It was a clear night, the second of August’s full moons. The rare blue moon hung low in the sky, filtering pale light through the trees. A porch was attached to the church’s rectory where Don Winters sat in a rocking chair, alone with his thoughts. The stink of decaying wood rose up in his nose, but he learned to get used to the smell. The renovation would take months, if not a year or more at this rate. He learned to get used to that as well. Patience, after all, is a virtue.
A lantern’s caged flame flickered from a slight breeze that whistled through the leaves. On a splintered table before him was an open journal. Winters still preferred to write by hand, as opposed to clacking his thoughts mindlessly into a keyboard on a glowing screen. There was a realness to the feel of ink flowing across paper that a computer could never replicate for him.
He sighed to himself and picked up a pen.
August 29, 2023
It has been difficult bringing myself back here. The purpose of rebuilding this church should be my cross and burden to bear alone, and it was until ReVival 34. The next day a married couple found me working here and offered to stay, to help with the rebuild. I was obviously taken aback and initially rejected their kind offer, but when they told me He had sent them, something stirred within me. They had kind eyes and smiles, we had never met and they knew my name. “Father Don,” they pleaded with me. “This is our purpose, too.”
Well, I couldn’t say no.
I believe that we have been tasked with something greater than the three of us can possibly understand, but it is our duty to try. He wills it.
* * *
Weeks passed and Don Winters stood in front of his church with a smile on his face. The old, rotting clapboards, restored anew with pristine wood, freshly painted white, the craftsmanship displayed plainly all the way through the double coat of paint. It almost glittered in the hanging late-day sun, evoking a feeling of warmth. However, he stood there basking in the light, feeling a warmth that few others could perceive.
In the distance the cacophony of hammers and tools could be heard from within the church. The work was progressing quite well and he had become confident that the church would be re-opened in days and not the months or years he had considered to himself just two weeks earlier. Behind him were two neat rows of a dozen personal tents, flanked by a much larger one, that served as sort of a mess hall or congregational area.
He heard his name called from the young woman, he could hear the smile in her voice. She was a true believer. He pivoted and turned to see her approaching from the tents.
“Father Don!” she exclaimed again. “Supper is nearly ready and we were really hoping you might join us this evening.”
His smile was practiced, not necessarily genuine, but passable. “No thank you, Mary. You can have a plate brought to the rectory for me.”
“I understand.” She seemed disappointed, but her eyes still sparkled when she looked at him. “Bless you, Father Don.”
“Walk in His light, my child,” he replied and made his way back to the rectory.
* * *
September 17, 2023
The progress on the church has been incredible, but I still feel like I’ve failed Him. Going home for ReVival 35 didn’t feel like a homecoming. I felt like a non-entity in Detroit. I felt like my time on tv didn’t establish what I intended to. How can others be expected to believe if my conviction doesn’t come across as unwavering? I have let Him down and that feeling of failure has been festering deep these last ten days. I have to prove to Him that I am the One.
Mary continues to ask me to join the others for meals. It would not feel right, not yet. I have their trust and devotion in His Word and Light, but I’m not in a place to let my guard down around them. Only Mary and Joseph have been here the longest. The others came because of Mary. They see me as their shepherd, but she brought them here. I must solidify my power over them, I failed to do this in Detroit.
Twelve of them in total. She keeps calling them ‘Father Don’s Disciples’, herself included. I am not proclaiming to be Jesus Christ, they are not following me, they’re following Him. The label makes me uncomfortable, but she insists. She tells me I need to embrace this, that it’s what He would want. Does He also speak to her? This question has kept me awake at night.
* * *
A greyhound bus roared into the parking lot at Soldier Field. There were cars as far as the eyes could see as the bus’ brakes hissed, slowing its tires to a stop.. Mary’s eyes were as big as saucers and she couldn’t contain her smile. Paying customers attending the second night of UltraViolence represented an opportunity for her. Along with Joseph, Mary had spent the better part of a week convincing Don Winters they should go. They reasoned that while he wasn’t scheduled for the event, he could still be at the show and make a difference. They rented the bus, put together a quick sign on canvas, and attached it to the driver’s side of the vehicle.
HIS WORD AND LIGHT MOBILE MINISTRY
“You’ve got to go out there alone,” Mary said. “We don’t matter. It’s you they need to hear. His Word must come from your mouth.”
Don Winters reluctantly agreed and stepped off the bus. He was resplendent in white pants, a crimson button-down shirt, Roman collar, and dark glasses. He stood in front of the canvas sign and looked out ahead of him, tousling his hair with an errant hand. This section of the parking lot was deserted. Row after row of parked cars surrounded them, but everyone was either inside Soldier Field, or reacting to police sirens at the far end of the lot.
He wondered how he would proselytize to nobody. The only company he had at this end of the parking lot were the evening insects dancing in ersatz lighting. Was he alone though? No. Don could feel His presence. He began speaking, and though the words came slowly and clumsily at first, but he found his voice. He preached for nearly an hour, his voice trembling by the end of it, but still nobody came. The parking lot was still full of parked, uninhabited cars. He sighed to himself, defeated and turned to get back on the bus. He opened the door to find Mary sitting in the first row.
“That was wonderful,” she beamed. Behind her were 11 identical smiles, all grinning back.
“Nobody came. Nobody heard me,” he said, defeat edging into his voice.
“We heard you. He heard you. There’s nobody else that matters, Father Don.”
She looked back up with a steely gaze. Mary hadn’t looked at him like this before, it was almost uncomfortable. “You must grant them absolution.” She smiled politely and turned her attention to Joseph.
Don Winters sighed. She was right.
September 23, 2023
I’m writing this from the back of the bus. We’re driving east to the church, another hundred miles to go. I’m tired, my eyes are heavy, but my mind is racing. I can feel Him here. Despite feeling let down by the events of tonight, there was something in Mary’s words that struck a chord.
You must grant them absolution.
Everything we did tonight felt like a failure in His name, but those five words are peanut butter on the roof of my mouth. I can’t get them unstuck. There’s so much happening and I haven’t felt this sense of purpose in a dog’s age. I have Him to thank. It is His will and I am His paragon.
Joseph promised the church will be ready for tomorrow’s service. All 12 parishioners will be there, books in hand, ready to sing, pray, and worship His Word. Two weeks from now is the Almasy Invitational, and I’ve been drawn with Crash Jackson. I don’t know much about him, other than he’s well-traveled. He’s wrestled all over the world and from what I can tell he’s always wanted more. Desirous of more for himself, envious of those who are where he wants to be. He has sins to atone for before he can be granted absolution.
You must grant them absolution.
Regardless of atonement?
You must grant them absolution.
The hand scrawled across the page over and again, as if possessed. Don Winters fell asleep as the Greyhound raced east across I-94.
* * *
The 12 full-fledged members of His Word and Light filed into the church. The finishing touches on the renovations were completed just hours before. He admired the work they had done to get the church ready. It wasn’t perfect, they weren’t master craftsmen after all, but they did their level best and he appreciated that. In Don Winters’ mind He would appreciate it, too. While it wasn’t exactly something to be proud of, that particular fact would slot nicely into the sermon he planned.
The church bell struck for twelve-noon and everyone promptly took their seats and waited. Mary sat behind the organ, playing soft music, her head and shoulder swayed gently with the music. Joseph watched her contentedly from his pew.
Just inside the entrance was a camera, ready to stream the sermon to social media and the greater world. There’s no better way to spread His word than the internet, Mary reassured Don earlier in the week. It was fixated on the lectern and would only capture Father Don. Mary insisted the other members of the church were inconsequential, that anyone watching would only need to see Winters speak His Word.
He stood in front of the rectory’s mirror. He itched and tugged at the restrictive cloth around his neck. It still wasn’t comfortable to wear the collar, but they insisted. They said that He would insist, so he relented. He sighed deeply, fighting back the nervousness, the slight taste of the morning’s eggs rising in the back of his throat.
Don Winters approached the door to the nave and took a deep breath. This was his first sermon in service to His Word and Light. He didn’t count speaking the previous night at UltraViolence. That was a trial run. The pressure was immense, pushing down on him straight from the heavens. In the next room he could hear the organ, Mary’s voice singing and the congregation responding.
“Who’s that comin’,” she sang.
“Don the Revelator!” they enthusiastically called back.
They were already on their feet when he entered the nave. They smiled with bright eyes and warmth. “This was what it felt like to build something”, he thought. To build community. He stepped to the lectern and put his hands down on either side of it. He briefly felt a new sensation coursing through his body, something powerful.
“Good afternoon everybody.”
“Good afternoon, Father Don,” he heard the reply.
“Please be seated.”
The congregation obeyed. As Don Winters began to speak, the video began recording.
“We are here this afternoon to discuss Proverbs 11:2.” He cleared his throat.
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame; But with the lowly is wisdom.”
He looked out and saw heads nodding along with his words.
“We all know that pride is something we must be wary of at His Word and Light. Look around you! We have rebuilt this church with our own 13 pairs of hands. And in a matter of weeks! It is an amazing accomplishment to be sure. Something we would not have achieved without His guidance and grace. We stand in His house, in tribute to Him, and what He has given us. We remain humble in spite of our achievements, because He wishes it so. We are incredibly blessed.”
“However, because this work was done through Him, we know it was our CALLING. We remain humble because He demands it of us. Yet there are many before us who aren’t humble. They’ve been swallowed by their pride and wallow in it. Rollicking in the mud, prideful even as they’re led to slaughter. They’ve never experienced shame. They’ve never been brought to their knees and taught what it means to be humble. We know that’s where real wisdom can be found.”
Winters shifted his weight from one leg to the other. He could feel the sweat beading around his forehead and neck. The collar was unimaginably tight.
“Look at the PRIME wrestling roster. It’s overflowing with prideful sinners. There’s nary a humble man or woman to be seen. Not a single hint of shame to be found. You must be wondering how such a thing is even possible.”
He gripped the sides of the lectern tight, knuckles white from the force.
“It’s because they’ve not yet been introduced to His Word and Light. They have not heard the Gospel. They have not been Sanctified in His name. They have not been granted absolution.”
“That brings me to the Almasy Invitational, a tournament in honor of and respecting a great man. Crash Jackson is the first test on the arduous road. Can he prove that he is also an honorable or great man? Or is he a man constantly fighting himself and his envious desires, weakened by pride, and not yet brought to his knees by shame?”
Winters took a quick drink from a glass of water beneath the lectern before continuing.
“We talk about revivals. This church is a revival, as is our mission. Crash Jackson is a man trying to revive his wrestling career and hopes he can find that at ReVival 36 in St. Louis.He’s been all around the world, seen all the big sights and scenes across Europe, Japan, Central, and South America. He’s seen it all, I can assure all of you that.”
He paused for a moment, allowing the congregation to consider Crash Jackson’s stamped passport.
“And I must relent for a moment, because traveling all over the world and experiencing new cultures and lifestyles is truly an incredible thing for each of us to experience. Some of you have had your eyes opened to it through missionary work, which I believe is the only way to travel. Crash Jackson has traipsed the world to spread his name, while you traveled it to spread His name. This is his pride that I am talking about, my children. He only puts in the work around the world so people will know the name Crash Jackson. He will travel, search, and seek, and never truly find what he is looking for, because…”
He saw the congregation nodding, hanging on to his every word.
“…Crash Jackson lacks conviction,” Winters smiled at this, biting through the final word. “I truly believe this. He has traveled everywhere and never settled. He is a harmless leaf blown far from the tree. Without the branch to sustain him, he will wither and die. Look at us here in this room, in this church! We have conviction! We have belief! We are the righteous followers of His Word and Light and NOBODY can stop us from completing our mission! We have created a community here in His name. We have settled roots into the soil and we will grow strong and sturdy with each other’s support. Crash Jackson has spent his life flippantly pulling up his roots from one desire to the next. He cannot stand against us. He cannot stand against The Revelator.”
He stomped a foot and clapped his hands.
“His pride and envy make the bile rise up in my throat,” he snapped. “An obsession with going viral. An obsession with becoming famous, with ‘making it.’ Well, Crash Jackson claims he’s ready to sit at the big kid’s table. Yet before the first course he must make sure to bow his head and say his prayers. He needs to look deep within himself and understand that pride will only cause his fall. That being envious of going viral and making it will only cause him pain.”
He saw the congregation rise to their feet. A drop of sweat trickled from his brow and down his cheek. His face was flushed. He was alive.
“You must be made to feel shame for the way you’ve lived your life, Crash. I only want for you to feel His Word and Light, to be brought low like myself, to become humble. There’s an easy way out of all this for you. Fall to your knees, bow your head and learn the Gospel. You won’t need to go viral, you won’t need to be a big star, you can be content with what you have, what you have earned in this life.”
Don Winters grit his teeth, the belief was rushing through his very soul.
“When we meet in the ring at ReVival 36, I will give you the opportunity to submit to His will. If you resist, your pride will be exposed for what it is. Crash, you may not be atoned for your sins, but I must grant you absolution.”
He grinned as he heard the congregation’s cheers. For the first time in years, Don Winters had a true purpose.