It all began with TJ’s bright idea of having a sleep over at the church. You couldn’t really find fault with that; the senior high group was growing, mostly because of TJ’s and Kim’s leadership.
They were, in fact, in the middle of a highly successful cans and nonperishable food drive, geared around Souper Bowl Sunday, when mainline Protestant churches often collect for local food pantries.
For some of us, the ocean in winter is wild and beautiful, so I suggested a beach picnic, even though it was January.
By the time we returned to the church, after a late night hot dog roast at Point Pleasant, darkness was fully on us and the church, which we all knew was haunted, cast an eerie gray shadow on the moonlit lawn.
It was OK for a while. The kids, subdued by beach football and the 40-minute drive back to the church, threw out their sleeping bags and prepared to watch a movie in the basement. When the movie had ended, a select group of young adults decided they wanted to drag their gear up into the bell tower, spending the rest of the night there. T.J. volunteered to go with them, while Kim and I stayed with the larger group in the basement.
It was while cooking breakfast early the next morning, that I commented on how haggard TJ was looking. He just mumbled something about “up all night” and continued scrambling eggs.
Since the youth were leading church that morning, I didn’t get to talk to him again until after services. That was when he approached me with a folded piece of paper.
“You ever seen a shadow inside a shadow?”
He shrugged impatiently. “You know, a shadow within a shadow. We saw one very clearly last night.”
He unfolded the paper. “I watched this from the time we went up until the time we came back down.”
He began to unfold the paper, containing pencil sketch which he had drawn by flashlight. “Now it’s been — what, 10 years since there was a pull rope in the bell tower?”
“Sure — that electronic bell was added in the late ’80s.”
“ So — up in the bell tower on the south wall — how do we explain this?”
Clearly drawn on the paper — a shadow within a shadow showed the shape of a heavy rope hanging from the ceiling. The rope ended in a loop and there, in the loop, was the undeniable, unmistakable silhouette of a human being.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at