As the eighth chorus of "Mighty is Our God" came to an end, Iris could hear Marvin Walsh verbally struggling at the door 20 feet behind her. With the electronic piano mercifully silent, it was obvious Marvin was having some kind of argument with whoever was outside the door.
Brother Jacob was doing his best to continue the service as usual, though he could see Marvin pointing his finger at someone or something and could hear his muted voice, even at the front of the fellowship hall.
Among other things, Oct. 25 was Reformation Sunday, the official day when Lutherans are allowed to feel superior to everyone else. Lutherans aren’t alone in having their own special day. Catholics have the Feast of the Ascension, marking the ascension of Christ to heaven a few weeks after Easter. Methodists have Aldersgate Day, celebrating the day John Wesley’s heart felt strangely warmed at Aldersgate, and Baptists have Billy Graham’s birthday on Nov. 7.
Marking Martin Luther’s break from the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans everywhere consider Reformation Day the third most important day of the Christian year, behind Easter and Christmas.
As Brother Jacob began the celebration, the church became silent when Marvin shouted, "No!" from the back of the room.
At that moment, you could have heard a pin drop on the tile floor. Brother Jacob gazed at Walsh, who by now realized what he had done. Everyone in the congregation turned to see who was yelling behind them.
Walsh stood there, not moving, in stunned silence. It was apparent he hadn’t meant to make such a disturbance. Whomever or whatever was outside the door had incited Marvin’s outburst.
Iris Long looked over at Raymond Cooper, fidgeting in the folding metal chair at the opposite end of her row. It was clear the day wasn’t going as planned.
"What are they up to?" Iris asked herself again.
She had a hunch something was going to happen, and it looked like she was right. She waited along with the rest of the congregation as Marvin stood in silence. After what seemed like minutes, but was actually only a few seconds, Brother Jacob finally spoke.
"Are you OK, Mr. Walsh?"
Marvin was frozen in place, looking like a deer staring at the headlights of a car barreling toward it, unwilling or unable to speak.
The congregation continued to stare at him as his eyes began to ricochet between them — Brother Jacob and Raymond Cooper.
Iris was quite familiar with Cooper’s schemes by now, and she turned to see how he would respond to Walsh’s predicament. As usual, he didn’t let her down.
"Brother Jacob!" Raymond shouted, gathering the attention of the congregation. "I believe I know what has happened to Marvin."
The preacher, still shocked by Walsh’s outburst, slowly moved his eyes from Marvin to Raymond without saying a word. Like Iris, the young Lutheran pastor had learned much about Raymond Cooper in just two years he had served in the Valley. At this point, there was almost nothing Raymond might do that would surprise his pastor.
Raymond continued. "Just yesterday, Marvin shared with me his need to return to the church. He explained much of his desire to return was kindled by the positive influence of our new associate pastor."
Cooper waited, expecting a response from Brother Jacob. Realizing no response was forthcoming, he continued.
"Marvin called me just last night and told me what had happened to him since making the decision to return to this spiritual haven. He said he could feel the good Lord speaking to him, telling him to get back to church. But at the same time, he could feel the devil pulling at him, doing his best to keep him from joining us in worship on this special day. I suppose the devil knew the celebration of Reformation Sunday might be just the thing to bring Marvin into the fold.
"So I told him," Raymond continued, "If that devil tries to hold you back, look him straight in the eye and shout ‘no!’"
The congregation listened in stunned silence as Raymond spoke.
"I believe, Brother Jacob, that is exactly what happened just now."
"Good Lord," Iris muttered to herself. "He’s gone and done it again."