"Hey First Churchers, Y'all still think you're the only ones going to heaven?" loudly joked rancher Pat Shultz when Greg and Sue Caldwell and others walked through the front door of Grace's Kitchen, late and sweaty because of Bob Bowen's rambling sermon in the church with the broken air conditioner.
Greg winced, and the raucous laughter of the other Methodists sitting at the two tables closest to the doors didn't help. Other members of the First Church tried to ignore the comments and headed for the back two long tables at the rear of the restaurant. Caldwell, owner of the newspaper who had to work with all faiths in town, managed a weak smile. He knew the best way to overcome that stereotype was to throw something back, but he didn't expect it on Sunday morning. He also knew knew that most of the other churches in town believed the same thing, but hadn't preached it.
Last to come in was Brother Bob, his short plump wife Ann, and slim church secretary Joanie "Blondie" Johns, whose traveling salesman husband Ron was out of town again. Most of the members of First church were small business owners or retirees. The Methodists were the town's professional people--bankers, lawyers, big ranchers, doctors, and richer retired folks. They included the mayor, school board and city council members.
The First Churchers had to navigate between smaller tables now occupied by Nazarenes in long dresses and and First Christian members, all of whom were please to have arrived before the First Church crowd, thanks to Bowen's long sermon. They smirk some, already getting their food from Blanche.
"Y'all gonna have a prayer first?" Shultz cackled back. Caldwell snapped back, "We don't need to, but you might consider it," bringing a roar of laughter from the Methodists, cringes from Caldwell's fellow members, and a tug on his arm to sit down from Sue, with a hissed "Shhhhh."
The Methodists just had too much fun, Caldwell thought, a fact resented by the First Church and other groups in town. Caldwell thought they just resented the Methodists enjoying and flaunting much social and political prominence in town.
"Being prominent in this town is like being a head latrine orderly," Caldwell had said to Shultz one time, drawing a frown, and then a laugh. Shultz responded, "Don't you drive a Dodge? I'd rather have a sister in a whorehouse than drive a Dodge."
Other First Church members were whispering about rumored wild parties some of the Methodists were having, including drinking and possible wife swapping. Then Blanche came up with a big pitcher of iced tea, and started pouring coffee for Greg, taking orders, "What'll it be?"
They all started to head to the buffet, but Greg ordered the chicken fry and pintos.
"Wait, we need to say grace," said Brother Bob, and the members hesitated.
"Hi, Graces," Greg yelled at the kitchen where Nancy and Bub Grace were cooking. "Now we've said 'Grace,' let's eat." The other members scrambled to the buffet line, the preacher and his wife didn't know what to say, Sue frowned, and the church secretary, Blondie, smiled.