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Samuel D. Whitehead, a newly ordained minister who put himself through seminary school by working in a brickyard, is assigned to his first parish in the small town of Wood Falls, Kansas. For years, the town has been beset by the endless bickering of the two founding families, the Sinclairs and the Greshams, and the church has had seven other ministers in the past decade. Upon arriving with his pregnant wife, Mary Elizabeth, his three small children, his complaining mother-in-law, Racine, and his shiftless brother-in-law Bubba, Sam's troubles begin immediately. First, he becomes involved in a sidewalk political brawl between the supporters of Mayor Will Sinclair and his opponent, Axel Gresham. Next, his visit to a burlesque house to arrange for the donation of its unused organ to the church is misinterpreted, and, finally, he performs the marriage ceremony for Lila Sinclair and Norman Gresham, a middle-aged couple who have kept their love a secret for 25 years because of their feuding families. Although Sam plans to keep the wedding a secret, it becomes public knowledge when Bubba and the parsonage caretaker, Calvin Grey, spike the church social punch with liquor made in the basement, and the normally shy Lila blurts out the news. After Will Sinclair and Axel Gresham arrange for Sam to be removed, Sam persuades a young lawyer, Art Shields, to run for mayor. The parades of all three candidates meet on the main street, and the ensuing chaos ends when the distillery explodes, setting the church on fire. As word arrives that Shields has won the election, Sam leaves town with his family, but his car is stopped by a procession led by Sinclair and Gresham. Reconciled and united by their defeat in the mayoral race, they are going to build a new church, and they ask Sam to remain as pastor. Mary Elizabeth announces that she is about to give birth to her fourth child, and Sam shouts his acceptance, turning his car back toward Wood Falls.