The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo
In this hard-to-believe-it's-real memoir, Rebecca Nichols remembers the terror of her childhood. After moving to Sellerstown, NC to pastor a small church, her father begins to be terrorized when a powerful member of the community decides that the Nichols family shouldn't be there.
Mr. Watts, a non-church member, used to control the small 12 member church in Sellerstown, NC. He sat on every committee and made all the rulings in church business. All that changed when Robert Nichols was chosen to be the new pastor. Nichols felt like only church members should decide church business, which means Mr. Watts was no longer in power.
With this, seemingly, obvious decision in the church, Mr. Watts decided to launch a 5-year-long war against his pastor and neighbor. From "anonymous" death threats in the mail to threatening phone calls that were made up to 30 times a day, Mr. Watts seemed like he might just be all smoke and no fire. That is until he set off dynamite outside the pastor's house... multiple times...with a wife, a small daughter and an infant son inside.
The next letter said the pastor's family would leave Sellerstown "crawling or walking...dead or alive."
Oh my, what a book! As Alonzo puts in the forward, it's hard to believe this is a true story. I could easily see this as some thriller movie that a screenwriter made up. The thought that someone would terrorize a family just for power in a church boggles my mind. And this wasn't some huge, multimillion dollar megachurch. This was a tiny church in a tiny town. It started with 12 members and went up to 100 members after Nichols came. But still, dynamite and death threats????
The overwhelming theme of the book is forgiveness. Rebecca's parents forgave Mr. Watts while he was still threatening her family. Rebecca and her brother forgave him and other's even when there were HUGE injustices that they endured as a result. To be honest, I don't know if I could forgive like they did. It's a wonderful testament to her parents and their training that she could forgive her tormentors that way.
Looking at the book in a pure literary sense, there were a few things that seemed a little odd. Towards the beginning of the book there was a story about a gas station owner gunning down some people who didn't pay for oil and then being acquitted for it. I thought for sure that man would play a bigger role in the story but he doesn't show up again. I'm left wondering why that part was put in there. Also, after 5 years of terror, it's actually someone other than Mr. Watts that comes into their kitchen armed one night. It's not until epilogue that those two men are even remotely connected. I think it would have been better to connect them in the main story or mention that the two things are, strangely, not really connected.
But those are minor grievances with the story. Overall I thought it was great. I understand why it was a New York Times bestseller.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.
A complementary copy of this book was provided to me for review by the Tyndale Blog Network. All opinions are my own.