-operation of the school, despite the offer of 50% ownership. Their counter-offer was 100% administration of the school with 65% ownership of the property. The church would still be allowed, at specified times, to hold events and generally make use of the facilities free-of-charge; otherwise, Ebenezer Bible Church would forfeit any and all input into the school. Since Sloughheart still owned the property and, for all practical purposes, completely ran the school, he could acquiesce without asking anyone else, and so he did with only the briefest of explanations to the Church Council:
Brothers of the Council,
I know this will come as an unbelievable shock and disappointment to each of you, and so first let me apologize and ask for both your mercy and understanding. In my present condition, as well as considering the future stability of the church, it is incumbent upon me as I resign and withdraw from Ebenezer Church and School to consider what is first and foremost important, and then to make the best decisions accordingly. This has not been especially difficult because, of course, the Church has always been of primary importance and concern. The ministry of the Church is what God first called me to, and my father, and the Reverend Charger before him. Between the two, then – that is, the Church and School – the Church must come first. Therefore, if I have been put in a position of having to relinquish 65% of the property rights of the school, instead of the originally planned 50%, to the Ministerial Association, and also to turn over complete administrative operation to the same, then I am in no position to do otherwise … and realistically, neither is the Church. It could be that at some point in the near future the Church could possibly sell its remaining interest in the property to the Association. That remains to be seen, but it would certainly benefit Ebenezer. Just remember our high calling in the Lord Jesus Christ, brothers, and press on as faithful servants, as I am always…
Truly Yours in Faith by Grace,
Rev. Fen Sloughheart
Really, Sloughheart didn’t give a damn now about the school or church. Point in fact, it didn’t bother him in the least that the Association had already moved to scrap the entire curriculum, replacing it with the more highly-academically focused, vaguely Christian curriculum offered by the Carmichael-Aquinas Institute for the Advancement of Learning and Achievement (CAI-ALA). Of course, the school had already applied for preliminary membership in the Independent School Association for Better Private Education (ISA-BPE), and the Ministerial Association had promptly secured the services of an independent accounting firm as well as, separately, one of its own members, who happened to be a still-licensed CPA in good standing. All of this simply rolled off Fen’s shoulders now like so much extra and unneeded baggage.
As a matter of fact, the rumor that the Association planned to rename the school Spivey Sharpe Memorial Community School, after the first woman mayor and legend of Splinterbit (and really of all Verdure County and the surrounding area) did not bother him in the least. No, he had other more important considerations to attend to now. Thankfully, he’d been able to get ahold of Grim Brusque to proffer an apology. Fen explained his emotional, psychological, spiritual turmoil with the appropriate amount of crying and so, of course, Brusque forgave him for his unseemly, public remarks. It only bothered Sloughheart minimally that Brusque still seemed somewhat cold, distant, and even chary. But he had to move on. If Brusque had forgiven him, then Brusque had forgiven him; after all, if his old friend was anything, he was honest. So, as Sloughheart calculated, he had effectively neutralized Brusque. Also, the Reverend Brusque was kind enough to put him in touch with a Christian counsellor in his congregation, someone by the name of N. Ept Shrinkton. He would begin seeing Mr. Shrinkton – the man, thankfully, had no degrees beyond one from an unaccredited Bible college – about stress, depression, and anger management. Of course, if need be, Fen might open up confidentially about his struggles with the sin of lust … without, of course, going into any details. All of this seemed to bode well for Sloughheart, at least in his desperate and medicated mind – he pushed the pain pump again just for good measure – and then returned to the public version of his superlative statement. Fen almost felt like an old hero bidding farewell to an audience of exultant-but-sad admirers; he was offering his last “fare-thee-well,” and could just imagine the tears flowing and how much his presence would be sorely missed throughout the larger community. He looked back to his statement. Perhaps he should make it more MacArthuresque since, like the famous general, he was being a good soldier now and “just fading away.”
To my wonderful church family, and those of you who have listened and so faithfully supported my ministry on television, radio, and in the newspapers, as well as the good community of Splinterbit and surrounding area:
Doubtless, you have already heard of my abrupt resignation from the ministry and all positions at Ebenezer Bible Church and School. The short explanation for this is that due to my impending, tragic divorce – something that not only tears at my heart, but has ripped apart my home and family – and due to increasing physical health problems, I simply am no longer able to shoulder the responsibilities incumbent upon the pastor of the Church and administrator of the School.
This is a very sad time in my life, but I believe and know that God ‘works out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.’ The Lord is faithful. The Lord has walked with me for all of these years, and He has not failed me, and He will not fail me now. Of this I am certain! Praise be to the God of All! In the meantime, I have had opportunity to reflect upon my life and ministry, and I thank the Lord for all of the good He was worked in and through the ministry to which He called me years ago. At the same time, I fully recognize and confess the truth of His infallible Word that we have ‘all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ No, indeed, ‘there is none righteous; no, not one.’ And this includes me. I have not been perfect. I have made mistakes over the years. I have made mistakes recently.
Through much prayer and meditation – often agonizing – I have come to realize that there are apologies I need to offer, amends I need make, and reconciliation I need to seek. This is a work, which by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit, I have already begun and shall continue. At this time, however, in such a general letter to the public, I would like to make a broad sweep, so to speak, and say that if I have sinfully mocked, ridiculed, criticized, or otherwise needlessly hurt individual people or groups of people – straying away from my mandate to faithfully preach the Gospel of Christ and walk in obedience to the Lord – then I do repent and ask your forgiveness. More than forgiveness, though, I ask for your prayers on my behalf. Pray that the Lord God will continue teaching me, leading and guiding and directing me to become an even better, more faithful servant of His.
Now in closing, I can only add what most of you have heard so many times before, but it’s true, and that is: Though I know not what the future holds, I know who holds the future. Hallelujah! And God bless you in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fen re-read his public epistle again and again, and each time smiled more broadly than before. In his estimation, it was perfect. The letter could not possibly be improved even by the best of authors. Point in fact, it struck him as being so effective, he thought surely he would first receive a plethora of “get well” cards and phone calls, flowers, and balloons; then, some key people in the area would want to talk to him. Would he consider taking another, smaller church, one without so much responsibility? Would he consider teaching an Old Testament and/or New Testament elective at the Splinterbit College? He was certainly qualified, and might actually end up having a more effective ministry in the long run! He thought about it: Preaching one morning service at some small church each Sunday, and teaching two courses twice each week at the college. With the investments he had stowed away, he’d make it just fine, and after an extended period of time would probably enjoy a better, more respectable reputation than he’d ever enjoyed before in his life!
Just then, Fen felt rather odd. His head started swimming and his vision blurred so he couldn’t make out the words of his precious public epistle anymore. His head started pounding so hard it felt like someone had a jackhammer inside his skull, so he tried to lift his arms to massage his temples, but his right arm was numb and wouldn’t cooperate. In the few seconds all of this happened, one of the bed alarms sounded, piercing the quiet of his room and making his headache all the worse. He thought he might throw up… Before the nurses could get to him, he did upchuck.
The nurses quickly removed his laptop, of course, but strangely enough Fen Sloughheart distinctly saw two or three sheets of paper – his letter – slide off the bed and gently settle on the floor where his attendants proceeded to walk and work … not noticing how they were smudging and soiling and obliterating his remarkable work. He tried to warn them, but he couldn’t speak coherently…
And there lay his self-made redemption, tattered and sullied on the floor.