He sits awkwardly, thumbing through the hymnbook, occasionally sweeping an empty gaze about the congregation. He seems tense and embarrassed. No doubt he knows people are looking at him, dressed in those clothes and all.

His seat is right across from me. We’re supposed to be singing Here I Raise Mine Ebenezer but most of us are scrutinizing the visitor now. Old Mrs. Stafford has choked off her bawling monotone long enough to scowl at him as though he were the devil himself, but soon she dismisses him with an It’s-a-disgrace-to-the-house-of-the-Lord look and turns again to blare into her poor hymnal. The guy came in just as the hymn started, and I saw Carl Oberg’s mouth twitch as he asked the guy You’d like a seat in the back wouldn’t you and the visitor’s shoulder-long hair swayed back and forth No toward the middle, please. So Carl twitched him down to his seat and twitched apologetically to the young couple in the pew and they scooted over when the guy sat down next to them. The New One smiled at their little daughter and she said Google and they jerked her into mommy’s lap and scooted over a couple of inches more.

Slowly, deliberately, he surveys us as we stare at him. His eyes are empty and heavy and as they swing over to meet mine I bury my face in the hymnbook and start to raise mine Ebenezer again. Finally he looks back at the open hymnbook, but he does not sing.

Now turn to number twenty-four number twenty-four the minister says. There is a flush of pink in the minister’s ears and he glances hastily from Carl Oberg to the organist to the New One and then down to his hymnal again. Number twenty-four, he says, and the organ cues the audience:

The Son of God goes forth to war,

A kingly crown to gain;

His blood red banner streams afar:

Who follows in his train?

Old Byron Hampstead leans over and shouts into my ear as we start to sing. It’s one of them hoopers that smokes LDS, he says. Hippies, I say. And now they’re even in our churches, he says. I frown at Old Byron to show my disagreement and Byron works his teeth at me and frowns back. I think it’s a good thing, I tell him, meaning it. Byron can’t think of anything more to say to me if I feel that way about it. He checks out the New One once more and, shaking his head, resigns himself to the hymn.

The New One’s eyebrows have puckered into a question mark while he’s read the words. Probably wonders about the train, I think—like what does a train have to do with the Son of God going to war … well, fella, it isn’t talking about a real train, you know. It’s like following behind the Son of God as he goes to war … yeah, it does seem kind of ironic for the Prince of Peace to go to war—but it’s not really saying that, either—you see, it’s more like a figurative war, against evil … well, it’s an old song.

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Now he notices Mrs. Stafford’s discordant voice lurking above the others and he watches her. She has this one memorized from years back—the hymnal is closed upon her thumb and, with eyes closed and both her chins stretched heavenward, she lashes the ceiling with song. For the first time I can see a change on the New One’s face as a hint of a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. But with his hand he hides the smile. His hand is trembling.

Joe McCartney is sitting with Karen one row in front of me, to the left. He raises his eyebrows at me to say it’s great that he’s here but will he understand, and I raise mine back that I just wish he could. The guy was looking for something, I will tell Joe Tuesday night, and his search brought him here.

I wish the guy could have been at the rock concert last week. Seelah, the name of the group was, and I can still hardly believe how they got the love of Christ across through some of the hardest rock I’ve ever heard. They had been professional, they said—a couple of them had once backed up Janis Joplin—when their search for meaning in life led them to a prayer meeting where they all gave their lives to Jesus. Jesus is the only way to secure purpose in life, they said. And I remember listening to their heavy sound, and observing the humble peace on their faces and the hush that fell over the audience as they played Falling Leaf:

I’m just a falling leaf in the wind, Lord

Please, before I hit the ground

Give me a life, ‘cause I’m dying, Lord

I don’t know why I’ve been around …

About two hundred young people responded when Seelah challenged us to commit ourselves to Jesus. By that time Mrs. Johnson and Mrs. Stephenson had stomped out declaring that if that was Christianity they wouldn’t hear of it, but no one noticed because the lights were out and the music was playing. I just wish the New One could have been there … maybe he would have understood those guys.

Would you please stand now for the pastoral prayer, the minister is saying. He prays for the war and for the riots and for the president and for the congressman and for the missionaries in their foreign fields. But I do not close my eyes, for I cannot help watching the New One across the aisle. His eyes were closed for a moment and his mouth quivered a bit, but now he is looking at the Bible in the pew rack. He reached out to pick it up, but he shakes uncontrollably and pulls his hand back as if someone slapped it.

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Old Byron Hampstead has his nose in my ear again. He probably has that TD and everything, he says. VD, I whisper back, and Old Byron hollers What? right in the middle of the minister’s prayer and when everybody’s finished looking at me turn red I pull out one of the envelopes and write, You have no right to say that. How about love thy neighbor? Byron reads it and works his teeth double-time, then lapses back into prayer.

We’re afraid of you, fella, sitting here in our church. You’re different … do you want attention or are you really seeking something in life? I’ve spoken with some of your people, I heard your frustration … but we’ve got the same hangups. Why do you wear your hair so long … I know that’s not what counts, but can’t you see they won’t accept you if you look that way? I remember the miserable search, man. I needed Christ and all I got was thee and thou and I just couldn’t see it … I know you don’t dig this stuff—the language and all. You see, we’ve grown up with it … but it’s like Seelah said at the concert: Jesus is the rock, man …

The minister has begun his sermon on stewardship. The New One studies the minister awhile and then closes his eyes. He seems to be groping for the root of what’s being said. This church has been sustained by your Christian stewardship, the minister says, but it will be faced with yea-so-many-more trials in the future. We need to each take account of ourselves, and give as the Lord would have us to do …

He cranes around in his seat and colored light from the window paints his face in a psychedel of red and green and blue. His eyes transmit a frenzied I-don’t-be-long-here as he checks to see how far it will be to walk out. Lord, speak to him … in spite of us, speak to him in some way … if he’s really searching for the answer to life, let him find you now. We’re afraid of him, Lord, but I want to love the guy …

It’s almost time to go home. Mrs. Stafford has exhausted her usual three amens to the minister’s sermon, meanwhile glaring at the New One. Several young couples have stolen glances occasionally and lifted their eyebrows at each other, and twice Old Byron leaned over to expound upon the New One again, but I wouldn’t listen to him. And he is still over there—relaxed a little more now, slumped down with his big hands resting on his thighs. Just a falling leaf, Lord … show him your love … don’t give up, fella—God can talk to you in your own way … give him a life, Lord …

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We’re singing Take My Life and Let It Be and he’s squinting at the title. No, it’s really not a contradiction, friend—it’s not really asking God to let your life be … you gotta read on into the next phrase to get the meaning. Consecrated? Well, something like devoted, I guess …

It’s over now, and he’s caught in the center-aisle traffic of hand shaking and back slapping and How-ya-doing-George and he’s looking down at the floor, alone with fifty people around him. I guess I should go talk to him, be friendly and all, but I don’t know what I’d say. He probably doesn’t want to talk to us anyway … help him, Lord … The people make a circuit around him as he stands there with his hands hanging but gradually he is inching his way toward the back. He spins around one last time before leaving and sweeps those eyes over the empty pews, and it’s kind of like a ritual. And then his eyes meet mine, and this time I do not look away …

It’s Tuesday. His eyes stare at me again, beneath the black headline.

D. John Benson is a senior at Greenville College, Greenville, Illinois. He has been editor of the college newspaper and has contributed to several church magazines.

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