Grit Griffin and Grace Willis

(creator: Becky Wooley)


Becky Wooley
(Truman) Grit Griffin is a six-foot-three-inch 23-year-old who had been dismissed from New Jerusalem College in Bennettville for many violations including "smuggling alcohol into the dormitory (the one job skill he had learned in two-a-half-years as a Bible major)". Then, after his girlfriend had left him, he had “slipped into depression and alcohol". He went on to find work as a part-time bartender and would-be journalist.

After meeting a small group of Christians who were upset by the “disparity between the teachings of Christ and the practices of institutional Christianity", he joined them to form a new Christian group, Deep Water (who came to be known as the Divers) as they met at first in space under The Dive, the bar where he works. Then Grit “drew upon the knowledge he had gained, in spite of himself, at New Jerusalem to lead Bible based discussions at the monthly worship services".

Grace Willis worked as a receptionist in a local Dodge dealership. Her father was the minister at the Bennettville One True Church where her unbalanced mother Dinah taught a Bible class for infants and toddlers. Then Grace was invited by a friend to attend the Deep Water fellowship and as someone "whose teetotalling ancestors had contended for generations that Jesus turned water into grape juice, was aghast" to find it met in a bar. But she was welcomed in by Grit, who was “the sort of unharnessed, likeable teddy bear that Grace, the daughter of a strict and distant father, found irresistible". She "cared about .... people and intuitively knew that judging, blaming or condemning would not help. She also knew that God's love could set them free. Her innate awareness and acceptance of grace led her further and further from the legalism her father preached at the Bennettville One True Church." e
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Becky Wooley (1947- ) has had many years experience as a minister's wife and former church secretary, as well as experience in journalism. She and her husband Bruce, who is minister at Brainerd Church of Christ in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have attended or ministered to seven universities and fifteen congregations of the church of Christ and have been affiliated with five Christian schools. She herself attended Florida State University, Tarleton State University, Harding University, and Indiana University Bloomington. Non-Prophet Murders was her first novel.

Non-Prophet Murders (2010)
Non-Prophet Murders describes how four ministers ignore the prophecy, Repent or Die. Three of them then die:
Pastor Newell Post Lawson, militaristic founder of Holy City Pre-millennial Church, suffers an on-air heart attack.
Politically ambitious Reverend Bishop, The Reverend Bishop of Greater Bennettville First Baptist/Methodist/Episcopal/Holiness Alpha and Omega International Tabernacle, succumbs to food poisoning.
Brother Thomas Alexander Willis dies dramatically in the baptistery of Bennettville One True Church after preaching against drama in worship as a change from his usual theme of “the eventual damnation of every professing Christian not recognised as a member of the One True Church."

The one survivor, Grit Griffin, gets almost killed when “full of the spirit, (he) stood to testify", but, helped by Thomas Willis' daughter, Grace, and fellow Divers, this makes him even more
determined to find the serial killer - as well as to get to know Grace better.

It makes an original story, enlivened by humor, as when the churches are given the pretentious names listed above. The Bishop's actual surname had been Bishop to which his mother had added the Christian name Reverend, so that since he had made himself a Bishop, his full name had become The Right Reverend Bishop Reverend Bishop. It is he who “unashamedly wrapped his gospel message around two causes: minority rights and legalized gambling". Supported by the adoring "handmaidens of the Lord" whose “fried chicken, fried apples, fried pies, fried tortillas, French fried potatoes, deep-fried turkey legs, deep fried corn on the cob, deep fried corn dogs, deep fried dill pickles, deep-fried funnel cakes, deep-fried Twinkies, and refried beans were more than enough to finance the auxiliary's trip to the National Handmaidens of the Lord Convention in Memphis, Tennessee." All this is great fun - and, as a minister's wife the author knew exactly what she was talking about, as when she tells us about a ladies meeting in which every one of the participants “was a preacher's wife, and everyone was having husband troubles".

There are effective digs too at over-simple fundamentalism, as when we are told that Dinah (Grace's mother) had over the years “developed her own primitive theology; every action was either right or wrong, good or evil. Every person was either saved because of their good deeds or damned because of their sin." And the way that, when Brother Willis introduced a blackboard into the auditorium of The One True Church, “the elders called a men's business meeting to debate whether using a blackboard was scriptural". What the author does approve of is “forthright, non-denominational Bible teaching and unapologetic Christian orthodoxy", as practiced by the Deep Water group.

It is an entertaining story although at times the humor could perhaps have been even more biting. As it is, it sometimes gets rather lost in the complexities of the plot (which the author seems to take more seriously than it really deserves), and there are so many characters, it is not always easy to remember who is who. Perhaps an explanatory cast list might have helped. And the way that the publisher (but only in the Kindle edition) puts whole passages in capital letters (sometimes to communicate a character's thoughts - sometimes for no apparent reason) does not make it any easier to read. But it remains a highly original story - and the only one I know in which nearly all the clergy turn out to be not only sanctimonious hypocrites but crooks as well! Recommended for being so different.

Murder, Intelligently Designed (2012)
Murder, Intelligently Designed is Grace and Grit's second case, in which they eventually have to look into the supposed murder of her biology lecturer, the obnoxious Dr Brenda Bleckard, who was always proudly proclaiming her atheism with "snide comments about the Bible". The blood-stained Troy Michaelson, another lecturer, is arrested, but Grace, with the help of the "handsome, twenty-year-old Stephen Langley" as well as her boy friend, journalist and Deep Water lay-minister Grit Griffin, demonstrates to the police that there was quite another explanation.

There is a large cast and it all gets rather confusing. The plot is distinctly improbable, but the story comes to life when the author can use her own experience to describe church life as when she draws comparisons between two quite different forms of worship: that of the Deep Water Fellowship (that the author likes) and the legalistic One True Church (that she doesn't).

There is a vivid description of a special "men's meeting" at the One True Church that is led by Brother Pringle who “like all sound One True Churchers, believed that God had more or less retired after getting His book published," and had called the meeting to attack “the antics of our Sister Tabatha" who had persisted in asking “disrespectful questions. This week she asked why women should not serve communion."
“There is nothing disrespectful in asking," (her husband) Raymond said. “All you have to do is answer."
“She should be 'asking her husband at home', Brother Prindle quoted. “Believe me, she did." Raymond grinned. “Her exact words words were, “What about having a penis makes you more qualified than I am to wait on tables?' "
It is an issue about which the author herself felt strongly, and this much helps to bring the situation to life.

Later on, when the One True Church is searching for a new preacher, it is Raymond who produces an imaginary application form which includes under the heading Personal Information:
never married
somewhere around fifty years of age, but I can't prove it
never preached in one place for more than three years at a time
in poor health, though I still get a good deal done
have had to work at my trade to help pay my way
not especially good at keeping records and sometimes forget whom I have baptised.
And under Police Record:
charged with disorderly conduct, causing a riot, and subverting the government
had been threatened, taken to court, and attacked physically
had been in jail three or four times but not for wrongdoing.
It is, of course, a description of what the Apostle Paul might have written!

Meanwhile Grace tries attending a Roman Catholic Mass with Stephen, but found that “she was distracted by her surroundings. Lofty painted ceilings, intricate stained glass and lush music from an ornate pipe organ reminded her that we she was a stranger to this place and this event." She found “to her dismay, she was not truly worshipping, and it was her own fault .... This is just another way to worship, she reminded herself. I haven't done or been asked to do anything sinful or beyond scripture." But “no explanation could change the fact that Grace would be excluded from communion, the oldest and most participatory act of Christian worship." So it was not for her. She much prefers the lively informality and close friendships found within her directly Bible-based born-again Christian Fellowship.

It is a pity that the author couldn't find a more likely plot, based less on melodramatic goings-on and more on the realities of church life about which she cares so deeply. As it is, you can't help sharing her delight when a new young preacher at the One True Church delivers the following try-out sermon: “My sermon this morning will cover everything the Bible has to say about the list of questions you as a congregation use to screen prospective preachers .... I expect most of you have never seen this list, but it contains over one hundred questions that cover nearly every matter of opinion that ever divided the congregation of the Lord's people …. I have researched every one of these questions from Genesis to Revelation. As to any law or commandment that is universally binding in these matters, here is what the Bible has to say." He closed his Bible and sat down.



The author has her own website and there is a short WTVC television interview with her on YouTube.



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Non-Prophet Murder
The cover is effective even if it does not really suggest the humor that is the book's strongest point.
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