Reverend Joan (Part Three)

Phyl CampbellStarred Page By Phyl Campbell, 27th Dec 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>General Fiction

May one day this not be mere fiction; until then, peace.

Rev Joan Part Three

This is the Part Three of a Four Part Series. In case you missed it:
Part One
Part Two

Return to the Rectory

The adults laughed and chatted about many things on the drive back to the rectory. Jordan and Jaime, full of pizza, were fast asleep in the backseat. I was sitting with them so the Rev. could sit up front. But when we got there, something didn’t feel right. I asked Lucas to walk our guest to her door. He shortly returned, swearing under his breath.

“Someone threw a rock into the front door, must have reached in and unlocked it from the inside, then trashed the place. The Rev. is shaken, but refused to come spend the night with us. If you’ll stay with her, I’ll take the kids home, grab sleeping bags, and we’ll all camp out here for the night. Is that OK?”

“Sure. Yes, thanks honey. I’ll stay.”

“There are some things you might try to clean up before the kids see them. And, of course, the Rev. refuses to call the police.”

“That doesn’t surprise me.”

“I didn’t think it would. Do you promise me you’ll be safe here?”

“I’ll call the police myself if there’s anything suspicious, but I think this was a one-time ‘let’s see how we can shake her’ deal. I’m sure she thinks so, too. But we’ll be extra careful.

“OK. I love you. We’ll be right back.”

“OK., honey. I love you, too.”

He waited until he saw me safely inside and then drove off. The rectory was a mess. Statues of saints had been smashed into the floor. Books were off the shelves. “BITCH GO HOME” was sprayed on every wall. I found Rev. Joan in the kitchen, where someone had taken the effort to unplug the fridge and toss food around in addition to stuffing silverware down the disposal and breaking a few dishes.

“I hope they got something to eat while they were at it,” Joan attempted to joke, but it was obvious she’d been crying.

What else could I say? “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry...”

Culprit found

We found some posters in her room upstairs that would cover the foul language for the night. More surprising was what – or rather, who -- we found in the upstairs hall closet. I did wonder why there was so little damage done up here. Obviously, we’d returned before he’d had time to finish and plan his escape.

“Hey! I know you -- Chris ... MacIntyre,” I said, snapping my fingers when the name came to me. “I taught one of your brother’s Sunday school classes. But what are you doing here, protecting the upstairs from evil?”

I couldn’t help myself. He was 15 or so, but I knew him when he was still in training pants. Worse, he knew I knew. I wasn’t the person he expected to see. And I guess he expected us to have called the cops already, because the first thing he said was...

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to do it, but Uncle Cotton said he’d do it himself if I didn’t and still say it was me. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Please don’t call my folks. Please don’t send me to jail...”

And then Joan was there. She looked at him very levelly and said, “When do your parents expect you home, Chris? Do you need to call them?”

“But... But I cut your phone line.”

“I know. Can I borrow your cell?” She asked me. “I’ve got to get myself one of these. They’d be better for making house calls and letting people get a hold of me. What’s your number?”

He told her, nearly in tears. Briskly, she dialed.

“Hello? Hi. This is Reverend Joan Cutter of St. Peter’s Church. I came home to a little problem at the Rectory. Your son Chris was nice enough to happen by and help me straighten it out and we lost track of time. Some other parishioners and their children are here, too. I just didn’t want you to worry... That’s good. Will I see you at Mass in the morning? Great. Thanks a lot. Good night.” She turned to me. “Now how do I end the call?” I showed her. “Where did your parents expect you to be tonight, Chris?” She asked.

“They said I could go to my friend’s house for the night. I was supposed to meet them at Church in the morning.”

“Did your friend’s parents know you intended to stay the night?”

“No. But, I mean, we do, like, all the time stay at each other’s houses and stuff.”

“Well, I think you ought to go downstairs and start hanging up these lovely posters. You can guess where. By the time you’ve finished, I’ll have the couch ready for you to sleep on. Then you can meet your parents at Mass in the morning like you promised them. OK? OK. Downstairs. And no sneaking out like you snuck in, OK?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

When Chris was out of earshot, I asked, “So what did his parents really say?”

“Nothing. The answering machine picked up, and I left a message. I would have sent him to his friend’s house, but if no one is expecting him... And it’s too late for him to be riding his bike anywhere. This place is chaperoned – thank you, by the way. My only question now is, when did Mr. Cotton have time to threaten him? Nobody saw me before Mass tonight.”

“You mean, you didn’t realize how big a deal a female priest was in Cottonmouth? The Diocesan paper ran a big story about your arrival just last week. Everybody knew when you were going to be here. That’s why I came back. That’s how I knew to come.”

Sunday Morning Service

Sunday morning was uneventful in comparison to the night before. I went with Joan for moral support while my husband painted over the worst of the graffiti and my kids slept in.

“Gosh. You went to Mass last night. You don’t need to coddle me,” Joan said.

“I know.”

“And you don’t get bonus points for going twice in a weekend. I can do this. I’m alright.”

“I know you are. But it’s OK. I’m making up for lost time.” I gave Joan a big grin. To tell the truth, moral support was not the only reason for me to get up that early. I also wanted to see the MacIntyre’s. Ruth, in addition to being Chris’s mother, was the teen group director. I, however, was not her favorite person. My absence from the Church had set a bad example and my quick friendship with Joan wasn’t going to be taken well, either. But Joan had enough on her plate. I could handle Ruth MacIntyre.

I caught Ruth before Mass, and told her I would like to see the teen group to a special project – sprucing up the rectory – that afternoon. It didn’t go well.

“She’s been here a day and already she wants to change everything?” Ruth asked incredulously.

“Well, I was thinking maybe some bright colored paint on the walls...”

“We painted the walls six months ago for Father Paul,” Ruth practically bit the words off her tongue. I had to tread more carefully.

“I know you did, but Father Paul’s tastes were more --” I searched frantically for a word and arrived at “– pastoral.”

“And who are you to say that this lady’s going to be here long enough for the paint to dry?”

Damn. I forgot that Ruth was the one telling her son that Joan was a rebel in priest’s clothing. Her husband was a convert. She was the rosary-carrying, die-defending-the-old-pope-Real Catholic Deal. And for a moment I debated telling her about her son’s real whereabouts the night before. What would she say? No, Ruth would have respect for the rectory building, despite its occupant. I decided to push that envelope.

What a Priest Wants, a Priest Gets -- most of the time...

“Priests,” I said, emphasizing Joan’s position, “can decorate, or not, the rectory in any way they choose. Father Paul cut the top off that crucifix so the light from the window was better; you all accepted that. Father Benjamin had the boys hang his new sign out front. Now Reverend Joan is here; she is the person the bishop sent to us. We need to get behind the new doctrine and trust our bishop.”

“I’ll see what I can do on such short notice. No promises.” Ruth walked away in a huff. I winked at Chris, who had been pretending not to overhear our conversation. I was convinced that at least our guilty friend would spread the word.

Franklin Cotton was not pleased.

“Girlie. You just mind your own business. You stop putting fool ideas in my nephew’s head. You always were trouble. Ever since you were a little brat. Never grew any better. Can’t leave well enough alone.”

had been standing in the vestibule and Mass should have started, but apparently Joan couldn’t find any servers. She had come out of the vestments room to overhear this encounter, not knowing what I had planned for Ruth, or the teens, or any of it.

Joan looked levelly at Mr. Cotton and said, “We are in the House of God. This is the place where we come together to support each other. I hope, Mr. Cotton, that you will be able to pray with me today as we celebrate the Lord’s presence all around us.”

Finally I had it. Someone else to stand up to Cotton Franklin for me. Yet I felt so childish for not being able to do it myself. I had wanted to protect her. Just then, I noticed how quiet it got when Joan spoke. It was that way now. Joan seemed taller than she was, older, and wiser, also. How old was she? A woman never tells. Five, ten years older than me, maybe? Joan could have been his Sunday School teacher – patient, kind, but very firm. Cotton Franklin, on the other hand, looked like a bratty child in an old man’s suit and tie. I forgot that he never missed Mass. Not ever. And I wondered for the thousandth time what good all those services did him when he behaved like this. If I was going to Hell, I’d expect to see him there. Even if that was an uncharitable thing to think.

Joan removed her gaze and ended the silence. “Can I get one or two servers, please?” She asked into waiting group of Church-goers.

A couple of younger boys started to get up, but mothers pushed them back down onto the pews. Chris asked his Dad’s permission, and, receiving it, jumping up to serve Mass for Joan. The look Ruth gave her husband may have killed. He shrugged sheepishly, as if to say, “What did I do?”

That Afternoon

Around three o’clock, fifteen teens and a few parents showed up at the rectory. They did a really nice job painting the walls. Some of the more artistic even sketched some murals with plans to complete them over the next week. No one mentioned the already wet paint, or the lack of statues. After my comments to Ruth, the adults were used to changes like these, and suspected nothing. Led by Chris, the teens knew better. Suppressed giggles from their private joke lightened the atmosphere. In private, my husband told me he cleared the disposal while Joan and I were away.

Chris went up to Rev. Joan and said, “Thanks for not ratting me out to my parents. That was cool.”

“Well, let’s not make a habit of it,” she replied. And they both grinned.

The Children Warm

The children’s warmth to Rev. Joan, no doubt inspired by Chris, eventually spread to more of the parents. Two weeks after Joan’s arrival, the youth group had a picnic. Chris invited Joan, who invited me.

“The kids need to get out of the house.” She said.

Hamburgers and hot dogs smoked on the grill in the park across from the church. After we ate, Rev. Joan convinced the kids to play ball against ‘her and the adults’. Jordan was old enough to hit the ball. I held Jaime in the stands and we cheered for both teams. Joan had a mean pitching arm, but the adults still lost. At least, they lost the game. The kids picked Joan up and started carrying her around on their shoulders. Chris led the group in chanting ‘Rev. Joan, Rev. Joan.’ I’m not sure why they did that, but Joan was smiling from ear to ear. Sundays like these should last forever.

But they never do. Joan’s brief stay was very therapeutic for many parishioners. I think the parishioners had expected Joan to use the pulpit to further some feminist agenda. Truth be told, I probably would have in her position (perhaps why I’m not a priest?). But Joan’s homilies were warm – filled with stories about family and friends and positive experiences. The kids, especially the older ones, thought she was cool – in no small part because their parents had taught them that she was a rebel. And having gotten nowhere, bitter old Franklin Cotton just sat in the front pew and scowled. Well, almost.

Mr. Cotton -- bark and bite

Mr. Cotton’s brother had always told me that, although bitter, Mr. Cotton was all bark and no bite. I wanted to believe that, too – except for the ruined rectory. Joan and I had kept Chris’s involvement secret, but he already knew. He told me he had heard Mr. Cotton threaten Chris, but did I really believe that Mr. Cotton would have done anything if Chris hadn’t? At the time, I guessed not. I was mistaken.

Odd things kept happening around the rectory that summer. Freshly potted plants died, as if hit by weed-killer. The rectory car, though never flashy or expensive, usually ran well, but Joan had lots of problems with it. One hot day in July, the culprit wasn’t so secretive, as Joan found her spark plugs in the passenger seat. During the summer festival, rotten eggs were found in the garage, and they stank to high heaven. Another day Joan went to turn on the air conditioning and confetti came out of the vents.

“Who else has the opener for your garage door?” I asked, as Joan returned from yet another visit to the shop.

“Parish Council.”

“Oh.” Just about any member of the parish could get into the Parish Council’s safe to get the garage door opener. But I could only think of one person who would. “But why all the attacks on the car?”

“To make me look unprofessional. I’ve been late to a couple of meetings and some people seem to want to use that as an excuse to ask the Bishop for my resignation. But he thinks I can stick it out, and I do, too. It’s summer. Kids will be kids. School will start soon, and it will pass.”

“I hope so. Do I need to write the Bishop on your behalf?”

“Do I need to bless your wedding?”

“OK. Your way. I get it,” I said.

“Kill ‘em with kindness,” Joan said.

Reverend Joan: The Complete 4 Part Series

Reverend Joan: The 4 Part Series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 -- This Page
Part 4

*Images for this article were provided by


Catholicism, Hate, Men, Persecution, Perseverance, Religion, Sexism, Women, Women As Priests, Women Discrimination, Women Of Achievement, Womens Issues

Meet the author

author avatar Phyl Campbell
I am "Author, Mother, Dreamer." I am also teacher, friend, Dr. Pepper addict, night-owl. Visit my website -- -- or the "Phyl Campbell Author Page" on Facebook.

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author avatar cnwriter..carolina
28th Dec 2013 (#)

i dont know whether to laugh or cry Phyl...but it sure makes a good read...sharing...

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
28th Dec 2013 (#)

Ten years later and I still don't...

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
30th Dec 2013 (#)

Very creative but such reaction eminently possible. It is never easy to change anywhere. Thanks Phyl - siva

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
31st Dec 2013 (#)

Thanks, Siva. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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author avatar Kingwell
10th Jan 2014 (#)

There are so many Mr. Cottons in the church and all churches. Really enjoying this.

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author avatar Phyl Campbell
10th Jan 2014 (#)

Thanks. I am very pleasantly surprised by the feedback -- though now that surprise surprises me. So many people have left organized religions -- the ones they were born in or altogether -- in part because of people like this, and yet I still thought this character would not speak to them? Silly, silly me.

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