Raymond Cooper had been priming the pump all week on his daily radio show, "Renderings With Raymond," as he prepared to carry out his evil scheme on the morning of Sunday, July 4.
Talk had been rampant on the show since Monday concerning three topics:
- The Federal Reserve System, and Raymond’s plan to address the problem by accepting his listeners’ outcry to run for mayor in the upcoming election;
- The uproar by Billy Joe Prather, pastor of First Baptist Church, over the town’s plans to shoot fireworks after dusk on the Fourth of July, which happened to fall on the Lord’s Day;
- Raymond’s constant reminder to his listeners that something was stirring within him, something so deep he couldn’t put it into words.
In truth, something was stirring all right. Cooper’s plan to join a church on July Fourth, in time to garner new votes in his election bid, was at hand.
His listeners were concerned. It wasn’t like Raymond to have a problem putting anything into words. Could he be dying? Could he be in some sort of trouble? Could the Federal Reserve System be breathing down his throat? Listeners wanted to know. But if Raymond said he couldn’t verbalize his inner murmurings, who were they to press their champion of the airwaves? He would, they trusted, explain in due time.
Raymond had a small problem as he prepared for his "religious awakening." He settled on the church weeks earlier. For various reasons, the Catholic, Baptist and Methodist churches were eliminated from consideration.
That left Lennox Valley Lutheran Church. After some digging, Cooper found there was a "contemporary" service held in the Lutheran Fellowship Hall at 8:30 a.m. each week. The beauty of the contemporary service, Raymond learned, was that Brother Jacob offered an invitation to join the church at the end of each service, something that wasn’t done in the traditional service held upstairs in the sanctuary.
There was a slight problem. What Cooper knew about church invitations he learned during a brief period when he attended a Pentecostal church with his grandmother almost 50 years earlier. Surely, he figured, things couldn’t have changed that much.
Raymond made his way into the Fellowship Hall at precisely 8:28 a.m. Even though he assumed a place in the back row, with only 13 folks in attendance, everyone noticed that a celebrity was in their midst.
A Lutheran service, he learned quickly after taking his seat in a folding metal chair, was a bit different than the Pentecostal services he remembered. The songs were similar, though less energetic. It was a contemporary service, after all. There was no speaking in tongues or loud "amens" as the minister spoke. Nonetheless, Cooper decided to stick with his plan.
Brother Jacob offered an invitation to join the church as the keyboard began playing "Lord of the Dance." Imagine the surprise as Raymond ran down the center aisle, waving his arms and falling on the floor in front of Brother Jacob, in an attempt at being "slain in the spirit." If he remembered one thing from his Pentecostal upbringing, it was that falling to the floor in religious ecstasy was expected during any authentic conversion.
That afternoon, as the good folks of Lennox Valley made their preparations for the firework festivities, word about the first conversion during a contemporary service spread like wildfire among the community. Could it be? Raymond Cooper? A Lutheran?
Iris Long, editor of The Lennox Valley Hometown News, initially heard of the miraculous event from Vera Penrod, president of the Auburn Hat Society. Iris’s first thought was, "What is he up to this time?"
As always, Vera Penrod was more than happy to offer a suggestion. "Why not call the story ‘Local Celebrity Couple: Cooper and Jesus?’"
Iris had a better idea, however.
Each week, "The Good Folks of Lennox Valley" chronicles the happenings of a fictional American small town.