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The Next Faithful Step

Welcome to Almond Springs

A Learning Playground for Growing Leaders

This is the story of the First Church of Almond Springs. The story unfolds like a season of television episodes. The episodes are each self-contained, but they build on one another. Use the learning resources to exegete each episode and to reflect on the leader's role in it.

People and Faces of Almond Springs

Joe Bellini

Joe Bellini (age 75) --Retired dock-worker turned grocer. Church Board member. Widower. Light-skinned African-American with an Italian last name (siblings all looked Anglo). Used to live in Almond Springs only on weekends. Bought grocery store in town in 1982. Sold it in 1995.

Doc Davis

Hamilton Davis (early 60s) --Church Board member. Family practice doctor who has been serving the town for over 30 years. Member of the Town Council. One of the "Three Wise Men" who interviewed Charlotte. Helped get the new highway approved by the state legislature. He is a proud paragon in the community. People treat him with great respect (a respect that he accepts gracefully as a responsibility). Charlotte assumes that he never married because no one has mentioned a wife. Charlotte suspects he's a big giver and admits to herself that she idolizes him a bit.

Brandi Dolman

Brandi Dolman (age 48) -- Wife of Church treasurer. Begins to attend church in the fall. She and Stuart began dating when she was a cheerleader and he a star athlete in high school. She is flashy and has something of a reputation. She drives the only convertible in town (a red one) and, according to Charlotte's kids, is rumored to be a nudist. Charlotte knows a number of things about her that are not common knowledge.

Stuart Dolman

Stuart Dolman (age 48) -- Church treasurer. Makes a long commute to Fresno. Began working on the line at a factory and made a difficult transition to management. Stoic. Proud. Probably makes a good salary but you would never know it. If there is a problem at church, he won't say anything about it. He will just do what he thinks is best to solve it -- even if that is not how the board has voted. Has a wife, Brandi, and two grown children.

Margo Gold

Margo Gold (age 53) -- Nurse. Church Board member. Works at the Almond Springs Nursing Home. No mention of a husband (either long-divorced or widowed). Member of the Worship Committee, sings in the choir and a Worker Bee. Sad, slow countenance. Taught Sunday School for years but only rarely mentions her own children.

Lorenzo Leon

Lorenzo Leon (age 38) -- Hispanic member of Church Board who works as a foreman at a small technology plant in town. A former high school teacher and coach, Luke taught Driver's Education and coached baseball. At 6'4" and 260 pounds, Luke has a hulking presence but is actually very quiet. Lorenzo is an Almond Springs native who married a local girl named Janette. They divorced without having children and she moved away. That's when he went to work for the plant. Lorenzo has taken an interest in Charlotte's son, Daniel, who is quite an athlete.

Morris Merle

Morris Marle (late 60s) -- Outdoorsy type. Has Native American blood and a hawk nose. The only Town Council member who is not a church member. The only member of the Town Council who does not attend First Church.

Mavis Martin

Mavis Martin (age 62) -- Mavis Martin serves as the volunteer church secretary. Took the position not long after her second divorce. Can be indiscreet with church business. Retired substitute teacher. Mousy and quiet (Charlotte cannot picture her standing up to a class). Conspiritorial and easily swayed. Very devout, long-time church member. First person on prayer chain. Often feels slighted by others (especially Charlotte), even over imagined insults. (e.g. "you should have known I needed to leave early today.")

Hazel Moore

Hazel Moore (age 58) -- Church Board member. Widowed grandmother of seven; mother of three children (ages 26, 32 and 36). Her grandchildren live far away but home is filled with pictures of them. Town librarian. Husband was an alcoholic who stopped drinking when their eldest daughter tried to run away at age 13. He died three years later when the kids were 6, 12 and 16. Hazel is very discreet (knows much more about everyone in town than she lets on).Charlotte notices that there is more to Hazel than meets the eye.

Jan Neuski

Jan Neuski (age 50s) -- Choir director and organizer. Works 1/4 time, and is on vacation all summer. Has a reputation as something of a trouble-maker. Divorced twice. One husband ran off with a bank teller from Fresno and the other left her to move in with a real estate agent upstate. Thinks that Charlotte is arrogant, a flashy dresser and overly assertive. Each preceeding pastor has tried to replace her, but she has somehow out-lasted each one.

Ansel Richards

Ansel Richards (age 36) -- Junior high school science teacher. Member of the Church Board and the Town Council. Moved with his family to Almond Springs to escape suburban Los Angeles. Came to First Church because of his kids. Was surprised to be asked to be on the Church Board because he is, in his words, "not very religious." He once warned Charlotte to "be careful that our kids don't get too engrossed in religion." Very interested in environmental concerns. Changed his first name to Ansel in college as a tribute to Ansel Adams. Married to Gail (age 36) and has two children, an eight-year-old son Redwood (goes by "Red") and Heather, who is five years old.

Jon Sparks

Jon Sparks (early 30s) -- With his wife, Sally, he works with the youth in the church. Runs a small computer company called, DiskMatic. Has been recruiting the Lorenzo Leeto help with the youth. After Vic Vargo died, began regular hikes with Lorenzo and with Vance Vargo. He wants kids. Sally is not sure she does. He convinced her to work with youth to get her used to being around kids.

Sally Sparks

Sally Sparks (early 30s) -- Homemaker. She works, along with her husband Jon, with the youth of the church. Her parents died tragically when she was nine years old. She shuttled between family until she graduated from high school. Hint of abuse in her past. Noticably more comfortable when Jon is in the room -- so he does not understand why some people see her as dour. She is, in her own words, "afraid to have kids." She accepted the compromise of working with the youth group to "face her fears." Often uses psychological terms in describing herself and others, leading Charlotte to believe that she is or has been in a lot of therapy.

Camille Vargo

Camille Vargo (age 37) -- Mother of three children. Frequently behind the scenes in the most important things happening around town. Works closely with Jo Walsh in leading the Worker Bees.

Vance Vargo

Vance Vargo (age 38) -- Runs Vargo's Diner. Returned to Almond Springs after his mother died in an automobile accident. Quiet, tentative personality. Often defers to others in conversation.

Vic Vargo

Vic Vargo (late 60s) -- Member of the Church Board and the Town Council. One of the "Three Wise Men" who brought Charlotte to Almond Springs. Businessman. Owns four businesses in town: Almond Springs Hardware (known as the ASH), Vargo's Diner (run by his son, Vance), a dry cleaner called The Pressed Oh! (run by Lazarus and Dorcas Pha) and Video World (run by Ray and Irma Earl).

Jo Walsh

Jo Walsh (early 60s) -- Queen of the Worker Bees, a group that performs many of the social functions at First Church. Gregarious. Known as the funniest person in town but not because she tells jokes -- rather because she will laugh infectiously at anything. Charlotte thinks of her as an "egalitarian despot" because she wants everyone to have their own way but still manages to dominate the conversation by force of personality.

Louis Walsh

Louis Walsh (age 66) -- Energetic mayor of Almond Springs and Church Board member. Sold his ranch when he was 55 and worked non-stop to get the new highway to Fresno funded by the legislature. Believes town must grow or wither away. He was not particularly interested in the church until he moved to town, after he sold the ranch. Now sits in the third row each week with his wife, Jo. Often says to Charlotte, "A strong town needs a strong church -- and a strong church needs a strong town."

Laura Webber

Laura Webber (age 40) -- Vice principal of Almond Springs High School. She is a local, one of the few town kids who came back, and the town is fiercely loyal to her. After her divorce 15 years ago, Laura raised her son alone. The son, now 19, and is away at college in Fresno. No one will talk about Laura's ex-husband, except to say "he deserved what he got." Laura has an extremely professional demeanor. She looks more like a business leader than a former Home Economics teacher.