A NOVEL BY KATIE GEORGE
FOR EONS NOW the First Baptist Church of Colonia, Mississippi, had been the social hub of the entire county.
On Sundays every business shut down, except the bookstore run by the only Jewish man within fifty miles. Church was expected, not just a friendly tip. It was so expected that even the morally ambiguous put on their shiny shoes and zipped on over to their chosen place of worship—and there were plenty to choose from.
But nothing was more distinct than the First Baptist Church. Most churches within the area had long since given up their status as being first in their particular denomination: First Presbyterian had become Hope Pres, and First Lutheran, with its ten congregants, had become Friendship Lutheran. First Methodist, First Baptist’s loyal enemy, had stayed the same to spite those said Baptists, and the Church of Christ up and moved to the country, needing a respite from Colonia’s self-righteous residents.
Now it was true that most Southerners were, aptly so, Southern Baptist. It was a tradition with a rigorous history, and though its membership had been on the steady slope downward for a while now, Colonia’s First Baptist Church was as strong as ever. Nearly four hundred churchgoers flocked to the pulpit at ten-thirty on Sunday mornings, donning suits and dresses and the occasional skirt or slacks. Some women wore lace hats that plumed like peacock feathers, while others covered dainty hands with satin gloves. Everyone clutched weathered Bibles, including the youngsters who sprinted across the aisles with annoyed brothers and sisters trying to catch up.
Miss Sue, a religious attendee at First Baptist since the 1940s, was no stranger to the scene. Miss Sue, who was the opposite of a stickler, felt her panty hose rip right down the middle of her age-spotted leg as her great-grandchild, Emma Ray, bounced into Deacon Todd, who was a righteous son of a gun.
“What in…” shouted Deacon Todd, who held a stack of pamphlets in his leathered hands.
“Hiya!” shouted Emma Ray as Miss Sue caught up.
“Where is her mother?” snapped Deacon Todd, but when he caught a wicked glance from Miss Sue, he readjusted his tie.
“I’m a good enough substitute, don’t you think?” replied Miss Sue, shaking her head. “I know you wouldn’t have a clue, Todd Appleby.”
“A clue as to what, Sue Richards?” he growled, tossing a bulletin to an unsuspecting guest.
“How to live a little, and remember that children are children. Now, you come here, little miss!”
Emma Ray snaked her way out of her grandmother’s arms once more and dived into the sanctuary, her church shoes somehow screeching against the emerald green carpets that had been laid in the ’70s, back when Emma Ray’s mother was her size. The little girl was a tornado as she burst through throngs of gossips and guests and terrified people in general. Everyone had always thought there was possibly a curse in the Richards family line, because none of those Richards women could calm down.
“Emma Ray!” screamed Miss Sue, almost tripping over her nemesis in the process.
The nemesis, Rita Scarborough, licked her lips and rolled her eyes. She lifted a red-painted fingernail into the air and shook it back and forth as she chatted with her gaggle of best friends, all of whom had been born, survived, and would die in Colonia, Mississippi.
“Sue Richards,” she muttered.
“Emma Ray,” said of the friends, in a nasally accent, “is such a mess in comparison to your little Margaret Ann.”
Just at that moment Margaret Ann appeared, docile and doe-like in her mother’s arms. Rita took her granddaughter, kissing both china doll cheeks, while Emma Ray or Miss Sue (it was hard to tell) shrieked across the aisle.
“Grandma,” said Margaret Ann, pushing back a few perfect curls from her face, “Grandpa was looking for you.”
“Was he now?” asked Rita Scarborough. She knew it probably wasn’t true. Her husband of nearly forty years was always somewhere or the other, collecting even juicier news than she could. It was what had attracted them to each other in the first place, if you didn’t count the Ole Miss degree, fancy diamond ring, and the fact that they’d been matched since birth, when their families prayed over them at the baby dedication.
And, in reality, Wesley Scarborough was not looking for his wife. He stood beside Deacon Todd, greeting guests and regular attenders alike, learning as much as he could about anybody and everybody. Todd passed out the papers, and Wesley passed out the Southern hospitality.
At some point, as the sun rose higher in the sky on this particular Sunday morning, Wesley grew a little tired, because he needed a doughnut or a bagel or anything with caloric intake. Since it was almost show time, the crowd had withered in the lobby. Deacon Todd ran out of bulletins and grouched off like an elderly crab, leaving Wesley alone and at peace, because he enjoyed his solitude too, even in the midst of a place as spiritual as this.
But then, out of nowhere, the front doors opened, and there was a young woman he had never seen before. She was so young, he noted, that his wife would either take her under her wing or scoff at her for the rest of time, and so he estimated her age to be twenty-four. She wore an acceptable dress, her curly hair bouncing down her back, and she clutched a Bible with nervous hands. He knew they were nervous hands because he’d been in those shoes, long, long ago, when he also visited First Baptist Colonia after a long bout of disbelief and anger and grit and grime.
“Welcome, young lady!” he said, extending a hand.
“Am I late?” she asked, her eyes huge and green. “I wasn’t sure if… I don’t know. My neighbor invited me, and…”
“You’re all right,” said Wesley, wondering where this creature had beamed in from. “What’s your name, dear? I’m Wesley Scarborough.”
“Olivia Scott,” she said, the Bible a barrier between them.
“It’s nice to meet you, Olivia. Who’s your neighbor?”
Wesley smiled to himself. “Lisa Richards, one of the most active members in this congregation! I swear—well, I suppose I shouldn’t swear, on account that we are Christian people, Miss Olivia—but half of this congregation belongs to the Richards family!”
“I’d believe it. There’s always something going on at that house.”
“Here, let’s see if we can see her. You’re just in time, dear. No worries if you’re late, either. We’re a talkative congregation.”
They walked to the edge of the sanctuary, where all four hundred congregants chattered and buzzed around like the busy bees they were. Wesley caught a glimpse of Deacon Todd throwing Emma Ray onto his shoulders, while Miss Sue chased him down. He then saw his wife and his daughter and the grandkids and smirked. There were the Pipers, debating politics, no doubt; and Mr. Blake Sampson, who’d never taken a wife, and Reece Jetterby, the richest man in the county, and Oscar Thomas, the poorest man in the county. But where in the world was Lisa Richards?
“It’s okay if you can’t find her,” said mild-mannered Olivia Scott, “because I can find her after the service. I just promised her I’d come, and so here I am.”
“Well, you’re more than welcome to sit with my family and me if you’d like, or I can point you in the direction of the young people’s section, or…”
“Hi, Wesley,” said a strong voice behind them, and Wesley twisted around to face the young pastor, Luke Sweeting, who’d been in town for three years but felt like a forever presence in the church home. Luke was twenty-eight, a Georgia man who’d been educated up North and came home with a desire to preach. He’d come to Colonia on a whim. But as everyone believed in Colonia, there was more to it than just a whim. Things always worked out according to God’s miraculous plan, and they had hope that things always would be that way.
“Pastor Luke!” shouted Wesley, grabbing the man’s hand, pulling him in for a hug. When they drew apart, Wesley began with, “This is our dear guest, Miss Olivia Scott.”
Olivia blushed, and Wesley found this interesting.
“Very nice to meet you, Olivia,” said Luke, shaking her hand. “Welcome to our church. I know it can be overwhelming, but I hope you enjoy your time here, and that you feel God’s presence in the meantime.”
“Thank you,” she said, and Luke excused himself, heading off to the worshippers, a shepherd collecting his flock.
“That’s the pastor,” said Wesley again, and then he nodded. “Well, I’m going to have to insist you sit with my family, Olivia Scott.”
This poor girl, thought Wesley to himself. At least she’d have a story to tell.
My beautiful readers! Thank you so much for reading this far. I hope you all are doing spectacular!
As you guys know, I have challenged myself to write three books this summer, one of them being this short but sweet romance, Church Boy. When it is finished, it will clock in around 50,000 words and be self-published through my go-to website, Smashwords, which you can find here: Link to my books!
Church Boy is a Southern, Christian romantic comedy. Some of you will probably cringe right there (and I absolutely feel you). However, I conceived this story a few years ago, and it felt like the time to crank it out before I totally lost the energy to write it.
This book pairs two unlikely leads: Luke Sweeting is a kind Southern Baptist pastor, whereas Olivia Scott is a struggling law student who is new to town. The two meet at Luke’s church in Colonia, Mississippi, where things do not exactly go according to plan…
Therefore, I wanted to give you guys a little teaser before the book comes out. Right now I am hoping to get it out there by June 1, but it may be pushed back to June 15. We will see, we will see. 😉
Okay, I have to go study for now, but expect more blog posts soon. Thank you all for reading!
Until next time,