Church Stories II, Part 4: Pastor Virgil
Written by Myron J. Clifton
“He makes wine that gladdens the human heart”
“How did you did you manage to approve and not approve the liquor store? Jamaal’s grandfather asked Pastor F. “Virgie” Virgil.
“Political skills, my friend. Nothing but skill. I worked both sides and found a way to give the city the backing it needed, show my congregation that I listened to them, and got an all-expenses paid Caribbean vacation for me and the wife.”
“I followed this story and I gotta admit I never thought you’d pull if off. They had you cornered there for a minute, didn’t they?” Jamaal’s grandfather replied.
“Yep, they did. Look, I didn’t care for the liquor store at all. And especially a few blocks from here. We’ve been working for years to clean up this street and I just didn’t see how a liquor store would help. And it was going to be owned by folk from Afghanistan and I’ve got nothing against them, but if a store was going up, why our people couldn’t own it is what my first question and issue was.
So that was the first point the city conceded and I found an investor who owns twenty-five percent of the store. Now that investor happens to be my son, but he ain’t saved anyway.”
All the preachers in the room laughed.
Jamaal sat in the back of the office listening and waiting for church to start. They were at one of the largest, oldest, and established churches in the city. Booker Temple, named after its founder Curtis Booker, who opened the church over eighty years ago.
Now Pastor Virgie led the church and under his leadership the church jumped into city politics and through his efforts, the church opened its own credit union, three apartment complexes, and owned a city block worth of buildings, offices, and homes. The church wasn’t part of his grandfather’s organization of churches, but because Pastor Virgie and his grandfather were good friends, their churches fellowshipped a couple of times of year – and always during his grandfather’s anniversary season due to the amount of money the large church could and would raise for his grandfather.
“The city knew they needed my agreement to get the liquor store built but my congregation didn’t want it there. They pressured our city council person – our boy Fred – to vote no and if he voted no his peers would as well. They also expected me to lead a protest at the council on the night of the vote. I was stuck. But being stuck is temporary when you have money and me and my church got a lot of that.”
“You paid off Fred?” Jamaal’s grandfather asked.
“Yes and no. I told him I wouldn’t support his re-election if he voted no and he knows he can’t win this district without my support, so that took care of him.”
“Makes sense. Good move.”
“Then I had a meeting downtown with the liquor store owners.”
“You did some arm-twisting, didn’t you?” Jamaal’s grandfather asked but already knew the answer.
“Not really. I merely told them to move all their banking to our bank, to hire a few of my members, and to sell twenty-five percent of their business to an associate of mine – my son.”
“Boss move, my friend.”
“Oh, that’s not it. I needed to secure a bag for the church, too, so they generously pledged to donate three percent of their gross sales to the church. That should be about seventy-five thousand a year for me, uh, the church. Three percent – one percent for the Father, one percent for the son, and one percent for the Holy Ghost.”
Jamaal watched the men celebrate the jokes on what they called “securing the bag” and realized he was again listening to plots and plans he’d rather not know about.
Pastor Virgie stood up and the other men in the room, including Jamaal’s grandfather, followed his lead as they all prepared to leave the office to walk ceremoniously into the church sanctuary where services had been going on for close to an hour already.
“Oh, the last thing is — the Afghan’s paid for me and the wife to go on a Caribbean vacation so that I was gone when the final vote at the city council took place. With me out-of-town, and my church occupied with meetings and planning that I left them with, there was little to no opposition and certainly no protest during the vote and it passed. That store has been raking in the bucks ever since it opened a few months ago.”
Pastor Virgie patted Jamaal’s grandfather on the shoulder as the line of preachers exited pastor Virgie’s office and walked into the church.
Jamaal followed close behind, thinking about his training that described these men as a group of holy men chosen by God to preach his word and lead His flock.
Jamaal sat in the back of the church so he could do homework. He was surrounded by other young folk also doing homework.
The service was loud and lively and the choir, one of the best in the entire area, were so good Jamaal and the other kids stopped homework to listen and join in when they sang one of their more popular songs.
Once they started raising money, Jamaal and the other teenagers tuned out and refocused on their homework.
Jamaal was deep into his algebra assignment when out of the corner of his eye he saw an usher walking fast toward the pulpit, brushing past the money-counters and other ushers.
The white-glove wearing usher walked straight to Pastor Virgie who was sitting in his pastor’s chair watching and listening to the organ music that played in most churches as money was being given, taken, and counted.
The usher looked intense as he whispered into the pastor’s ear. Slowly most of the eyes of the congregation shifted so that, by the time the usher had finished whispering, most of the congregation was looking at the pastor wanting to know what had been so important for the pastor to hear.
Pastor Virgie was still. His hand on his forehead like he was worrying and in distress. Pastor Virgie then leaned over to Jamaal’s grandfather and whispered something to him. Jamaal, like everyone else, watched both men and tried to read the moment. Something happened.
Jamaal saw his grandfather place his hand on Pastor Virgie’s leg and squeeze it just as Pastor Virgie stood up and politely took podium away from the minister who was still asking for more money from the congregation.
The music stopped and all eyes were on Pastor Virgie as the congregation waited for what must have been important news to interrupt anniversary fundraising.
“Family,” Pastor Virgie started. I have news. Sad news to share. God is good. God is always good, and we don’t always know His ways or His reasons.
“Uh-oh” Jamaal said a little too loudly, causing a few of his peers to angrily look at him. Jamaal knew that when preachers invoked God in the way Pastor Virgie just did, the news was going to be bad.
“I just got word we lost one of our own early this morning. Mother Charles son, Paul, was shot dead this morning.”
The congregation gasped and there were sounds of whispered prayers and folk started hugging one another looking around for Mother Charles.
“Paul was a good man who struggled. We all know it. Paul was a son of this church and we saw him struggle with drinking and he just couldn’t beat it, God bless him.”
“God bless him” the congregation responded in unison.
“Paul was shot outside that new liquor store we all opposed. They say he tried to rob the store to steal alcohol. We told them devils not to put the Satan’s store in our community!” Pastor Virgie’s voice was rising, and the congregation’s responses were rising in response.
“The devil made the city put that den of iniquity right down the street from God’s Holy House! We fought them – you fought them – but the council is godless! No, wait, they’re not godless, their god is money! They’ve taken money and the devil has taken our son! We won’t stand for it, we will march on that liquor store, we will march on the city council, and we won’t stop until our neighborhoods are wiped clean with the blood of Jesus!”
The congregation was now on its feet yelling in unison and support of the pastor’s righteous anger directed at the evil liquor store and city council.
Jamaal’s grandfather was quieter than usual on the drive home and Jamaal was a quiet as he always was, thinking about the strange day at the huge church with pastor Virgie and the strange twist with the liquor store.
“Will he really lead a march on the store and city council?” Jamaal asked breaking the silence shortly a few minutes from home.
“I doubt it. The announced day of the protests is the same day he and his wife and family – his grown kids – will be on their Caribbean vacation.
“Okay.” Jamaal responded, completely unsurprised.
Later as Jamaal started to drift off to sleep, he decided he would not be a drinker.
© 2019 by Myron J. Clifton, Dear Dean Publishing. All Rights Reserved.