Strolling through suddenly windy and dusty Hamilton after a noontime brass concert (Toreador and When I'm 64 on the same bill, what bliss), I stop to take a picture of a handsome white building with a blue door. Instead of steps up to the door, it has a long ramp lined with a pristine white picket fence. It's the Big Sky Baptist Church, and as I'm clicking the button to capture it on my CCD for posterity, the door flies open and two men step out.
They see me, wave and hasten down the ramp to greet me. "That's great timing!" says the taller, rangier one. "We came out just in time to be in your shot!"
He introduces himself: "I'm Rick Peacock, the pastor here." Indeed, his name is on the board next to the ramp. The other man is Don, one of the congregation. They ask where I'm from, and what I'm doing ... the usual. Pastor Peacock says he came here after two years at a church in Canada. "In our church," he says, "we like to think the Lord leads us to our next place. The Lord led me here!" And in two years here, he's seen an increase in the size of the congregation, now about 40-50 people.
"Love to come to India," he says.
The mention of India spurs Don to talk. "Do you know someone called Samuel Thomas?" he asks. I don't. Apparently this is a Christian evangelist in India. "They've been attacking him over there," says Don. "They say he criticized the caste system, which he didn't, even though I think the caste system is the most horrible thing in the world." (Some digging later tells me he is probably talking about this guy).
Pastor Peacock gives me his number. "If you have the time," he says, "I'd love to talk." With that, I shake hands and walk on down the road. I probably will call him.
I find Don walking by my side. I can't put my finger on what exactly, but there's something, something, faintly accusing in his manner. "India is the only place in the world," he says, "where Hindus have killed Christian priests. It's like they want to eliminate Christianity."
Religion, I reply, makes people do some horrible things.
With that, we are at Don's car. I notice that he has parked with a front wheel up on the curb. He stops, looks at me silently for a long couple of seconds. Then he gets in and drives off.