words and music by Steve Schalchlin

This was one of the first songs I began writing after Jimmy figure out we were going to write a musical. Stan Freeman, the famous jazz pianist gave me the use of his apartment and piano while he was in New York performing in a show about Marlene Deitrich.

Since his place was only a couple of miles from our apartment, it was very handy. He had a big Steinway in his living room and every day I'd go over to his house, line the songs up on the music holder and start playing.

I'd play for hours and hours just listening to the music and rewriting lyrics. During this period a lot happened to me spiritually. It's hard to explain, but something more than just songwriting was happening in this place.

Preacher and the Nurse was written based on a true story about my mom and my dad. My dad will tell you that he is not the most educated person on the planet. His family was poor and they lived in a backwoods area of Arkansas near a town called Sheridan.

After he "surrendered to the ministry" as Baptists call it, he was called to a small church out in Orange County, California where my mom's parents had recently moved. The church had a congregation of 12 ("just like Jesus") -- a Mexican family of 10 and two seniors.

Apparently, the previous pastor was a crook who tried to run the whole congregation off so he could sell the property and keep the money for himself, but it didn't work. He was booted out.

And so my dad moved us all out to California in a broken down Ford. I think we like to have never made it across the desert. I was only 5 years old at the time but I have vivid memories of being in the desert in this car piled high with furniture and clothing.

Daddy was an excellent pastor. He really cared for the people in the church and they could feel it. He was the type of man who would respond to calls like, "Preacher, my hot water heater is gone out. Can you fix it?" or "Preacher, my mother has cancer and we have to go see her. Can my FIVE kids stay with your family while we're gone?"

My mother, being a nurse, was 100% behind this work. She also did her fair share of caring for others. There were four of us boys in the house and our home was an open door. All the kids used to hang out at our house after school and mama would feed them sandwiches and make everyone feel at home.

The little church grew and became a big church. My dad was a builder and a glass glazer. When they were building the new church building he would be out there every single day, hammering and nailing. The men of the church would come out there after work and the "ladies" would cook meals for us all.

I still recall how they'd back all the station wagons together, with the back doors lying down and all this food laid out. Fried chicken, ham, baked beans, enchiladas, potato salad, apple cobbler, peach cobbler, iced tea...

But soon after the new church building was finished and dedicated. After the church had grown to over 200 people, daddy resigned. He believed a large church needed a more educated pastor. Suddenly I guess he just felt his southern accent and less than stellar grammar was not good enough for a big church.

This story stuck in my head my entire life and when I sat down at Stanley's piano to sing about my folks, this is what came out.

The preacher stood in front of the church he built
and he said, I'm leavin'
I love you all but I barely finished high school
and now you've grown much larger
you need someone who's smarter
Been to college, knows the language

There must have been a legion of the people
he helped save
He fed the poor and he helped the sick and the dying

In the backwoods of the south, there's a tradition in the Baptist churches that still goes on as far as I know. It's called "a pounding." If someone in the church was in real need of food or rent, the church members would all chip in and collect money and clothes. Then they'd present this to the family. They called it a "poundin'."

It's nice to have some knowledge
but you don't learn in college
how to treat people
how to love people

That last line is one of my favorite lines of all time.

and I thought the preacher made a mistake that day
'cause I think the people needed him to stay

The preacher and the nurse
always giving more
The preacher and the nurse had an open door

And I know I could do worse
than to be just like
The Preacher and the Nurse

In small town Baptist churches, it's assumed that the pastor's wife is in charge of the "ladies" groups. My mom always taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. She was also a singer and a piano player which is how I got started playing.

The nurse would play the piano
and teach the ladies in the church
She couldn't bear to leave but they were tired

My mom told me once that building that church house just about killed my dad. He was absolutely focused and dedicated. Now I know where I get a lot of my drive.

The preacher had to slumber
underneath the lumber
building the church house
guarding the church house
'cause they knew the town had thieves that prowled the night
and they wanted to just to build their house of light

One of the most thrilling sounds I can think of is Michelle Mais (Maisey) singing that last verse. Her voice just knocks me out everytime I hear it.

The preacher and the nurse
always giving more
The preacher and the nurse had an open door

And I know I could do worse
than to be just like
The Preacher and the Nurse

We packed and moved to Texas
to a little bitty town
The nurse worked at the clinic
in her starched white nurse's gown
The people in the new church
were the happiest of all
'cause the preacher and the nurse had heard their call

Self-explanatory. And this is one of my favorite Bob Stillman moments, when he sings the above part of the song and then going into this next part...

I know I'll never be the kind of man my father was
But I always try to help when people need me
I cannot bear the crying
Of people who lay dying
I have to help them
I need to help them
but I barely have the strength of just one man
so I write my songs and do the best I can

The preacher and the nurse
live inside of me
The preacher and the nurse taught me to see
And I know I could do worse
(never gonna do better)
than to be just like
The preacher and the nurse

I am the preacher.
I am the nurse.

Even though I keep denying it, I *am* the preacher. I *am* the nurse.


By the way, I almost didn't include this song. But it was Marie Cain who convinced me that it was a great song. In fact, she said it was one of her favorites. So, you can thank Marie for giving me the confidence to keep this one in.

(Uh, Jimmy also had something to do with it. I'm just saying.)

NEXT: Somebody's Friend.

BACK to list of songs.

The Preacher and the Nurse copyright 1996 by See No Evil/Lil Shack O Tunes ASCAP