The sun still had the covers pulled up over its head when an owl rang the bells. A single tom turkey responded, but word spread quickly from limb to limb and the bustling began.
It was time for church.
As the sun yawned and stretched, my parishioners pitched down and picked their pews, assembling in earnest along the rows of wheat, the ladies smoothing the pleats in their dresses and the men straightening their neckties. There were still two or three birds in the balcony when worship began, but as soon as the singing started, they dropped down and joined the choir. The birds sang in different keys and at different tempos, and at times I wondered if they were even singing the same song, but then their voices miraculously melded and made beautiful music. I offered them an intermission to greet their neighbors and nearly lost them entirely. In fact, the hens were still gossiping and the gobblers were still boasting when I stepped up to the pulpit, but they quieted down as soon as I cleared my throat.
I started slowly, deliberately, choosing my words carefully, but next thing I knew the Spirit took hold of me. Thundering one moment and whispering the next, it wasn’t long before I had the flock completely under my spell, the hens swaying to the rhythm of my cadence and the toms amening every word I said. I spoke of the Promised Land, of roosts in tall trees and pastures flowing with milk and honey and lazy grasshoppers. I cautioned my flock against predators that come only to steal, kill and destroy. I prophesied. I pounded the pulpit. I preached.
Eventually, my pleading enticed one poor sinner to respond. I’d had my eye on him from the start, and I could tell I had his attention. He was a tough old bird, for sure. He’d been trying to act like he wasn’t listening to me, like my message didn’t apply to him, but I could see that I was getting through to him. The old bird had lived long enough to realize he wasn’t going to live forever so, refusing to let the shame in his heart hang his proud head, he responded to my call and marched to the front of the assembly with his chest puffed out and his chin held high, determined to ignore the group of gossipy old hens quietly clucking their disapproval and whispering behind their wings.
Service that morning ended with a bang, and it didn’t take long for the outdoor auditorium to empty. I watched my flock file out, some for Sunday lunch, others for a Sunday nap, and then I knelt next to the poor sinner who’d come forward. He’d responded to my call alright, but he sure hadn’t found eternal life at the altar. I laid my hands on him and offered one last prayer of heartfelt thanks, and then I headed home for a Sunday afternoon nap of my own.