Bella was saved from responding as the waitress returned to take their orders. Did he mean to convert her? Is that why he was being so nice? So he could add a tally mark to the ‘Number Saved’ board? If so, he was going to be disappointed. When the waitress left, she decided to be upfront with him.
“Andy… Pastor Andy… um Assistant Pastor Andy…” she began.
“Call me Andy.”
“OK, Andy. Just so you know, I’m not interested in God. My questions are about Pastor Toby and this church. “
“Fair enough. What do you want to ask?”
Bella thought through the list of questions that had been mounting in her mind over the last couple of weeks. Where should she start? Pastor Toby? Jude? The discrepancy in size between the outside and the inside of the church? The weird backyard? The church people’s behavior? She decided to start with the most important.
“Who is Pastor Toby?”
Andy looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, where is he from? How did he get here? Is he really as nice as he seems? How long have you known him?”
Andy held up his hand. “Whoa! Slow down! You ARE full of questions!”
“Sorry. It’s just he seems so… different than anyone else I’ve ever known.”
“That’s because he is.”
At her puzzled look, he said, “Maybe if I gave you a brief history of this church, it would help.”
Bella nodded, excitement beginning to build. Was she finally going to get some real answers?
She waited as Andy lowered his head and appeared to be thinking about what to say. Finally he looked up at her and began.
“This church hasn’t been here forever, as some people like to think, but it has been here for a very long time. It began about the same time as this city. Back then it looked different than it does today, but other than appearance, it’s pretty much the same.”
“So, this church is old. It doesn’t look it.” Bella said.
“That’s because it changes to keep up with the needs and interests of the people who attend. As styles changed, the church responded. But that’s only on the surface. The core of this church has remained the same.”
“OK. So the church is old and keeps changing. That doesn’t help me understand Pastor Toby any better. Where does he fit in? Who exactly is he?”
“You mean besides being pastor of this church?”
“I mean where did he come from? What is he really like?”
“What he’s like is easier to answer so I’ll start with that. He is just what you’ve seen. He’s loving and kind and good and generous. All the time. There is nothing even slightly negative in him.”
“That’s not possible,” Bella said as the waitress returned with their order.
“Here you go,” the waitress said, setting down their plates. “Do you need anything else?”
Bella and Andy glanced at their food, then shook their heads.
“Nope, it looks great,” Andy said. He thanked the waitress, picked up the salt shaker, and offered it to Bella. “Salt?”
“Thanks.” Bella salted her eggs then handed it back to him. She peppered her eggs, handed the pepper shaker to Andy, spread some jam on her toast, then picked up her fork. “So, about Pastor Toby. He seems to be a good man. But always? 100% of the time? That’s just not possible. We all make mistakes, have grumpy days, and harbor mean thoughts from time to time. That’s just part of being human.”
“That’s true,” Andy said slowly. “For a human.”
“I KNEW it!” Bella said before she could stop herself.