posted in: Fiction, Memoir, Poetry | 0

Churches and change, with pieces by Amy Gottfried and Sharon Doyle.
5 minutes


Amy Gottfried said, “Driving through a small town in upstate New York, I saw these two men walking down the street. One had on a mustard jacket and was much taller than the other, but both of them looked pretty hard-bitten. My story ‘Patron Saint’ came out of that one snapshot moment. Figuring out just who characters are, and how they mesh (or don’t) with their surroundings, propels a lot of my fiction.” Here’s an excerpt from that story.

The car had stopped by the other church, which people sometimes called The Other Church as it was not Methodist and had been Episcopalian, then Congregational, then Baptist, and was finally United Church of Christ but not, its congregants hastened to add, the left-wing UCC type. It had been everything but Catholic, and Lutheran, which the church opposite was. The woman was snapping a picture of the billboard.

“Not the church, she’s not photographing the church,” said Hal. “It’s the words she wants.”

“No point in church but words.” Ford squinted. The billboard’s lettering was large enough to see from 500 feet away but he needed glasses very badly and had mislaid his most recent pair. “Everyone,” he intoned, “who worships across the street will roast in hell. Consider this a friendly warning.”

Hal carefully brushed something off his left shoulder. “It doesn’t say that. It really doesn’t say that.”

“That’s what they want to say. They’re just too chicken-livered . . .

“Pardon,” said the woman, peering around the little brown dog who was trying to claw up through the half-opened window. “What do you know about this church, please?”

Unable to speak, Ford turned and blew his nose into his fingers, then flicked them dry into the wind. Hal jammed his hands into his mustard-colored pockets and drew the jacket close to his narrow hips. “What do you want us to know?” he said.

“We are not Christians,” said the woman, her r’s trilling strangely. “But the . . . the advertisement outside is very strange to us.”

“It’s strange to anybody,” said the driver, whose r’s were perfectly normal. He sounded like a man who had driven from two towns over while the woman sounded as if she had just flown over the Atlantic Ocean from somewhere in the middle of Europe.

“It is? What’s it say again?” said Hal, looking hopelessly at the billboard…

“Lying in bed saying ‘O god O god’ is not the same thing as going to church,” said the woman, very quickly . . .

The chicken-necked man was peering closely at Ford. “Never mind, Greta,” he said.
“Let’s not trouble these men any further.”

“But they are the townspeople,” said the woman . . .

An excerpt from Amy Gottfried’s story “Patron Saint” from Passager Issue 62. She said, “On a
good day, the real world is full of stories: this is what I hope to teach my writing students, and try to remember when the writing comes slowly.”

Sharon Doyle said her Nebraska town of 8300 supported 21 churches, and “it seemed everyone
attended. Ours was one block from our home, and we went weekly, for Sunday school, worship, religious holidays. So, when I was 20 and Dad decided to leave the church, it was serious.” Here’s her poem “Dad and the Church” from Passager Issue 66.

Dad tried being religious –
made his sacrifices of
shedding his overalls and
polishing his shoes on Sundays,

even served on the Board and
inspected with his
workman’s hands every
surface in his church.

they built the New Church. And he
laid every single square foot
of its carpet, even though

his arthritis was so bad he
could no longer tie his tie.
And he was the one who tracked down
the trouble in the construction.

“Somebody measured this roof wrong, and
your storm gutters won’t keep out
the weather,” he said to them. But
they wouldn’t listen to him:

They said the building was fine, complete.
Then, the spring came. And the rains came.
And the carpet felt wet when
my dad checked it on the seventh day

of the rains. So he went home and told
my mother, “The minds in that church
are as mildewed as its new carpet
will be by this time next week.
“If they can’t even get the storm
gutters right, who are they to tell
me about God?” And he never went
through the door of that church again.

Sharon Doyle’s poem “Dad and the Church.”

To subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.