A few months ago I had been asked to be the liturgist at our 10:45 a.m. church service, so I was later than I wanted to be getting into the sanctuary. The ushers were already standing there to greet those coming into worship. A friend coming up behind me said as I stopped to take my bulletin, “Candace, I loved your article in the Standard-Times this morning.”
“Thank you,” I said, my heart filling with happiness. As I turned around to hug her, a man – you know the type, older than me, expensive suit, there every Sunday, sits in the same place on the same pew, the absolute pillar of the church, probably tithes more than I make – turned around and asked, “Are you Candace Cooksey Fulton?”
“Yes,” I said. Why lie? There for a second I thought another unsolicited compliment was coming my direction. He had a rolled up section of the San Angelo Standard-Times under his arm.
No. This wasn’t a compliment. My article that Sunday morning was about “Somebody’s Rusty,” a mission service to feed and help provide for the dire needs of the homeless and hungry headquartered in our church, First United Methodist in downtown San Angelo. I’ve participated with the ministry for a year now, particularly by helping serve breakfast every Sunday morning, when we feed 100, sometimes 150, men, women and children.
“I’ve been reading your articles for years,” he snarled, “and I don’t like you, because …”
“I’m a liberal,” I offered, thinking a bit of light-hearted honesty would soften the blow.
“That’s right,” he said in all seriousness, extracting the newspaper from under his arm and poking it toward my chest, forcefully enough that I took a couple of steps back, actually thinking, “Someone will see this and say something. Someone will tell him you can’t be mean in church.”
But I was on my own. That morning’s article had made him furious. “We do not want this mess in our church,” he said. “Nourishing souls?” He asked, referring to the article’s headline. “You’re not nourishing souls, you’re filling bellies. Tell me why you believe you’re nourishing souls.”
Actually, I’d written in the article that service with the mission nourished my soul, but I said, “Well John Wesley said…” And I was going to say, the Methodist church’s founder had preached that for souls to be saved, peoples’ basic needs of food, warmth or shelter, hurts and ailments must be tended to first. It’s not a radical idea. New Testament followers, AKA Christians, should understand the concept. You would think.
Anyway, that’s as far as I got, because the furious man actually poked me my chest with the paper and hissed, “I didn’t ask you what John Wesley said, I asked you to say how you think you’re nourishing souls.”
I was near tears, and knew I had to get away or I wouldn’t be able to read the scripture in a few minutes. I just said that I couldn’t talk more right then. I needed to get to the lectern to read the liturgy. I asked the man his name. He told me and said he would give me his phone number if I wanted to call him later. I said it wouldn’t be necessary. I wished I’d said I would pray for him.
The lady who had just handed me my bulletin, said rather coolly, “Well he’s entitled to his opinion, just like you are to yours.” Later, I learned that my friend told our pastor what happened. He sent me a text telling me not to be discouraged.
I prayed about it, and the answer that came was not the answer I wanted. I wanted God’s angels to smite the man, make him see I was right and he was wrong. But no, there was no apparent smiting. A few Sunday’s later, as we were “passing the peace,” I crossed the aisle, called the man by name and wished him a good day. He smiled and said, “Thank you, Candace. You have a good day too.”
What I’ve learned is what I’ve always known. This labeling thing has gone far too far – in our communities, our churches, and especially our country. We need to stop.
I’m going to try very hard to do my part. All I can do is get the mote out of my own eye. I can’t fix anyone, or anything, and I sure can’t make anyone like me – especially those I can’t show grace toward.
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.