Stranger in the  Pulpit cover - smallThe Beaumont Observer

Only an ostrich with her head in the sand could miss the fact that change was coming. In the world outside of our sleepy town of Beaumont, change had already come. Ever since the November election, the political landscape has changed, and the culture all around us is feeling it; even the civility of common people was changing.

Change comes slowly to Beaumont, but it was coming!

This was how the editorial for the Beaumont Observer began as Chase Newton, the hotshot cub reporter, wrote it. Beaumont was a sleepy ski resort town of forty-five thou- sand tucked away in the mountains of Colorado. Its only claim to fame is its association with two bank robbers who robbed The First National Bank of Beaumont over one hundred years ago. In honor of that infamous day, the city fathers named the streets intersecting the city square after them. One street was named Butch Cassidy Drive and the other Sundance Strip. The other two streets carried the names of the gang they led and the place that they called home. They were Wild Bunch Way and Robber’s Roost Street. The four streets were tree-lined, and there was a large fountain in the middle of the square. This is where the town gathered for its annual Fourth of July picnic and barbecue. The name Beaumont or “beautiful hill” evokes the idea of nostalgia, of tradition, of a way of life. That was then!

The Observer as it was commonly called, was an old- line rag dating back to the early 1930s. Although the building that housed the paper was old and crumbling, there had been a lot of new improvements made to the infrastructure. There were new computers, printers, and a state-of-the-art multicolor Davison Diddle Printing Press. Except for the squeaky floors and the strong smell of ink, the Observer appeared to be catching up to the twentieth century, except it was 2003!

Chase, dressed in a golf shirt, khaki slacks, and casual shoes, was fairly new to the Observer, but he certainly was not new to the reporting business. Actually, Chase was quite a veteran. When it comes to scooping out a hot story, Chase was one of the best. At age twenty-five, he had already developed quite a reputation. His only competition was the talk show hosts who seemed to have the ability of exhausting a topic long before he had a chance to weigh in on it. So, Chase had to be content and wait. Wait and try to catch the next story before it became a story. That was his stock and trade, looking for trends and latching on to them, nurturing them along. It wasn’t that Chase was in favor of all the trends he saw. He just needed them as badly as they needed him. Actually, Chase was a traditionalist. Brought up in North Carolina, he felt the strong influences of his godly, Bible-believing parents. And though he didn’t subscribe to their belief system, he at least had a foundation—a worldview that was traditional. That put him at odds with his former journalism school at the University of North Carolina. It also put him in an unusual and sometimes tenuous position with his senior editor, Stan Berkowitz.

If you were to cross the character that Ed Asner played on the Mary Tyler Moore Show with the personalities of a porcupine and skunk, you might come close to Stan Berkowitz. That his personality was renowned goes with- out saying, but so was his ability to drive his reporters to new heights, or new lows, depending on your perspective. The one thing Stan had going for him was his love of a good story. If he thought, you were on to something big, all the resources of the Observer were behind you. And today, Chase was basking in those benefits.

“Chase, have you noticed the number of new residents in town lately? This isn’t even the peak season, and already we are having traffic jams,” Stan said as he and Chase worked on a box of donuts.

The street outside of the Observer was tree-lined; the old sidewalk, rippled as the roots of the trees pushed it up. It had been home to the newspaper for as long as most people could remember.

“Yes!”  Chase said,“I was crossing the street down from the post office and nearly got run over by a black SUV with Virginia tags. There’s not only a lot more people than usual, but they’re rude too. Some blond just waved her hand as if I was in the wrong for crossing in front of her. She had a lot of nerve.”

“What’s the occasion? It’s not anywhere near the ski season. And I know the new Wal-Mart on the outskirts of town isn’t bringing in that many folks,” Stan said, leaning back in his chair.

“I don’t know. Even the old downtown church seems to be benefiting as well.”

“That old building? That church has been on the decline for years. I figured they would have closed their doors by now.” The First Church, as it was called, was made up of a series of buildings taking up a whole city block right on the corner of the town square. Its belfry rang out the hour of the day, every day. It was part of the atmosphere of the town. In a way, people grew to expect the old bell to ring, and if for some mysterious reason it didn’t ring, people seemed a little off schedule. The church, at least its bell, gave stability to the city.

“I drove by there last Saturday night,” Chase said, “and the parking lot was filled, and people were using the Dollar General’s parking lot as overflow. It sounded like a rock concert going on in there. I could hear it from the street.”

“Chase, I think you need to look into why all these people are coming to Beaumont. You need to do a ‘Man on the Street’ interview. Our readership could use a shot in the arm, and some local news might pique their interest.”

The Observer itself was feeling the effects of the economic downturn, too. Readership was declining. Costs were rising, and the paper was feeling the pinch.

“Well, at least the ‘talk-show guys’ aren’t talking about this,” Chase said ruefully. “Maybe I can puff the story, and it’ll get picked up by the Colorado Review. I’ve already started working on my next editorial using that as the basis. Listen to this title: ‘What’s New In Town?’”

Stan crossed his arms in front of his robust chest and frowned. “Go for it, kid, but you gotta work on the leading title.”

Chase was not the only person who had observed the subtleties of change. Like the earliest nuances of fall, so were the changes within the Community First Church as Glenn Tibbits noticed. Glenn had  his fill of change. Most of it was only cosmetic—the rearranging of the furniture, and he went along with it. Even the church’s name change was acceptable to Glenn. The old downtown First Church had been on the decline long before its former pastor resigned. Now, under new leadership came a new name, a face lift, and many new faces. That wasn’t all that bad according to the few remaining old-timers. As long as the coffers were full and the pews were full, everything was fine in Beaumont.

Those observable changes were not what concerned Glenn. Glenn had been brought up in the First Church. He was  saved, baptized, and eventually ordained as a deacon. He returned after being gone about ten years, but for most of his sixty years, he spent them there, teaching, singing, and otherwise maintaining the church. To most people, he was the pillar, which held the old church up.

That was then!

Now the church, under new management, was subject to new ideas: some not particularly bad, just different. A change of name, a different order of services, even the  livelier music didn’t bother Glenn. As a matter of fact, Glenn was the one responsible for bringing in the new pastor.

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Thanks and have a Happy Easter,