Pete was the sexton at the first church I served, in charge of maintaining the physical plant of the church. Sextons, not Saint Peter, hold the all-important keys in church life, securing the building after twelve-step meetings, cleaning up before Sunday worship, making sure the boiler is ready and running. A rock-and-roller who had turned his life around, Pete the sexton had finally met the right wife, finally quit drinking, and finally started to think about one day quitting smoking.

With his ever-present dark jeans and T-shirts, salt-and-pepper beard, and rock-star-skinny build, people were always telling Pete that he looked like Eric Clapton. He still played the guitar with other men in that New England suburb, who parked minivans after work and descended into basements where tube amps and Stratocasters kept out the noise of the children's cartoons upstairs.

As sexton, Pete spent as much time visiting with the church members as he did fixing up the church, more comfortable sharing his ...

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