Virgin River Book # 9
September 30, 2014
Reverend Noah Kincaid moved to Virgin River to re-open an abandoned church he bought on eBay. Like Noah, the place is a little empty inside and needs some loving care.
The young widower arrives ready to roll up his sleeves and build a place of worship and welcome, but he needs some help. And the Lord works in mysterious ways….
With her tight shirts and short skirts, “Pastor’s assistant” is not a phrase that springs to mind when Noah meets brassy, beautiful Alicia Baldwin. The former exotic dancer needs a respectable job so she can regain custody of her children. And Noah can’t help but admire her spunk and motherly determination.
The pastor and the stripper: an unlikely team to revitalize a church, much less build a future. The couple has so many differences, but in Virgin River anything is possible, and happiness is never out of the question.
Originally published January 2010.
Reverend Noah Kincaid had a new church in the tiny town of Virgin River. His first church since his ordination. It had all come to pass in a most unusual way. He was surfing the Internet, killing time, and happened to find a church being auctioned on Ebay. He’d laughed at the very idea, but was intrigued; he’d been patiently waiting for an assignment to a church. A little playing around on the Internet revealed that everything from yachts to used CD’s were being auctioned on Ebay. It fascinated him.
Curious, he had taken a little trip down to Virgin River from the small, private Oregon university in which he had been teaching for the past year while waiting for a church. The first thing that struck him was the overwhelming beauty of the mountains, redwoods and rivers. The town was a little washed out and the church was a wreck, but there was a peacefulness and simplicity there he couldn’t dismiss. Or forget. It seemed uncomplicated, fresh.
He hadn’t needed a key to get inside the church — it was boarded up and had been abandoned for years, but the side door wasn’t locked. It had been stripped bare and filled with years of trash, possible litter from transients who’d taken shelter there at one time or another. Almost all the windows had been broken before being covered with plywood. But when he got to the sanctuary, he had discovered a stunning stained glass window, boarded from the outside to keep it safe. It had been left unmolested.
No one really noticed him in the little town; the local men he’d seen either had hair shorn in military fashion or pony tails and beards, just like the fishermen Noah had worked with over the years. He fit right in — he wore scuffed boots, his jeans were almost white with wear, ripped here and there, his denim shirt was thin on the elbows and frayed around the collar and cuffs. His black hair was too long and curled over his collar; he planned to get it cut the second he had both time and patience. But for now, he fit right in, looking like any other laborer after work in lumber, a ranch hand or farmer. He was fit and honed like the local Virgin River men; years of working on a fishing boats and dockside, dragging nets, hauling in tons of fresh catch will do that.
He had driven the neighborhoods in town, which hadn’t taken long, had a cup of coffee at the only eating establishment, snapped a few digital pictures and left. He had then contacted the gravelly voiced old woman who was auctioning the church on Ebay, Hope McCrea. “That church has been boarded up for years,” she said. “This town has been without religion a long time.”
“You sure the town is in want of religion?” Noah asked her.
“Not entirely sure,” she answered. “But it could damn sure use faith. That church needs to be opened up or razed. An empty church is bad mojo.”
Noah couldn’t agree more.
He took the idea of buying the church to the Presbytery and found they’d already been well aware of its existence. He showed them digital pictures and they agreed, there was great potential, but the property along with remodeling and furnishing costs exceeded their budget. Placing a minister there appealed to them; the population was just the right size to build a congregation and it was the only church in town. But the renovation, not to mention the accouterments, put the cost too high.
Well, Noah had recently come into some money. To him, a small fortune. He was thirty-five and since the age of eighteen had been slaving and studying; while attending the university, he’d worked on boats, docks and fish markets out of the Port of Seattle. A year ago his mother had passed and to his surprise, left him a hefty portion of her own inheritance.
So, he offered to lighten the Presbytery’s financial burden by taking on the renovation of the church as a donation if they saw fit to assign him as the pastor. After all, he’d never gotten used to the idea of having money. The proposal was an appealing one for the Presbyterian Church.
Noah’s closest friend, and the man responsible for talking him into the seminary, thought he’d lost his mind. George was a retired Presbyterian minister who had been teaching for the last fifteen years. “I can think of a thousand ways for you to throw away that money,” George had said. “Go to Las Vegas, put it all on red. Or finance your own mission to Mexico. If those people needed a pastor, they’d go looking for one.”
“Funny that church is still standing there, useless, like its waiting for a rebirth. There must be a reason I happened to see it on Ebay,” Noah had said. “I’ve never looked at Ebay before in my life.”
After considerable debating, George had finally said, “If it’s structurally sound and the price is right, you could ask to be assigned there. You’ll get a big tax write-off with the donated renovation cost and a chance to serve a small, poor congregation in a hick mountain town that doesn’t get cell phone reception, just like you want.”
“There is no congregation, George,” Noah had reminded him.
“You’ll have to gather one, son. If anyone can do it, you can. You were born to do it, and before you get all insulted, I’m not talking about your DNA, I’m talking about a pure talent. I’ve seen the way you sell fish; I always thought there was a message there. Go — it’s what you want. Open your doors and your heart and give it all you’ve got. Besides, you’re the only ordained minister I know who has two nickels to rub together.”
So Noah had brokered the deal for the Presbytery and hoped his mother wasn’t spinning in her grave. She’d always quietly supported him in running like hell from the ministry.
Noah’s father was a powerful, semi-famous televangelist, and cold, controlling man. Noah had run away while his mother could not.
If someone had told Noah seventeen years ago, when he fled his father’s house at the age of eighteen that he would one day be a preacher himself, he’d have laughed in their face. Yet here he was. And he wanted that church. That wreck of a church in that peaceful, uncomplicated mountain town.
While en route, he called George’s office at the Seattle Pacific University. Noah was in his fifteen year old RV, which would be his home for a good, long time, towing his twenty year old faded blue Ford truck. He placed the call from his cell phone before the signal was lost in the mountains and tall trees. “I’m on my way into Virgin River, George.”
“Well, boy — how does it feel?” George asked with a deep chuckle in his voice. “Like you pulled off the sweetheart deal of the century, or like you’ll be dead broke and out in the street before you know what hit you?”
Noah laughed. “Not sure. I’ll be tapped out by the time the church is presentable. If I can’t drum up a congregation, I could be back in Seattle throwing fish before you know it,” he said, speaking of working the fish market in Seattle’s downtown wharf. He literally threw large fish across the market for a customer’s purchase. It was like theater and where George discovered him. “I’ll get started on the improvements right away and trust the Presbytery won’t leave me out in the cold if no one shows up to services. I mean, if you can’t trust the church…”
That comment was answered with George’s hearty laughter. “They’re the last ones I’d trust. Those Presbyterians think too much! I know I didn’t endorse this idea, Noah, but I wish you well,” George said. “I’m proud of you for taking a chance.”
“Seems like I don’t know how to do anything else, George.”
“You give those Virgin River beauties a run for their money, boy.”
“You know it, George,” he said with a laugh.
“Noah,” George said soberly. “Good luck, son. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
Noah had a long legacy of living hand to mouth, taking risks, choosing the toughest way, always proving himself. It seemed like the only thing he’d ever been completely sure about was marrying his wife, Merry. When she died five years ago, he found himself headed for the Seminary in an effort to find the answers to questions that had no answers. It was amazing the number of students there for the same reason. It seemed people studied their own pathology all the time.
But then he’d known that; he had a degree in psychology. Two degrees, two masters. He looked like a fisherman, but he was a scholar.
It was the first of July when Noah pulled into Virgin River, right up to the church. Parked there was a big old Suburban with the wheels jacked up and covered with mud. Standing beside it was a tiny old woman with wiry white hair and big glasses, a cigarette hanging from her lips. She wore great big tennis shoes that didn’t look like they’d ever been white and although it was summer, a jacket with torn pockets. When he parked and got out of his RV, she tossed the cigarette to the ground and stomped it out. One of Virgin River’s stunning beauties, he thought wryly.
“Reverend Kincaid, I presume?” she said.
He assumed she was looking for someone a bit more refined. Maybe dressed in khakis and a crisp white button down? Shiny loafers? Neatly trimmed hair? Clean shaven at least? His hair was shaggy, his whiskers itchy, a healthy bit of motor oil on his jeans from that stop a hundred miles back when he’d had to work on the RV. “Mrs. McCrea,” he answered, putting out his hand.
She shook it briefly, then put the keys in his palm. “Welcome. Would you like a tour?”
“Do I need keys?” he asked. “The building wasn’t locked the last time I was here. I looked it over pretty thoroughly.”
“You’ve seen it?” she asked, clearly startled.
“Of course. I took a run down here before placing a bid on behalf of the Presbyterian church. The door wasn’t locked so I helped myself. All the church really needed from you was the engineer’s report on the structural competence. I gave them lots of pictures.”
She pushed her over-sized glasses up on her nose. “What are you, a minister or some kind of secret agent?”
He grinned at her. “Did you think the Presbytery bought it on faith?”
“I guess I didn’t see any other possibility. Well, if you’re all set, let’s go in Jack’s — it’s time for my drink. Doctor’s orders. I’ll front you one.”
“Did the doctor order the smokes, too?” he asked with a smile.
“You’re damn straight, sonny. Don’t start on me.”
“I gotta meet this doctor,” Noah muttered, following her.
She stopped abruptly, looked at him over her shoulder as she pushed her glasses up on her nose and said, “He’s dead.” And with that she turned and stomped into Jack’s bar — the only place in Virgin River to get a drink or a meal. Or, as Noah remembered from his visit, an orgasmic piece of pie.
© Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
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Reverend Noah Kincaid—Widowed Presbyterian minister from Seattle, who comes to Virgin River to renovate and reopen the abandoned church he bought on eBay. He shocks the townsfolk by hiring and falling in love with a former stripper.
Ellie Baldwin—The brassy, beautiful former exotic dancer who signs on as Pastor Noah Kincaid’s assistant in order to regain custody of her children, Danielle, eight, and Trevor, four.
Lucy—Noah’s rescued border collie.
George Davenport—Noah’s best friend and mentor from Seattle.