Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
Gill and I stayed up late that night, talking, and we found ourselves still talking after we'd prayed together and gone to bed. We woke up groggy and undecided. We prayed about it again over breakfast, and talked some, though when Hadassah came down to eat we set the discussion aside. She was happy that morning, happy that she and Joshua had settled on names for the baby, and happy that she was about to tackle the last hurdle of public confession.
We arrived at the church at our usual time, a few minutes before the service, and while Gill and I took our regular seats in the middle of the center section of pews, Hadassah found Jim Garrison, who was at the front of the auditorium, and spoke with him for several minutes. He nodded, and she came back to us – pale, no doubt from anxiety, but with the familiar determined look on her face.
"They're going to give me a few minutes at the end of the service," she said. "I won't be able to say much, but I don't need to."
Just then Joshua arrived, and sat down beside me; Hadassah was on my left, with Gill beyond her. The couple had made a point of sitting together, but with someone between them, whenever Joshua visited MJT. The service was beginning, and we got through the opening hymn, the Scripture reading, and the rest of the singing with our usual gusto.
The sermon that morning was from Hebrews 13:4, with Earl Carrington preaching, and in his quiet, simple way he spoke of how God had instituted marriage, and set limits as to what could take place outside of marriage. He didn't dwell, though, on sin, but on the beauty of marriage, on the way God uses it to bind two people together and make them a force for good in the family and the community. Carrington was a topical preacher, but that morning he stuck fairly close to the text, and illustrated his points from his own marriage, which I knew had endured for nearly 40 years – though "endured" isn't quite the word for a union which was clearly as joyous as it had been on his wedding day.
With his approaching retirement Tyrone was leaving more and more to the other elders, and that day José Mendoza had made the announcements. At the close of the sermon he rose again, and invited all who had need of prayer to speak with an elder after the service. And then he said, "I am informed that a sister among us has need of our ears this morning. I know this sister, and know that she has a painful truth to speak, and I pray that we all will hear her with love and grace." It was just like José to ask that we treat her with the gentleness which he knew so well was difficult for him. I thought back to the day we'd approved his ordination as an elder, and his protest that he was far too hot-tempered to serve in that position. But the church had spoken, and he had learned more compassion in the office than in all his years as a Christian.
And now he waited while Hadassah left our pew, and walked to the front of the auditorium. When she began to climb the steps to the platform José took her hand, and whispered something in her ear, and put his hand on her shoulder for just a moment before he went down the steps and took a seat on the front pew.
"I see we have some visitors this morning," she began, "so I'll start by saying that my name is Hadassah Garvin. I have something to tell all of you." She looked down at the pulpit, and I could see her shoulders move as she took a breath. She looked back up, and her eyes moved over the congregation. "The sermon this morning touched my heart, very deeply, because I'm planning my wedding." A buzz arose, and she spoke over it. "You see, I'm pregnant."
That silenced the congregation. Hadassah looked at us, and I saw her eyes stop when they came to Joshua. "My fiancé is the father of my baby, and he's here today, and has said he'll be coming here from now on, at least until we're married. He's Josh Benitez, and many of you have heard me talk about him. Maybe you've guessed that I love him, that I've loved him for the past two years. We ... we sinned against God, and against our parents, and against each other, and really against you. I came here, and Josh went to his parents' church, acting like nothing had ever happened, when we were being immoral – we lied by our actions, we lied to our brothers and sisters." I could tell that she was weeping, but her voice remained strong.
And I noticed a woman sitting three or four pews in front of us, a tall woman with her head bowed. It was Karin Farley, who two years or so before had stood in the same place, and told us that she was divorced and pregnant. Lord, I prayed, if anyone knows what Hadassah is going through, it's Karin. Let her prayers be pointed and may your Spirit heed and apply them now. I saw her husband's head bowing as well, and realized that he probably understood as well, for he'd heard that confession, and come to Karin's aid when she nearly collapsed at the end of it.
But Hadassah was still speaking, and I listened to her. "I sinned. But God has forgiven me, and the elders have forgiven me, and my principal at school has forgiven me, and my parents have forgiven me. And Josh and I have forgiven each other. Only his parents haven't been forgiving. And I ask you to pray for them, that God will soften their hearts. This is their grandchild too." Her hand moved behind the pulpit, and I knew she was touching the unborn child. "They need to feel the joy of the Lord, and the joy of their grandchild coming into the world. Please pray for them. And pray for me and Josh. Because we were foolish, it's going to be harder for us. We need your prayers."
She wiped her eyes, and smiled at us all. "I know you love me. I've been in this church my whole life. And I love you, every one of you. Thank you for listening to me this morning."
She stepped from behind the pulpit, and José was there to help her down the steps. As she came back to our pew, José stood behind the pulpit again. "I am continually learning that unless I am without sin, I may not throw stones at sinners. It is a lesson I have a hard time learning, but Hadassah is helping me to learn it. I do not throw a single stone at her today. We – the elders – have already told her that if God does not condemn her, neither do we, and she should go and sin no more. She has committed herself to doing that. Let us all, then, put down any stones we may have picked up, and pray for her and her fiancé, and for his parents, as she has asked us to do." And then and there he did exactly that.
When we got back to the house I shooed Hadassah and Joshua into the living room, while I stood in the kitchen near Gill and talked quietly with her as she cooked. I began with my main point: "I don't think we can refuse them their wish."
Her face had, when she turned to me, something of that stricken look again. "Bill, please don't do this."
"I have to. What do you think that sermon was about? What do you think God was saying to us today?"
"Do you think Earl had us in mind?"
"I'm sure he's been praying for us, and for George and Patricia, and for Hadassah and Joshua, ever since our meeting with the elders. But I can't believe that he prepared and delivered that sermon just to tell us what he thought we ought to do. Do you think the other elders would stand still for that?"
She chopped green onions with unnecessary ferocity. "I hope they wouldn't. I think they wouldn't. But if I agree that God was telling us today to allow them to marry a week from today ... no, a week from yesterday ... if I admit that..."
"Gill, surrendering to God isn't a bad thing." I wiped a tear from her cheek.