Church Characters #7: Sam

During a series entitled “Church Characters,” I’m recalling some memorable people from decades of ministry.

The bishop appointed me to First United Methodist Church of Summerville in June 1991. We arrived on Moving Day to discover my predecessor still in the process of moving. Tracy and I walked to the church next door to wait on the moving van.

We met a man in his 70s trimming the shrubs. Sweat-stained and red-faced, he looked like a prime candidate for a myocardial infarction. He switched off the hedge trimmer and extended a wet palm for a handshake.

In a loud voice of the hearing impaired, the man declared, “You must be the new preacher. My name is Samuel T. Hell-buck. Every church needs a hell-buck, and I’m yours!”

The brother did not lie; well, except for his name. I later discovered his last name was ironically “Bible.” However, the man lived up to his self-proclaimed title.

After four decades of pastoral ministry, Sam ranks number one among ornery church members I have encountered. He made my life a living hell, constantly criticizing and complaining. He verbally assaulted me during an Administrative Board, cussing me out because I did not visit his wife in a Chattanooga hospital. The fact that he did not inform anyone about her hospitalization did not matter—I should have known!

Preachers’ stories typically resolve conflicts with happy endings. I would love to describe how Sam and I settled our differences as brothers in Christ; but this never occurred. He could not even agree to disagree with me, and we didn’t exchange Christmas cards after I moved.

Most pastors aspire to please people and avoid conflict. I learned in Summerville that I cannot please everyone and sometimes conflict is unavoidable.

Samuel T. Hell-buck taught me these lessons.

And by the way, every church does NOT need one.

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