The Walker


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(This is a short story rather than my usual column. It is a first draft, and all comments are appreciated.)

By Bobby Neal Winters

I still remember the very first time that I saw Enoch. I was on an almost empty city street with Y-mount rising at my back and Mount Timpanogos scantily clad in white off to my right. It was when I was fresh out of seminary and on my first assignment.

I had just finished up three years of seminary—which had cost me $40,000, a marriage, and most of my faith in God—only to be assigned to Provo, Utah. This is not the place that most liberal Protestant ministers would choose to be assigned, but if my seminary education had taken almost everything else away from me, it had not destroyed my sense of duty.

I was raised as the son of an old-style Methodist minister who had earned his ordination by going to "licensing school" for two weeks every summer and was of the tradition that you go where the bishop sends you regardless of your own desires, and Provo, Utah is where the bishop had sent me.

On the up side, Provo is in a beautiful part of the world. The Wasatch Mountains rise like a wall on the eastern half of the sky. During the bulk of the year, the 12,000 foot tall Mount Timpanogos lies like a princess sleeping under a white blanket that only gradually disappears as the western sun removes it like a lover. There are certain spots where you can stand for a short while and pretend that you are in a place that is being seen by man for the first time and then turn around see a metropolitan area of a quarter of a million people in a single glance.
That is where the downside comes in. It's not that I don't like cities. I do. They are great places for church growth. There is a myth in this country that rural areas are religious and great places for churches, but the data does not bear that notion out. It is the cities that are religious, and it is the cities that are great places in which to plant churches, because they are where the people are. The problem for a minister with Provo and the surrounding area can be summarized in one word: "Mormons."

I've haven't got a thing in the world against Mormons. They are as fine a group of people who ever walked the face of the earth. The problem, however, is that Utah County, in which the Provo metro area sits, is ninety percent Mormon. These people belong to a church already and one that has a pretty tight grip on them to say the least. That leaves about 25,000 people in the rest of the county for the Protestants and the Catholics to fight over.

The bishop said, "Well, if you were in a town of 25,000 in the Midwest, there would probably be three or four of Methodist Churches there. All we want you to do is to start one. After all, the Lord said, 'Feed my sheep.'"

The Bishop somehow knows where my buttons are; I suppose that's why he's the bishop. But it's kind of hard to reconcile that old-fashioned sort of God-talk with the kind of education that I received in seminary. Some of my professors were positively offended by any notion of a personal God. To them, God is at most a "ground of being" or an "essence," and the Bible is just a collection of old stories written by savages. There were exceptions among the professors at the seminary that I attended, but not enough of them to help me past the shock of having my naïve faith kicked out from under my feet.

Somehow I survived it even though my marriage didn't. At the end, I was without a helpmate, 40K in debt and needed a job. Regardless of the state of my faith, there is precious little else that an M. Div. degree prepares you for besides being a minister, and so I went ahead and became one and in Provo, Utah to boot. Go figure.

And it was walking on 100 North in Provo that I first laid eyes on Enoch.
There is a little mainline Protestant enclave in Provo near the corner of 100 North and University Avenue. A United Church of Christ sits directly on the southwest corner and an Episcopal Church is a half a block west on the north side of 100 North. I had been there to visit the pastor of the United Church of Christ. She was a lady in her fifties more than ten years my senior, divorced, like me, but remarried, unlike me. Her once light brown hair was shoulder length and streaked with white, but she had made the decision not to dye it. More likely, she had failed to make the decision to dye it.

My hopes were that she would allow me to use the fellowship hall of her church as a location in which to hold worship services while I put a congregation together. To say that she was enthusiastic about the idea would be a slight overstatement, but there was that feeling of camaraderie among Protestants in Utah County that is hard to describe if you haven't been there. I suppose it is that way anywhere one group has a ninety percent majority.

"This is something that the board has to decide, and my congregation will be taking vacations on and off until after Labor Day," she said. "There is no point in even trying to meet until then." There was no hint that she was willing to simply let me meet there temporarily until a decision was made, nor did I think there would be, but that didn't surprise me. One of the first things they teach you in seminary is to never turn over control of your building to an outside group.
"Could you give me your number?" she asked.

I gave her the number of the basement apartment that I was renting, said goodbye, and left from her office door onto University Avenue. I was walking slowing while thinking about my next action. I could not wait until after Labor Day to start my church. For some reason, I was beginning to have a feeling of urgency. It wasn't from my District Superintendent or my bishop; it was somewhere from deep within myself that I hadn't felt since before seminary.

I reached the corner, turned, and started walking west on 100 North toward the place I had parked my car across from the Episcopal Church. When I had first arrived, there had been a homeless Japanese man asleep on the landing of the church. I had shaken my head and left him undisturbed, thankful that it was not my church, so I was spared the painful necessity of having him arrested for trespassing. I did not envy the Episcopal Priest, with whom I had a meeting later in the week, this heart-rending chore. When we are youngsters in Sunday school, we are taught the parable of the Good Samaritan. However, when you become a minister, you learn the realities of being the pastor of a church with deep pockets, in a litigious society. There are all sorts of legal problems that present themselves when you indulge in "random acts of kindness" like letting the homeless take up residence on your porch. The Good Samaritan would have been sued for his trouble.

As I looked down the street now, I saw that the Japanese man was now awake and been joined by another man who was carrying a walking stick and had a beard that was full, wild, and dark but salted with gray and whose head was topped off with a mop of curly hair, also salted with gray. With the hair, the beard and the walking stick, he would have looked like one of the prophets of old, but he was dressed in khaki, and as both he and the Japanese man were dressed a bit too warmly for the 100-degree weather, in the manner of the homeless, I took the newcomer to be a homeless person too. This impression was reinforced when I saw the newcomer reach into his left hip pocket and pull out a half-pint bottle of what appeared to me to be rum. He took a short swig, and then handed it to the Japanese man who then began to give his attention to the remaining contents of the bottle.

While the Japanese man drank, the newcomer turned left to empty space beside him and said with a booming voice, "Yes, Lord?" He nodded his head up and down as if receiving an answer, and then turned his body around to the right in order to look directly at me. Our eyes met, he set his jaw, shook his head as if not believing what he saw, and then turned back around to talk to the Japanese man.

The Japanese man looked up from his rum bottle, now empty, and then looked at me just as the newcomer had. A short conversation that I couldn't overhear passed between them at the end of which the newcomer left. I watched him walk half a block to the west and then turn north.

I walked over to talk with the Japanese man.

"Hello there," I said. "You know, if you keep sleeping on their porch, the Episcopals are going to call the cops. The priest won't have any choice."

"Yes, that's what Enoch told me," came the reply. "I'll be moving on now."

"Enoch," I asked, "is that your friend's name?"

"Yes," he said, "and he's got a message for you too. He said that you should put your church at the old movie theater."


At first I had been powerfully confused by the fact that a total stranger had known about my business, but upon thinking about it, I found an answer. The mentally ill and homeless are not necessarily stupid. In fact, many of them are quite intelligent and articulate. I've talked to homeless men on numerous occasions and have been stricken by the fact that some of them remind me of no class of human beings so much as my professors in college. They are articulate, independent, and absolutely certain that they are right. The most apparent difference is that one spends his days in the ivy-covered halls of academe, and the other spends his days on the street.

This fellow, Enoch, had obviously spent some time talking with the UCC minister before I arrived. This is what ministers do for the most part—right—talk with people. She had probably mentioned somewhere in the conversation that she was having a meeting with me about starting a church, and he, being intelligent though mentally ill, had correctly inferred my identity. In the manner of the mentally ill, he had simply interpreted remembering his earlier conversation with the minister as a current conversation with God. Simple.

This explanation came to me after a few moments thought, so I wasn't bothered by the seeming divine visitation for very long. Besides, I thought that I knew which movie theater he was talking about because I had passed an abandoned one while seeking out a grocery store when I first arrived in town a few days before.

I got into my car, and started driving west on 100 North. After a few blocks, I came onto a nearly deserted strip mall that had once boasted a theater. By all indications, the theater had evolved into a "dollar theater" and then into bankruptcy. There was now the number of a realtor in the cashier's window that I copied down.

When I got back to my basement apartment, I called the realtor and told him what I needed.

"Starting a Methodist church, huh?" he said. "My mother was a Methodist." He paused, possibly thinking warm thoughts about his mother. "Tell you what, you can have it rent-free until after Christmas at least. Clean it up and don't do any destructive remodeling, and you can use it."

I spent a few minutes with him discussing various aspects of liability insurance and the like, and when I hung up the phone, I smiled to myself saying out loud, "Well, I guess I have myself a church."

Had I listened in my heart at the time, I would have no doubt heard my father's voice reminding me, "A church is not a building; a church is people." However, little did I know that I already had met my first two members.

The first member was Jack Saito, the homeless Japanese man, and the second was Andy Fischer, the man who was letting us use the theater. He was a bald man who was a bit thick around the middle and had a tendency to wear polo shirts. As he said, his mother had been a Methodist, but his father was a Catholic, and he was raised in neither church. His wife was a Mormon, but not a very devout one. He thought that he would give us a try, and she didn't seem to mind it.
But before the first week's service, I had taken Jack Saito to D.I., that is to say Deseret Industries, to get some new clothing. Deseret Industries is the Mormon equivalent of Good Will, and you can often find nice clothing there. Jack needed some new clothes for a job that I had given him. He was handing out flyers to people telling them about our church.

I recognized that was sort of a random way to proceed, but he needed a job, and I had also sent out a mailing to a list of people that I had obtained from the Methodist Churches in Salt Lake of Methodists who had ventured from Utah Valley over into their valley to worship. It is, on the average, about a forty-mile drive from Utah County to Salt Lake City. Not many people are willing to make that trek every Sunday. I thought I would have a fair shot at grabbing some of the ones who had tried. In my mind, these folks could form the nucleus of the church.
As most of them were people who had been transferred into the area by the companies they worked for, I thought their personal networks would provide a connection into companies that might have other out-of-area employees. At least this was the way it was supposed to work from the books I had read. I had never tried it in practice before so I just didn't know.

I had set a date for my first worship service a few weeks off in order to give Jack, who I had also put on retainer as my first custodian, and me ample time to vacuum the theater, dust it, and in general to make it appear more church-like. I did not have plans for an elaborate service. My idea was to sing some very familiar hymns a cappella with the words printed out on individual sheets, I would preach a short message, and then we would have some punch and cookies.

That's the way it was in my mind.

It did go largely like that, but with some foreseeable, yet unforeseen, twists. My mailings had born fruit, and about half-a-dozen professional-looking people showed up in casual dress. The men were in polo shirts and brown shoes and the women wore slacks and nice blouses. On the other hand, Jack's flyers had also born fruit, and there were about half-a-dozen homeless-looking people and among those was Enoch.

At the end of the service, one of the young professionals walked up to me an introduced himself.

"My name is Jim Smith," he said sticking out his hand. "I've just moved to Orem last January and had been looking for a church all over. I got your letter in the mail last week. Is there anything I can do to help?"
I was about to tell him that I appreciated his offer and would surely let him know, which I would have, when I heard a voice from behind me, "Yes, Lord, what are you saying, Lord?" I recognized it as Enoch. "You say that your children's hearts have been fed, but now their stomachs need feeding too."

I winced inwardly. When I had looked out upon the diversity of my congregation, I had been concerned. The books all say that it is very hard to span a very large sociological spectrum, and before me I saw Yuppies on one hand and the homeless on the other. And they had literally separated themselves and were on different sides of the aisle.
Now I had this man, probably homeless, almost definitely mentally ill, "talking to God." Would this make the Yuppies bolt?

Before I could turn around to deal with Enoch, Jim said in a near whisper, "You know, I did my marketing on the way here, and I have some food that I could share."

Not even taking the time to think, I said, "Are you sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all," he replied. He disappeared and came back two minutes later with a gallon of milk and two bunches of bananas. This was plenty. It was gratefully received by the homeless while the Yuppies stood nibbling on cookies and looking at the scene with what appeared to me to be mild disgust. The Yuppies had thought they were coming to a church, not a mission.

On the other hand, Enoch appeared to be happy, and in addition to that, during the following week, I got a call from Andy saying that he would like to provide weekly milk and bananas if I didn't mind.
The next Sunday, half-a-dozen Yuppies showed up again at the prompting of my mailing but Jim was the only repeat among them. He had brought a female friend along with him too.

All of the "homeless" crew came back as well as about as many new ones of their folk. Andy had brought about twice as much food as there hand been the previous week in anticipation of this. "Food is always a draw to the hungry," he said. I wondered how he knew, but it's just common sense, I guess.

I noticed that Jim had worn blue jeans, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes, and that he blended better with what appeared to be our growing clientele among the needy, and that his girlfriend seemed to be following suit. I decided that I would copy him the following week.

Near the end of the service, while we were singing our closing hymn a cappella, I looked out on the congregation to see Enoch using his walking stick to play "air guitar", and an inspiration struck me. When the song was over I asked, "Do any of you play a musical instrument? I would like to have a little music with our hymns."

A man of about thirty with longish brown hair and scars on his cheeks who was wearing a dirty, torn plain white t-shirt stuck up his hand tentatively and said, "I play the guitar." He has a slight southern twang to his speech.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Tom," he said.

"Well, Tom, would you mind playing the guitar for us?"

"I wouldn't mind, but I pawned mine," he said tonelessly.
I then heard Jim's voice from the other side. "I've got a guitar that I don't know how to play," he said. "He could use it."
I happened to be glancing at Enoch when this was said. Enoch was looking at a blank spot, smiling, and nodding. I did not see him again until the Christmas Day, and when I did, it was not in church.

You might wonder what I did in my spare time when I was not preaching, visiting people, or getting a sermon ready, etc. Well, not much at first, but as I got settled in, I took up hiking.

Before I started on my M. Div., I had taught high school for about ten years. After that sedentary job and a couple more years being sedentary in seminary, I had grown to be quite pudgy. I cut down on my food intake and began eating very simply. Mostly I ate beans, peas, lentils and the like and used the money that I saved to hire some of my parishioners to do odd jobs. I paid Tom twenty dollars a week to do our music for us and twenty five the weeks that he did a "special."
I began to lose weight, and as I did, I began walking more, and then I started hiking. Utah is a paradise for that sort of thing. I did a weekly hike up to the "Y" that gives Y-Mount its name. It is a rendering of the letter that stands for the "Young" in Brigham Young down on whose university it looks. That had gotten me in shape to the point that I wanted to be a bit more ambitious, and so I planned a hike up Rock Canyon on Christmas Day.

Rock Canyon is a small canyon just above Provo and is a popular place for hikes. There is nothing overtly dangerous about it, and its entrance is located on the edge of the city so a lot of people go through. I had planned my hike for Christmas Day, however, because I wanted some time to myself. In the course of getting a church started, I had slipped off my plan. My ministry was growing but in ways that I hadn't anticipated which were beyond my training. Consequently, my mind had turned into spaghetti that needed, in my opinion, to be unraveled. I needed the time alone to sort things out, but even more than I knew at the time I planned my hike. Something happened Christmas Eve that hurt me deeply.

You see, on Christmas Eve, I rented a van and drove some of my parishioners up to Salt Lake City. We saw the lights on Temple Square, and then I took them to one of the larger churches in town.
We went into the church with my parishioners dressed in the best clothing that they had, which admittedly was not too good, and I was dressed like them. I had decided that I didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable, so I dressed in blue jeans and a sweatshirt. I was a bit cleaner that they were, but I should have thought ahead before going to the Christmas Eve service. Everyone else there was dressed in Christmas finery in order to celebrate the birth of a peasant boy who was born in a manger, and there we were dressed like a bunch of bums. We were given a pew all to ourselves even though the church was packed. People didn't even seem to want to sit in front or behind us.
I was almost too angry to go to sleep that night when I got back to my basement apartment about 1:30 AM, and I was still angry the next day when I woke up. I pulled on my clothing, put on my backpack, and began walking.

I am not an experienced hiker my any means, but there are a few commonsense rules that anyone who walks in the mountains should know. First, don't hike alone because you can get into trouble, and you might need someone to help you. Second, if you do hike alone, or even in a group, make sure you tell somebody where you are going and when to expect you back so that you will be missed by someone, and they can start a search for you. Last, make sure that you park your car near the start of the hike, so they will know where to begin the search for your body.

I broke all three of these. Initially, I had planned to call Andy and tell him where I was going, but I was so mad at the folks who were rude to my parishioners that I simply walked out of the apartment without thinking to do it.

I had enough provisions to be out all day and was dress warmly because the high temperature for the day of was forecast to be in the twenties. In addition, I was carrying a half-pint bottle of rum in my pocket that Jack had given to me.

Jack, who had a problem with alcohol, seemed to have given up drinking while doing church work. At least I never caught him at it. However, I had been talking to him about taking a hike on Christmas Day, and so he gave me a bottle of rum as a present.

"It will keep you warm," he said.

When I arrived at the parking lot at the entrance to Rock Canyon, the parking lot was empty. The sky was clear except for some clouds over to the west. I entered the canyon and walked. The sun rose above the mountains eventually and shined down on me. Amidst the evergreens, I almost forgot that I was angry.

Yet behind me the clouds from the west were growing closer, and by noon the sky was covered.

Had I lived in Provo longer, I would have known that whenever the clouds try to make it over the mountains it costs them in moisture, and in winter, this moisture is snow. If I had known that, and if I hadn't still be too angry to think, and if I had been more experienced at hiking, I would never have gotten off the trail in order to try my hand at a little climbing.

The climb wasn't even all that steep. All I wanted to do was to look around to where I could see the entire valley at once.

Anyway, I climbed up a cliff that wasn't all that steep or tall—only about twenty feet—and sat on a ledge. When I looked out, I didn't see much because it was all obscured by cloud. I was hungry so I took out some trail mix and began to munch. After about two bites, it began to snow. Lightly at first, but then heavier, and at some point something clicked in my brain that maybe sitting on the edge of a cliff wasn't the best place to be in a snowstorm, so I began to climb down.

I don't even know how I fell. All I remember is a sensation of falling, a feeling of utter stupidity, and an impact. Had I retained any consciousness, I might have pondered that there wouldn't even be a trail in the snow for them to follow to find my body, even if they know I was here—whoever "they" might be. I might have even wondered whether my body might be covered with snow until the spring. I might have had a vision of boy scouts hiking up the canyon on their first hike and finding my decaying corpse poking out of the snow.

But I was knocked out. When I came to, it was to the smell of a small fire close by me and to the feel of snowflakes melting as they hit my face.

I heard, "Oh, you're awake" to my right side, opposite the fire. I turned my head to see who was talking to me, and saw that was a mistake the minute the sledgehammers in my skull went to work.

But then there was a face directly over me, and I saw that the voice belonged to Enoch.

"You be still for a while," he said. I obeyed.

It occurred to me that this was the first time he had talked to me without giving a pronouncement from the Lord.

"Here is some Motrin," he said. "It should help your headache. Wash it down with this; I found it in your backpack." He put the bottle of rum to my lips. I wondered momentarily about the wisdom of mixing analgesics with alcohol but decided that it would be impolitic to say anything.

I gulped the rum, coughed a bit, and asked, "How did you find me?"

"I followed you," he replied simply.

"Why?" I asked.

"I always follow you when you are in the Valley," he said in a businesslike tone. "It's the job that the Lord has given me."
I pondered that with no small amount of fear, wondering how long I had been stalked by this schizophrenic but said nothing. However, something about him calmed me. He didn't seem crazy to me now. He seemed just like a man doing his job. He seemed just like a minister.
"You need to stand," he said. "You're not hurt, and its time for you to go home before the snow gets too deep." He gave me a hand, and I pulled myself up onto my knees, and then I stood.

"Why," I began after a long pause, "does the Lord want you to follow me?" It seemed to be the most diplomatic thing I could ask.
"Because the Lord has marked you for a special ministry," he said.
As I stood watching him, he took a small bottle from beneath his coat. The label on it said, "Imitation Vanilla Extract," but the liquid within it was greenish amber. He put some on his fingers and then wiped them on my forehead.

When he had done that, he said, "Take this staff. You will need it on your way."

"Aren't you coming with me?" I asked. "Will you follow me?"

"No," he said. "My job is almost done. I will go out by another way."
And so I made my way home. I had a doctor look at my head the next day to make sure nothing was cracked, and nothing was.


I stopped shaving or cutting my hair at all, after Christmas. After three weeks, I had a nice start on a beard, and after six, it looked like it had always been there.

I also stopped sending mailings out to the Yuppies. There were a few who joined our little group after that, but they were, for the most part, friends of the ones who were already there.

Jim's girlfriend, whose name was Mary Ann, turned out to be quite an evangelist and fundraiser. She had grownup in the Midwest and had learned organizational skills from her Methodist father and evangelism from her Baptist mother. She worked in Salt Lake and visited Jim in Provo on the weekends. During the week, she did a bit of fundraising with some Protestants of her acquaintance. Almost any week that we needed it, she could come up with a hundred dollars or so.

And we did need it for three reasons. The first of which was our ministry to the needy was increasing. When the word gets out there is a place for help, it spreads quickly. I could foresee the day when the ministry would outstrip the space in the theater, and we would have to expand somehow. The second reason was that we were now paying rent on the theater. Andy didn't want to take our money, but once Mary Ann had secured a funding stream for us from a donor in Salt Lake, I insisted.

The third reason was that I had stopped taking any money from the Church other than my salary. As they had sent me to Provo to start a church for people who were Methodists living in a place where Methodist churches are scare, and I had failed miserably in doing that, it just didn't seem fair that I spend there money on what I was doing.

By the beginning of summer, most of my salary was going into the ministry. Jack Saito had gotten a job at a grocery store and had taken my apartment, and I had taken over the culvert in which he was living. He understood what was happening perfectly and said that Enoch had explained to him.

Andy, Jim, and Mary Ann were having more trouble understanding, however. They knew about the blow that I had received on the head and were concerned, and one of them—Mary Ann, I think—called the Bishop. In November, he turned up at one of my services unannounced.
"Great sermon," he said afterwards, "and your musician—Tom was that his name—plays with a great deal of uh. . .enthusiasm."

I thanked him in an awkward sort of way. I could tell that he thought I was crazy by the way he was looking at me, but I didn't say anything.
"Listen," he said, "is there something wrong? You've changed. I mean to say that you look different than when I sent you here a year-and-a-half ago."

I paused and looked at him for a time, and then I said, "I am different than when you sent me here. You said that I should 'feed the sheep.' Well, don't I look more like a shepherd now?" I tried to smile, but I couldn't tell anything from his expression. However, there was something going on behind it.

I discovered this the following February when I got a phone call at the theater/mission from my District Superintendent and was told that I was to be moved.

It made a lot of sense, really. I had not done the job the bishop had appointed me to, and so it was logical to replace me. And I suppose that I could choose to be flattered by the fact that they chose two people to replace me. One of them had been trained in church planting who was chosen to start the church that I was supposed to, and the other had been trained in ministries to the poor and was to take over the church that I actually started.

For my part, I was assigned to "personal leave." This means, for whatever reason, you have been given no assignment.
At the time my thought was, "At least they are going to let me finish out the year."

The last day of June was to be my last day at my church, and I begin to make plans for a trip. I figured that I could do some hiking, and I knew just the place to do it, Arches National Park down in Moab.

"Arches" is a beautiful place where magnificent figures of red sandstone tease the eye, but it terrified me. There are many ways to kill yourself there without even trying. During the summer months, the locals avoid it because it is too easy to get lost in the desert, run out of water, and die for no other reason than having the audacity to be there. When it rains, the rocks become slippery, and you can easily slide from the beautiful red rock, fall from a cliff, and die that way.
Somehow, in spite of my fear, I felt called to be there. There was a voice speaking to my heart that I could not dismiss.

By this time, all of my belongings, besides my car, fit nicely within my backpack, and so I had no packing to do. I said goodbye to my congregation, got into my car and left. Andy had filled it up with gasoline for me, and so I had no worries. It was a small car and could easily make the four-hour drive to Moab without stopping to fill up.
I left Utah Valley for the last time over Spanish Fork pass. I drove down through Price Canyon, which is a religious experience anytime, but especially when a truck pulling a double trailer passes you when the oncoming traffic is only a quarter-mail away. I passed through Price, and then into the desert.

The desert reminds me of the Old Testament God that my father used to preach about. The children of Israel wandered in the desert and lived there. In their wanderings in the wilderness, they encountered a God that Yuppies don't find so agreeable. The God they knew was not, the "I'm sorry you overspent your allowance, here's a twenty to tide your over," sort of God that the Yuppies like. It was a "you do exactly as I say or you will die in agony" sort of God. The desert presents that face of God to us, and doesn't even have the decency to cover the bleached skeletons with grass.

I didn't stop to eat, get gas, or pee; I couldn't afford to do any but the last, anyway. I just drove. By the time I got to Moab, it was mid afternoon, and I was in dire need of a walk, so I showed my National Park Pass as I entered Arches, parked my car, grabbed my backpack, water jug and walking stick, and started to hike.

I had walked about thirty minutes and was out of sight of my car when I looked ahead and spotted a figure in the distance. It was too far for me to make out his facial features, and I couldn't even tell that it was a man with any certainty, but somehow I knew who it was. He motioned with his arm that I should come to him, but it didn't appear to me that the path led that way. Just as I was thinking this, I saw him point to a signpost that marked a fork in the path, and it was clear which way I should go at the fork.

The stone that is the ground at Arches is bereft of anything that we might easily recognize as life. The world is naked there for all to see. After about ten minutes of hiking, I was face to face with Enoch.
I saw the he had a new walking stick, and his beard was a bit grayer.
He motioned for me to sit in the shade of some rocks and did the same himself. Then he passed me his water jug from which I took a drink and then he did the same.

After sharing some of his trail mix with me, he asked, "Do you know why you are here?"

I thought for a moment and found that I did.

"Yes," I said.

"Good," he nodded. "Then my work is done." He gathered his belongings, which were even sparser than mine, and left. I watched him as he disappeared into the red sandstone desert.

After a time, I stood myself. Somehow I knew there was a man of God in Grand Junction, Colorado whose faith had been broken who needed help. Before I could go, I needed a new name for myself.

That name would be Enoch.
Namaste okie,

thank you for the story..

you're right... it's tough to have a job other than that of a minister with a Doctor of Divinity degree.. so, you do what i did... you get a job in the computer field :)

personally, seminary studies didn't have the same effect upon me that it appears to have had on you.. i guess i was already conversant with Paul Tillich's God as "ground of being".... and i must say, i never did find the anthropomophic God to be all that believeable in the first place.... but that's a story for another time.

This is a work of fiction, in spite of the fact it is in the first person. Glad that you found it convincing. I am more after the giving up "things" as one approaches God angle.
No family?

If I may impertinent, Okie.

You don't have any children, and you are divorced; and you are in your forties.

I have this bias that anyone going into the ministry should have a wife and at least two kids. You don't appear to have any family, as I go through your story.

My suggestion, you are still within the age bracket to have a wife and children. So, go and get a decently earning job, get married again with a woman interested in home and kids. Make a success of marriage and family and home.

Then if you prefer, you can go into the ministry. That will open your eyes better and heart and mind for the real commitment and practical wisdom in pastoring to bring people to Christ and God.

Susma Rio Sep
Thanks for that - read it all.

I have to admit, though, that although I like it, for myself there's a distinct lack of person, personal, thought and feeling, surrounding the main character.

In simple terms, the narrative voice just isn't experssing the feelings and emotions that I would personally have through would help draw in the audience much better.

There's a general lack of identity and feeling about the main character - he's not coming alive very well at the moment. I don't think I even know his name.

Issues such as losing a marriage, and then being remarried I felt should have been described much more, not least in reference to the person's feelings. (I think he's remarried, anyway - from the part where he talks to the 50 year-old woman at the United Church - and if so, that begs the question of where is his wife.) If I've mis-read, then what are his general thoughts on family? Of being betrayed? Of loss?

A lot of what is written reads like a good backbone for as story, but I kept feeling that the narrative voice really needed fleshing out a lot more. It's lacking a lot of those little details that really humanise it (life details - not of the environment, but of the person and experience). Plus everything seems very passive and past - that kills any sense of pace and urgency.

For example, the falling from the rock and being knocked unconscious, in my mind, should be a major cliff-hangar - the reader should by this stage really care about the character, and really feel their tension at the predicament at being out in the storm - and that whole event should determine a strength of pace and empathic association to really draw the reader in. As it happens, it read almost the same way as if he'd merely fallen and scuffed his shin. There's a simple lack of urgency - of immediacy.

I think that's one of my biggest concerns - there's no sens eof placing the reader in an immediate concurrent situation where the main character has to face a situation and resolve it. (too much past tense and passive voice??). And because that is all lacking, we - as the reader - are lacking in the emotional drives of the character. I would think that's really required to bring out the reader concern, identification, and general sympathy for the character.

I personally think you could add far more strength to this piece if you break it up into sections - pinpoint for yourself the major moments in the chapters you posted above. His first day in town (how does he feel - show the life and events there just walking in first time - the strangeness yet familiarity?) - also his first church meeting there - actually stand the reader through the characters eyes and live some for us all - how does he feel at making this first hurdle - (Is he pleased? Does he care?). Also, explain far better the rage and anger that sent him trekking alone - make the reader angry by the characters emotions, rage, and grief at it all - and really make the reader walk in that place, all the time building up the tension that *something* is about to happen.

Also - when being relieved of the original commission by the bishop - it's almost as if the character doesn't even care. And that is going to couple with the feelings of the reader - why should they care? Make us live the feeling.

I guess that's the only real criticism here - that the main character isn't developed enough to push the reader to care as much about the story as they could. In that respect it means the story rushes forward without leaving the reader time to run through the various emotions of the experience. In that respect I feel that if you build on the character experience and background a lot more, and then make sure you thrust that directly into the story far more - jump into scenes and linger longer so that the reader is forced to experience the protagnist's own. Without that, it dampens the story considerably.

I doubt that you would have to rewrite it all to accomodate that - like I said, I think you have the backbone, but need to focus more on the fleshing out - just extend sections withni what you've written, rather than remove them.

Anyway, that's just my 2c from reading it just now. :)

Btw - What happened to "Plumbing as a Means of Grace"? Have you shelved that?? I'd love to see that in print - you thinknig of taking it to iUniverse if you can't get it traditionally printed?
PS - Just read you state it as a short story - my perception comes entirely from it as being the first few chapters of a novel.
First of all, thank you for your comments. I agree with you more than you might image. However, in case there are any misunderstandings, the work above is fiction. I am married--never divorced--I have three daughters, I have never been to seminary, and I am not now living the life of a homeless peripatetic preacher.

Thank you so much for you comments. They are exactly the sort of thing that I need.

The narrator is never given a name. I've done this on purpose. And you are right, we don't know very murch about him. I will have to put some flesh on his bones in the re-write. You have put your finger on something that had been bothering me but I could not quite place it. Emotion. I am usually good at emotions, but I did not really give the narrator very strong ones.

Thank you very much.

Plumbing as a means of Grace is fermenting a bit. What I have discovered from self-publishing is that you get to do all of the marketing yourself. It is easier to self-market collections of columns than it is novels--at least I imagine. I still have hope that my novel will find a home.

At the present time, Grandma Dipped Snuff is the best-selling quality paper back at Hastings in Pittsburg, Kansas. I imagine the same is true in Ada as I sold 20 there in the month before Christmas. This brings me to about 200 sales world-wide.
200 sales? That's not bad at all. :) It's especailly good to see you've got local support there.