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 ...1
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