by Jim Foreman
Every inch of seating room was jammed full in God's Holy Word Baptist Tabernacle in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. The folding chairs which had been set up in the aisles and across the back of the church were filled. The entry hall was jammed with people and several hundred more who could not crowd inside, braved the cold January winds and stood on tiptoe outside the church, peering through the windows in the hope that they could catch a glimpse of the Child of God who was to be baptized that morning.
Mary, the child's mother, brought the blanketed bundle forward and presented it to the preacher, who was dressed in a white robe and standing waist-deep in the baptismal. He carefully unwrapped the child, removed his diaper and held him high in the air for everyone to see. Gasps and whispers of "Praise God" ran through the congregation.
The preacher folded a white cloth, placed it over the baby's face and immersed him in the water which hadn't completely lost its nightly chill, saying, "John Henry Harrison, Child of God, I baptize you in the name of the Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost."
Some of the congregation fell to their knees in prayer and others fainted. The chant of "Praise God" filled the church while a very unhappy John Henry Harrison screamed in protest to the shock of being dunked in the cold water.
By displaying the baby at every opportunity and distributing copies of his birth certificate, the preacher increased the congregation of his church ten-fold within a few weeks. Contributions poured into the coffers of the church and work was begun on a new building which would seat even more people than could be accommodated in the original First Baptist Church. In order to take advantage of the good fortune which had fallen into their laps, the deacons increased the length of the church's name to include the birth. It became God's Holy Word Tabernacle of the Immaculate Conception. By the time that the new building was completed in late summer, it had become inadequate to hold all the people and plans were being drawn for an even larger one.
People would drive a hundred miles or more to attend services and gaze upon the baby which came into the world through Immaculate Conception. It was bound to be true, because he had a birth certificate with a doctor's signature to prove it.
It didn't take the preacher long to realized what a rich vein of gold that the Harrison infant represented. Not being one to let a good thing slip through his fingers, the preacher quietly formed a non-profit religious corporation called the Immaculate Conception Ministry, with himself as president, treasurer and chairman. He kept everything in the family by naming his wife as the vice president and auditor. Under the umbrella of this corporation, he could direct most of the money which had been going to the church into several bank accounts, all of which were totally under his control.
John Harrison grew up in total belief that his father was God and began delivering sermons by the time that he was four years of age. While he did received a thorough education in the teachings of the Bible, and could quote it; Book, Chapter and Verse, he never attended a day of formal schooling. By the time that he was ten years of age, the Preacher had taken total control of his life. The Preacher also arranged for him to be awarded a Doctor of Divinity Degree by Oral Roberts University and to be ordained as a Baptist minister.
Even with the preacher pulling the majority of the money from the collection plates, by the time that John was fourteen, his home church had grown to be the largest Baptist church, not only in the state of Oklahoma, but anywhere in the whole Bible Belt. Since there was a limit to the amount of money which could be separated from the people within driving distance of Sallisaw, the preacher decided to take the show on the road.
The Immaculate Conception Ministry traveled back and forth across the nation, sometimes in a huge bus, and other times on an airplane. Reverend Harrison was always in demand and always on the move. The Ministry received at least ten requests for the Reverend to appear for each Sunday, allowing them to accept only the ones which promised the greatest return. Any church lucky enough to be placed on the busy schedule could depend on the Reverend John Harrison to fill not only their empty seats, but also their treasury. The fee for an appearance by the Child of God was seventy-five percent of everything which was taken in during the many collections which were requested during each meeting. In an hour's time, the collection plates would be passed for love offerings, church offerings, ministry offerings, mission offerings, tithes and just plain old collections. There was hardly a minute during a sermon when the large brass collection plates weren't circulating. When they were filled with fives, tens and twenties, they were immediately taken to a back room where the Preacher did the counting. Only after he had taken three out of every four dollars for himself, did the preacher pass on the remaining one to the host church.
It was never known how many millions of dollars passed through the Immaculate Conception Ministry and into the pockets of the Preacher because, as a religious organization, he was not subject to taxes, audits and other irreverent actions of that sort. The Reverend Harrison didn't really care that he was being exploited, because it allowed him the opportunity to spread his ministry to the greatest number of people. John was nearly forty years of age before he finally decided that the Preacher had used him long enough and broke away to go on his own.
Deprived of his gold mine, the Preacher set out to do as much damage to the Reverend Harrison as possible. As soon as he left the Immaculate Conception Ministry, the Preacher issued a news release saying that he had discovered that Harrison was a fraud and accused him of taking all the money which had been donated to the ministry. After that, the Preacher moved the millions of dollars that he had accumulated into numbered Swiss bank accounts and retired to Brazil.
While with the Ministry, he had to follow the sermons exactly as they were laid out by the Preacher, and those dealt far more with the need to raise money than with salvation. On his own and free of those controls, he would be able to attack the one thing which he most despised and wanted to stamp out in the world: sin. Since sin and Satan were more or less one in the same in the mind of the Reverend, stamping out sin would be equal to stamping out Satan.
The Reverend could find sin in just about everything that people did. He went much further than the ordinary sins like war and those which are spelled out and prohibited by the commandments. He found sin in drinking, smoking, dancing, gambling, lust, lipstick, off-color jokes, homosexuals, movies, television, communism and The KKK. He denounced bowling, watching football games, auto racing or basketball on TV. Playing golf and any other activity which might be more fun for people to do instead of going to church on Sunday was a special target. That last group of sins could include anything from fishing to sleeping late. He finally decided that all sins could be directly equated with fun and anything which was fun must also be sinful. The more fun that anything was, the more sinful it was bound to be. While he had totally abstained from sex himself, he did condoned it, but only between married people and then only when absolutely necessary.
Although he had been extremely popular and always in demand while with the Immaculate Conception Ministry, now with the cloud of suspicion cast by the Preacher, he found that it was difficult to get into anything except the smallest of churches with indifferent congregations. In fact, many times he would come to a town and be unable to find a single church which would provide him with a pulpit from which to denounce sin. Worst of all, the flow of money which he had seen passing to the Preacher on collection plates, diminished to a dribble. People just weren't all that interested in fighting sin.
For three years before he left the Immaculate Conception Ministry, The Reverend had been secretly saving most of the money which people slipped to him when they shook his hand after the services, rather than turning it over to the Preacher in the back room. With most of that money, he bought a camper van and set out across the country in search of sin.
The Sin Mobile, as it jokingly became known, had a raised top which allowed a person to stand erect inside and was equipped with the same facilities as a motorhome, except on a reduced scale. It had a bed across the back, partitioned off from the rest of the van by a curtain, as well as a smaller bunk which dropped down above the front seats. The van was fully self-contained with its own water supply, roof air conditioning, propane heater, stove, refrigerator, folding table and a tiny bath room. Just inside the two back doors was a folding platform which could lowered to serve as a stage. When it was lowered, a black curtain was drawn across the opening as a backdrop and to block any view into the van.
He bought a coal black suit and hat and dressed himself much in the same manner as had the circuit-riding preachers of a century ago. His destination would be San Francisco, the town which he considered to be the sin capitol of the world. With its reputation as a haven for homosexuals, hippies, drug users, free sex and various other sinners, he figured that he would look for sin where there was the most sin to be found. He decided that he would travel across the country like preachers did during the pioneer and gold-rush days, he would travel from one small town to the next, stamping out sin wherever he found it as he journeyed toward his goal in San Francisco.
Leaving Sallisaw, Oklahoma, where his mother was now the head librarian, he angled northwestward across the state, Once past Tulsa, he had an endless number of small towns at his disposal. In some, he stood behind the pulpit in small churches, in some he preached from the back of his van, while in others, he couldn't raise a single soul to listen to him. It seemed that his worst problem, even when he did raise an audience, was not being able to deliver his sermon and pass a collection plate at the same time. Any time that he stopped preaching to produce the plate, his audience would melt away without their hands ever leaving their pockets.
When he crossed the state line into Kansas, the situation didn't prove to be any more productive, either as a place for stamped out sin or for putting money in the collection plates. In fact, when he passed through a strip of the state where the Mennonites and Mormons were well entrenched, he began to feel particularly unwelcome. They were not only indifferent to his preaching, they were outright hostile to his even being there.
The next small town along the route taken by the Reverend Harrison was a place called Noggley, Kansas. According to the road map, it had about two thousand residents and five churches, Methodist, Catholic and three Baptist. He stopped by the First Baptist Church to visit with the resident minister, who wasn't interested in sharing his pulpit with another preacher, especially if he also had to share the collection with him. The Bible Baptist Church had recently hired a new pastor who was afraid that his job might be in jeopardy if the congregation compared him with a big gun preacher like the Reverend. The newest Baptist church, known as the Total Immersion Baptist Church, was temporarily closed. It seemed to have lived up to its name on the Sunday that they dedicated the church when a seam split in the vinyl liner of the baptismal and about 10,000 gallons of water flooded the place. Under the assumption that they had divine protection, the deacons of the church hadn't bothered to buy any insurance to cover such things like that and when the founders found that out, most of them went back to the church that they had left. The Methodist minister refused to allow anyone of the Baptist faith to preach in his church and he couldn't even get past the nun at the door to see the Priest at the Catholic Church.
Undaunted by the refusals, the Reverend parked his van near the picnic tables in the city park and folded down his platform. He hung out a sign which read, "Hear The Reverend John Harrison, a True child of God, speak tonight at 7:00PM". On each table, he placed several copies of his birth certificate, holding them in place with pebbles to keep them from being scattered by the Kansas wind.
When the time came for beginning his sermon, there were perhaps a dozen people seated at the picnic tables, although at least half of them were simply there to take advantage of the cool air which was a result of the grass having been watered that day. He launched into his sermon on the various sins of the world and as he preached, a few more people wandered in until there was perhaps twenty people in his audience. This was the largest crowd that he had been able to draw in weeks and he felt that his ministry was beginning to take off.
When it came time to pass the collection plate, he was faced with the same old problem which had plagued him from the first. He saw the people begin to stir restlessly and look for a way to escape. Just then, a vision of virginal youth and beauty stepped forward. She was about twenty years old, had short-cropped sandy hair, an enchanting smile and the body of Goddess. One glimpse of those seductive breasts, long legs and beautifully rounded hips even stirred primal urges in the chaste body of the Reverend. She said to him as she reached for the collection plate, "May I pass this through the crowd for you, Reverend?"
Freed from the necessary awkwardness of passing the plate, the Reverend was able cleanse his mind of any sinful thoughts that the beautiful girl might have provoked and he launched into the most spellbinding part of his sermon. While he spoke, she silently handed the collection plate from one table to the next and the Reverend could see folding money appearing in it.
He ended his last prayer, stepped from his stage and walked to the edge of the crowd to shake hands with all of the people whom he could reach. Being out in the open, he was not afforded the captivity of their having to pass by him as they left and most of them escaped without having to shake his hand. As the young lady who had befriended him in his moment of need approached, he said softly to her, "Would you please remain a few minutes. I'd like to thank you properly for helping with the collection."
When everyone except the girl had departed, he extended his hand to her, saying, "I'm the Reverend John Harrison and I want to thank you for helping me with the services tonight."
"Glad to do it, Reverend," she replied. "My name is Ginger Wilson and you looked as if you could use a little help."
"Yes, Miss Wilson," he said "I certainly do need some help with my ministry. I didn't see any rings on your fingers was why I called you Miss. Are you married?"
"No," she replied, "And not engaged either."
"You seem to be so much at ease with people, where do you work?"
"Up to about an hour ago, I worked for my father as a bookkeeper. His business goes on the auction block tomorrow morning, so I suppose you could say that as of right now, I'm unemployed."
"I take it that since you stopped to hear me speak, that you believe in God," he asked.
"I'm not a Bible-thumper like some people, but, yes, I do believe in God."
"Do you believe in Immaculate Conception?" he asked.
"Not if it's done right," replied Ginger, laughing at her own joke.
The Reverend thought about her last statement for a few seconds but failing to grasp the humor, he continued, "I plan to take my ministry to San Francisco, where I feel that it will do the most good. Do you suppose that you would be interested in coming along and helping me with my ministry?" he asked. Then he stopped suddenly and said, "Please forgive me for asking such a forward question. Let me assure you that, as a Child of God, I have only the purest of intentions. I am a child of an Immaculate Conception with my virgin mother and have never and would never touch a woman in a carnal way."
"I didn't have you pegged as a dirty old man, Reverend, and after hearing you speak, I'm sure of it," said Ginger. "But even though I'm old enough to do whatever I like, I think that you and I should talk with my father about my going."
"I wouldn't have it any other way. When can I meet him?"