A Gathering in Hope

A Novel


By Philip Gulley

Formats and Prices




$19.49 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback $14.99 $19.49 CAD
  2. ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
  3. Hardcover $24.00 $31.50 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 2, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Bestselling author Philip Gulley offers humorous, small-town storytelling as he follows the foibles and follies of Pastor Sam Gardner.

Thanks to an unexpected windfall, Sam Gardner’s congregation (with the exception of a few malcontents) is eager to expand their meetinghouse. But before building can commence, the County Environmental Board and the Department of Natural Resources put the quietus on the plan.

A colony of endangered Indiana bats have made the tree beside the meetinghouse, and the meetinghouse attic, their place of hanging, mating, and living, which poses a big problem for the congregation. Aside from the fact that their fanged visitors are engaging in sinful acts on church property, until these bats leave for hibernation, Hope Friends Meeting is left without a gathering place. And when an over-zealous Leonard Fink takes matters into his own hands, he may even land himself — and Sam — in jail.



With many thanks to my editor at Center Street, Christina Boys, and my agents, Steve Hanselman of Level Five Media and Stacey Denny of GraceTalks.



Sam Gardner lay awake, unable to sleep for the snoring of Wayne Newby, slumbering in their guest bedroom. Since Wayne had moved in, Sam caught himself wishing he’d never heard of God, and thus had never become a Quaker pastor, and consequently had never invited Wayne Newby to live with them when his wife, Doreen, had kicked him to the curb.

“How can one man make so much noise?” Sam’s wife, Barbara, asked.

“Because he’s overweight and has sleep apnea and refuses to do anything about it,” Sam answered. “That’s what we’re hearing, the vibration of neck fat.”

“I never knew fat could be so noisy.”

“He’s out of here today,” Sam said. “Doreen said he could come home.”

Several months before, Doreen had found a girlie magazine in Wayne’s workbench and in a fit of indignation had ordered Wayne from their home. Sam had invited him to stay for what he thought would be one night, but that was months ago, and Wayne was still camped out in their guest bedroom, making himself more at home each passing day. He had shed all modesty and would walk around in their home in his underwear, scratching his gut. Winter had passed and spring was upon them, the season of romance, which Sam and Barbara could not celebrate, given Wayne’s tendency of walking into their bedroom unannounced. Barbara changed clothes in the closet and slept in sweat pants, which was hardly conducive to passion.

But this morning, Wayne would depart for his own home, chastened and repentant, having learned his lesson, or so he had promised Doreen.

Sam had a church meeting that night, which he hoped would end early, though one never knew with Quakers, who were prone to getting worked up, stretching a one-hour meeting to four or five hours.

Barbara rolled over and draped her leg across Sam. “What time will you be home from your meeting tonight?” she asked, her voice low and husky.

“Eight o’clock at the latest,” Sam said. “It’s a trustee meeting. It shouldn’t last that long.”

Hank Withers was the new clerk of the trustees, and was wielding his significant power to see a new kitchen and fellowship room built, the meeting having received an inheritance from the estate of Olive Charles, who no one thought had a dime to her name, but turned out to be loaded, and croaked, leaving her beloved Quaker meeting a wad of cash, a house, and a 1979 Ford Granada. They had been bickering ever since, the majority of the congregation wanting to build on, while Wanda and Leonard Fink were holding out for a sizable donation to Wanda’s nephew who had left the comforts of home to minister to the lost souls of Norway, who were numerous according to the letters he sent his aunt Wanda. Lost and depraved and bound for hell. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could stay in Norway. He was under spiritual attack, surrounded by Norwegians who scoffed at the Lord, having put their faith in socialized medicine and all other manner of evil.

Sam was well into his second year as the pastor of Hope Friends Meeting and had been fervently praying Wanda and Leonard Fink would leave, but they hung on like a nasty virus that left one nauseous and worn-out. They had been against Sam from the start, opposed to his coming to Hope, after learning he had inadvertently performed a same-gender marriage at his previous church, Harmony Friends Meeting. He had married two women, Chris and Kelly, who, given their names, could have been any gender, so how was Sam supposed to know they were both women when he agreed over the phone to perform their wedding? By the time he discovered the truth, he was halfway through the ceremony and couldn’t very well stop, so he plunged ahead and was summarily fired. The Quakers in Harmony would have executed him had the law permitted it, so the firing showed considerable restraint.

He had been the pastor of Harmony for fourteen years, and had grown up there to boot, which apparently counted for nothing. His grandmother and mother had made miles of noodles for the Friendly Women’s Circle and still he had been tossed aside like yesterday’s newspaper. He had taken the only church that would have him, a Quaker meeting of a dozen souls, and after working his tail off had boosted their number to nearly thirty. Thirty mostly wonderful, albeit quirky, people—save for the Finks, who were oblivious to Sam’s hints that they might be happier at the Baptist church down the street.

But Sam put all of that out of his mind. Wayne Newby was finally going home, and he and Barbara would be alone again, just the two of them, with only a trustee meeting standing between them and romance. The three of them ate breakfast, Barbara left for her library job at the school, then Sam helped Wayne load his truck, and waved good-bye as Wayne backed out of their driveway and drove down the meetinghouse lane, and out of Sam’s life, at least until that evening’s trustee meeting.



It was a Monday, a bright blue spring day, Sam’s day off, and he had no plans. The best kind of day. He tinkered in the yard all morning, raking the winter debris from around the house, and hauling it to the compost pile in back of the meetinghouse. A Quaker meeting with even one leftover hippie could be counted upon to have a compost pile. Barbara Gardner had begun theirs, over the objections of the Finks, who said compost wasn’t mentioned in the Bible and seemed suspiciously close to reincarnation, turning one thing into another. The clerk of the meeting, Ruby Hopper, had suggested they take a month to pray about it, but Barbara had begun the compost pile anyway. It was warm and earthy and Sam loved the smell of it. He liked the principle of it, too, that something useless could be made useful. Compost, in Sam’s mind, had a Jesus feel to it.

At noon, he knocked off for lunch, riding his bicycle to Bruno’s for lunch. At first, he hadn’t cared for Bruno, who had given every indication of wanting to kill him so he could run off with Barbara, but over time they had become friends and Sam was a frequent diner. Ravioli with a side salad and garlic roll. If no church members were present, Bruno would bring him a dollop of red wine, which Sam drank for medicinal purposes.

“Do you still have your houseguest?” Bruno asked, sitting across from Sam.

“Nope, he left this morning. We have the house to ourselves now.”

Bruno wriggled his eyebrows. “Ah, and it’s springtime, the season for love.”

Sam changed the subject. Italians were forthright about romance, which embarrassed Sam, having been taught such things were private matters, and perhaps even sinful, depending on how much one enjoyed it.

“Your wife, she’s a beautiful woman,” Bruno persisted. “She has a fire inside of her, I can tell.”

“So when are you going to come visit our Quaker meeting?” Sam asked. “You keep saying you’re going to drop in one Sunday, but you never do.” Sam had discovered long ago that inviting people to church was the quickest way to be shed of them.

“How about a little wine?” Bruno asked, rising to his feet.

“No thank you. I need to keep my wits about me. I have a church meeting tonight.”

“The life of a pastor,” Bruno said. “Your time is not your own.”

“I could be summoned any moment for an emergency,” Sam agreed soberly. “Someone could die from a heart attack, a woman could discover her husband had cheated on her, a house might burn to the ground, and I’d have to help. That’s when people call their pastor.”

“Which husband cheated on his wife?” Bruno asked.

“I’m not saying anyone did, but if they did, the wife would call me once she found out.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Not these days. These days she’d go on one of those TV shows and slap her husband around in front of everyone.”

“You’re probably right there,” Sam admitted.

“It’s all changed from when I was a kid,” Bruno said.

“No one calls their pastor anymore. Sometimes my phone doesn’t ring the entire day,” Sam confessed, rather glumly. “Now they just post their problems on Facebook.”

Sam hated Facebook with a white-hot intensity. At first, he’d enjoyed it, then it had been taken over by whiners, kooks, and clods. When it started, he’d used it to contact old classmates, but then he remembered why he’d lost touch with them in the first place.

“My grandkids are all the time telling me to get on Facebook,” Bruno said. “They say that way we can talk. Whatever happened to people visiting someone in their home?”

Sam lingered a bit longer, enjoying their mutual distaste for modern life, paid his bill, and went to Riggle’s Hardware to discuss pocketknives, then crossed the street to Drooger’s and bought a gallon of milk and a box of Cocoa Krispies. After a year of living in Hope, he was starting to know the cashier at Drooger’s, a sweet, older woman named Mary Ann, who warned Sam about Cocoa Krispies. “That stuff will kill you. Just look at the ingredients. Alpha tocopherol acetate. What in the world is that? Don’t they put acetate in paint? You don’t want that stuff in your body. It’s addictive, you know.”

Sam assured Mary Ann he wasn’t addicted, that he could quit anytime, and thanked her for her concern.

“I just worry about you is all. You remind me of my son. I nearly lost him, you know. He got hooked on Peeps and it threw his blood sugar out of whack and he almost died.”

“I remember you telling me that,” Sam said. “I hope Mike’s doing better.”

“He’s better now, but it was touch and go for a while. He went through withdrawal. You can’t eat five packages of Peeps a day for thirty years and then quit cold turkey. You got to wean yourself off them.” She leaned closer to Sam and lowered her voice to a whisper. “Besides, you wouldn’t believe the markup on cereal. It’s a rip-off. You’re better off with oats, trust me. Plus, you’re a Quaker. Stick with your own kind.”

Sam returned the Cocoa Krispies back to the shelf, and bought oats instead.

“This is the start of a new life for you,” Mary Ann said, patting his hand. “I’m so proud of you.”

He pedaled his bike home, steering with one hand, carrying his groceries in the other. He felt funny, a little jittery, and decided he was going through withdrawal, so took a nap and woke up just as Barbara was pulling into the driveway, home from her job. He hurried to the closet, pulled out the vacuum cleaner, plugged it in and began vacuuming the living room, looking frantically busy when she walked in the house. Timing, he had learned after thirty-some years of marriage, was everything.



Hank Withers had quietly drawn the plans for a new addition to the Hope meetinghouse. He spent Monday afternoon consulting with a builder, trying to get an idea how much a new kitchen and fellowship hall might cost, which turned out to be considerably more than he had thought.

“It’s those wooden beams and stone that are killing us,” the builder said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful design, but if we go with wood veneers it’ll be a lot cheaper. And they make this composite stone material, and you can’t even tell it’s not real.”

“It’s the genuine article or nothing,” Hank said. “I’ve never designed something using fake materials and I’m not going to start now.”

“Then you’re going to have to come up with another three hundred thousand dollars,” the builder said, “because I’ve trimmed all the fat off this estimate.”

The builder had purposely estimated high, hoping the church would give the job to someone else. He hated working for churches, with all their committee meetings and last-minute changes and a dozen people, none of whom understood the principles of building, bossing him around, ordering him to do a dozen different things. Just the year before, while building a church, he hadn’t been told they wanted a baptismal the floor couldn’t support. One thousand gallons of water at 8.3 pounds a gallon, plus a pastor who tipped the scales at nearly three hundred pounds. Eight thousand six hundred pounds that would crash through to the basement the first time they filled it and old lard butt stepped in to baptize someone. He advised them to sprinkle instead of dunk, both sides had lawyered up, and it was a mess.

“You don’t want a baptismal added, do you?” he asked Hank. “Tell me now if you do, so I can plan for it.”

“Quakers don’t do water baptisms,” Hank said. “We dry-clean.”

“Well, that’ll save you some money.”

Building a fellowship hall and kitchen had been Hank’s idea, motivated by the demise of Olive Charles, whom he was confident would have been in favor of the idea had she lived long enough to voice her opinion on the matter.

“So when did your church want to break ground?” the builder asked Hank.

“Give me another month to get things in order, then we’ll be ready.” The fact that Hope Meeting hadn’t yet decided to build was a small stumbling block, but something Hank didn’t think should stand in the way of progress.

The builder left Hank his business card, promised to take another look at the bid to see if he could trim it down, then left. Hank followed him out the driveway, his mind preoccupied with that night’s trustee meeting. Leonard Fink had re-upped for another term on the trustees and was dead-set against building. His wife, Wanda, was bound and determined to see the money spent on getting people saved before God killed them dead and pitched them in hell where they belonged.

Hank was pretty sure Wayne Newby wanted to build, and he knew Sam could be talked into it, especially if they used part of the inheritance to give him a raise. But Wilson Roberts could go either way. If he agreed to build, it was a done deal, since the Finks would be the only ones opposed and no one liked them, not even Jesus. But people respected Wilson Roberts, so if he held back, then Ruby Hopper wasn’t likely to approve building and if Ruby didn’t go for it, then neither would Ellen Hadley, who clerked the pie committee and thus wielded considerable power in the congregation.

Ellen Hadley aggravated Hank Withers to no end. She didn’t even come to church, he hadn’t seen her in months, but she had her hand in everything. The thing about Ellen Hadley is that people actually liked her, on account of the pies. She had baked pies for a church fund-raiser, then had kept right on baking, bringing pies to church every Sunday until people were hooked, until they would do anything for a pie, including starting a brand-new pie committee and putting her in charge of it. She had Ruby Hopper, who was normally sensible, baking the pies, and now those Quakers were addicted, craving their next fix.

He had promised Ruby and Ellen a commercial pastry oven for the new meetinghouse kitchen, stainless steel, it could bake twenty pies at a time, and he sensed they were turning his way. They had been talking about using the money to help the poor, but were starting to waver. So Hank had thrown in a pie press. No more rolling out the dough, he told them. Toss the dough in a pan, the press came down, and voila!, a perfect pie crust every time. It’s what Olive would have wanted. They’d think about it, they told him. But they were weakening, Hank could tell. If he could get Wilson on board, the addition was as good as built.



Wilson Roberts arrived early to the trustee meeting, at Hank’s request. The drawings were rolled out on the folding table.

“Don’t tell anyone I’m letting you see them,” Hank said. “But I wanted to run them past you first, given your knowledge of these things.”

“I understand,” Wilson said, completely charmed. “We don’t want people who don’t know anything about building shooting this down.”

Hank thrilled at the word we.

“Has Sam seen these yet?” Wilson asked.

“No, not yet. I wanted you to see them first.”

“We’ve got to get Sam on our side,” Wilson said. “Something tells me he might not want to see all this money spent on a building. He’s got a liberal streak in him and you know how liberals can be.”

“Oh, I think Sam’s with us,” Hank said. “Pastors love building additions.”

They studied the drawings, Wilson made a change or two to the restrooms. “You want these stall doors to swing out, not in. You get a big person in a stall with a door that swings in and they get trapped in there,” he pointed out to Hank.

“Good catch.”

“And if it were up to me, I’d make these urinals waterless,” Wilson said. “They cost a little more up front, but save a lot of money and water in the long run.”

“I was thinking the exact same thing,” said Hank, who up until that moment had never heard of waterless urinals.

Hank rolled up the plans and stowed them in his car before the other trustees arrived—Wayne Newby, Leonard Fink, Dan Woodrum, and Sam.

Hank asked Sam if he would mind offering a prayer, and Sam did, thanking the Lord for items of interest to the trustees, up to and including power tools and paint and roofing shingles. He asked the Lord to bless the hands who had prepared the tools and building materials, to make them strong and healthy, then asked God to bless those who didn’t have power tools or building materials. He closed his prayer with a hearty amen.

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a prayer for building materials,” Hank said. “Thank you, Sam. That was very nice.”

Hank passed out the agenda, then called everyone’s attention to the first item—changing the paper towel brand in the meetinghouse restrooms. He had found a different supplier that would save them twenty dollars a year; did the trustees approve switching the brand?

“I hate to see us invest in an entire carton of paper towels we haven’t tried,” Leonard Fink said. “If we don’t like them, we’re stuck. Maybe we should start with one package and ask folks how they like them.”

“Or maybe have a stack of the new towels and a stack of the old ones, and ask people to try them both to see which they prefer,” Wayne Newby added.

They discussed the merits of Wayne’s suggestion for a half hour, going back and forth, pulling and pushing, straining for truth in this existential dilemma. Hank checked out. It was times like this, he hoped the meeting didn’t build. If they spent a half hour discussing paper towels, building a new fellowship hall would take decades. Jesus would return before the first nail had been driven.

In the end, they thought it best not to change paper towel brands, and moved on to the second item, a discussion of whether or not to hire a janitor. The members had been taking turns cleaning the meetinghouse, but some took it more seriously than others, some forgot altogether, and it wasn’t unusual to find old bulletins in the pews, dirty floors, and smudged glass.

“Not to get personal,” Leonard Fink said, turning toward Wayne Newby, “but it was your job this past Christmas and the place was a dump.”

“For crying out, I had a broken leg,” Wayne said. “You don’t expect me to clean this place with a broken leg, do you? I could barely walk.”

“This is why we need a janitor,” Hank said. “These things happen. It doesn’t always work for everyone to be able to clean when it’s their turn.”

“I’m against it,” Leonard said. “It’s a waste of money when we can do it ourselves.”

“But we can’t do it ourselves, that’s my point,” Hank said. “We’re all getting older and these things are going to be happening more and more to us.”

“When I was growing up, the pastor cleaned the meetinghouse,” Leonard Fink said. “Sam’s still young. Why can’t he do it?”

“I’d rather not,” Sam said. “I don’t mind taking my turn, but I didn’t go to college and graduate school eight years in order to be the janitor of a church.”

“Pastors are supposed to be servants, first and foremost,” Leonard said.

“I work a certain number of hours a week,” Sam pointed out. “It’s much more expensive for the meeting to pay me to clean than it would be to pay a janitor.”

“Sam’s got a point,” Hank said.

“Why would you consider it part of your job?” Leonard asked. “We don’t consider it part of our jobs. We’re all volunteers here. Why can’t you volunteer to clean the meetinghouse?”

“Because cleaning isn’t my spiritual gift,” Sam said. “You can ask Barbara. She’ll tell you that.”

“For Pete’s sake, we just inherited a million dollars. Let’s hire someone to come in a couple hours a week and clean the meetinghouse,” Wilson Roberts said. “It won’t cost us more than a hundred dollars.”

“In that case, Wanda and I would be happy to serve as the new janitors,” Leonard Fink said smugly, leaning back in his chair, his arms crossed, handily checkmating the committee.

Slick, Hank thought. He had to hand it to Leonard. Very slick.



The trustees looked at one another, aware they’d been hoodwinked, mad at themselves, and not quite ready to surrender.

“We probably shouldn’t hire a member,” Hank Withers said. “It could cause trouble if there were a misunderstanding.”

Leonard leaned forward. “We hired Sam and he’s a member of the meeting,” he said.

“It’s different, he’s our pastor,” Wilson Roberts said. “Of course he’s a member.”

“So our pastor can be a member of the meeting, but not our janitor? That doesn’t seem fair,” Leonard said. “I thought Quakers believed in equality.”

“How do Friends feel about that?” Hank asked the other trustees. “Are you comfortable with the meeting hiring Leonard and Wanda to clean the meetinghouse for seventy-five dollars a week?”

“I thought it was a hundred,” Leonard said.

“Okay, a hundred,” Hank agreed. “Do Friends approve?”

“Approved,” they rumbled, except for Sam, who was mortified at the prospect of Leonard and Wanda Fink hanging around the meetinghouse while he was trying to work.

“Then let’s move on,” Hank said. “Next item. Our new addition. We need to make a recommendation to the church to build it. It’s just a formality, but it needs to be done. Are you comfortable with me bringing that to the church?”

“Hold your horses,” Leonard Fink said. “We haven’t agreed that we even need an addition.”

Hank began leafing through the minutes from past meetings. “I’m looking at the notes from our February ninth meeting. It says here that I’m supposed to draw up plans for an addition. Everyone approved.”

“That’s not the same as building it,” Leonard said. “We haven’t even seen the plans.”

“I was going to show them to everyone in the church at once,” Hank said.

“Trustees ought to get to see them first,” Leonard said.

“I think we need to name a brand-new committee, a building committee,” Wayne Newby suggested.

Oh, Lord, no, Sam thought. Not another committee. Please, Lord, not another committee.


  • "Gulley's many fans will enjoy renewing acquaintance with Sam [Gardner], wince at his struggles, and grin at his triumphs, and eagerly turn pages as he makes his way through a maze of decisions and inner turmoil....A worthy and anticipated follow-up to the Harmony series."—Publishers Weekly on A Place Called Hope
  • "Gentle and humorous."—Book Page on A Place Called Hope
  • "Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor from Indiana with a charming sense of small-town life-and a shrewd sense of life in general...A self-deprecating narrator...he knows how to exaggerate in a witty way."—The Wall Street Journal
  • "The biggest collection of crusty, lovable characters since James Herriot settled in Yorkshire."—Booklist on The Harmony series
  • "Gulley's work is comparable to Gail Godwin's fiction, Garrison Keillor's storytelling, and Christopher Guest's filmmaking...in a league with Jan Karon's Mitford series."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Philip Gulley is a beautiful writer."—Charles Osgood, CBS Sunday Morning
  • "Gulley's stories get at the heart of the simple joys, stranger-than-fiction humor, and day-to-day drama of small-town life."—American Profile Magazine

On Sale
May 2, 2017
Page Count
272 pages
Center Street

Philip Gulley

About the Author

Philip Gulley, a Quaker pastor, has become the voice of small-town American life. Along with writing Front Porch Tales, Hometown Tales, and For Everything a Season, he is the author of the Harmony series of novels. Gulley lives in Indiana with his wife, Joan, and their sons.

Learn more about this author