Spiritual Pizza

I had known Harold McKinnish all my life, but I don’t think I fully appreciated him until I saw him in action at the local Pizza Hut.

My earliest memories of Harold were when he would come over to our house on Saturday nights to play country music with my daddy and his friends. About once a month six to ten men would gather in our living room to pick and sing. The women folk gathered around the kitchen table to talk, or on the back porch drinking iced tea if the weather was nice. The children were only allowed in the house if we were quiet, so we spent most of our time out in the yard.

Harold seemed to laugh louder and enjoy himself more than anybody else, but he was always the first to leave. Everyone tried to talk him into staying a little bit longer. He was a pretty good mandolin player, but mostly it was because he was the life of the party.

He left before ten o’clock because he had to get up early every Sunday morning. You see, Harold was the pastor at our local Church.

I remember when he resigned from the Church, and moved away. Even at the ripe old age of thirteen I thought it was one of the strangest resignations I had ever heard of. Being successful and well loved is rarely a reason to leave, but that’s what happened.

The Church had recently grown so much that all of the elders and deacons were convinced Harold should give up his secular job, and become a full-time Pastor. They offered him a good salary, but made the mistake of putting it to him in the form of an ultimatum.

The rapidly growing church really did need a full-time minister. So the Board of Deacons said if Harold didn’t want the position, they would look for someone who did. I don’t think any of them believed Pastor McKinnish would choose to walk away. He only agreed to stay until they found someone else, but insisted he would not be forced into quitting his secular job.

He taught brick, block, and stone masonry at a local high school. Back then Henderson County Schools offered a program where local residents could submit an application for students to lay a foundation for a house, or build a fireplace. The only cost to the owners was the building materials. They knew that the end product would meet all the state building codes, but it may not look exactly professional.

It was a great deal for everybody involved. The people got their masonry work done for about half the normal price, and the students gained priceless hands-on experience.

After doing this for decades Harold had worked alongside, and influenced the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of young men in Henderson County. I suspect that he felt this work was just as spiritual as anything he did inside the walls of a church building. After he moved away from Tuxedo I lost contact with him for many years. Eventually, I also moved on.

In 1970, I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life, and felt called into the ministry. After I attended Oral Roberts University for three years my wife and I, along with another couple moved back to my home town to start a Church. We were young and inexperienced, but filled with youthful enthusiasm. We believed that God could use us to bless others, and expected Him to do great things, which He did.

I also started a construction company to support my family.

One day Larry Foldoe and I went to town to buy materials for a house we were building. It was a little past noon, and neither of us had packed a lunch so we decided to eat at Pizza Hut. It was right on the way back out to the job site, and they were offering all you can eat pizza and salad for a cheap price. That sounded ideal for two guys in a hurry with large appetites and thin wallets.

As we entered the restaurant a very busy young lady behind the cash register asked if we were going to have the special, or order from the menu. We made our intentions known, and she said to help ourselves. We could sit anywhere we wanted. We made an initial pass by the salad bar, but found there was no pizza available. The guy frantically making pizzas said more would be coming out of the oven in just a few minutes, so we sat down at a table across the aisle from someone we knew.

John had recently returned to Hendersonville after studying for a masters degree at Oxford University’s College of Theology and Religion over in the UK. He was also sporting a very attractive new fiancé he had acquired while he was over there. We said hey, and then he introduced us to her. They had already ordered a large pizza with everything on it from the menu. It was delivered to their table soon after we sat down.

We eventually saw the pizza maker cut up a couple of hot pies, and put them out on the counter. Our table wasn’t very close to the action so before we could get up there, they were all gone. That process happened twice before I went to the cashier to complain. She apologized for the poor service, and explained that several people had not shown up for work that day.

As we looked around the crowed restaurant it was obvious they were understaffed. As far as we could see there were only three people to take care of the lunchtime rush; the cashier, the guy making pizzas, and one waitress.    Larry and I loaded up at the salad bar again, but sat down determined that the next time pizza came out of the oven we would be first in line. While we were eating the rabbit food I started telling Larry about what had happened to our friend, Pastor Smith.

He was an older man with much more ministerial experience than me who had started coming to a Bible study I taught out in Mills River.   I was only in my mid-twenties at the time, and surprised he wanted to listen to anything I had to say.

One evening he asked for the group to pray for him. He confessed that he was very discouraged about what was happening at the church he pastored. The congregation was steadily getting smaller, and there were many unresolved conflicts between the members. He had tried everything he knew how to do, but nothing seemed to help. He asked if we would pray for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because he needed supernatural wisdom and power to turn things around.

There is a Scripture that says God gives grace to the humble. That’s what we saw happen. Pastor Smith began to weep, raised his hands toward heaven, and then began to speak in tongues. It was evident that the Lord had responded to this humble servant’s request.

Over the course of the next few months the Pastor attended our Bible study less frequently. He would still come by every once in a while to let us know about the transformation that was happening in the church.

By every measure they had made a dramatic turn around. Attendance was up. Offerings were up. Problems between members were down. Enthusiasm and excitement dominated the atmosphere of the congregation, and a new building program was started. By his own testimony the Pastor said that being filled with the Holy Spirit had radically changed his personal life, and his public ministry. We were so happy for him.

That had all happened about a year ago.

I said to Larry, “I talked to Pastor Smith last night, and he’s been forced to resign from the Church. He also has to move out of the parsonage before next Sunday. They don’t know what to do or where to go.”

Larry said, “I can’t believe that. I thought his Church was doing great.”

“Yeah, it is. He told me that his problems all started after he turned in the yearly reports to the district supervisor’s office. The church grew more than any other congregation in the district by a wide margin. So the board of supervisors invited him to a special meeting to find out what he had done to turn the Church around.”

The Pastor said, “I should have known better, but I told them the truth. I confessed that I had become very discouraged about Church attendance, and the constant arguments between members of the congregation. I tried everything, but nothing worked. I became so desperate that I begged God to fill me with the Holy Spirit and His power.

You know, they were all with me right up until that point. Then I told them that I had started praying differently after being filled with the Holy Spirit. I began going into the sanctuary every morning to pray. Since I really didn’t know what to ask for I would just walk up and down the aisles praying in the Spirit. I believed that when I was speaking in tongues the Holy Spirit was making intercession for the Church. From the time I started doing that, everything started changing for the better.

They just could not accept that. They’re convinced speaking in tongues is from the Devil. They insisted that the growth in the Church was not proof that what I was doing was from God. They told me I could only continue being the pastor if I would renounce speaking in tongues, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I couldn’t do that, so they fired me. They asked for the keys to the Church, and gave me until Saturday to leave the parsonage. They want us gone before Sunday. I don’t even know where we will go.”

Larry interrupted my story and said, “No, you’ve got to be kidding. They wouldn’t do that to a pastor and his whole family.”

I said, “Well that’s what he said they’re doing. I don’t understand it either. He’s a good man, and the Church is doing better now than it has in years. Those denominations that don’t believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit are flat out deceived in my book.”

About that time the pizza maker put something out on the counter. It was like a stampede. Everybody in the restaurant stood up and lunged at the same time. We turned up empty handed again. At this point I started getting mad. I told the cashier that I did not intend to pay full price if I didn’t get to eat a single slice of pizza. She apologized, and said they were doing the best they could. Several other customers also complained, and there was a lot of tension in the air.

While I was still standing in front of the cashier the door opened, and Pastor Harold McKinnish along with about twenty very hungry looking high school students walked in. He spoke to me as he passed by, but I was not sure he recognized me. It had been years since we had seen each other. I shook his hand and reintroduced myself. He was genuinely glad to see me, and asked about my Mom, Dad, uncles, aunts, and grandparents all by name.

He explained the boys who were with him were from his masonry class at Edneyville High School. A very satisfied home owner, they had done a project for, was treating the entire class to pizza.

It was good to see my old pastor again, but in that moment I lost all hope of getting a slice of pizza for lunch. We were definitely outnumbered now. We sat back down at our table, and I was on the verge of telling Larry we had to leave and get back to work when John and his fiancé stood up.

They said their goodbyes, and then John stopped at the cash register to pay their bill while she went into the restroom. He walked out the front door, and we watched him through the window as he got into his car, and started the engine. We could also see, right in front of that same window, half of a large pizza they had left on the table.

I said, “Look man, they left four slices of pizza. There’s two for you and two for me. It’s probably the only pizza we’re going to get a shot at today. Reach over there and get it. You’re closer to it than I am.”

Larry said, “We can’t do that. Can we?”

I said, “If we don’t take it they’ll just throw it away when they clean off the table. There’s no use letting it go to waste when we need pizza.”

Larry hesitated a little, but it didn’t take much more prodding to convince him. We were both hungry, and it was right there within arm’s reach.

As we ate the long awaited pizza we continued to talk about how sad it was that Pastor Smith had been fired, and how sad it was that those traditional denominations did not believe in the power of the Holy Spirit like we did.

I said to Larry, “You know, Pastor McKinnish is a great guy, but he belongs to that same denomination that just fired Pastor Smith. It’s a shame he doesn’t know what it is to walk in the Spirit.”

We had both finished the first slice, and were hard at work on the second one when John’s fiancé reappeared at the table with a carry out box in her hand. She stood there a for a long moment wondering what had happened to their left overs. Larry and I were too embarrassed to speak up. The deed had already been done.

We watched as she went outside, and got into the car with John. They sat there talking for a little while before they drove away. Then with the stolen pizza still between our teeth we noticed what Pastor McKinnish was doing.

He was clearing off dirty tables with a bus boy’s cart, and making jokes with the other customers. We heard him loudly explain to everyone in the restaurant that several employees had not shown up for work, and that the staff were doing the best they could.

He coached his students on how they could help. Under his direction they swept the floors, wiped off tables, straightened up around the salad bar, and took out the garbage.

In just a few minutes we witnessed Harold transform the atmosphere of the entire restaurant from one of disgruntled tension, to a jovial party where friends pitched in to make the best out of a difficult situation. Previously irate customers now laughed out loud, and enjoyed talking to the Pastor and his disciples.

This was the kind of man any parent would love to have as an influence in the life of their son.

Larry and I both realized the Lord was showing us something important. He was using Harold McKinnish to show us what it really meant to walk in the Spirit of a loving God. We sat there with our mouths full of complaints, judgements, and stolen pizza while the Pastor demonstrated the power of kind words, mercy, and laughter.

We both wept and repented for quite a while before we could regain enough composure to pay our bill and leave.

This happened many years ago. Pastor McKinnish has long since passed away. I can assure you however, that Larry and I will never forget what he taught us that day at Pizza Hut about walking in the Spirit.

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6 Comments on “Spiritual Pizza

  1. Paul the apostle explains to the Corinthians that the best teachers are spiritual fathers first and foremost. Their loving example leads the way for us to follow. They stimulate us, or better “provoke us to love and to good works” (Heb. 10:24). The selfless life and loving manner of Pastor McKinnish spoke more than words to me and STILL provokes me to live for Jesus as this dear father did. Thanks Harold, and thank you Jim. Well said.

  2. Thank you for writing this. Your story brings tears to my eyes. For I know that preacher man so very well. And I know the words you tell to be true on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and every other day of the week. He loved people–he really did. And he loved–with all of his heart. And between his love for God and people, he carved a life that was so very special. The Reverend Harold L. McKinnish was my Dad. And we miss him so very much. My sadness turns to praise when I read stories like yours. And my tears turn to gratitude when I think that his life lives on–that his little and big acts of kindness and generosity are deeply embedded in this world—in you and others like you. Thank you, my friend. Continue to pass it on. I invite to you to listen to his video biography on youtube.com. Just add The Rev Harold McKinnish at youtube.com search to hear his original songs, his guitar and mandolin picking, and portions of his final sermon that Robert Ballard mentions in the preceding message. May God continue to bless you and your family.

    Linda McKinnish Bridges (lindamckinnishbridges@gmail.com)

    1. Linda, thanks so much for leaving a comment about this story, which was inspired by your dad. He really did have an impact on my life, and the life of Larry Foldoe, the other guy who was with me in Pizza Hut that day. Larry decided not long after that incident to go back to school to become a pastor and consulted with your dad while he was making that decision. Larry and I have worked together for many years as missionaries in South America. Thanks again for your kind words, and may you be richly blessed and highly favored. Jim Hill

  3. Jim that was a great story written by a true story teller.
    I wish I could have met that old mason. Wow what a father.
    And yeah, the Lord sort of jerked a knot in you guys over that business about the poir man needing to be filled with the Spirit:)

  4. What a great soldier for the Lord! Reverend Harold McKinnish so demonstrated a Spirit filled life. He was a legend in this county from the pulpit to his love for playing his mandolin in impromptu jam sessions. He had a vintage Gibson mandolin and knew how to play it well. Harold preached in virtually every Baptist church in our county and beyond the county lines expanding into SC, Tennessee and Virginia. As has already been stated, he taught masonry at a local high school for many years. At his memorial a large group of his former students and a packed to capacity crowd of friends filled the sanctuary of East Flat Rock First Baptist. How fitting the final song would be sang and played on stringed instruments of those with whom he had often played in those informal jams at homes in our county. His final message would be in Rutherford, NC titled “Pass it On!” A great commission for those who remain to be steadfast in proclaiming the blessed Old Story of the Gospel.

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