One thing was certain about the place I grew up: The ministers who served our community were respected and admired by just about everyone.
Most, like Brother Billy Joe Prather and Father O’Reilly, had been in the Valley for some time and were greatly appreciated not only by their congregations, but others as well. While news of church scandal in other places was almost commonplace on network news, the clergy leadership of our town was something of which we could be proud.
Even newer clergypersons were welcomed with open arms. Following his Psalm 50:9 fiasco early in his preaching career, Brother Jacob seemed to find his footing and was soon well loved by most folks throughout the area.
For a while, it seemed as if he might become too closely associated with Raymond Cooper, but he soon realized his time was better spent shepherding his flock instead of appearing as guest on “Renderings with Raymond.”
After two years, folks still wondered why he preached in his bare feet, but after the novelty wore off, we all came to accept it without much fanfare.
Sarah Hyden-Smith had a rocky welcome, not due to anything she had done. She just happened to arrive when The Valley was overcome with fear of the Federal Reserve System. Getting their cues from none other than Raymond Cooper himself, Valley residents were wary of any outsiders, wondering if they might be in collusion with the federal government.
Eventually, however, Sarah overcame any early misgivings concerning her loyalties and was warmly embraced by most of the community.
Sure, there would always be a few who were uncomfortable with the Valley’s first female clergyperson, but even most of those had come to accept the Methodist pastor as a valuable member of the community.
Congregations see their clergy in various ways. The most obvious is as the preacher, the person who espouses lessons and theology in a way to bring them closer to God and each other. The aged or infirm might see their pastor as the comforter who visits when they are home-bound or in the hospital.
For some, the pastor takes on a less obvious role. It’s a role they don’t speak of often, if ever, during sermons. It’s a commitment they often see as one of their most sacred — that of counselor and trusted confidante.
During his brief courtship of Sarah Hyden-Smith, Frank Bell had come to learn a few things concerning the life of a pastor. He learned that privacy is almost nonexistent. The good folks of the Valley sometimes knew what was going on in Sarah’s life before she did. Between the weekly newspaper column, “Rumor Has It,” and the ranting of Raymond Cooper each weekday from noon until 3 p.m., Sarah felt like others had the scoop on her private life before she did.
Frank had also learned there were things of which Sarah didn’t speak. She sometimes had to leave suddenly to meet with “someone.” He knew this meant she had a counseling appointment with a parishioner.
Sarah was, as were other clerical leaders in the Valley, a trusted confidante. She would never divulge that she was meeting with someone to discuss private matters. So when Sarah mentioned she had a little surprise for Raymond Cooper and Farley Puckett, Frank took notice.
She was hiding something, but the barber knew better than to ask what it was. What did she know about Cooper and Puckett? Or was it A.J. Fryerson she knew something about?
The possibilities were endless, but Sarah knew something, and Frank sensed a little glee in the tone of her voice when she said, “He’s just digging a deeper hole for himself.”
Cooper and Puckett continued their on-air conversation about Barry Jarrell and A.J. Fryerson until the top of the hour, when Sarah went back to the church and Frank re-opened his shop. Just before the 1 p.m. commercial break, Raymond shared a word of warning to his listening audience.
“You know,” Cooper began, “there are those who live to stir up trouble.”
Puckett jumped in, almost on cue, “You’re right about that Raymond. There surely are.”
“And,” Cooper continued, “they will say anything to gain attention, even if what they are saying has no basis in fact.”
“Preach on, Raymond!” Puckett shouted.
Raymond was on a roll as he continued. “Now I’m not saying Barry Jarrell is a bad person or that others who say they ‘might have’ seen A.J.
Fryerson in some mysterious vehicle or walking through some park are lying.”
Puckett interrupted, “Then what are you saying?”
“I’m just saying,” Cooper continued, “there have been a lot of folks creating hysteria about this whole A.J. Fryerson disappearance.”
Interestingly, Raymond seemed to miss, or simply ignore, the truth that most of the hysteria creation came straight from Cooper himself.
“I just want,” he continued his thought, “to be a sea of tranquility in this storm of misinformation.”
As he turned off the radio, Frank Bell thought he heard Sarah giggle.
Visit LennoxValley.com to get inside information about Bascomb Finch and A.J. Fryerson “Lennox Valley: The Book” is now available at Amazon.com and other booksellers.