The title of this book, “The Devil in Pew Number Seven“, is certainly one that catches your attention.  It is an unusual title and the book, I discovered, is unusual, too.  My mother-in-law recommended the book to me.  She had recently visited one of her cousins who lives in eastern North Carolina, near where the events in this book take place.  While on that visit she had had the opportunity to read part of the book and she found it interesting and thought that I might enjoy it, too.  I put it on my “to read” list.  I remember picking it up a few times in bookstores and knew that it did sound like a good read.  As Christmas approached, I added it to my Christmas wish list and was glad when my sister gave it to me as a gift.

     I finally got around to reading it, and I must admit, once I started the book I was pretty much involved with it.  This true story is about a young minister and his family who have settled in the small community of Sellerstown, NC, which is eight miles south of the “big” city of Whiteville, NC.    In Sellerstown, Reverend Robert Nichols and his wife, Ramona, become involved with the Free Welcome Holiness Church.  Rev. Nichols first comes to the church to lead a series of revival services.  Ramona, an organist, leads the music.  The church had been dwindling in attendance and needed the ministry team of Robert and Ramona Nichols.  The two were warmly welcomed by the small congregation and almost immediately the church asked Rev. Nichols to become their pastor.  Under the loving, caring leadership of Rev. Nichols and his wife, Ramona, a true ministry partner, the small church began to grow.  The situation seemed ideal.

     The author of the book, Rebecca Nichols Alonzo, is the daughter of Robert and Ramona Nichols.  Ramona Nichols had been told by doctors that she would likely never have children.  But Ramona had become pregnant and it was just after they settled in Sellerstown that their daughter, Rebecca, was born.  And then about four years later, Ramona became pregnant again and the Nichols’ son Daniel was born.  It would certainly seem like the perfect setting and situation.  A minister who is loved by his church, his wife who is totally committed to being a minister’s wife and mother to the two children.  The church was growing.  Plans were made to expand the church building.

But there was one man who was not happy with the situation at the church.  As you will likely assume from the title of the book, this man had a regular place where he sat in the church — the seventh pew.  Sixty-five year old Horry James Watts would quickly become a major problem for the Nichols family.   Mr. Watts lived across the street from the church parsonage that the Nichols lived in.   In the book, Rebecca Nichols Alonzo writes that, “by all outward appearances, Mr. Watts was an upstanding citizen and a happily married, devout family man with nine children.  But many of the locals in Sellerstown and the longtime neighbors who knew him well testified that, in addition to his respectable public facade, he had a sinister side.”  Mr. Watts wanted to have complete control over things, and it definitely became a major problem as he realized that he was not in control of the things happening at the church.   Apparently for quite a while, Mr. Watts had had a great influence on the decisions that were made about the church.  But the interesting thing is that he was not even a member of the church.

Watts became obsessed with making life miserable for the pastor and for his family.  He made every effort he could to run the family out of town.  It started with Watts sitting in his pew and staring at Rev. Nichols when he was preaching.  Then he would make outrageous faces as a means of distracting him.  He would storm out of the church during the services, slamming the church doors behind him.  But those things would prove to be just the beginning.  The beginning of a nightmare for Rev. Nichols, his family, and the church.  The back cover of the book has a good summary, stating that “The first time the Nichols family received a harassing phone call, they dismissed it.  The same went for the anonymous letter that threatened they’d leave ‘crawling or walking…dead or alive.’ But what they couldn’t ignore was the strategy of terror their tormentor unleashed, more devastating and violent than they could have ever imagined.”

     The nightmare that takes place and is described in great detail is almost unbelievable.  But it did happen.  As the author wrote in the “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, every detail actually took place.  Since she was a young child when these events took place, you have to wonder how she remembers so many details.  She writes that “my parents wisely kept thorough personal journals, thick family photo albums, stacks of newspaper clippings, an 8 mm film reel, and a priceless cassette tape narrated by father.”  In addition, she had transcripts from federal court. 

     The book is very interesting, and becomes somewhat of a page turner.  I enjoyed reading it, but did find myself thinking that the story was stretched out in way too much detail.  Rebecca Nichols Alonzo was very young when these unbelievable things happened, but she writes about her thoughts at the time as if she were an adult, or at least a teenager.  As an example, when she was probably 5 or 6 years old, a gunman fired shots at their house during the night, breaking bedroom windows.  It was a terrible event (and one of only many similar events that would happen).  Alonzo described her thoughts at the time, writing, “In a way, my shattered bedroom window got off easy.  It could be replaced.  The damage done to our nerves, however, was taking its toll.  There would be no quick fixes.  No magic pill.  No simple solution that could easily mend the broken places in our spirits.  To hear my momma crying, her sobs so deep they welled up from the depths of her soul, was almost too much for me to handle as I remained confined to my bed.”  Would a 5 or 6 year old child really think that way?  And further, would an adult remember those thoughts from when they were 6 years old in such detail many years later.  The example given is just one example of Alonzo writing in that style.  She writes about things as if she is using the exact thoughts she had at the time, as a young child.  I believe the story would be just as good, or better, if she wrote as an adult and tries to reflect back on how those events could/would impact a child.

     ”The Devil in Pew Number Seven” is a Christian book.  It tells the true story of a series of terrible events that happened to a family, a church, and a community.  In the last section of the book, the author writes about how she has had to deal with forgiveness.  The Bible is a book that is full of teachings on forgiveness.  And the author’s parents had taught her from an early age about the importance of forgiveness.  As she wraps up her book, Alonzo teaches the book’s readers the significance of forgiveness, especially from a Christian viewpoint.  While the events she and her family experienced could have left her with incredible bitterness, she chose to forgive.  I am sure that her life has been difficult - unbelieveably difficult - because of the events that happened during her early years.  But the forgiveness she has found has changed her life for the better.  Her lessons on forgiveness bring the tragedies around to a happy ending.

     I did enjoy the book.  I didn’t always like the writing style, but I was amazed at the events that took place.  It seems unbelievable, but apparently really happened.  An amazing chain of events.  And the story was wrapped up with a powerful challenge to the readers on forgiveness.

     On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being great), columbiabookseller gives “The Devil in Pew Number Seven“  a 4

The Devil in Pew Number Seven

Rebecca Nichols Alonzo , with Bob DeMoss

Tyndale House Publishers 2010

ISBN 978-1-4143-2659-7

All quotes taken directly from the text of the book, or from the summary on the book’s cover. 

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