CHARLOTTE, NC—Mike Stevener was reportedly on the verge of enjoying his first worship service in over a decade this past Sunday, when the pastor smiled and told the congregation to “take a minute and greet those around you.”
“Things had gone pretty well up until that point,” Stevener informed reporters. “Parking, getting a bulletin, finding a seat in the sanctuary–that’s not easy for a visitor, okay? We sang a couple songs and I thought, I can do this.”
“But then . . .” He trailed off, visibly shaken.
According to witnesses at the scene, it was almost 30 seconds before anyone noticed Stevener, who was pretending to check his hymnal. Long-time greeter Judy Ren, 74, broke the lull. This caught the attention of women’s ministry director and mother of seven, Jenny Whitham, who locked onto the man and hurried to introduce Carter, Cayden, Caitlyn, Cole, Chloe, Connor, and Coburn. Moments later, deacon Jeff Olshefski had the visitor’s right hand in a vice grip of fellowship and the entire left side of the sanctuary was circling.
Sources later found Stevener smoking a cigarette behind the youth building. “Listen, I’m a veteran. I’ve been in combat, and I’ve never seen anything like that. One guy climbed over three rows of chairs and elbowed Caitlyn–or Chloe, not sure–out of the way just to get to me. It was like the scene from Animal Planet where the lions go after the elephant at the watering hole. The rest of the service went fine, but it was tough to concentrate on the sermon because I was still sweating and shaking a little bit. Also my hand is hurting.”
When reached for comment, deacon Olshefski felt confident that Stevener would return, noting, “Oh yeah, Mike’ll be back. Good guy. Weak handshake–kind of clammy–but good guy.”