Is Your Pastor or Priest a Man of Action? Check Out Pastor Stephen Grant in, for example, WINE INTO WATER: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL, MURDERER'S ROW: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL and THE RIVER: A PASTOR STEPHEN GRANT NOVEL by Ray Keating

Pastor Stephen Grant?

Stephen Grant is the pastor at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church on eastern Long Island. Grant is one of the more unique second-career clergy around, as he once worked for the CIA. Besides theology, his interests include archery, golf, writing, classic films, the beach, poker, baseball, and history. Grant also knows his wines, champagnes and brews. Oh yes, he generally dislikes politicians, and happens to be an expert marksman with a handgun and a rifle, while being pretty handy with a combat knife as well.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving with Pastor Grant, Family and Friends - A Book Excerpt

Get a taste of Thanksgiving with Pastor Stephen Grant, and his family and friends, in Chapter 18 of An Advent for Religious Liberty: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel...


Chapter 18 


Thanksgiving Day had the potential to degrade into bedlam.
After all, in addition to Tom, Maggie, and their six children – three daughters and three sons – ranging from early teens to mid-twenties, the guests included a fiancĂ©e to the second oldest Stone daughter, two less serious dates brought by two Stone sons, Stephen and Jennifer Grant, Ron McDermott, Zack Charmichael, Joan and George Kraus with their two teenage daughters, and Michael Vanacore and his new girl friend, Melissa Ambler. Add in Maggie’s mother, Nancy Chandler, and it came to twenty-two in attendance.
Thanksgiving at the Stone home – a large stone-exterior rectory sitting next to the castle-like St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church – was a first for Stephen and Jennifer. Since arriving at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church years ago, Stephen had spent most Thanksgivings with his friends Hans and Flo Gunderson, until they were murdered not long after they had led the way building a new St. Mary’s church building.
On the large porch of the rectory, one of the Stone offspring, the youngest son, Paul, greeted each guest upon arrival with a sheet of paper. The ever-punctual Stephen was pleased. “Check this out, Jen. It’s a schedule for the day. Nice.”
Jennifer looked at her husband, smiled, and said, “Excited about a schedule. Sometimes, you’re so weird.”
Stephen replied, “Hey, this is impressive.”
Tom greeted his two friends. He looked at Jennifer, and said, “I missed it. Why is your husband weird?”
“Oh, it’s just odd that he’s getting excited about your schedule.”
Tom corrected, “Not my schedule. That’s my wife’s. And I agree, it’s a bit anal-retentive. But as you’ll see, it actually works.”
Stephen gave Jennifer and Tom a mock look of disapproval and said, “Well, at least, I will compliment Maggie on the schedule.” He read it over. “So, the Stone Bowl kicks off in about an hour. Dinner at 4:30. And topped off with a movie at 7:30. What are we watching?”
Tom said, “It’s a longtime tradition in the Stone household to watch Christmas in Connecticut on Thanksgiving.”
Jennifer shook her head. “Are you serious?”
Tom looked somewhat bewildered at Jennifer and Stephen, who flashed a broad smile. “Yes, what’s the deal? Problem with the movie?”
Stephen answered, “Quite the contrary. That’s a wonderful film with Barbara Stanwyck.”
Jennifer explained, “Stephen watches that movie every year. Has for … how long?”
Stephen thought. “Actually, since I was a kid. In recent years, at least when the schedule permitted.”
Jennifer added, “He was worried that we might not get home early enough tonight to watch his usual Thanksgiving movie, which is White Christmas. That kicks off about a month and a half of Christmas films for the movie buff I married.”
“I also happen to be a big fan of Bing Crosby, as you both know. But Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut works nicely, too.”
It was Tom’s turn to shake his head. “Your wife is right. You are weird. But I’ve known that for a while now.”
Stephen retorted, “Right, this from a guy who wears shorts and a Hawaiian shirt no matter what time of year it is as long as the temp is over 50. It’s supposed to be an unseasonable 60 today, so why not the typical Tom Stone attire?”
Stephen and Jennifer were in touch football attire, as instructed by their hosts. They wore sneakers, blue jeans and a polo shirt – Stephen’s a bright red with long sleeves, and Jennifer in Stephen’s favorite for her, a short-sleeve pink.
Tom said, “Not today. As I told you, this is the annual Stone Bowl.” Tom had sweatpants and sneakers on, but he seemed particularly proud of the blue jersey he wore, with “Stone Bowl” written across the front above a big number 1, and “Number One Dad” across the back above another big 1.
Behind Jennifer and Stephen came the Kraus family. None looked dressed for football. Joan wore brown boots, a tweed skirt and a cream-colored, lightweight, short-sleeve sweater. In his typical conservative, lawyer fashion, George was in a white, pinstriped, button-down shirt, gray pants, and black, wingtip shoes. Their daughters, Grace and Faith, who shared their mother’s bright red hair, fair skin and large eyes, didn’t look ready for tossing around the pigskin either in tight-fitting leggings and glittery flats. 
After hugs and pecks on cheeks were exchanged, Grace and Faith hurried off to find Tom’s daughters.
Stephen said, “George, you do not look dressed for touch football.”
“I’m not. Bad back does not allow for football.” He looked at Tom. “Not even for the Stone Bowl, Tom, sorry.”
“No worries, you’ll just have to eat and drink with the fans.”
George replied, “I’m well equipped to do that.”
Stephen turned to Joan, “And no Stone Bowl for you either, Joan?”
“Unlike Jen, I do not do football, even when it’s touch.”
Joan Kraus and Jennifer Grant were beyond close friends, being more like sisters. That being the case, Stephen and George claimed to be quasi-brothers-in-law.
Jennifer said, “But you do do wine.” She stopped and looked quizzically. “Does that sound right? Oh well, I have a crumb cake for Maggie, so let’s go see what we can do to help. She always has nice wines for the kitchen help.”
Joan added, “If I had more than 20 people over for Thanksgiving, I’d be well into my second bottle by now.”
As Jen and Joan moved toward the kitchen, Tom, Stephen and George followed. Eventually, Tom and Stephen moved out the backdoor and went down a few steps onto a patio. The yard behind the rectory and church was expansive, sloping gently down to a small lake.
With beers in hand, they headed in the direction of a group talking and casually tossing around a football.
This was another rare social occasion when Ron McDermott could be found in non-clerical attire, sporting tan work boots, brown pants and a long-sleeve, tan, cotton button down. Other than for golf, Stephen knew that this was about as casual as Ron got outside the St. Luke’s rectory – and sometimes within the rectory.
The other four people, however, were in the full spirit of the Stone Bowl.
Zack had his Seahawks jersey on, and Tom’s oldest daughter, Cara, also wore a “Stone Bowl” jersey. Cara, at 27 years old, was a younger version of her mother, including the strawberry-blond hair, but longer, bright blue eyes and smile. Stephen noticed that the two seemed more interested in each other than the football. Well, that’s intriguing.
Stephen had not seen Mike Vanacore in a while, noting that the young, billionaire video game entrepreneur, and leading supporter of parochial education, was still sporting thick blond hair and Clark Kent glasses. Vanacore was from, and still lived in California, but also had a house on Long Island, He was an active member at St. Bart’s. His football preferences were clear from his San Diego Chargers jersey.
But it was the fourth person in the group who drew Stephen’s attention. He whispered to Tom, “Who is that with Mike? She looks familiar.”
Stephen was referring to a tall, thin, beautiful woman with long, straight blond hair. She also had a Chargers jersey on, though cut to reveal her stomach and belly button, along with Capri-style jeans and white sneakers.
Tom answered, “Familiar? Really? Does Jen know that?”
Stephen said, “Meaning what?”
Tom continued, “That’s Melissa Ambler. I guess there’s no other way to put it: She’s a supermodel. She and Mike have been dating for a bit. I believe she was in the most recent SI swimsuit issue.”
Stephen retorted, “And how would you know that? And does Maggie know?”
“TouchĂ©. She’s also been in some cosmetics commercials.”
“Interesting.”
Tom added, “That’s not all. She’s got an MBA. Mike constantly mentions her business smarts.”
They stopped and looked at each other.
Stephen smirked and said, “Her business smarts. That’s what he talks about constantly?”
Tom replied, “Yes, and what are you possibly implying?” His fake outrage lasted mere seconds, when they laughed, clinked their bottles, and drank some beer.
Everyone greeted Stephen warmly.
The Stone Bowl was waged in good fun, but with more than just a light touch of competitiveness, between two teams of eight. The effective St. Bart’s home team – featuring the Stone family, along with Mike and Melissa – won a tight contest, with an interception by Mike returned for a touchdown to make it final.
Stephen threw the pick, and immediately knew he would not live that down with his friends – and his wife – for the entire coming year, until the next Stone Bowl.
Later, with a feast featuring two turkeys spread across two large tables arranged in a T, Tom stood and everyone fell silent.
“For those who have never been at a Stone family Thanksgiving, I officially welcome you, and thank God for your being with us. We don’t do anything like putting individuals on the spot saying what they’re thankful for. We leave that to each of you personally with the Lord. But I do take the opportunity to reflect a bit in our dinner prayer. So, please bow your heads.”
Everyone did so.
Tom continued:

“Dear Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we have so much to be thankful for, truly. We thank you for the family and dear friends you have brought together here today, and for the many hands that brought forth the bounty of which we are about to partake, from the farms and ranches, and every other point along the way, into our own kitchen.
“But what we are most thankful for is your sacrifice and atonement for our sins, your love, forgiveness and gifts of salvation and eternal life, and your coming to us through Word and sacrament. And we thank you for your Church. While it is broken and fragmented in so many ways due to man’s sin, it remains Your Church, and the place where believers can gather together to hear the Word, partake in the Lord’s supper, learn, and help, support and strengthen each other.
“Jesus, Your Church again has come under attack, with sin and the Evil One working to limit the reach of the Gospel. We pray for strength to have the courage to do what is right, to protect the Church, no matter what the price.
“Finally, sweet Jesus, we pray for those who gather on this Thanksgiving, but know not who they should be thanking for their families, their friends, their blessing and their very lives. We pray that through Your grace, through the Holy Spirit, through an awakening of faith, they will come to know You.
“And we pray all of this, in Your precious name. Amen.”

All around the table echoed, “Amen.”
Maggie looked at her husband, and squeezed his hand. She turned to her family and guests, and said, “Please, everyone, eat and enjoy.”
Stephen was seated on the other side of Tom, and whispered, “Nice prayer.”
Tom replied, “Thanks. All credit, of course, goes to Him.” After a short pause, as he spooned some au gratin potatoes onto his plate, he added, “Although, I pondered adding thanks for that pick you threw giving us the Stone Bowl. But I thought it might make the prayer go too long.”
Stephen smiled. “And so it starts. I’m never going to hear the end of this, am I?”
Tom replied, “Of course not. What are friends for?”


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