Disturbed by the shallow sermons and self-aggrandising showmanship of his pastor, Bill confronts Doctor Littlehope privately only to be brushed off as an ignorant layman. An upcoming revival event at the church run by a TV evangelist who claims he can heal and raise people from the dead raises even more red flags. Certain this isn’t the hand of God at work, Bill and his friends set about exposing the scam.
But there’s more to Bill than meets the eye, and when locals begin revealing the miraculous works he’s performed quietly, far from the spotlight, everyone, including his close friends, begin to ask, “Who is Bill Harmony anyway?”
GENRE: Christian ISBN: 978-1-922066-87-9 ASIN: 1922233250 Word Count: 27,104
The church complex was beautiful. The original building had been erected in the 1920’s, but it had been added onto many times since. However, unlike many older churches that had been expanded, Hilltop Community Church always used an architectural firm to blend each new add-on with the rest of the complex, resulting in several lovely, sand-colored, ivy-covered brick structures of immense dignity.
Many people who never crossed the threshold on Sunday, or on any other worship day, contracted to use the facilities (for a large fee) for weddings. In fact, it was quite a status symbol among the young and beautiful of the city to be able to smugly say, “Oh, yes. We were married at the Hilltop Community Church.”
The pastor of Hilltop Community Church – known as HCC to the insiders – was the Reverend Doctor T. Earl Littlehope.
The Reverend Doctor arrived one lovely Sunday morning in May promptly at 8:30. His dark blue Jaguar XJ12 slid quietly into the parking place marked: PARKING PLACE FOR DOCTOR LITTLEHOPE ONLY. In small letters beneath the large ones was written: “Violators will be towed.”
The good Reverend’s staff was waiting on him, standing on the sidewalk that led to the administration building. As the Jaguar rolled to a smooth stop, Doctor Littlehope’s assistant pastor – Reverend Arnold Levy – moved forward to open the door, and Littlehope rose to his full stately height and walked to the group of people waiting for him.
Doctor Littlehope was an imposing figure; slender, handsome, tall, with dark wavy hair in a carefully styled pompadour, and impeccably dressed. His suit, handmade by a firm in New York City, was of dark blue wool, hanging perfectly on his lithe form. His shirt was silk and blindingly white; his silk tie a muted blue, but obviously expensive. The doctor’s shoes were handcrafted Italian, and polished to a high gleam.
The group of staff members waiting for the good reverend doctor was a mixed bag, two women and three men. One of the men, Reverend Max Chanter, was the music director at the Hilltop Community Church. The others were the Youth Minister (Sally Young), the Church Administrator (Nancy Clerk), the Family Minister (George Kidder) and the Seniors Minister (Ralph Olden). They hovered and fluttered around the great man as he slowly made his way into the building, the door held open by Reverend Chanter.
Once inside the administration building, the staff followed Doctor Littlehope to his spacious office and gave him the morning report. The two early services were covered by staff members, leaving the 11:00am service, the main event, for the senior pastor. This was the service that was televised, and it was important that Dr. Littlehope be visible.
When the staff left, Littlehope sank into his custom made chair, and leaned back. He unlocked and opened his top desk drawer and pulled out a file containing his morning sermon. Though few people knew it, Doctor Littlehope did not write his own sermons. For many years he had subscribed to a very discrete sermon service in California. An excellent sermon-writer provided two sermon manuscripts a week for a very modest cost. At first, the sermons were mailed in an unmarked brown envelope, and they came to Littlehope’s home address. But now, in the age of the computer, the sermons were e-mailed directly to the good doctor’s home computer. He simply printed them out and brought them to the church with him.
Since Doctor Littlehope had little use for religious matters, and almost none for the Bible, his sermons were always modern offerings of great eloquence and little substance. Littlehope was not an intelligent man, though he was a clever one with great personal charm. He had struggled through college and seminary, and his Doctor of Ministry degree was granted only after he hired a brighter student to write his dissertation. But with his charm and regal bearing, he convinced thousands of the gullible each Sunday that he was a giant of the Church.
As the time approached for the eleven o’clock service, a discrete knock came on the pastor’s door. “Enter,” he said in mellifluous tones, slipping into his pulpit voice.
Nancy Clerk came quietly, almost apologetically, into the office, removed the clean and newly pressed black clerical robe from the long bag that held it, and then helped Doctor Littlehope into it.
Like everything else having to do with the Reverend Doctor T. Earl Littlehope, the robe was made of rich material, hanging perfectly on his shirt-clad shoulders. Each sleeve held three broad light gray stripes telling all who looked that he was a Doctor of Ministry, not a mere Master of Divinity.
Slowly and in procession, the great man and his staff made their way down the broad, carpeted, well-lit tunnel that ran under N.E. 82nd Street from the administration building to the church. In the large vestibule of the church building there was a narrow door that opened behind a large potted palm. The group entered the vestibule through this door and dispersed, Doctor Littlehope going through another door into a small study. Here he would wait for the processional.
Another quiet knock on the study door, and Littlehope opened it to his music minister, Max Chanter. No words were spoken, but the good doctor moved out to take his place in front of the robed staff members, who themselves were in front of the choir. As the ushers opened the rear doors of the church, the organist hit the first chords of Giardini’s “Come, Thou Almighty King,” and the Reverend Doctor T. Earl Littlehope glided down the center aisle of the vast, crowded church.
All of the worshippers were standing, looking back toward the beginning procession as if Littlehope were a bride coming to the marriage altar. Slowly, the procession continued down the aisle until they reached the center of the chancel rail. There Doctor Littlehope turned right, while the rest of the procession turned left. It was only a short way around the rail to an opening that led up a few steps onto the sacred platform. The pastor took his seat in a carved-back throne-like chair sitting slightly higher than the chairs on either side.
After the preliminaries, hymns, prayers, offering, choir special, etc., were over, the time came for the great man’s sermon. He rose slowly from his seat and glided the few steps to the raised platform containing a richly carved cherry wood pulpit. Littlehope had great presence, and his timing was superb. He stood in the pulpit with his head down as if praying for some seconds. He was not praying, because he rarely prayed; his association with the Almighty was not all that close, and Doctor Littlehope’s sermon delivery never depended on spiritual inspiration.
Lifting his handsome head, the good doctor began to slowly speak the memorized words to the thousands of listeners who hung on his every word. “Today I want to speak to you about the nature of human-ness,” he began. As he spoke, his voice changed, growing stronger and more dynamic. Finally, he told an amusing anecdote which brought laughter from all sides. And when the laughter had subsided, he composed his face in a grave manner and delivered the ending punch line to the sermon: “And now I say to you, as Christ said to the woman taken in adultery, ‘Go and sin no more.'”
When his head dropped as though in prayer, Max Chanter took the signal and led the choir and orchestra in the final hymn. Now came the recessional. Doctor Littlehope led the staff and choir up the central aisle and into the vestibule. The choir peeled off to their robing room, and the staff arranged themselves in a loose line, ending with the senior pastor closest to the front doors.
In many churches on Sunday morning, the senior pastor lingers in the vestibule shaking hands and speaking with the parishioners until the last one has gone, but not at Hilltop Community Church. At HCC, Doctor Littlehope stayed only long enough to shake a few hands, and then he slowly slid back until he could slip through the door that led to the tunnel.
The Sunday morning ritual was now over, and once again the Reverend Doctor T. Earl Littlehope had presented a triumph of meaningless words to a congregation – both present and gathered around their television sets – with itching ears.