Truman Capote once said that fame is good for only one thing: “They will cash your check in a small town.”
Famous people weren’t plentiful in my hometown as June moved into July of 1998, but we had one homegrown luminary, Raymond Cooper. Since buying the town’s only radio station a few years earlier, then converting it to a talk radio format, Cooper had become our local celebrity, and he cherished the role.
Like most of the town, Raymond was engulfed in the latest controversy. Fortunately for him, this created even more interest in his daily show, “Renderings With Raymond.”
As it came to pass, Independence Day landed on Sunday in 1998, and the members of First Baptist Church were vocal in their insistence that a fireworks spectacle should not be competing with their devotion to The Almighty on The Lord’s Day.
Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists didn’t seem too concerned with the potential competition for the Lord’s attention. There were a couple of reasons for this.
First, the Baptists were the only group to hold services on Sunday night, so non-Baptist folks of the Valley were free to enjoy their evenings as they wished. This was the subject of more than one fiery sermon by Brother Billy Joe Prather, pastor at First Baptist Church, but it didn’t seem to worry the other churchgoers much at all.
Secondly, most folks who weren’t Baptists figured that God enjoyed a fireworks show as much as anyone else. While I was a child, there were many 4th of July celebrations when I wondered what fireworks looked like from the sky.
As important as the present quarrel was to Raymond’s talk show, there was another matter vying for his attention. Though he’d rather put it off forever, Raymond realized that he had to deal with an important issue if he was going to be elected mayor of Lennox Valley: Where to go to church.
You see, while Cooper enjoyed a large listening audience each day, he knew that he was going up against “Silver Tongue” Dick Bland in the August election, and as a member of First Baptist Church, Bland has at least a couple of hundred votes in his pocket, maybe more.
Raymond realized that, for most folks, it would be hard to vote against someone they sat near in church every Sunday. And since he hadn’t attended church since he was a young boy, Raymond had no built-in church constituency.
Cooper carefully considered the pros and cons of each of the town’s four congregations. He jotted his thoughts on the back of a Hoffbrau receipt as listeners called in to his show, howling about the merits of the Federal Reserve System or the audacity of shooting fireworks on Sunday.
All Saints Catholic Church was the first to be trimmed from the list. There were classes involved in joining the church, and that could take weeks.
First Baptist Church would be the obvious choice, if it wasn’t for Dick Bland. They meet three times every week, where they almost beg for folks to come down the aisle to join the church at the end of each service. But with Bland there, he was unlikely to garner many new votes.
The Methodists were a possibility, but Raymond was concerned that he would lose votes if he attended a church with a female pastor.
The clear choice, it seemed, was Lennox Valley Lutheran Church. They wouldn’t insist that he be baptized, since he had been sprinkled as a baby, and he had heard that an “invitation” was offered at the end of the contemporary service, led by Brother Jacob, every Sunday morning.
His timing and performance would be critical. Raymond would need more Hoffbrau receipts as he devised his strategy for Independence Day, 1998.