"Give Brother Bob a ready recollection of what he has studied as he preaches your Word," Deacon Wayne, with eyes shut, was praying from the pulpit when Harold Kelly slumped over in the pew, dead.
Sitting beside him, Sister Mary King heard the sound, opened her eyes and gasped. Deacon Wayne was still droning on at the front of the auditorium. Her gasp caught the attention of another deacon, Samuel Lovett, who rose quietly, came over and checked Kelly, and laid his head down in the pew.
By this time, others in the surrounding pews had opened their eyes and were whispering. Deacon Lovett gingerly made his way to the podium and tugged Deacon Wayne's arm, interrupting the prayer and whispering that Kelly had died. Deacon Wayne then quickly recited, "Forgive us of our sins and at last in heaven save us. In the name of Jesus, Amen," so it would be properly heard on high.
Brother Bob Bowen had risen from his front pew in First Church, gone to the office to call an ambulance, and returned to tell the congregation that services were dismissed. Communion would be served at 6 pm that evening and that it would probably be best that the pot luck lunch be served as a dinner instead.
Kelly, 89 years old, had been laid on the cushions of the pew and Sister King was nearby weeping. Deacon Wayne was upset that his prayer had been interrupted, as was Brother Bob, who regretted not being able to preach today's lesson from the Sermon on the Mount about living today, and worried that the collection plate not being passed would hurt the church budget.
"At least there's no doubt he's gone to heaven," said Deacon Lovett. "I wish we could all go like that," said Sister King.
The children of the congregation, at first disappointed at missing out on the lunch, were already outside running around, happy to get to go home early.
When the ambulance arrived, siren blaring and lights flashing, it interrupted the services of the Nazarene and Christian churches across the street, irritating those preachers as parishioners went outside to see what was going on.
Their children joined their friends across the street, laughing and happy to get out of boring church services. A few of the adults edged across the street as the First Church members filed out onto the lawn, asking in whispers about what had happened. As the ambulance attendants brought Kelly's body out on the gurney, adult scowls and hissed "shhhs" silenced the children.
But as soon as the ambulance pulled away, the children were back running around, as the adults tried to shepherd them, complaining, back to their churches, and the pastors tried to coax the adults inside to the unfilled collection plates and unfinished sermons, even though it was almost noon.
To the relief and joy of the children, they all gave up as the First Church members headed for their parked cars, determined to beat the Sunday crowd to the town's only restaurant, Grace's Kitchen.