Material History of American Religion Project

There Were Twelve

As other documents show, churches in America have always struggled with raising money for sustaining their ministries. (See, for instance, "The Pastor: A Promoter of Benevolent Efforts.") Aside from established churches, which received money from state taxes, or those lucky few congregations supported by investments or wealthy friends, most of this money has come from members of the congregation, through weekly offerings or annual gifts.

However much members give, however, it never seems like quite enough. Ministers and lay leaders routinely have struggled to meet the budget. Most often they have tried to persuade members to give more. This practical task is conducted under the theological category of "stewardship." Theologians argue that all we have belongs to God, and we are simply stewards, caring for it. Part of our task of stewardship is giving back to God—through the church—a fair share. Stewardship applies to God's gift of time and talent as well, but generally the main focus is on money.

But sometimes this message feels old and shopworn. As long as the church has needed money, church leaders have looked for new ways to get the stewardship message across. There are slick published materials, curricula for children, songs, movies and filmstrips, to name just a few. In the early 1960s the Department of Stewardship and Benevolence of the National Council of Churches issued a collection of short plays by a professional novelist and screenwriter, all aimed at convincing congregations to be better stewards.

The title play, "There Were Twelve," is—as the stage directions suggest—aimed at men's groups. It is hardly subtle—note the names of the jurors, especially as the foreman calls the roll—and the ending seems to suggest that raising money for mission may be adequate justification for manslaughter. Nevertheless, the play and its companions suggest the steps churches have often taken to convince their members of the importance of stewardship.


Members of the Jury, "The People vs. Jud Tenney"


The action takes place in the upstairs jury room of a midwestern court house.

Evening, the present.

(NOTE: The length of the play is approximately fifteen minutes. It is especially designed for men's organizations.)

The jury room in the Court House is on the second floor. It is wood-paneled, high-windowed and dusty. Down the hall from its one door, stage right, is the Court Room where court is in session only during Judge Nicholas King's regular visits. The docket is usually piled high.

On the upstage wall three narrow windows, fan-paned at the top, and fitted with old green window shades. Two of the shades are pulled, the third is raised. Through this latter window can be seen the rooftops of buildings on the far side of the court house lawn, with its benches, old trees and historic war cannon. They are dimly seen, however, because it is evening.

Along the left wall, upstage, are several bookcases, one of which has a globe on top. Downstage of this is an old-fashioned bottle-topped water cooler.

Down, center, is a massive "library" table with an assortment of twelve chairs placed about it—with the downstage side fairly open. There is a straight-backed chair by the door, and there are several chairs along the wall by the windows.

AT RISE, PETE BURNELL stands near the door, alongside SCIIULTZ. They are in conversation which can't be heard. JACK MOFFAT getting himself a drink from the water cooler. TOM O'SHEA stands at the window with the shade raised, looking out. KEVIN NILES stands near the bookcase, idly spinning the globe on top.

The chairs around the table are occupied (or empty) in this order: ANDY COLEMAN, empty, JIM MOFFAT, PHIL ROBERTSON, empty, BART MANNING, MATT TELFER empty, JAMIE DAVIS, SI HOFFMAN, empty, THAD FARWELL.

SHULTZ, the Bailiff, is a man nearing sixty, somewhat nearsighted. He wears old-fashioned glasses and speaks with a slight accent. The other men in the room are the twelve members of the jury. They vary in ages . . . suffice it to say that PETE BURNELL is over fifty, JOHN MOFFAT and KEVIN NILES are in their early twenties. They are present to decide the innocence or guilt of one, JUD TENNEY whose trial for manslaughter has just concluded.

Obviously, there * an allegorical parallel between the jury members and the apostles, with the exception of KEVIN NZLES, and between JUD TENNEY and Judas. This fact must not be punched home by the actors. Rather, the audience must become aware of this themselves, beginning with the roll call. This fact must not become theatrical--but just matter-of-fact.

SCHULTZ turns to leave.

SCHULTZ: Now I'm going to have to lock you gents in . . . hope you don't mind.

PETE: Anything else we ought to know, Schultzy?

SCHULTZ: What's to know? When you've reached a verdict pound on the door.

PHIL: What if we have to . . .?

SCHULTZ: Pound on the door for that, too. It's down the hall. (Pause.) If you're here all night--I'll see that breakfast gets sent up.

PETE: Oh, I don't think it'll take all night. I'm new at this Schultzy--what do we do first?

SHULTZ: Most of the foremen start off takin' a nose count.

PETE: Call the roll?

SCHULTZ: Ya. Well, I leave you now. I got to take supper now to poor Jud Tenney--he's back in the cell now—in the basement. (His voice trails off as he shakes his head, exits and closes the door after him. There is a loud click of the lock.)

THAD: How's that for influencing the jury right off the bat? Poor Jud Tenney—hungry in the basement!

TOM: Well I, for one, doubt that Jud's innocent—got guilt stuck all over his face like a kid been in the jam jar.

PETE: We'll decide that later, Tom. Guess I'd better call roll like Schultzy said. (He comes over to the table and sits down between PHIL and BART. He takes a slip of paper from his coat pocket and with a pencil, begins ticking oft names.) Peter Burnell—guess everybody knows I'm here. Andrew Coleman?

ANDY: Here.

PETE: James Moffat?

JIM: Present.

PETE: John Moffat?

JACK (at the water cooler): Here. (JACK walks over and sits down between ANDY and JIM.)

PETE: Anyone know the odds on two brothers drawin' jury duty at the same time?

ANDY: Hate to calculate. (Turns to JIM.) If your daddy, old Zeb, could see you two now he'd be mighty proud. Always was a great one to do his duty, Zeb was.

JACK: Yeah? This pulling jury duty is gonna cost me over a hundred dollars in lost orders. So skip the sermon.

PETE: Philip Robertson?

PHIL: Right beside you, Pete.

PETE: Bartholemew Manning?

BART: Me, too.

PETE: Thomas O'Shea, Matthew Telfer?

MATT: Here.

TOM (at the window): And locked in.

PETE: James Davis? Thaddaeus Farwell?

JAMIE and THAD: Present.

PETE: Simon Hoffman and Kevin Niles? That does it.

SI: Here.

KEVIN (at the bookcase): Check me off.

PETE (to TOM and KEVIN): Mind joining us? (TOM leaves the window and sits down between MATT and JAMIE. KEVIN gives the globe one last spin and then takes his place between Sl and THAD. All chairs around the table are now occupied, and each jury member has a small pad of paper and a pencil in front of him.) Now, we all know why we're here. I guess most of us have known Jud Tenney for a spell, too. . .

KEVIN: I didn't.

PETE: That's right . . . you're new around town. Most of us grew up around here, same as Jud . . .

JIM: Jud was a wild one.

KEVIN: How do you mean . . . wild?

SI: Jim means on wheels. Jud'd look at a speedometer like it was something he had to prove he was better than.

PETE: Well, he wasn't. For two weeks now, we've heard the facts . . . listened to all the witnesses. Jud was doing eighty . . . police said the skid marks showed that. We all know what the weather was like . . .

MATT: Hadn't seen a rain like that in . . .

PHIL: Regular cloudburst.

PETE: Shall we get down to what we're here for? Everybody take a piece of paper and write down what you think—guilty or not guilty. Fold 'em up and hand 'em to me.

ANDY: Is that the way it's done?

PETE: Good as any.

(They all take a sheet of paper from the small pads before them and write their verdicts. Some pause briefly to think. Some write without hesitation. A few try to shield their papers from the eyes of others. When finished, they fold the papers and hand them to PETE. He opens them one at a time and reads aloud.) (Ticking them off.) Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. (He pauses.) Not guilty. (At this, they all look up in surprise and stir with a sense of excitement.) Well, there's a dissenter. (Continuing.) Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. And, guilty. (He pauses.) I guess we have to know who it is before we can thresh this out.

KEVIN (after a moment of hesitation): I voted not guilty.

PETE (affably): Mind saying why?

KEVIN: No. Jud Tenney's on trial for manslaughter. Judge King said that means the unlawful killing of a human being without malice


KEVIN: I guess you can call that an accident just as easy. I figure we ought to think pretty carefully before we put a man in jail for an accident.

TOM (doubt in his voice): But it's unlawful killing.

KEVIN: Is any killing lawful? It's like when they say "justifiable" homicide—if there's an excuse—maybe we shouldn't be so quick—

PETE: Okay, then, let's talk it over. (He pauses.) Guess we all knew David Bender, too.

KEVIN: No, I'm afraid I didn't know him either.

BART: David was pastor of that church twenty years I'd say--maybe nineteen. He had a church in the city before that . .

TOM: All during the trial I kept thinking of a book I read once about a group of people—six or seven maybe—all happened to cross a footbridge at the same time. Then it broke. Why?

JAMIE: Why did it break?

TOM: No. Why were they—those six—all there at that particular time? It's like Jud's case. Why did Mrs. Culkins have to be that sick on that particular night two months ago? So, that brought out Dave Bender on a pastoral call the night the heavens bust loose. And why, at that time, did Jud Tenney have to come barreling along when you couldn't see ten feet ahead with a spy glass?

ANDY: The whole thing's a shame—when you consider Mrs. Bender's been ailing and their boy not being able to get home for the funeral even.

THAD: Hal Bender?

ANDY: Yeah, he's half-way 'round the world.

JACK: Well, that's the way things—happen. They just happen. Listen, let's cut out all this yak and get out of here. I'll be honest. I can't afford the time this is costing me.

KEVIN: I expect Jud Tenney feels the same way.

JACK: That irresponsible joker?

JIM: Pretty flimsy excuse he had—if you ask me. You heard the testimony: he was in a hurry, he said, because he had to get over to Riverview to make a sale before an antique dealer left town. Some sale!

SI: What was it—an old butter churn?

PETE: Belonged to his grandmother. Would have got thirty dollars for it, he said.

BART: Thirty dollars! That's what Dave Bender's life cost— thirty pieces of . . .

TOM: I don't see what that has to do with anything.

KEVIN: Does anybody know what Jud Tenney planned on doing with those thirty bucks?

MATT: Don't recall as he said.

KEVIN: Not in court he didn't.

MATT: Leastways, does it make a difference?

KEVIN: I don't know—maybe.

PETE: Do you know, Kev?

KEVIN (quietly): Yes. (There is a buzz around the room.)

JACK: I still say that's—how do the lawyer boys put it?—irrelevant, immaterial—anyway, I'm in a hurry. Do you know I've been away from my dealership two weeks now?

SI (sympathetically): New car sales down, Jack?

JACK: Rock bottom. This time I'm puttin' in here is killing me —but do you think the court'd listen?

MATT: You ain't the only one, Jack. None of us can afford the time to be away from our businesses.

KEVIN (rising quickly): Can't afford jury duty? (He crosses angrily to the window) What kind of citizens are you?

THAD: Maybe you don't feel the pinch, Kev.

JAMIE: You know time's money—and what we're getting for this won't buy a week's groceries.

PETE (rapping the table sharply with his palm): Squawking won't change the situation. (To Kevin) If you've got a piece to speak, Kev—speak it! About the thirty bucks, I mean.

KEVIN (simply): He wanted it to buy time.

ANDY (puzzled): Time?

JACK (equally puzzled): You mean—what do you mean? Radio time? TV?


PHIL: Stallin' somebody off—like a creditor?

KEVIN: No, nothing like that. (He gazes out the window, across the rooftops.) We all know that Jud belonged to that church. I don't suppose anyone felt worse than he did about David Bender. After all, it was his own minister he—

TOM: Yeah, Jud was pretty broke up about that all right.

KEVIN: You see, the money was for Dave Bender—in a way. (Again a buzz around the table.)

PETE: Why didn't you say so in the first place?

KEVIN: I made Jud a promise—to keep my mouth shut.

THAD: I don't think I get you.

KEVIN: A week before the accident Jud Tenney came around to my place wanting to sell his grandmother's butter churn. He'd heard Betty and I were interested in antiques—we're fixing our house up with a lot of early-American stuff—when and as we can afford it.

MATT: Jud made quite a penny now and then doing just that. I recall he sold an old dry sink to some people down east— scandal what he got for it.

KEVIN: Believe me, those things come high. I didn't know Jud —not like you men do—but I do know antiques. I refused to buy it.

SI: How come?

KEVIN: He only wanted thirty dollars. It was worth at least a hundred and fifty. I didn't have that kind of money—don't expect to. And I couldn't take it for thirty—not if I wanted to look at myself when I shaved.

PETE: Did Jud know the value?

KEVIN: Sure he did. But he needed the thirty bucks. He showed me a letter—and that explained why. Still, I turned him down. He must have gotten wind of this buyer in Riverview. Next thing I know there was the accident and Jud was on trial.

THAD: Shouldn't he have told this on the witness stand?

JACK: I still don't see what difference that makes. Manslaughter's manslaughter. I vote we take another vote and get out of here. My time's too valuable to waste.

KEVIN: I'll vote the same.

PETE: Now, we don't want a hung jury on this thing—

JACK: Why not? Let somebody else take the time . . .

PETE: Oh, dry up, Jack. One more night isn't going to wreck your new car sales. (He rises and crosses to Kevin at the window.) Should Jud have told this?

KEVIN: I think so.

PETE (puzzled): Then, why didn't he?

TOM: What would be the point? He was doing something for Dave Bender when the accident happened—it would sound like he was trying to buy sympathy. Who'd believe him? I wouldn't.

KEVIN: That isn't why he kept quiet. (They all look at him in anticipation.) I asked Betty to talk to Jud's lawyer. I offered to disqualify myself from the jury and take the stand—tell what I knew. He refused.

TOM: I guess he knew nobody'd believe him.

KEVIN: It's more than that. He believed there were some things you did for people that you didn't broadcast.

JIM: I never knew that about Jud Tenney.

KEVIN (significantly): I thought you men knew him all your lives.

JACK: Well, sure, but . . . (KEVIN strolls from the window to the globe on the bookcase.)

KEVIN: Funny, us worrying about time. (He spins the globe.) You know, you can fly around the world now in a matter of hours. Everything's shrunk—not only our world, but our time.

SI: So, we've got less of it.

KEVIN: Not really. Time is still relative—as our friend, Mr. Einstein says.

THAD: (grinning): Get him!

KEVIN: We all know that several hours can go by with jet speed—and that a few minutes sometimes crawl by like hours.

ANDY: Like when you're waiting for your wife to get dressed to go out.

KEVIN: Because this is the way time is, doesn't it become all the more important what we do with it?

PETE: I think everybody'd agree we shouldn't waste it.

JACK (rising): Far as I'm concerned, that's what we're doing. Let's vote.

KEVIN: Jack, what do you think we're really doing?

JACK (crossing to KEVIN): Yakking it up.

KEVIN (bristling suddenly): Don't get funny with me, Jack. (At this, Jim stands, as if he might have to go to the defense of his brother.)

MATT (amiably): You two going to slug this out—or talk it out?

KEVIN: Sorry

JACK: Same here. (Sheepishly.) So we're here for jury duty. (He looks at the others, then adds lamely.) Sure, I suppose it's important. (He goes back to his seat.)

KEVIN: It's one of the privileges that only a citizen of this country can enjoy. The minute Jud Tenney decided not to plead guilty and automatically let the judge decide his punishment--the minute he pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial—we became the twelve most important men in Jud's life. So important, we shouldn't begrudge a moment of the time we spend here.

PETE (admiringly): Say, Kev, maybe you ought to be foreman of the twelve.

KEVIN: No, Peter, that's your job.

JACK: Okay, so I agree jury duty's important.

KEVIN: There's a lot of things a guy can do with time. Work, sleep, study, play, just plain waste it. Whatever he does, I figure he's held accountable for every minute handed to him.

PETE: Dave Bender used to call it stewardship of time—a budgeting of hours just like one does with money.

MATT: Then, you're saying that the way we account for these minutes depends on what we do about Jud Tenney.

KEVIN: I guess so. We can think things through, or we can race along and maybe smash-up like Jud did.

JACK: I still don't see anything to debate. We're supposed to reach a verdict on the evidence. (To KEVIN.) Eleven of us managed all right without much sweat. You're the loner.

KEVIN: Well, you eleven didn't know about the thirty dollars.

JACK: We still don't know about 'em. So you turned Jud down and he decided to try someplace else.

KEVIN: Doesn't that mean that maybe I'm just as much to blame for David Bender's death as Jud? If I had bought that butter churn—cheated Jud out of what it was really worth— David would be alive today .

JACK: IF—if—if! You're not on trial. (Suddenly aware.) So, that's why you're so lenient on Jud Tenney? That there-but-for-the-grace-of-God stuff—

KEVIN: Maybe. But, not entirely. I don't know Jud—so I charge against him only the facts in this case. You—all of you—have added up all Jud's faults. (To JIM.) You, Jim—first thing you said was "Jud was a wild one." I didn't know that. But you made sure I did.

JIM (defensively): Well, we didn't know any of this business about the thirty dollars . . .

KEVIN: So, I made sure you did.

PETE (Coming back to the table and sitting down.): You said something about a letter.

KEVIN: Yes. (Again, he spins the globe. As it slows down, he puts his finger on a spot in India.) It came from right about here. India.

ANDY: Say, that's where Dave's son is--Hal Bender.

KEVIN: That's right. The letter was from Hal, and it was addressed to Jud. Air Mail. He needed thirty dollars. That doesn't sound like much, but when you change it to rupees, or whatever they use, and see how far it goes over there—then it buys a lot.

PHIL (completely puzzled): Buys a lot of what?

KEVIN: Time. (They all study KEVIN curiously.) Jud told me Dave Bender didn't always find the going easy—seems there's always something more to be done around a church . . .

SI: And the home, too.

KEVIN: . . . than the budget or the minister's salary allows. The church maintains young Hal overseas—but there isn't enough for extras. The last person Hal would write to for money was his dad. Yet, he needed thirty dollars worth of time. Fast.

PETE: Is the reason top secret or something?

KEVIN: No. There was a man Hal knew in India—a penniless scholar—quite old. This man—his name was Khalir Adiz—had spent most of his later years translating the Bible into an obscure hill dialect. It was his life's work—and he was nearly finished. By his own reckoning, a few months would see him done.

JAMIE: Jud told you all this?

KEVIN: It was in Hal Bender's letter. But Khalir Adiz was dying—perhaps in a matter of weeks. Unless -- (He spins the globe again.)—he could get a room in a hospital with the proper medicines and diet. Even then it was a gamble—but it was the only chance Adiz had of finishing his work. Hal Bender was asking Jud Tenney to give a man ten thousand miles away the gift of time.

MATT: And Jud never wanted Dave Bender to know he planned to help his boy out?

KEVIN: That's right. But, then, he never did sell the butter churn. As far as I know Hal Bender is still waiting. (He pauses.) I don't know about Adiz. But I do know that Jud Tenney—the wild one—tried to speed up time on this end. You know the rest.

TOM: I don't know what to say.

KEVIN: Like you said, Tom, about that bridge. Why do things happen? Why are we twelve here, now, in a moment of time?

JAMIE: I don't think we should lose sight of the fact that if Jud hadn't been speeding, maybe—

KEVIN: You're right, we shouldn't. But, time has been given us to reach a decision. What are we doing? Selfishly griping about the time that jury duty's costing us. Let's think about Jud— really think about him. If we say he's guilty—he'll go to jail for sure. Even Mrs. Bender said that wouldn't help David.

MATT: He had no business speeding like that—

KEVIN (quietly): The court can take his license away for as long as they want. Maybe forever. Serve him right.

THAD: It was downright reckless driving—

KEVIN (still quietly): Sure it was. We could recommend probation. (He crosses back and stands at the table.) Maybe for as long as five years. Stewardship of time. How we use this moment now might be the most important thing we ever do— for ourselves—for Jud—for Hal Bender—maybe even for Khalir Adiz. If our time comes from God—and I believe it does— then we ought to use it like Christians.

PETE (unworried): But none of this is in the evidence.

KEVIN (quietly). No—it's in our hearts. (A pause.) Shall we vote?

PETE (doggedly): We can't.

ANDY: Why not? I—I think I'm ready to change my vote— Kevin's way.

JIM: I'll go along with that.

TOM: So will I.(He looks around at the others. They all nod in the affirmative.)

PETE: We can't. (lie stands.) I know what we've heard—maybe changes things—in our hearts. But it's not the law—it's not justice. Any verdict we reach must be based on the evidence presented in court. Kevin's story wasn't.

JACK: So what do we do?

PETE (looking at KEVIN): Make sure it gets heard in court.

JACK: A new trial?

PETE: Yes. If we can't agree—if we get hung like they say— they'll have to call a new trial—get a new jury. This time what really happened will get told. Jud may have his reasons—but this is out of his hands now.

MATT: But it isn't that we can't agree—what'll you tell the judge?

PETE (simply). That we listened to our hearts—and what was written there no court stenographer took down. (He turns to Kevin.) When the whole story's out—on the record—I don't think there's a jury anywhere that'd send Jud up. But, whatever happens—it'll be legal. (He looks at all the others.) Everybody go along with that?

They nod, soberly. PETE moves toward the door.

KEVIN: Wait! There's one more thing. We're throwing Jud Tenney's fate to someone else—guess it's all we can do under the circumstances—but I figure we owe Jud something if this group can't acquit him.

JACK: What's on your mind?

KEVIN: Between us—if we can dig a little in our pockets—pass the hat—I think we can raise enough to pay Jud Tenney what his butter churn's worth. The full amount. He can send it on to Hal Bender—

They all murmur assent. PETE strides to the door and pounds.

PETE: Schultzyl Schultzyl

After a moment the door opens and SCHULTZY peers in.

SCHULTZY: Ya? What you want? A sandwich maybe? Coffee?

PETE: We can't reach a verdict.

SCHULTZ: Ach! Then it's the judge you want to see.

PETE (grinning): Yes—but first a hat. (He glances at the others.) A great big hat—a ten-gallon hat—a hat as big as Jud Tenney's heart.


Excerpted from Robert Casemore, There Were Twelve (New York: National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., 1964).

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