24 episodes

A series of humorous short stories about the misadventures of the congregation, clergy and staff of a church in Pennsylvania. Read by author Douglas J. Eboch

The Little Church Stories Douglas J. Eboch

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A series of humorous short stories about the misadventures of the congregation, clergy and staff of a church in Pennsylvania. Read by author Douglas J. Eboch

    The Premiere

    The Premiere

    Hear the story read by the author. In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. A few months ago, the church served as the location for a short film shoot. The film, “Old, New, Undead, Blue,” was the story of zombies attacking a wedding. It was written and directed by fifteen-year-old Tabitha Dunkleman. Her best friend, Katie O’Donnell, starred as the bride. Katie’s father, Henry O’Donnell, happened to be senior pastor of the church, which was how they’d gotten permission to film there. Several other congregants were also involved the production, so Pastor O’Donnell offered to hold the movie’s premiere at the church as well. In truth, he was terribly proud of Katie. Though he might not have been so enthusiastic if he’d actually seen the film. Tabitha had gotten more than just footage out of the shoot. Ben, a boy from school who made the props and did the zombie make-up, had kissed her after they’d wrapped. Tabitha had never had a boyfriend before, and she wasn’t actually sure if that’s what Ben was. She invited him to help her with the editing, hoping to find out. Katie came over to help as well, but quickly became bored and spent most of the time texting her boyfriend, Alex. When she wasn’t texting Alex she was talking about how great their relationship was. That made Tabitha a little uncomfortable since she was so unsure of her own relationship status with Ben. The three of them met every night that first week, Tabitha and Ben editing while Katie fiddled with her phone and talked about her boyfriend. But when Katie found out Tabitha intended to create the film’s score on Friday evening, she moaned and said, “I’m supposed to go bowling with Alex.” “I’m free,” Ben said. “You’re always free,” Katie snapped. She didn’t particularly like Ben. “Friday night is date night. You know what they say about all work and no play.” “Go on your date,” Tabitha said. “Ben and I can do the score by ourselves.” Frankly, she was a little relieved not to have Katie around as a distraction. Katie called Tabitha Saturday afternoon. Tabitha was in the middle of color timing a shot to make the zombies look more bloodless and was only half listening as Katie told her about her date. Then Katie said, “You know Alex is on the school newspaper. He suggested he could write an article about the film and the premiere.” That got Tabitha’s attention. “That would be awesome! Tell him I’ll email him some thoughts to make his job easier.” Tabitha was not impressed with Alex’s writing skills and didn’t want to leave the content of the article to chance. “Cool,” Katie said. “Hey, do you need me tonight?” “Not at all,” Tabitha replied. “You go out and have fun with Alex.” Despite not having Katie as a distraction, the pace of the postproduction work did not pick up appreciably. Now that Tabitha and Ben were alone every night, the editing sessions often devolved into make-out sessions. Fortunately, Ben had an 11 p.m. curfew, so Tabitha was able to work uninterrupted after that. When 10:45 came on the Thursday two nights before the premiere, Tabitha gently suggested maybe Ben should stay home the following night. “I’ve still got a ton of things to do before the premiere and I think I’ll work faster alone.” Ben smiled as he rubbed lip balm on his chapped lips. “Okay. See you Saturday.” Tabitha turned her attention to mocking up a poster for the movie that featured Katie screaming as mottled grey arms reached out toward her. A little before midnight Tabitha’s phone buzzed. The caller ID indicated it was Katie. Tabitha let it go to voicemail. She just had too much work to do. The school newspaper came out every Friday morning, and Tabitha rushed to get a copy as soon as she arrived on campus. She went through it th

    A Christmas Eve Miracle

    A Christmas Eve Miracle

    Hear the story read by the author. In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Christmas was Senior Pastor Henry O’Donnell’s busy season. Sure, Easter was the more important holiday from a religious standpoint, but Christmas brought with it all the cultural demands of decorations and gifts and social events as well. So by Christmas Eve, Henry was even more worn down than the average American. And the average American didn’t have to perform two candlelight services like the good pastor did. Every year Henry promised himself he would get a jump on the season by finishing chores like gift buying in November. And every year Henry failed. This year he had purchased his gift for his wife Jennifer the afternoon of December 24th. He would have preferred that Jennifer just tell him specifically what she wanted for Christmas, but she liked to be surprised. Because she knew his holiday season was stressful, she did always try to make it easier on him by insisting anything he got her would be fine However after eighteen years of watching Jennifer attempting to fake delight at some sweater or kitchen appliance she clearly didn’t want, Henry had concluded “anything he got her” was not fine. And he’d spent an enormous amount of time this year wandering the four malls in Normal seeking out something that would elicit genuine joy from his wife. He finally settled on a pair of diamond earrings. Which, he thought, should not have been such a hard gift to come up with. Diamonds, after all, were a girl’s best friend. True, they had cost about six times what he’d planned to spend, but his normal thriftiness had been beaten into submission during the many hours trekking through the malls. With that annoying trait in a coma, picking a gift had been much easier. Henry had accepted the bubbly young saleswoman’s offer of free gift wrapping since he was not very adept with tape and scissors. She had done a beautiful job, but had taken longer than he’d anticipated because there was a line of men in front of him waiting for their gifts to be wrapped. It seemed Henry wasn’t the only husband picking up a last minute present for his wife at the mall jewelry store. Henry finally reached the church less than half an hour before the 7:30 pm service. Despite his rush, he paused at the church’s nativity scene on the way in. The display’s life sized figures were dusted with snow from a storm the previous evening. The baby Jesus was nearly buried in his manger. That would never do for Christmas Eve, so Henry carefully brushed off each of the figures and dumped the snow out of the manger. He re-wrapped the swaddling clothes around the plastic doll standing in for baby Jesus and set it back in place. “There you are!” It was his wife’s voice. Henry quickly grabbed the beautifully wrapped present from where he’d set it by the manger and slid it into his coat pocket. When he turned around, Jennifer gave him a kiss. “I brought your dinner,” she said. Henry looked at his watch. “I’m afraid I’ll have to eat it between services.” He rushed to his office, stuck the earrings in his desk drawer, and changed into his vestments. The 7:30 service went off reasonably well. The sanctuary looked festive in its Christmas décor, a “tree” made of poinsettia plants crowning the chancel. The choir performed beautifully. And Henry summoned the energy to deliver a moving sermon reminding the congregation of the original impetus for the holiday. Afterward, Jennifer sat with Henry in his office while he ate the dinner she’d brought. He was so grateful for the lukewarm ham and mashed potatoes that he began to wonder if he should have gotten her a diamond necklace as well as the earrings. He wasn’t even bothered when she told him she wouldn’t be staying for the later service as she st

    Orphans' Thanksgiving

    Orphans' Thanksgiving

    Hear the story read by the author In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. The church’s young associate pastor, Michelle Tellum, loves Thanksgiving. She loves the camaraderie of a big gathering of loved ones, the spirit of gratitude, and, most of all, the big, fancy meal. But Michelle’s family lives out of town, and her boyfriend Ian’s parents were spending this year’s holiday in California with the family of his older sister who had recently given birth to their first grandchild. So Michelle decided to host an “orphans’ Thanksgiving” at the church for all the congregants with nowhere else to go. She would make the turkey and stuffing and others could sign up to bring sides, salads and desserts. She was very excited – it would be the first Thanksgiving she’d ever hosted and she wanted it to be spectacular. Michelle and Ian got to the church early on Thanksgiving Day to begin the preparations. She had bought nice tablecloths, borrowed some fancy dishware from Ian’s parents, and handcrafted napkin rings out of twigs. While she set all this up, Ian moved the TV from the lounge to the social hall so they could put the football games on. Michelle was not a football fan, but she knew if she didn’t allow this, Ian and probably many of the other guests would just spend the day in the lounge and that would dampen the fellowship she so valued. Besides, guys watching football on Thanksgiving brought back nostalgic memories of her childhood holidays. Michelle had been brining the turkey since the previous morning. It was a process she’d read about in one of her gourmet cooking magazines. She was just lifting it out of the brine to place it in the roasting pan when the first guest arrived. It was Thad Wheeling, a thirty-year-old single man who was an infrequent attendee at worship but who played on the church softball team. Thad handed her a casserole dish containing string beans in a Swiss cheese sauce. “Fancy,” Michelle said. “Thanks, I got the recipe online. It needs to go in the oven for fifteen minutes or so to warm up before we eat.” He looked at the bucket of water with the turkey in it. “What’s going on there?” “I brined the turkey,” she told him. “It’s supposed to make it a lot more juicy and flavorful. I’m also going to make an apple-walnut-sausage stuffing. It’s my own recipe – can’t wait to see what you think.” “Actually,” Thad said, “I won’t be able to give you a review. I’ve become a vegetarian.” Michelle’s face fell. “Oh. I wish I knew. I would have arranged a vegetarian entre.” “I didn’t want you to go to that kind of trouble. I’ll be fine. I love side dishes and can easily make a meal of them.” “Tell you what,” Michelle said. “I’ll make a little of the stuffing in a separate dish without the sausage.” The next guests to arrive were choir director Shane Reed, his girlfriend, Audra, and her six-year-old son Tyler. Shane brought mashed potatoes and Audra brought sweet potatoes. They were calling themselves “Team Potato.” Even Tyler contributed with a can of cranberry sauce. Then eighty-six year-old Donald East arrived. “Donald,” Michelle said, forcing a smile, “I didn’t know you were coming.” She didn’t know because he hadn’t told her despite clear, bold-faced text on all the announcements that an RSVP was required. “I brought this,” Donald said, handing her a bag of potato chips. “Ah, you have the game on.” Donald shuffled over to join Ian in front of the TV. Michelle looked at Shane and Audra and sighed. “I’m sure we can accommodate one extra. I don’t imagine he’ll eat that much.” “I’ll put these in a bowl,” Shane offered with a wink, taking the bag of chips. Missy Moore, a bubbly, heavy set, forty-four year-old woman who was always cove

    Church of the Living Dead

    Church of the Living Dead

    Hear the story read by the author. In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Recently, fifteen-year-old Tabitha Dunkleman found herself sitting in Pastor O’Donnell’s office anxiously awaiting a decision on a request she had made. She was with her best friend Katie who also happened to be the pastor’s daughter. Tabitha hoped that would make a difference. If the pastor didn’t let her shoot in the church, there was no way she could make her short film. Tabitha had only recently decided she wanted to be a movie director. And the kinds of movies she wanted to make were horror movies. She’d written a short script about zombies attacking a wedding called “Old, New, Undead, Blue.” She’d asked Katie to star in it because Katie was her best friend. The fact that her father also happened to have access to a church was a bonus. Now they just needed him to say yes. “When did you want to do this?” O’Donnell asked. “A week from Friday,” Tabitha said. The pastor checked the church calendar. “Well, there’s nothing scheduled for that Friday, but the Humpleman wedding is in the sanctuary on Saturday, so you’ll have to make sure you leave everything the way you found it.” Tabitha grinned and swore they’d be extra careful. With their location secured, Tabitha spent the next ten days meticulously planning her shoot. On the designated Friday, the cast and crew gathered at the church after school. Tabitha had recruited a quiet boy named Ben from her art class to do the zombie make-up and effects. Tabitha knew that Katie thought Ben was creepy – he always wore black and drew bizarre pictures all over his notebooks. But creepy was just what Tabitha needed for her movie. Ben had been at work all week creating a crucial prop for the film – a severed arm. When he unveiled it to Katie and Tabitha they both took an involuntary step back in disgust. “That’s not real, is it?” Katie asked. Ben laughed. “Of course not. It’s made of latex and gel. I found a video online that showed how to create realistic body part props.” Tabitha smiled. “This movie is going to be awesome.” Ben began doing make-up on the actors who were to play zombies while the crew set up the camera and equipment. The crew consisted of two people – Tabitha and cinematographer Becky Goodhart, a twelve-year-old member of the church whose primary qualification was that her parents owned a top-of-the-line digital video camera. It took longer than Tabitha anticipated to set up the gear, but they still finished before the make-up was done. Tabitha checked her watch nervously. She called Ben aside to ask what was taking so long. “It’s the little girl you got to play the ring bearer,” he told her. “Her dad’s made me redo her make-up three times.” Tabitha had cast Sierra Smith, a five-year-old girl from the church, to play the part of a zombie ring bearer. Her father, Arthur, was certain Sierra would be a movie star some day. Either that or President. At first, Ben had just dusted Sierra with powder to make her pale and smeared dark eye shadow under her eyes. But Arthur noticed how much gorier the other zombies were, and insisted Ben make Sierra similarly gruesome. So Ben added gaping wounds on her cheeks and forehead. But when Arthur saw this, he worried that when Hollywood agents saw the film, as he was sure they would, they wouldn’t be able to tell how cute Sierra was. So Ben tried to split the difference, but the result was neither horrific enough nor cute enough to satisfy Arthur. “None of my books explain how to do make-up that’s both horrifying and cute,” Ben confided to Tabitha. While Ben reworked Sierra’s make-up for a fourth time, Tabitha decided to shoot some of the scenes with the non-zombie characters. Katie was starring as the bride. She had convinced her

    The Car Wash

    The Car Wash

    Hear the story read by the author. In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Recently, Senior Pastor Henry O’Donnell invited a visiting African aid worker to speak at a potluck mission luncheon about her work with refugees in Uganda. Pastor O’Donnell sat with his fifteen-year-old daughter Katie. As the presentation started, Katie felt a special kinship with the Ugandan victims of political oppression. After all, she was being forced to attend this snoozefest against her will. She would much rather have been at the movies or shopping or even doing homework. But her dictator of a father insisted she be subjected to the torture of tuna casserole, ambrosia salad, and a depressing slide show. The tuna casserole and ambrosia salad were as tortuous as Katie expected, and the slide show was indeed depressing. But as the speaker told the stories of several African kids living in a refugee camp, Katie’s resentful attitude began to change. Halfway through the presentation, Katie felt silly for comparing her hardships to those of the unfortunate Ugandans. Though she doubted even they would’ve wanted the tuna casserole. As the lights came up, Henry noticed Katie wiping at the corners of her eyes. “Are you crying?” he asked. “Weeping with boredom,” Katie mumbled. She was not about to admit to her father how touched she was by the plight of those heroic kids. It would set a bad precedent for future mission luncheons. The presentation was still gnawing at Katie’s mind during the youth group meeting that evening. The group’s leader, Associate Pastor Michelle Tellum, noticed how quiet Katie was. After the closing prayer, Michelle asked her if anything was wrong. “I think we should do something to help the poor refugees in Uganda,” she said. “What did you have in mind?” “And don’t tell us you want to go to Africa,” interjected Tabitha Dunkleman, Katie’s best friend. “It’s way too hot there. I don’t like to sweat.” Twelve-year-old Becky Goodheart rolled her eyes. “Yeah, that’s why we won’t be going to Africa.” “I think we should have a car wash,” Katie answered, ignoring the other girls. “We can donate the proceeds to that woman’s organization.” “What a compassionate proposal,” Michelle said. “I have to say, I’m impressed.” “Well, we have so much. When we get a chance to help others, we ought to seize the opportunity.” With that Katie and the rest of the group headed home, leaving Michelle to clean up. They planned the car wash for a Saturday morning. Katie, Tabitha, Becky, and Katie’s boyfriend Joe showed up bright and early, ready to work. Michelle suggested they make signs to attract passing cars. Katie labored over her sign, determined not to let the Ugandan kids down. She outlined every multi-colored letter in glue and glitter. She also drew a picture of Africa. Or at least she tried – Katie was no cartographer. The shape resembled a bunch of bananas more than a continent. Katie put so much care into the manufacture of her sign that by the time she was finished, the others had already lured in three customers and were hard at work washing. It was a warm day and Katie wanted to get a little sun, so she stripped off her shorts and T-shirt to reveal the bikini she’d worn underneath. She stood at the edge of the driveway, jumping up and down with her super-cute sign and shouting at passing motorists. It proved quite effective. Soon a line of cars was waiting for a wash. However, Katie’s enthusiastic dancing and scanty attire was also distracting poor Joe. It got so bad that at one point he accidentally hosed off Tabitha instead of the car he was washing. Tabitha expressed her displeasure with considerable vehemence. Joe could only stammer, “It was an accident.” Tabitha released the poor hormonal boy from

    The Sunburn

    The Sunburn

    Hear the story read by the author. In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. Last Sunday morning, Senior Pastor Henry O’Donnell stood in his bathroom in his underwear examining himself in the mirror. For the most part, the pastor’s complexion was his usual pasty white. But most of his left arm glowed bright red like a freshly boiled lobster. Which was ironic because a lobster was the cause of his sunburn. He had been driving back from a meeting in Harrisburg on Saturday at about one in the afternoon, heading for practice with the church softball team, the Miracles. A sack lunch his wife Jennifer had made sat on the passenger seat, though Henry wasn’t enthusiastic about the contents. Jennifer had been attempting to get him to eat healthier for years. It was an uphill battle. The one weapon she had was that Henry didn’t like to cook. So she made him salads and he ate them because it was easier than making something for himself. He had just about built up enough of an appetite to be tempted by the salad in today’s sack lunch when he passed Muriel’s Seafood Shack. A hand-lettered banner advertised a fresh Maine lobster special. He knew he shouldn’t stop. He was already going to be late to practice and it was no secret Henry needed more practice than most of the team. The Miracles’ next game was against the Shepherds, a team from a Presbyterian mega-church. They had become something of a rival in the mind of the Miracles’ coach, Shane Reed, as the Shepherds trounced the Miracles every year. Shane had told the team that he intended this year to be different. Henry spun the car into Muriel’s dirt parking lot. Truth be told, Henry didn’t care nearly as much about beating the Shepherds as Shane did. “Shack” was an apt descriptor for Muriel’s establishment. Muriel and her small staff did the cooking in an unpainted wooden hut, and the diners ate outside at a motley collection of picnic tables. After getting his fresh lobster platter at the shack’s window, Henry decided to skip the tables and eat in the shade of a nearby tree. He had the salad Jennifer made him as his side dish. Afterward he decided he better let the big meal settle for a few minutes before engaging in any athletic endeavors. But the day was sunny and warm, and with his belly full of lobster, Henry fell asleep. Unfortunately, his left arm sprawled out of the shade, and thus the sunburn that he was currently examining. The burn stung, but that wasn’t Henry’s chief concern. Because of his unplanned nap, he’d never made it to softball practice. He had called Shane’s cell phone as soon as he’d woken up and left a message that he had, “been delayed coming home from my meeting.” Henry felt a little guilty that he was vague about what had delayed him, but reminded himself that the commandment was “Thou shalt not lie,” not “Thou shalt not be vague.” However if Shane saw the sunburn at church that morning he might start asking uncomfortable questions. Fortunately, once Henry put on a long sleeved dress shirt, the only part of the sunburn that was exposed was his hand. It was another warm day, but the church was air-conditioned and it wasn’t at all unusual for Henry to wear a suit to preach, even in the heat of summer. “I’m doing it out of reverence to God, not an attempt to deceive Shane,” he told himself. All through the service, Henry kept his left hand hidden behind the pulpit, making all his gestures with his right hand. And he tucked his left hand behind his back when he greeted the congregation as they departed the sanctuary. Not a single person noticed the sunburn. When the sanctuary was empty, he thrust his left hand into his pocket and went into the social hall. He was distressed to see that the mission committee was hosting coffee hour and Missy Moore had b

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