Charity sat on the chair and absently poked the needle in and out of the fabric. She was listening as her father, Benjamin Weston, talked with Mr. Crofton.
“The Benbows have themselves a new preacher,” Mr. Crofton said as he settled into the chair by the fire.
“Is that so?” Father replied calmly and waited for his neighbor to continue.
“It seems they went and got themselves baptized into this new religion.”
“Really?” her father said just as calmly. But Charity knew from his voice that he was very interested. Everyone knew about the Benbows—they had vowed to never join a church until they found Christ’s true church on the earth. She moved to the edge of her chair to hear better. She wanted to know if the Benbows had found what they were looking for.
“This preacher is from America. He’s a man by the name of Wilford Woodruff. They say he’s been sent by a prophet of God.”
“I’d enjoy hearing him,” Father admitted.
“The rector’s not too pleased,” Mr. Crofton added and smiled. “It seems this preacher is baptizing just about everybody in these parts.”
“You don’t say.”
“Rector sent a constable to arrest the preacher right there at the Benbows’. When Mr. Woodruff stood up to preach, the constable stopped him. Told him he was under arrest for preaching.”
Mr. Weston leaned forward to hear the rest.
“Woodruff looked him calmly in the eye and said that he had a license to preach, same as the rector. But he promised to talk to the constable about it after he’d finished his sermon.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Father said and nodded.
“The constable sat down beside him. Then Mr. Woodruff began to preach a sermon like I’ve never heard before. He taught about Jesus Christ like he really knew him. He taught faith, repentance, and baptism. He taught about the Holy Ghost and laying on of hands to receive that gift. It was powerful!”
Father shifted in his chair and studied his friend. “You sound like you believed this preacher.”
“Let me finish my story,” Mr. Crofton replied, “and you’ll see. Well, at the end of the meeting, he invited anyone who desired it to come and be baptized, and four United Brethren preachers walked up and asked to be baptized. Then the constable stood up and everyone quieted down.
“‘Mr. Woodruff,’ he said, ‘I would like to be baptized.’ Well, you could have heard a pin drop! Now, Mr. Woodruff wasted no time. He took the constable down to a pond right then and there at the Benbows’ and baptized him with the others. He baptized seven people that night.”
Charity counted up in her head. If there were four preachers and the constable, then who else had joined this new religion?
Her father stood up and poked the fire. Then he turned to his friend and softly asked, “You were one of those seven, weren’t you?”
Mr. Weston nodded. “I surely was. I want you to come hear him, Benjamin. He preaches a good sermon, and I could just feel the spirit of truth testifying to what he said.”
Her father chuckled. “He’d have to, to convince a constable sent to arrest him, and a hardhead like you. I’d like to hear him speak. My family and I will join you next Sunday.”
At noon on Sunday the Weston family began the long walk to the Benbow farm. Charity didn’t mind walking. She’d waited all week for this. Maybe something exciting would happen!
The meeting hall was almost filled when they arrived. She sat high on her father’s knee so that she could see over the heads of the people.
Suddenly a wave of whispering rolled through the people. Charity turned and saw two men dressed in dark suits sit down behind them.
Charity heard Father whisper to Mother, “Those are the rector’s clerks. He must have sent them to find out what is so all-fired appealing about this new preacher. I hope that they won’t cause any trouble. I have my heart set on hearing a good old-fashioned sermon.”
The audience quieted as Mr. Woodruff stood to speak. In a short time another wave flowed over the audience. This time it was the power of the Holy Ghost. Everyone sitting there could feel the truth of Mr. Woodruff’s words. They knew that he’d been sent to teach them about the Savior.
Tears rolled unchecked down her mother’s cheeks, and her father’s arm tightened around Charity as he grew more absorbed in the sermon.
When Mr. Woodruff finished speaking, he invited everyone to join the true church. Her father and mother stood up, ready to join those seeking to be baptized. Before they could move, the two clerks shouldered their way toward the pulpit.
The crowd parted as the two black-garbed men made their way to the front. Their faces were solemn, and Charity began to shiver. What would they do?
Mr. Woodruff greeted them pleasantly and waited for them to speak. With heads high, they humbly asked to join Christ’s church.
Another wave of noise filled the hall. Everyone wanted to talk about the clerks, the constable, Elder Woodruff—and their own baptisms! This was unheard of! It was an exciting time.
Father’s chuckle soothed her like the sound of water flowing over smooth rocks. “That does it for the rector,” he said and chuckled again. “He’s lost a constable and two clerks. I don’t think he’ll dare send anyone else to hear this preacher. Any good man will recognize the truth of his words. Any good person would feel the Spirit. I believe him. I’m going to be baptized into Christ’s church by someone with the authority to do so.”
Charity held onto his hand as he cleared a path to the front for his family. She felt a feeling of peace and security, and she knew that her father and mother would guide her along the right path until she, too, was old enough to be baptized.