Reverend Randollph

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Rev. Thomas H. Griffith

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Apr 8, 1997, 3:00:00 AM4/8/97
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Linda Brue asked about a series of books about a Chicago area
clergyman who used to be a football player and lived in a posh
penthouse.

This is the "Reverend Randollph..." series by the late Charles Merrill
Smith. He wrote five books and started a sixth, then died suddenly.
His son finished the sixth book. (More on that in a moment.)

The six books in the series are:

REVEREND RANDOLLPH AND THE WAGES OF SIN
REVEREND RANDOLLPH AND THE AVENGING ANGEL
REVEREND RANDOLLPH AND THE FALL FROM GRACE, INC.
REVEREND RANDOLLPH AND THE HOLY TERROR
REVEREND RANDOLLPH AND THE UNHOLY BIBLE
REVEREND RANDOLLPH AND THE SPLENDID SAMARITAN

Now, for some juicy gossip about this series of books you won't find
in many other places!

Charles Merrill Smith was a United Methodist minister who took early
retirement because he was burned out and was also suffering from
hypertension. He may have been assisted out because of the nature of
his first book which had clergy and us young theological students
howling, and church hierarchy squirming. The book was entitled HOW TO
BECOME BISHOP WITHOUT BEING RELIGIOUS. It was brilliant church
satire, although I am told his Bishop was not amused.

Smith went on to write several other books, including WHEN THE SAINTS
GO MARCHING OUT, THE PEARLY GATES SYNDICATE, THE CASE OF THE MIDDLE
CLASS CHRISTIAN, and HOW TO TALK TO GOD WHEN YOU AREN'T FEELING
RELIGIOUS.

Charles Merrill Smith also did a book together with his son, Terrance
Lore Smith. Terrance had several mystery novels of his own out in the
late 1970's and early 1980's, although he and his father did not get
along too well. Terrance was the one who finished REVEREND RANDOLLPH
AND THE SPLENDID SAMARITAN after his father died. Unfortunately,
Terrance did not have his father's theological knowledge, and that
book is distinctly unmemorable.

According to John Breen's bibliography, SYNOD OF SLEUTHS, Terrance
Lore Smith wrote one more Reverend Randollph book which allegedly was
published in 1988, though I've never found it. (And I can't remember
the title to save my soul.) Shortly after that, Terrance Lore Smith
was killed in a car accident, which is why no other books ever came
out in the series.

What makes the "Reverend Randollph..." series distinctive is that this
was the first mystery series since G. K. Chesterton's "Father Brown"
series of short stories to have a Protestant clergyman as the
protagonist. Since then, Isabelle Holland wrote a couple of books
about a female Protestant minister who was also a pastoral counselor
---and then the dearth. In novels today, Protestant clergy usually
get relegated to the role of "background character." I can't recall a
single series of mystery novels in the last ten years which has had a
Protestant clergy (of either gender) as protagonist. Lots of Catholic
priests, nuns, and Jewish Rabbis, yes; but no Protestant clergy.

Another tidbit: Reverend Randollph supposedly pastored a church built
into the bowels of a Chicago Loop high-rise building. The church
owned the building and rented out office space, etc. To make sure
people knew it was a church, they put an incongruous gothic spire on
top of the highrise. Then, they built an octagonal penthouse
parsonage for the pastor in the base of the spire. One of the
clergy characters in the books always said the parsonage looked like a
first class whorehouse.

What is funny is that this church, complete with spire and penthouse
parsonage, really does exist in the Chicago Loop. It is Chicago
Temple, aka First United Methodist Church of Chicago.

Which probably tells you more than you ever wanted to know about the
series. They are best when read in order. They were not "great"
books, but they were fun reads. The most theological in nature was
"...the Unholy Bible."

I hope all of you get a chance to at least read one of these books,
and give them a revival. (Maybe that would convince agents and
editors that there is still a market for novels with Protestant clergy
as protagonists, such as...ahem...my own THE BURGER BARN ON SUNSET.)

Tom Griffith

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