The Rock Hill Community Church is a haven for agitators. Agitating is so much a part of church life that no one particularly notices any more. There are several groups and cliques within the church, and observing some of them is illustrative of important techniques and methods.
Rev. O'Connor's sermon is especially lively for a Sunday in February. He moves quickly through social responsibility and the importance of brotherly love, right past helping one's neighbor and ministering to the needy, and into his point for the day.
"The real failing, my friends, is not to share in the pain and tribulations of our brothers and sisters. But it is worse to share in that pain and tribulation and then to elevate ourselves above the hurting by using the pain as a means of self-aggrandizement."
In an unusual gesture of consideration for those gathered to listen, Rev. O'Connor goes on to explain:
"I am talking about the gossips and busybodies, the talebearers and rumormongers. They are among us. Here, I do not exclude myself. I refer to those who fall to the low level of trying to seem in the know or important. This happens by taking pleasure in talking about or listening to conversations about the difficulties of others. Do we do this to be better able to lend a hand? Sadly the answer is No. We do this to fill our own needs for attention and approval."
During the coffee hour after church, the small groups and cliques assemble in the social room. There are a few who mingle but most take their usual places near their usual companions. A scattering of conversations can be overheard.
At a corner table, the preacher is the topic for the morning. "You should go to one of his so-called board meetings. All they do is gossip and waste time. If I were in charge, you can bet things would run better around here. We would take care of business and not spend all our time just sitting around getting nothing done."
In a small group toward the back of the social room, things are getting a little emotional. A teacher has just said, "I think I'm going to give up teaching one of these days. It's getting to where the children just have no respect. It was all right but the new ones in the class just add to my problems. I don't know what happened to the traditional family."
The group is sympathetic except for one young mother at the fringe. Abruptly, she sets down her coffee cup and rushes away.
The teacher says, "What got into her? She and her children have only been coming here for a couple of weeks, so I don't know her very well. Do any of you know her well enough to go see what she is upset about?"
The preacher is unaware of most of what is going on around the room. He is saying to an extremely animated man, "Melvin, I agree there is a problem. It may not be as bad as you think."
Not to be appeased, Melvin presses his point. "I don't think we should just brush this off as a minor problem. The next thing you know, the parents will be up in arms and then the church itself may be in trouble. If we lose members over this, everything we've worked for will be in jeopardy."
Still trying, Rev. O'Connor says, "It's true Carolyn should not have said that to the child, if she said it. I will talk with her about what happened."
Just at the moment Rev. O'Connor thinks he has managed to get away from Melvin without getting him more upset, another agitator steps up. "I couldn't help hearing what Melvin said to you, Reverend. I don't want any bad feelings and wouldn't upset anyone for the world. I just have to say this. Carolyn is having family problems and she deserves our support."
It is about twenty minutes later when the preacher feels a tug on his sleeve. As he turns, he hears, "I think you better talk with Carolyn. I think she has a right to hear it to her face. She is my best friend and I'm going to stand by her."
Looking directly at Carolyn, Rev. O'Connor says, "I did not say anything about you to Melvin except you and I would talk. I would like to talk soon except this is not a good time or place. How about tomorrow sometime?"
With obvious sincerity, the friend says, "Carolyn does not need this hanging over her head." Turning to Carolyn, she says, "You are not going to let him put you off, are you?"
Unsure what to say, Carolyn says to the preacher, "So, what did Melvin say about me?"
As the preacher fumbles with what to say to Carolyn, the agitator says, "I can see this is getting a little personal. If the two of you don't mind, I will be headed home. I have a hungry family to feed. I will call you later Carolyn."