Elmo Jenkins is a seminary student, and one the requirements for graduation is a six-month internship with a church. Ditched by his date at a fancy party, Elmo meets one of the ministers of the fabled First Church, and lands his internship.
First Church’s denomination isn’t mentioned. It could be Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or a similar group. If you’ve grown up within the boundaries of Protestant Christianity in the United States, the church is instantly recognizable – the megachurch with the big tall steeple usually located right in the middle of downtown.
Elmo’s office is (literally) a transformed broom closet in a large complex of offices. He begins to navigate his way through both the building and the church’s labyrinthine internal politics, politics that extend to the local business community, the seminary, and the country club. All-too-human frailties have to be dealt with. A minor 100-year-old mystery needs solving. And there’s even the possibility of romance; actually, there’s more than a possibility.
Ordained Irreverence is the first of four Elmo Jenkins novels and four novellas by McMillian Moody. Moody, who lives in Tennessee (where there are any number of First Churches to choose from), has taken a humorous yet rather fond look at institutions like First Church and the characters who inhabit them – the senior pastor, the trusted assistant pastor, the worship leader, and all the other people who comprise the staff of a large church.
Moody’s intent isn’t to poke fun and puncture balloons, but he clearly knows enough about churches to know that First Church isn’t a completely fictional creation. What keeps the book from drifting into sarcasm is the understanding that, despite all the egos and foibles on display, God’s work is somehow getting done.
We can laugh at the inside church jokes and punctured egos, but Moody keeps returning us to the purpose of the church, and to the fact that even large churches, once you’re past the glitter and theatrics, can serve good purposes. Elmo may be irreverent, but he knows what he and the church are called to do.
Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.