Thursday, 30 August 2007

Entry 9 - Dinner for 9

And so another Sunday had arrived. I was washed and dressed and ready to leave for East London at least half an hour early. I suppose it must have been the extra anticipation of the long day that lay ahead. I had at least managed to sort out the situation regarding Port Elizabeth. Both my Mum and Dad had given their OK for me to go, it was relatively pain free too. I had mentioned it on Friday evening. I explained that it was during school holidays and that it was only a weekend. It wasn't that my parents minded me going out or spending a night over at a friends house, but the fact that it was church related did cause some concern. By the end of the discussion though , they both were happy enough for me to go.However not before I was asked a series of questions. " What is the trip about?", "Where will I be staying?", "Which adults are going?" I answered as best I could, in truth, I had no idea where we were staying over. We were spending Friday and Saturday night in Port Elizabeth after all. I had guessed that the church would sort all that out, however I had to let my parents know exactly where it was.

I said my goodbyes to Mum and Dad shortly after 9 and headed for the car being driven by Elder Fnchley. During the trip he subject of baptism arose. Crane wanted to know if I had given any more thought to our last discussion about it earlier in the week. I replied that I had but had not discussed it with anyone else. I was also asked if I had any questions of my own regarding baptism. Never one to shy away from asking questions, I put mine forward. I wanted to know about what I had learnt earlier in a priesthood lesson about becoming a "teacher" once I was baptised. Finchley confirmed this to be the case and restated most of what I had heard already. My concern was more to do with the "home visits" that were also mentioned , visiting homes of possible converts with an elder. I was non to keen on this and wanted clarification. Crane explained that this was a role within that of a teacher, however no one was forced into something they were uncomfortable with. If it should happen that I was perhaps due to go on a home visit, I would be prepared and be taught whatever I needed to know long before a visit. This seemed fair enough to me. I also decided to tackle the whole "mission" business while we were in question mode. I explained to them that I did not want to go on a mission, the whole idea was not something I was interested in. Would this be something that is expected ? I was aware that this had been discussed on a previous occasion, but in view of the conversation I had had with my Mum on baptism, I wanted clarification. Finchley explained that this was something I should not be worrying about, I was 14 and had many years ahead to decide if a mission was something I wanted to undertake. Should I decide not to, it would not stop me from being a part of the church and not prevent me from living my life to the full within the church. No one was coerced or forced into a mission, he added. Again, this seemed acceptable to me. Although no matter how many years lay ahead for me to decide, I knew as day was day and night night, there was no way under the sun I would ever be going on a mission!

We arrived at the church and I was met by Sarah and Grant Howard, who held his hand to shake mine and told me he had missed me at the youth meeting on Wednesday. I replied that it was difficult living so far away in King Williams Town. We moved into the chapel and took our seats, again I sat with the Howard family and Elder Crane. Finchley was a few rows back with Rachel Gorman, who arrived a few minutes after the service had began. Brother Robertson gave another lively sermon and today Brother Howard gave a few words too. As had been the case on my previous visit, I partook of sacrament which was passed round by none other that Craig Hindley. There was normally two or three members of the youth passing around the sacrament, dividing themselves into certain areas of the chapel. As luck would have it, I got Craig. I noticed his jersey that he was wearing over his shirt and tie was....well, dirty. It looked as if he had eaten breakfast of it. This surprised me. Gretchen McKinley, who played the piano during the service also caught my attention. She was wearing this very flamboyant white dress, looked more like a night club outfit. I suppose she was a young woman who was quite attractive and wanted to show it, but it did seem a bit out of place amongst the more conservative dress code within the church.

Sunday school was notable only for the fact that Rachel actually asked a question during the lesson - which ironically was about baptism! I didn't realise at the time, but we were being "prepared". Her question was " What can we wear to get baptised in?" and she was a bit disappointed to learn that she would be provided with a suitable white garment. I got the impression she thought she was going to be wearing a skimpy white swimsuit!

Elder Jackson was by now starting to grate and I was fast hoping these "visitor" lessons would come to an end. He was irritatingly nice with the women, paid very little attention to the men. It was not a large class, myself and Rachel and three others were also present. Two ladies who seemed to be sisters and an older man. I had not noticed him at the previous lesson but yet he did look familiar. It was puzzling, his name tag said Harvey, yes...we were now wearing name tags too!!!

I took a 5 minute walk outside after Sunday school before priesthood and bumped into Carla Robertson and Craig Hindley. Craig greeted me with words along the line of "Are you still here" and I replied " Yeah, really like the jersey, was the washing machine broke?" and walked away. I wasn't going to let him get the better of me, I had a smart mouth on me back then and although I hadn't used it at church, I was going to if necessary. I viewed him as an asshole and one who didn't wear clean clothes it seemed!

Whilst walking into the chapel for the priesthood meeting, I felt a small kick on the back of my leg. I turned and knew straight away who it was. " Get stuffed", said Craig walking passed me.

"Up yours", I replied loud enough for him, but no one else to hear.

After the main priesthood meeting we moved into our classes and Craig and I avoided each other. I sat with Jamie and Harvey, Craig seemed to be entertaining himself messing with Paul Meiring today. Perhaps he figured I was harder work to get to. What I couldn't understand is why he was such an idiot, and why at church of all places. Nevertheless, the lesson came and went fairly quickly, Craig had to give feedback on his home visit, one which it seems he didn't go on. Apparently he was sick. Poor excuse. The topic of Port Elizabeth came up and I announced that I would be going if I was still invited. Grant, who was giving the lesson, was pleased and it seemed everyone else was going except Harvey, which I was disappointed in. But Jamie was going and Paul. Craig and Shane were also going as was Carla, Tracey and Millicent from the young woman's group. It was about 2 weeks away and a part of me was looking forward to it. We would be staying over with members from the Port Elizabeth church, so at least I could report back on that to my parents.

With the lesson over it was time to head for the Howard house for Sunday, I said my goodbyes to Jamie and Harvey and it was as I was leaving that the mystery man in Sunday school unveiled his identity. It was Harveys' Dad. I felt like a fool for not knowing.but was surprised that he would be there. I knew he was a non Mormon and a smoker too, but put it down to the fact that he must have been making an effort , perhaps for the sake of his wife. Nevertheless, as he walked to car with wife Ida and Harvey, he lit up.

I travelled with the elders as they followed Brother and Sister Howard who travelled with Charles Jnr. Sarah and Grant both had their own vehicles. Grant a kombi. This , for those who are not familiar, is a South African word for a sort of mini bus, similar to a taxi that seats about 8 - 12. Their home was about 10- 15 minutes away in a very middle class area of East London.

As I entered the house with Crane and Finchley, Sister Howard was heading to the kitchen, Brother Howard invited me through to the kitchen as he said this was where the family gathered after church to help with the dinner. Grant and fiance Caryl arrived next and came through to the kitchen. It was a reasonable size kitchen, very old style of house, but it looked cosy. You could see it was a family home. Grant offered to show me around. We went through to the front room which had lots of family pictures and lots of references to the church. Framed pictures of temples and other church buildings. Grant showed me a picture of his younger brother Marcus and his other brother Darryl. I was starting to get lost with all the children Brother Howard had. I knew of Marcus, but Darryl? That was another new name. He lived away from East London also. We went to the back garden, which was small but pleasant. We sat outside and you could see Sarahs' cottage from the garden, she arrived through a small gate which joined her cottage to the Howards' home. Grant asked what I thought of church today, I told him I enjoyed it. He wanted to know if I was getting on with the other youth and what I thought of them. I told him I got on well with Jamie and Harvey, they were becoming friends. Although I had not known Grant long, I was really fond of him. I liked talking to him and I sensed he actually cared about me and what I had to say. With this in mind, I decided to tell him what I thought of Craig. I told him I wasn't too sure about Craig. Grant smiled and asked me why. I told him we didn't really get on that well, I'm not sure what it was, but that it was OK with me. Grant explained that Craig has things a little rough in his home life. He wouldn't go into detail but he explained that he wasn't such a bad lad, he just needed a kick in the right direction from time to time. I wondered exactly what it was Grant was referring too in Craig's home life, but it at least started to make things a little clearer. Sarah and Caryl joined us and we sat outside for a few minutes, before going indoors again.

Dinner was not far off completion and as smooth as things had been going on my visit, they were about to receive a dent. Little did I know what Sunday dinner actually comprised of. Lasagna!

Let me explain. I have never, nor will I ever eat cheese or anything with it in. It is the one food more than any that I 100% hate. So when I clapped eyes on what was coming out of the oven I started to worry. I decided , as polite as I could be, to explain. I felt bad, but I could not eat lasagna. Sister Howard suggested I try it, and I kindly declined. I felt a bit embarrassed but what could I do? So, as we sat down to dinner mine comprised of a large plate of salad and a few slices of cold meat which Brother Howard had cut up for me. I was expecting a traditional Sunday dinner, beef or lamb. Charles Jr said they could only afford beef or lamb once a month, he was joking. He then said it's reserved for special visitors. I laughed. I hadn't really spoke that much to Charles Jr previously, but was starting to get to know him better, he had a real sense of humour on him. Very dry. He dropped hints the entire meal about me upsetting the chef, he was only having a laugh and in truth, it made me feel better. He said I was going to love the desert. Cheesecake! It wasn't off course and I had two helpings of fruit and ice cream.

We spent the meal chatting amongst ourselves and I got to know the Howard family in a lot more detail. Sarah was a teacher for instance, Charles Jr an accountant. Caryl was also someone I had not really got to know before today and she was really sweet. I could see how Grant would want her to be a wife. It was clear she doted on him . She talked about the trip to Port Elizabeth, she would be going to. She said she was looking forward it and that we would be going ten pin bowling, was I any good? Disappointingly, I wasn't. I had never played in truth. She told me I would soon learn.

All in all, I was glad I had accepted the invitation. We sat in the front room after dinner and had something cool to drink, again, it was another hot day. I felt really welcomed by everyone and hey had made such an effort to make me feel comfortable. I was really touched and felt like these people were not only good, but my friends too. My adult friends. Almost like a surrogate family. Brother Howard said I was welcome any Sunday I wanted to come for dinner and Sister Howard also extended the same invitation, she promised not to make anything with cheese in it especially for me. The way I felt and my thoughts about the entire family were summed up best by Grant shortly after dinner. He invited me to a family day that the church were having next Saturday afternoon. They were going to play put put (crazy golf) and it was a family outing the church from time to time organised. I loved put-put but said to Grant that I doubted my family would come to such an outing.

He said it was not a problem, should my parents not wish to go, I could go with him and his family, I would always be welcome as part of their family.

I accepted.

I was now a part of not only a church and a new religion, but a new family it seemed. One who had taken me under their wings within the church and beyond.

NEXT TIME: Points of view

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Entry 8 - Decisions

It was fast approaching 7.00pm Tuesday evening, Elders Crane and Finchley were due for a visit. My Dad was out bowling and my brother Pete was doing homework in his bedroom, at least that was what he was supposed to be doing. My Mum was tidying up and didn't seem to mind the fact the Elders would be visiting. I had had a rubbish day at school, more and more I was starting to dislike it. The whole mentality of the place, the ridiculous rules and regulations as I saw them, the whole culture of playing rugby being a passage to greatness. It was the total opposite of how I felt about the Mormons.

The elders arrived, my Mum answering the door and showing them through. She offered them chicory and had a brief chat with them before leaving us in the front room . We were fortunate in that we had a front room and a sort of games room at the back of the house where my Mum went to leave the three of us to begin, The elders wanted to know how I was feeling about my visits to church and things in general. I told them I was feeling good and still very interested. They seemed pleased enough and so we began. It was less of a lesson and more of an informal discussion this evening - which I appreciated.

Finchley wanted to know if I would be attending Thursdays' fireside at Sister Meirings', which I was planning to. I wasn't however going to the youth meeting in East London. I had wanted to but I thought a little break in the company of Craig Hindley might be a good thing. The events of Sunday were still in the back of my mind to a degree and in truth, I didn't want to have to look at that arrogant smarmy face twice in the same week. However, missing the youth meeting aside, I wasn't going to let him ruin what I still considered as good. I told the elders about the Howard family and how I felt like they were making me feel welcome on a Sunday. The elders had only good things to say about them too, it was clear they were a popular family within the church. Crane added that they were equally fond of me too and that I had made a good impression.

In the midst of our discussion, Elder Crane threw a total surprise. He asked if I had given any thought on the subject of baptism. It was the first time this had been directly mentioned. I was a bit taken back, although I'm not sure why. The thought had crossed my mind however I had felt it too soon to make a decision about it, added to which, I knew my parents would have something to say about that too. I responded by saying that I hadn't really given it too much thought, which I suppose was not technically true. Finchley continued by saying that there was no rush and that he appreciated the fact that at present, I was attending church with the blessing of my parents and that should I decide to be baptised within the church, the same blessing would have to be given. Crane talked a little about how a baptism is performed within the church. The church believe in a full immersion baptism, where you are lowered into the water by another person. This immediately caused me to pull a slight frown. I wasn't the most keen swimmer, having only learnt about a year or so ago.and I hated being underwater...period. Crane explained that the person kneels in the water as the person performing the baptism holds them and lowers them back into the water until they are fully immersed. Finchley could see I didn't look to impressed with this, and added that I could hold my nose if I wanted too. That would be a given.

They went onto to explain baptisms are not performed on children under the age of 8 as you can only be baptised once you understand and accept the difference between right and wrong. It seemed the age of 8 was deemed as grown up enough to know this difference. The belief of the church is that once you repent for prior sins and then are baptised, all previous sins are remitted. The service itself is performed in a font within the church, which I had seen on a previous visit. The elders did not push me on the subject, they left it with me to think about and discuss with my parents. It was an important step and one that was necessary should I want to become a part of the church. The elders left and I would see them again on Thursday for the fireside

Shortly after I had a chat with my Mum about the visit, I mentioned the topic of baptism. my Mum was concerned. She replied that I had only been going to this church a month and she felt it was too soon to be thinking about that. I explained that I was intent on continuing going to the church and at some point I would have to be baptised. She said I needed to think about it...and so did she and my Dad. I told her they were good people, she didn't seem to doubt that part of it. I told her I was enjoying it, she accepted that too, what she had a problem with was if I was serious about it all. Was I really prepared to live my life as a Mormon? I replied by saying that I had quit drinking coffee, attended church, attended their firesides, was I not showing my seriousness? My Mum acknowledged my point, but wanted to know how long I was going to keep it up and what about what was next? I asked her what she meant by " next". She replied that would I prepared to go on a mission, marry a Mormon girl, raise kids in a Mormon church, give 10% of my salary to the church every single month? She was getting too far ahead even for me. I laughed and told her that was still years away, but that I wasn't going on any mission and I didn't want to get married anyway. She relented, asking me to think long and hard about it, but the impression I got was that she didn't seem keen. I was surprised at this, I knew she had stopped going because it wasn't right for her, but it didn't seem fair at the time that should impact on me. As for my Dad, well, I suspected he would be even less keen on the idea, so I decided not to mention it to him, my Mum agreed.

Thursday evening arrived and I was looking forward to the fireside. Brother Howard was going to be attending. It was something he apparently did from time to time and with the usual attendees being the Sternburgs and Rachel Gorman, both of whom I wasn't particularly close to, I was looking forward to having someone else there. Don' t misunderstand, there was nothing wrong with either the Sternburgs or Rachel, it was just they were not the kind of people at 14 I was particularly interested in. The Sternburgs just seemed "odd". I didn't truthfully know exactly what it was, but they were just odd. Carol Sternburg at times, gave me uncomfortable looks, stares and odd glances, however she did that with a number of people not just me, but usually males! Rachel was nice enough, but it was difficult talking to her. I suppose I was a child finding myself amongst a lot of adult company a large portion of the time and I was learning a lot about adult behaviour,not just the practices of a new religion. I suppose looking back, what adult would want to talk with a 14 year old and build a relationship with them, they had other things on their minds. Take Rachel for example, it had been clear to me for weeks she had a " thing" for Elder Finchley. What I was less certain about was whether Finchley knew it and if he did, what would he do about it? I think this was another reason I didn't' really get to know Rachel particularly well, she was always occupied with Finchley at any fireside meeting, and in our Sunday school meetings on a Sunday, she was totally uninterested and very anonymous. I couldn't really weight up whether it was the church or a particular young missionary she was interested in.

Thursdays' fireside was no different, she parked herself next to him on the sofa and for a moment, if you saw them, you would have sworn they were dating. Finchley , like many of the Mormons I had met, was very "touchy-feely", it seemed natural to them. And so it was difficult for me to pin point if Finchley was interested in Rachel as more than a new recruit.
Brother Howard gave a short talk at the fireside, the subject of which escapes me, after which we had a chat. The thing I liked about Brother Howard was that he always appeared genuine in any conversation he had. I didn't detect anything "false" He was, as I have already mentioned, down to earth and very much a family man - but he too had this tendency to be a little touchy - feely amongst the female members, I didn't for a minute suspect anything untoward, it was just the way they were, hugging and holding hands and sometimes a small kiss. I wasn't certain if I would be too fond of all that, thankfully I'm of the male species and didn't have to worry I suppose. But I wouldn't be putting my arms around any female members and giving them hugs just yet. Towards the end of the fireside, Brother Howard invited the me and the elders to Sunday dinner this weekend after church , I was glad to be asked and I said I that I would like to go, the elders accepted the offer too. Brother Howard suggested I check with my parents first, but I told him I'm sure it would be fine. He went onto to add that Grant and Charles Jr would be there as well as Sarah and it would give me a chance to spend some time with them Sarah lived in her own small bungalow which was directly behind his home. Charles Jr was still at home and Grant was back there too since leaving the army. Of course he was engaged to be married, so he wouldn't be there for too long. I was looking forward to it. Brother Howard went on to say that his youngest son Marcus would be coming home in a few weeks for a visit too, so I would get to meet him. He also mentioned the trip to Port Elizabeth in April, he wanted to know if I would be coming along, I told him I wasn't sure yet, he encouraged me to go, saying that all the youth were going, Harvey and Jamie, Shane and Craig too. That somehow put a dampener on it, did I really want to spend a weekend with someone I didn't like...however on the flip side there would be a lot of people who I got on with great, so why should I let Craig Hindley ruin things. I told him I would let Grant know this weekend, which meant I had to get my parents OK on it before Sunday. I didn't see why they should mind, and anyway, it was during the school holidays.

Sister Meiring was her usual gracious self, cakes and refreshments, she was feeling better since her bug kept away from church on Sunday. Robert and Carol Sternburg talked about their ebuilding work at home and how well it was coming on. Not exactly earth breaking conversation, but nevertheless, they were excited about it. Rachel Gorman was engrossed in conversation with Finchley as per the norm and Paul Meiring was telling all about a rugby match he was going to on Saturday, one that the elders were going to also apparently. Rather them than me I thought.

However by the end of the evening I had started to really understand and see the point of these weekly firesides. It was very much supposed to be a family gathering, where people talked together, prayed together, almost bonding under the common roof of the church. I always enjoyed spending time with Finchley and Crane in particular, I viewed them as "older brothers" and I trusted them , that was important to me. They had been good to me, this evening had been another example, when Brother Howard extended his invitation to Sunday dinner, I had noticed they waited for my reply before giving theirs. Once they realised I wanted to accept, so did they. They didn't have to spend the afternoon at the Howards', but because I wanted to and they knew I had no transport there and then back home to King Williams Town, they had agreed to go.

After saying my goodbyes to the elders and arriving back home that evening, I had some homework to do. I spoke briefly to my Mum and Dad and gave them a run down of the evening, including my invitation to Sunday dinner at the Howards'. It meant I would be leaving the house at 09.00am Sunday and not back again until at least 6.00 pm that evening, but they could see no harm in me going, I was with the elders. I headed to my bedroom and tried to make a start on it, I couldn't be bothered though. There were things running through my mind, things I needed to decide. There was the small matter of the weekend away in Port Elizabeth and getting my parents OK and then there was a much larger matter . which at some point I would need to decide one way or another. Baptism. Was it too soon? Was it what I really wanted? Would my parents allow it? Should I even need their permission to do it? Although no pressure was being put on me, I knew deep down that these questions would need addressing, and in the not too distant future. It was fast approaching decision time.

NEXT TIME: Dinner for 9

Monday, 30 July 2007

Entry 7 - Sticks and Stones

I was on my way to East London with the elders. It was another boiling hot day so a short sleeved shirt was a necessity. I didn't mind wearing a shirt and tie on a Sunday, even though I had to do that Monday to Friday at school, I was getting used to it by now. Although this was my first church visit on my own , I wasn't alone in the back seat of the car. Paul Meiring was also present. It seems that the bug he had caught earlier in the week, he had now passed onto his Mum and she wouldn't be attending church. Paul was a nice enough lad, but he always reminded me of a younger brother. He was only a year younger , so either he was immature for his age or I was too grown up, I wasn't sure at the time which. We really didn't have much in common, he spoke about rugby and The A Team and neither really interested me. I was polite though and with Elders Finchley and Crane adding to the conversation, everything was fine.

I spoke a lot about Formula 1, which was my "rugby". The new season was going to be brilliant and I was already getting excited. My " hero" was Nelson Piquet and I had a whole wall in my bedroom of pictures dedicated to him and his car. This used to cause a bit of friction between myself and my folks. You see, being English, it was the done thing to support "your own". Both my Mum and Dad were big Mansell supporters, to make matters worse, Piquet and Mansell drove for the same team. The previous season was a close run thing between the two and Prost, who went onto win the championship. Mansell outscored Piquet by a point though, and I didn't like that much. I was itching for Piquet to win it this year and shut my Mum and Dad up. My Dad said I only supported Piquet to be awkward and argumentative. Not true, even though it' s not cool for 14 year olds to like the same things as your folks, that was not the reason. I liked him for a number of reasons, he was fast but smart, he came in for a lot of criticism from the English commentators, who were biased towards Mansell and I admired the way he ignored all of that and just gone on with. He was clever. He was funny, a real personality and sometimes a bit of a loose cannon, I loved that about him. I had started to get my friends into Formula 1 also, none of them supported Piquet, which was fine by me, I liked it that way.

Getting back to the trip to East London, I spent most of it talking about all of the above. The elders didn't really seem to follow motor racing , but knew enough about it to hold a conversation, Paul was totally obvlivious to it , but I figured I had heard enough about rugby so it was time to talk my sport. We didn't actually discuss anything with a religious theme at all, which was nice. I sort of showed me that the elders had another side to them, away from the missionaries that they were, they were young men and had interests and personalities of their own. I liked that about them, even though they said they hoped Mansell would win this year because he was unlucky last year!

We arrived at the church quite early, about 15 minutes to spare. I was greeted outside the church by Brother Charles and Sister Judy Howard. Brother Charles was his usual bubbly self and he said he was sorry that my Mum wouldn't be attending. I think he really meant that too and was not just being polite. I spoke with Sarah Howard too, she wanted to know if I enjoyed the youth meeting on Wednesday, I told her I had and that I spoke to her brother Grant quite a bit too. Sarah said that Grant was very pleased I had attended. Sarah was very down to earth, just like her Dad and Mum. In fact I liked the whole Howard family, Charles Jr was a bit of a character too, very dry sense of humour.

Meanwhile Elder Jackson was creating quite a stir outside with the ladies. Carol Sternburg looked very impressed with him and whatever story he was telling, she was having a good laugh, I looked on in amusement. Rachel Gorman arrived and Elder Finchley went over to greet her and her young son. Sarah Howard asked if I would like to sit with her and her family today, I was pleased she had and I said yes. It made me feel less like being on my own. You see, people thought I was strong willed and very independent for a 14 year old, perhaps that was true, but there was a part of it that was an act. A huge part of me felt very nervous, I tried not to let it show, but I was.

I sat with the Howard family and Elder Crane for the main service, Finchley sat with Rachel Gorman. The service was nice, Bishop Robertson was a very eloquent speaker, friendly and sincere. I enjoyed his services. The messages were always logical to me. Grant Howard also gave a short talk as well and he was as always fascinating to listen to. Perhaps I should elaborate more on the religions details of the service, bit in truth, at this point of my visits, the religious aspects were not that important to me, so much of it escapes me. I didn't have any emotional turmoil of whether I believed in the Book of Mormon of the practices of the church, I was happy to accept what I was told. Don't get me wrong, I had a few small issues that perhaps didn't sit well, but on the whole, I was happy and content to take on board what I was told. At the time, I didn't' realise why or even see I was doing that, but I was 14. At 14, your role is to take on board what adults tell you and learn it, that's' what I had to do every day at school, sometimes I had to do that at home too, so it seemed like taking on another lesson. I was very capable of questioning things though, and in time, I would, but for the moment, what was more important as I have said before was how the people and the atmosphere sat with me and if I felt comfortable and a part of something...and I did. Today though was the service I took sacrament. Non members do not partake normally, but I was passed the silver tray with the broken bread , and I decided to partake. Likewise with the water. After the service, Grant explained the significance of the sacrament, the partaking of the body and blood of Christ with the bread and water symbolises, but it also held a deeper relevance, the fact that this was a almost a renewal of the vows made at baptism and a re-commitment to Jesus Christ. He explained to me that as a non member it was fine for me to partake, but it had no significance in terms of a renewal of any vows, as I had not made those vows yet. But I had partaken the body and blood of Christ. This seemed a logical explanation to me and Grant seemed happy enough that I had partaken.

My only " gripe " with the service was the noise. We were sitting half way down the chapel and at times I could hear giggling and carrying on from the back row. When the service ended, I turned round to see who was on the back row and unsurprisingly, Craig Hindley rose up. More surprising was he fact that he was with Simon and Carla Robertson, children of the man trying to speak in the service. I thought it was a little bit rude. As we moved outside before Sunday school , I spoke with Sarah Howard. She was someone I found "nice", I know it's a very general desorption, but that was the truth of it. We spoke about her time in England when she served her mission and that the one thing she missed was the music. I told her one of my favourites was Kate Bush, which to my surprise, was also one of Sarah's'. We already had something in common. We spoke about our favourite Kate Bush songs and it was good to be talking about music with someone who obviously appreciated it. I was beginning to feel that this was the start of a great friendship, after all, in my book, anyone who liked Kate Bush was OK with me.

Before Sunday School started I made a quick visit to the toilets, upon entering I met Craig Hindley preening himself in the mirror. I didn't bother to say anything and waited for him to finish, I wanted to splash some water on my face, it was hot and I was feeling sweaty, and with only one sink, I had to wait. Craig eventually turned round and asked what I wanted, I thought that would be obvious but replied " the sink". He carried on with his preening and when finished he decided to give me a little bump with his shoulders when walking past me. I gave him a look but decided not to say anything, we were at a church, but I was annoyed. He was an arrogant brat who was starting to get on my nerves. I didn't think it would be long before something was said.

Sunday School was again pretty unspectacular, Elder Jackson was again giving the lesson and to be honest, his attention seemed to be more focused towards the ladies. He was a good looking fella, the thing was , he knew it. He came across at times as too self confidant, more to the point, too cock sure of himself. There were one or two new faces in today's class, the names escape me. Rachel was there of course and again, she was really quiet and almost uninterested. Elder Jackson's missionary partner was Elder Rainey , as opposite to Jackson as could be. Large build, glasses and quite serious. I never had much to do with Elder Rainey, except for polite exchanges. He was however present in today's lesson.

Hour 2 over and again I headed for the outside of the church, I met up with Jamie and Harvey. Jamie was his excitable self. Paul Meiring joined us as Harvey told us about his week at school, which was pretty drab. Harvey asked if I was OK coming to church on my own now and if I missed having my Mum. Naturally I said no, I was a big boy, I could take care of myself. The four of us headed back into the chapel for the priesthood meeting. This usually lasted about 10 - 15 minutes before went into our separate groups. Today, Grant Howard was going to be taking the lesson. The lesson was about the responsibilities of the youth within the church, the lesson covered things such as the Aaronic Priesthood, which was something everyone in the lesson held,it was considered a lesser priesthood which young men were ordained to from the age of 12. It was divided into different categories dependant on age. Jamie and Paul were deacons, Harvey and Craig teachers, Shane a priest. Should I be baptised, I could become a teacher. each had different roles, but the one that Grant touched on which I had heard about before was the home visits. As teachers within the Aaronic priesthood, it was expected to undertake these visits, you would pair off with an existing elder and visit homes to teach the word. I did not like the sound of this one bit, but it seemed Harvey and Craig were both going to be doing this in the upcoming week, I watched Craigs' face and it was clear he was none to interested either. This did tickle me just a bit I have to be honest. I just could picture him going door to door with an elder spreading the word! God help the homes he visited. During this meeting it was also mentioned that there was an upcoming trip being planned to Port Elizabeth for a weekend during the school holidays Port Elizabeth was about 3 hours away from East London and somewhere I had not been. There was some big meeting taking place with different churches travelling down . Grant extended an invitation to me. I was surprised, as a non member I didn't think I would be going, but he said we would travel down in his van, which would hold about 8 - 10, so I was more than welcome to come. I said I would let him know. Craig muttered something about it only being for members, which Grant heard and corrected . After the meeting as I was walking out, Craig decided it would be funny to try and trip me up by sticking his foot in front of me, I turned round quickly and asked what his problem was?

"You", he replied. I told him to grow up and started walking away but he walked up behind me and put his knee in my back. "Watch it" he said, and he walked past me. I was half a mind to go after him but I didn't think this was the place for an argument or fight. It was brewing though, nearer and nearer. It had started to become clear that not everyone was as welcoming as first appeared. Craig Hindley and I were never going to be friends , I had no idea what I had done, perhaps nothing. We were so different and I put it down to that. I didn't like him and he didn't like me, however within his little group of Shane and Carla I knew things were being said which were about me. I could see it clearly. At this point, I couldn't have cared less, it had taken a bit of the " shine " away from what I had thought near perfect and the events of the day had come close to spoiling my Sunday, but not quite. It was as if Craig and his little posse were trying to upset the applecart , well, that is how I saw it. I still felt a part of things though and to some degree more so now that Mum wasn't attending. I was being treated like an " adopted" son, particularly by the Howard family. They were kind and friendly and I was pleased that they were fond of me, as I was them. This Sunday in particular marked the beginning of two significant things which would become more and more important in the following two years of my life, my new found relationship with the Howard family and a battle with those less than pleased having me about, back then it was Craig Hindley and his school yard antics, pretty soon it would grow beyond the stuff of teenager squabbles - into more adult territory.

NEXT TIME Decisions

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Entry 6 - Centre of Attention

The trip though to East London was interesting. Elders Finchley and Crane were still surprised at my Mum deciding she wasn't going to be attending church . Crane decided to use this opportunity to ask me on my thoughts. To be honest, I was in two minds. On the one hand, I was disappointed I would be on my own this Sunday, on the other, I knew it was coming. I explained to Crane that my Mum just didn't feel like it was something she wanted to do. Crane asked if there was anything they could do to perhaps change her mind. This surprised me a little. I think my Mum was pretty clear when she explained her decision to the elders, but it seemed Crane was not intent on giving up. I was hesitant in my reply, but answered as truthfully as I could. "No", I replied. Finchley intervened and explained that they were both fond of my Mum and really thought she was coming along nicely in the short time she had spent within the church. I explained that my Mum would always listen to other peoples views and opinions, she went along to church and the firesides to see for herself, and what she has seen and what she has heard, was not right for her. I reminded them though she was fond of the them and that they would still see her and chat to her whenever they visited me. Finchley added that he was pleased I was still going along to church and the other functions and that my Mum and Dad were wonderful parents for not stopping me in my beliefs. I never really thought of it as that. At this stage, I wasn't 100% convinced of my beliefs, I was however happy with the church and the people in it. So there was no reason to stop going.

We arrived at the church just after 6 that Wednesday evening. The elders were dressed very casually, jeans and t-shirts. It was a social type of meeting, so I suppose that was to be expected. We walked through the main entrance and into the back of the church to the main hall. I spotted Jamie Farraday and Harvey McKinley and went over to say hello. It seemed to be a real mix of ages. Craig Hindley was in a little group with Carla Robertson and her brother Shane and two other girls whose faces I recognised, but not their names. In total I would say there were about 15 - 18 people there. As I was talking to Jamie and Harvey, Grant Howard came over with his girlfriend Caryl. He shook my hand and said it was good to see me. I didn't know what it was about Grant , but he had a real presence, which on the surface was probably strange because he was quite a short fella. I would guess at 5ft 5. But yet, he held his own and then some. The group gathered together, Grant led us in prayer and then we split into groups of 4 or 5 and played volleyball in the church hall. I can't remember who won what and if I was on the winning team, but I did enjoy it although I wasn't that great at it. I do remember Craig Hindley making an exhibition of himself , throwing himself after every ball and leaping here ,there and everywhere. After the volleyball, there were drinks and snacks and a few of the lads played a game of football. I spent most of my time with Jamie and Harvey. I was also introduced to Milicent and Tracey Meyer ,the two girls whose faces I recognised from a previous church visit. Tracey was pleasant and quite sweet, Millicent was nice too and she was a looker. Blonde hair, blue eyes and very pretty. In truth, everyone was very welcoming, they all made me feel a part of their group. That is, all except one. Craig Hindley decided to come over to talk and tell me all about how his school beat the pants of my school at rugby and basically my school was a load of shit. Not that I really cared, I hated rugby anyway. I didn't really bite back and just smiled politely. I wasn't as patriotic about my school as he made out to be about his. However, I suspected it had very little to do with school rivalry anyway. I noticed him talking to Carla and Shane in their little group and having a laugh, looking at me when they did. But on the whole. I wasn't that bothered. I enjoyed myself. The others were good fun.

I spent quite a while taking to Grant Howard. He asked all sorts of questions, about school and home and music (I played the piano) . In turn, I asked him about the army, the church and his family. He was fascinating. He said that the church was very big on youth, they realised that the youth of today , would be the future of the church going forward. He asked how I felt about my Mum deciding not to attend church anymore, the elders had spoken to him earlier and he was sad to hear this. I repeated what I had said to the elders and Grant told me that although the church was built on "families", I mustn't feel alone because mine were not a part of the church. He said we were all one big family within the church and I should consider the congregation as my extended family. That was a really nice way of putting it and the way I was made to feel so welcome, I understood what he was saying.

I also spoke to Ivan Farraday too, older brother of Jamie.I think Ivan was about 16 or 17 . He was a lot "quieter" than Jamie, not as hyperactive. He was what I would call trendy. He spoke about music and he seemed to like all the "cool" stuff. It seemed Ivan was not the eldest of the Farraday family though, he had two older brothers, Warren and Simon. Warren was living away from East London if I recall and Simon would be coming back to East London soon. I think Ivan said he was completing his mission or had just completed it, either way, I would meet Simon. Harvey McKinley was someone I was becoming friends with, of everyone there, he was the one person I really sort of bonded with. Perhaps because he was so introverted and had a serious side to him that I liked, perhaps because he made such an effort to befriend me, either way, I'm glad he was there.

At the end of the evening I said my goodbyes to everyone. It had been an enjoyable evening and Grant asked me if I wanted to come to another one, I said yes but that I would have to check with the elders first if they were able to fetch me. Grant shook my hand and Caryl , who was very quiet most of the evening, came over to say goodbye as well. I said I would see them Sunday. The drive home was time for me to reflect. I had so many names going round in my head of the people I met and spoke to, but the foremost in my mind was Grant Howard. I was was already starting to look up to him , almost like an older brother . That is the way he spoke to me and made me feel. I didn't have an older brother, and as I would be attending church on my own as from this Sunday, I felt less concerned , knowing I was fitting into an extended family within the church. New friends in Harvey and Jamie ,the elders looking out for me, particularly Finchley, I was really now a part of something. Finchley wasn't going to let my Mums' decision interfere with their commitment to me. I suspected Crane might have other ideas. I was pretty sure he didn't see my Mum as a lost cause just yet and may just lean on me to help my Mum return, I wasn't certain, but I felt it.

Upon my return, the whole family were in the front room and wanted to know how it had gone, I told them how much I enjoyed it and that I wanted to go to more meetings like this. My Mum wanted to know what the elders had said to me about her decision not to go. I decided not to share my thoughts on Crane but said they were disappointed and that they both liked her. I also said they thought I had "wonderful" parents for allowing me to to go, my Dad smiled and said " soft parents". I laughed. I suppose he was right on this occasion. My Mum was also worried if I would be alright going on my own to church . I told her I was 14 , I would be fine. She ignored the cocky reply and said that she was being serious. I told her I wouldn't really be alone, I was with the elders and I was making new friends at the church, so I would be fine. That seemed to appease her. My brother Peter went off to bed, I followed a little later. We shared a room back then, much to my annoyance. He asked me about the evening, saying I was mad for going to church on a Wednesday, I told him it wasn't church, it was a social evening. He asked if I was going to become a "moron", his little name for "Mormon". I said I might. He said Mum and Dad won't like it. We went back and forth with little comments, harmless and the normal sort of brother talk. But as I lay in bed that night, my brothers teasing about becoming a Mormon was in my thoughts along with half a dozen other things. Would I actually become a Mormon? Would my Mum and Dad change their stance if I said I wanted to be baptised in the church? Letting me go to social evenings and firesides and even church services was one thing - but a baptism?

The remainder of the week went by pretty unspectacular. School was school!. And my school was punishment. I can honestly say I hated the school I went to. Lots of different reasons, mainly because everything revolved around sport and sport didn't revolve around me. If motor racing had been a school sport, it would have been a different story, but my once a week tennis hour was the only sport I participated in. I liked tennis and as it was a summer and winter sport I didn't have to play another sport, although the rumour was the school was going to force us to play 1 summer and 1 separate winter sport, meaning I couldn't use tennis for both. I tried not to think about it, instead I concentrated on my piano lessons, my debating team and of course, my new church. I was already looking forward to Sunday.

The elders called round Saturday, just to see how I was and to confirm they would be here at 9 tomorrow morning. My Mum invited them in and was her usual polite self. She offered them a drink, but they said they wouldn't stop long. However Elder Crane decided to ask my Mum if she had had any change of heart since their last conversation, and that without any pressure, should she at anytime want to attend a service in the future, she would be most welcome. My Mum thanked them, but her mind was made up.

As Sunday morning arrived and as I was getting myself ready for church, I was glad to be going. I spent extra time messing with what clothes to wear, I wanted to look really smart on my first visit "alone", so to speak. I wanted to make an effort, to show I was serious, to show my Mum and Dad too. I was in a cheerful mood for someone who was out of bed before 8 o'clock on a Sunday morning. However, it would only be a matter of a few hours before that would change. Someone was about to throw a spanner in the works.

NEXT TIME: Sticks and Stones

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Entry 5 - New friends and Old Habits

Two days after my second church visit, it was another fireside meeting. This evenings was to be at Sister Meirings' and the elders were due to pick my Mum and I up just before 7.My day at school had been quite interesting too. It seemed my friends didn't think I was really serious about becoming a Mormon and that this was all just a " fad". Even quitting coffee didn't' hold much with them. My best friend Marcus seemed the most concerned and unconvinced that I knew what I was doing, but none of that really mattered though. I didn't have to prove anything to my friends, I was by now serious about it all.

My Mum had been relatively quiet since Sunday about whether she was going to continue with all of this or not. I think she had enjoyed her second visit more than the first, she was struggling along trying to drink chicory (but still having the odd coffee) and it seemed as if she would be going again this Sunday too. My Mum had wanted to start going back to a church on a Sunday, she last went to her Catholic church about 4 years ago. She stopped going partly because she was appalled that the native African members had to sit separately to the White members and partly because both Peter and I stopped going to a Catholic school in 1983. I didn't enjoy the Catholic church services, I could also never understand why the congregation was split according to the colour of your skin. However my Mum did prefer the traditional Catholic service, it was what she was raised with. The 3 hour Sunday with the Mormons was something different, I enjoyed it. It seemed less like going to church and more like a social gathering and a new experience. My curiosity was keeping me hooked.

The elders arrived and Crane and Finchley were their normal friendly selves. It was only a 3 minute drive to Sister Meirings and we were there. Upon arriving, I have to say, I was a little surprised at the house. It was not what I was expecting. It had that "we are poor" look to it, I don't mean that in a nasty way, but it looked like a box in a piece of dry looking grass. The inside was clean and tidy, but the carpets were old and the furnishings equally worn. The Sternburgs were not going to be joining us announced Elder Crane. I wasn't really bothered, they were one family who I hadn't made my mind up about yet, the last fireside was still implanted in my mind. Rachel was there with her son, Sister Meiring and Paul and the two elders.Small but cosy. Sister Meiring was a good host, I started to feel bad about my earlier thoughts on her home. We had chicory and some biscuits and Elder Finchley gave a small talk, with passages from the Bible and Book of Mormon. I was starting to learn that a "fireside" was really a mini church service, a little bit of socialising and a few sausage rolls and hotdogs on sticks. I quite enjoyed them as a newcomer. It was at this fireside Crane and Finchley first talked about the plans to eventually form a church in King Williams Town. Although at present there was only the Meirings and Sternburgs as regular members, they felt the flock would be growing. I suppose Rachel and my Mum and I were part of the growing flock, but I still felt it would take a lot more than that to constitute a church in KWT. Crane and Finchley discussed how they made visits to potential members home, pretty much how they first came be at our home. It was , after all, their jobs to spread the word. Finchley mentioned that tomorrow was a youth meeting at the church in East London and that they were going to attend. Paul Meiring was also going. Finchley wanted to know if I wanted to come along too. I decided I would , after checking with my Mum who seemed OK with it, the elders agreed to pick me up. I asked what they did at the meetings and Finchley said they varied. Sometimes they had a game of volleyball in the church hall or some other sort of games, sometimes quizzes , but that the meetings were fun and a chance to mix with the other kids of my age and make new friends It seemed like a good idea to go and I was looking forward to it. The fireside meeting ended at about 8ish, Rachel had been very quiet. She did sit with Finchley at one point to have a chat, but they were not as close as they were at the previous fireside. I still wondered what , if any, was the situation between the two of them. I was certain though that Rachel had a " thing" for Elder Finchley. My Mum was also very quiet during this fireside, I was certain she didn't really want to be there. I was happy enough drinking my chicory and munching on my snacks. I was now enjoying chicory. I was not missing coffee as much as I thought I would be, which surprised me at the time. I was talking with Finchley about his talk, which was basically about "missions". In a nutshell, there are many " missions" in life, not just the one the elders have gone on. Many tasks we fulfill in life where we help or guide people to the word is a "mission" It all made sense to me, however Finchley mentioned that they were going to be taking Paul Meiring with them when they do a house visit next week. I was surprised to hear this. It seemed as if he would be doing the work of a missionary at 13. Finchley explained it was all in preparation for the day when young men/women are " called" to serve on their own mission. I reminded Finchley of what had been said prior, that it is a " calling", not compulsory. Finchley agreed, but he believed the " calling" to be a blessing, something that young Mormon men and women consider a privilege. That was one privilege I could do without. My face said it all.

We said our goodbyes to the elders as they dropped us home, they would pick me up at about 5ish tomorrow evening. When we got inside, my Mum surprised me with her observations of the evening. She was convinced Rachel "liked" Elder Finchley. She said she noticed her looking at him , it was the way she looked at him, my Mum continued. I asked her if she thought Finchley "liked" Rachel? She didn't know, but she didn't think so. My Mum though, was tired. Tired of the firesides and tired of the religion and tired that it was now taking up so much time of her life. Sunday was church, Wednesday a fireside and a weekly visit from the elders. It was too much for her. She didn't really feel comfortable and she decided that she wouldn't be going back anymore. She said she had given it her best and tried, but it was not for her. I was surprised and then, I wasn't. I knew deep down she would never join this church, so it was only a matter of time before she stopped going. She said she would have a talk with the elders when they came tomorrow to fetch me and tell them. I didn't try to change her mind. I didn't think it was my place. She had tried her best and I felt, as I still do to this day, she only went along for those 2 - 3 weeks because I wanted to.

We talked a little more, I told her I wanted to carry on going. My Dad was also present and he I think, was pleased my Mum was packing it in. They both decided though that they wouldn't stop me from going. My Dad said that the meetings during the week and all this church activity could not interfere with my homework and studies though. My Mum went onto to say that she wanted me to make my own mind up for myself about things, she didn't' think it was a bad way of life, just not for her. If it was what I wanted, then they would allow me to continue, but before I thought about becoming a Mormon, I had to give things a lot of thought and they both had to be sure everything was OK before they agreed to that. I hadn't really got as far as thinking about being baptised a Mormon, the subject had never been raised. For the time being I would carry on going to church and the meetings and see how things went. I was enjoying myself and making new friends of different ages. In bed that night I was wondering how the elders would take this news tomorrow and if my Mum would be talked around again?

Wednesday came and my day was spent telling everyone about my upcoming youth meeting. Conversation had changed over the last month at break times from what was going on in television programmes and sport, to the Mormons. However, my friends raised a really good point that hadn't dawned on me until then. Grand Prix Sunday. I had started to become a big motor racing fan, I had been watching the Grand Prixs for about 18 months or so and I was hooked. We were fortunate in South Africa in that nearly every race was shown live, even back in the 80's. Lee, my oldest friend, asked what I was going to do when my Mormon church interfered with watching Grand Prix on a Sunday. As we were in March, the new season had not yet started, although it was around the corner and I did not intend to miss any races. So I quite proudly said I would plan my church visits around the races, some races were early morning, some were late afternoon, so they were only be a few Sundays I would not be able to go to church and even then, if the elders put foot down on the way home, I would still make most of the afternoon races. That gave my friends the ammunition they needed. What a stupid thing I had said. It proved to them, that I wasn't as serious about this as I said I was, if I was going to skip church when I wanted to watch motor racing on the television. I suppose they were right, but I wouldn't have it. I defended my corner saying that you could still follow a religion and not attend church every Sunday. This conversation went on and on, I was outnumbered by about 4 to 1 , in the end , I gave up. In my mind, it would not be a huge problem. I changed the subject slightly by telling them my Mum was not going to church anymore. Clever comments like " at least she has some sense" were said, I took it all in my stride though! I reminded them that I had made a lot of new friends at church, so I didn't' need to put up with this crap from my so called old friends. I wasn't being serious of course, but I wasn't going to let them annoy or get to me.

Finchley and Crane arrived that evening and my Mum was waiting at the door, she invited them in and said she wanted to have a chat with them. Paul Meiring was not in the car, it seemed he was ill and wouldn't be attending the youth meeting after all. I was present and was eager to watch and listen as the elders entered the front room . My Mum, to her credit, said it like it was. No sugar coating, no fancy long words. In brief, she wouldn't be going to church anymore. She had tried, it wasn't for her, there was very little point in her carrying on, it wasn't for her. The elders were surprised. I don't think they were expecting this . there was a brief conversation, lead by Elder Crane, in which they tried to delve into my Mums concerns and if there was some way they could help in order for her to change her mind, but her mind was made up. Crane persisted for a while longer , but with no luck.

My Mum added that she would allow me to continue going as that was what I wanted, and she thanked them for taking us to church and being so thoughtful , she also said she was fond of them both and they were welcome in her home to visit, but in terms of her going to church, she was backing out.
I could see the disappointment on their faces, and in honesty, I do believe it was true disappointment. I know Crane was fond of my Mum especially, I think he found this a personal disappointment. However, Finchley responded that they respected her decision and that they appreciated the opportunity of coming into our home, they were also glad that I would be going to church and they thanked her for allowing that. Finchley said that they would look after me on a Sunday and make sure I was picked up and fetched home... she would not need to worry, I would be in good hands. I had no reason to doubt that at all!

We left the house and got into the car, a little late in leaving for East London and the youth meeting. Almost 4 weeks into my Mormon experience, the entire dynamic would now change.
It didn't dawn on me straight away, in fact it would take quite a long time - but the facts of the matter, as I sat in the backseat of the elders' Toyota Corolla ,were this. They had lost a potential member. After a fair amount of work and effort, they had failed. Two had become one. For almost 4 weeks, it had been two elders and two interested non Mormons when they visited and when we drove to church and back from church. The conversations were a "group" conversation, with 2 groups of 2 people. Now I was outnumbered. It was 2 against 1.

2 elders against a 14 year old. I never saw this back then, it didn't cross my mind. But the minute my Mum said her "goodbye" to the church was the whole turning point of my experience, a chain of events had been set in motion.

NEXT TIME: The centre of attention

Friday, 11 May 2007

Entry 4 - The fireside and Grant Howard returns

I had been looking forward to Monday morning. Ordinarily, this was never the case, but I was excited to tell people about my Sunday. And tell them I did! My friends were the first to hear all about it, and I still did not know what they made of it all. There was a part of me that thought I'd make them jealous, as silly as it sounds now. The fact that I was doing something that none of them would dare to, or be allowed to for that matter. My small group of friends came from pretty strict backgrounds, one coming from a devout Catholic family. That is not to say that my Mum and Dad could not be strict. When they needed to, they were more than capable of putting the old foot down, but as I have said before, they allowed me the freedom of expression and the freedom to learn things for myself. I may not have been then, but today I am grateful. My Mum once said that she always tried to give me room to express opinions, but that I always took more room than they had intended. Probably true!

Nonetheless, I was enjoying my first day back at school after my day with the Mormons. I made a point of discussing it in front of Mike, my not so pally classmate. It really bothered him, which although I could see, I couldn't understand why? I also told people that I was no longer drinking coffee, which wasn't technically true at the time as my Mum had still to go shopping for some chicory, but the intention was there. However, I decided that at this stage, it may be " clever " to drop a hint in my Religious Instruction class that I may not have to attend shortly due to my new "religious beliefs". I didn't get very far with that suggestion though, but it was enough for the R.I teacher to add his words on the subject. Something along the lines of being careful and not to rush into anything. It was a fair comment.

The following day was to be yet another visit from Crane and Finchley. As usual, I was well prepared and my Mum resided to the fact that they were here for at least an hour. My Dad was out, probably bowling at the local club. My Mum had clearly lost her interest after Sunday. I knew it wouldn't be long or more importantly, wouldn't take much, for her to stop the whole thing in it's tracks. She had gone though and bought some chicory Monday afternoon, and to her credit, was drinking it herself. I liked it, my Mum was more take it or leave it. But she agreed to give it a try and when the elders arrived that evening, she offered them , for the first time, a cup of chicory, which they accepted.

The visit was very different to the previous ones. I think they may have been aware of my Mums declining interest. Because of this, much of the visit was spent reading from the Book of Mormon and Bible in a way that seemed to be justifying a lot of the Mormon beliefs. Scriptures re-enforcing their laws on not drinking coffee and tea etc. My Mum, unbeknown to me, had spent a little time reading some of the recommended verses in the Book of Mormon, but this had done little to answer her underlying feelings. I think she , like me , didn't believe or disbelieve it, and that was where Finchley and Crane were missing the point totally. So Mum spelt it out for them. She explained that she didn't feel comfortable trying to live as a Mormon, she felt that she could never rise to the level that they appeared to be at, and in truth, didn't want to. She did though raise an interesting question relating to heaven which she had picked up from the Book of Mormon. It seemed that according to Mormon belief, there was not one heaven, but three, and that only Mormons would ever live in heaven number 1 and be amongst God. This only added to her earlier comment of this image of "almost perfect" that the Mormons have and that she believed other good and clean living individuals should also surely have an opportunity to be in heaven with God too. Elder Crane explained that they believed in the three levels of heaven and that God resided in Level 3, the highest one. This is where law abiding Mormons would go. But the other two levels had some worthiness about them, but on a lesser level. Level 2 for example, Jesus Christ would visit from time to time, and people who perhaps did not have opportunity to hear the word would go. Level 1 was where sinners and those who chose to ignore the word would go. He went onto to explain about Perdition too, adding that Mormons do not believe in the "hell" commonly perceived by many. It did little to convince my Mum. I remember asking about missions again. Would it be that if I didn't go on a mission, I would not get to level 3? "No" was the reply from Finchley, a mission was something that you were called to, not forced upon you, as I had heard before . That was good enough for me
"Baptisms for the dead " was another topic sitting uncomfortably with my Mum, for those unaware, it is the practice of baptising dead people who did not have or rejected the opportunity to receive baptism in this life, so that they may move on in the spiritual world, without a baptism, they would be unable to start this journey. My Mum felt this was interfering with things best left, I could see her point, but I also understood the elders explanation, which was pretty much as I have explained above. It was a gift according to the elders. It was at this visit I realised that although I knew fairly little about the doctrine in the Mormon religion, what I did know seemed very plausible. Just as plausible as what I was taught in Catholic school from age 5 to 11.

The visit ended in prayer and Elder Crane telling us that tomorrows' fireside was going to be at Brother and Sister Sternburgs' house and not with Sister Meiring. Nothing serious, just a change of plan, the elders would fetch us just before 7 o'clock tomorrow evening. We were told it would last about an hour or a little after that. Crane explained that tomorrow would be informal, a short lesson and reading and then a general discussion amongst family and friends. They reminded me that Paul Meiring would be there, so I had someone my age to talk to.
"Whoopee! ", I thought. Paul was a nice kid, but a good year younger than me, nevertheless, we were going.

The elders left and my Mum and I had a chat. Peter, my brother, joined us and starting asking a lot of questions, all innocent, but at this stage he still found it all amusing. My Mum was slowly getting to the point when it would be over for her, so I decided to put the question to her that I had been thinking about in the back of my mind for a couple of days.
"If you stopped going to the church, can I still go if I want to?"
She was hesitant, but her answer surprised me at the time. She said she wouldn't stop me from seeing the elders or going to church if that's what I wanted, she didn't believe they lived bad lives, that they were good people, just too good for her. She felt the elders in particular were good men, that they believed in what they believed and were true to it. She wasn't sure if my Dad would feel the same. She asked me if I would be O.K going to church on my own if she decided to stop. I said I was fine with it, I would like it if she went with but I felt comfortable with the elders, like they were friends, and after my first visit I had met so many decent people, I was sure I would have a lot more friends too. I asked her afain if she was going to go on Sunday, she didn't know.

It was the evening of the fireside, and we were on our way to the Sternburgs. We had seen them on Sunday as Crane had pointed them out to us, but we didn't actually talk to one another. It was a short journey, 5 minutes if that. The first thing I remember pulling up outside their house was what a mess it looked like from the outside. All sorts of building material lying everywhere, Finchley explained they were having building work done. Robert Sternburg had his own business, I don't remember what it was, but wife Carol worked with him too. They had a son, Sammy who was about my brothers age and he was a junior BMX racer. They had not been members that long, a year or so possibly, I tell you this because it had been said to us that the Sternburgs were a really great family. Family, as had been said, was so important to the Mormon religion, so I was curious to see this one in their home.

Upon entering we spotted the Meirings, mother and son together. Rachel Gorman was there too with her little boy. Elder Finchley went and sat next to Rachel, and I sat next to him. My Mum sat with Crane and the Meirings and the Sternburgs were scattered around the room on single chairs. The inside of the house was equally as messy as the outside, but understandable with the building work going on. I was still wondering why this fireside had moved location though.

The religious aspect of the meeting consisted of Crane giving a little talk, we prayed and that was that really. Nothing heavy. We had a drink of chicory (some had rooibos tea) and we chatted. My Mum seemed to be quite fine chatting to Sister Meiring and Crane on the long sofa, sipping her chicory very slowly - so I was chatting to Elder Finchley and Rachel. It was more than apparent that Finchley and Rachel were good friends. I wasn't sure what to make of that, I classed Finchley as a friend too, he had that sort of personality about him. Rachel had known him a few months longer than me, so it seemed OK to me that they should be close, but it was something about Rachels' face. I may have only been 14, but even I could tell when a girl had a thing for a guy, and she did. It was the way she looked at him, they would hold hands occasionally, Finchley doing it in a comforting way not a dating scenario, but I was convinced she felt something more for Finchley.

Then in the middle of all this chat, something quite bizarre happened. Carol Sternburg was sat on the floor in front of an empty single chair and Finchley had got up to grab something to eat from the side table, on his way back, Carol invited him to sit down with her on the empty chair which she was sat leaning against, he did, and Carol remained sat on the floor with her head between Finchleys legs . It was a little astonishing to say the least. Finchley sat with his legs slightly apart on this chair, and the married Mrs Sternburg was almost wrapped in his legs, leaning back. The oddest thing about the whole thing, was only 1 other person looked as stunned as I felt, my Mum . To everyone else, this seemed perfectly natural. Rachel seemed less stunned as unhappy. Finchley had a very coy smile on his face as Carol and he chatted .I could not make head nor tale of this.

Meanwhile, Robert Sternburg had began chatting to my Mum, about his business etc and how he considered becoming baptised into the church one of the best things he ever did ,the church had always been there for him and his family. Paul Meiring and young Sternburg were playing about and I had a chat with Elder Crane.

We left about half past 8. Before being dropped off, the elders wanted to confirm if they would be picking us up on Sunday. My Mum said she wasn't certain. She struggled with her reasons but the upshot was she had tried, but it wasn't for her. There was a brief exchange between Crane and my Mum, to which end, my Mum said she would see how she feels later in the week. "Would Marko still be going?", asked Elder Finchley.
"Yes, I want to go", I replied.
My Mum was getting out the car and I followed after saying my goodbyes.

Inside the house, the conversation quickly turned to tonight's events. My Mum was more than amused,almost gobsmacked at what had gone on between Carol and Finchley. She had said it was "weird". I sort of played it down, I figured this was not the time to be making a meal out of something that could affect me going to church on Sunday. My Mum also now saw that " thing" I thought I could see with Rachel and Finchley, again I downplayed it by suggesting that maybe Rachel enjoys Fichleys' company, she was a single mum after all. My Mum did not like all this familiarity though. Looking it at the whole Finchley/Carol Sternburg thing for what it was,
it could be said it was just friendly interaction between two adults! That though, in my mind, was too friendly. Especially as he was a missionary and she a married woman of 30 something with a 10 year old kid. I wish I could have taken a picture, it would have explained it more than any words I could use to describe it. Perhaps, this was the way the Mormons behaved around one another, perhaps it was normal to them? No one died, so in the great scheme of things , it was unimportant, but nonetheless, telling!
We talked a while about things, my Mum was not certain if she was going back on Sunday. She told my Dad about the evening and he reminded us that Mormon men were big womanisers , they had more than 1 wife for years and wouldn't be surprised if they still did.
He suggested maybe it was time to put a stop to it, that we had give it a try and that it wasn't for us. I said that I still wanted to go irregardless. I don't think he was best pleased. He went on to say that he was getting tired of having to go out or disappear just because the Mormons were coming round. I suppose I understood this, but I suggested he sit in and listen. He wasn't interested. He explained that he a has cousin in England who was a Mormon, and that he knew all he needed to know about them. Fair point! By the end of the evening thought, my Mum had come to the decision that she was not going to carry on going and that maybe I needed to think about everything too and decide if this was what I really wanted. I wanted to stop up a little while and carry on talking, but it was fast approaching ten o'clock at night, and tomorrow was a school day. Generally speaking, this was my time to head for bed, but I felt like I hadn't said all I wanted to say, so I carried on. I wanted them to see and understand, it was too soon to be saying "Goodbye". I enjoyed myself on Sunday and wanted to go back again. I knew what I was doing. I reminded my Mum that she had said the elders were good people . Surely, if I was with good people as she put it, what harm could it cause?
In the end, I was going on Sunday and my Mum, it would appear, was not. Dad was still not happy.

The rest of the week went by pretty unspectacular. At school, Mike had decided to bring another pamphlet in about Mormons. This seemed to concentrate on " things you didn't know about Mormons". I think I read as far as that and handed it back, saying that I wasn't interested and I didn't appreciate it. I told him to go away, not quite in those words, but I was starting to get annoyed. The attention it seemed to create in the beginning was now turning to ridicule from others. Other lads in the class had decided to have a laugh at my expense over this, that Mormons were weirdo's , part of a cult etc... My mind was made up though , I was going to carry on with it. Admittedly, by Thursday I was suffering from headaches, my Mum put it down to not drinking coffee, it was my system. I was, by then, into my third full day of not drinking coffee, I was really getting used to chicory and did not miss coffee one bit. My Mum was back on the coffee, she was seriously missing it and felt there was no point in carrying on with chicory. "How can drinking coffee be wrong?", I can remember her asking.

I was fully expecting my first second visit to the church to be on my own, as in, no Mum. I wasn't that pleased in truth, I would have preferred my Mum being there, although I felt like they were people who made me welcome and created such a fuss over me I wouldn't really be on my own anyway, but it was still new and 2 of us would have been better.
However, we received a surprise visit late Saturday from the elders. Both looking very casual and relaxed, without the usual suit and tie. My Mum let them in and called me from outside where I was messing about on my bike. My Dad was out bowling and Peter was out playing with some friends. They apologised for popping round unannounced, but wanted to see if my Mum was going tomorrow . She had intended to tell them in the morning that she was not going. They were eager to remind my Mum that tomorrows service would be different from the last weeks as it was the first Sunday of the month, which meant a change to the normal service. It was testimony hour(or words to that effect). they were both keen for her to be there, but would respect whatever decision she made. They also told her that she not wish to go, they would still take good care of me and make sure I had a lift to and from church. My Mum opened up. She explaned that she thought they were good people and she appreciated all their time and that she would allow me to carry on going as that was what I wanted, but she felt she would be wasting their time if she carried on. She felt like she could not be what they were. She also said that she had a husband who she wanted to spend time with on a Sunday too. That seemed it.
But far from it. Elder Crane, who my Mum always felt was her "favourite"gave a really heartfelt sort of speech. And, in all honesty, after hearing it, I understood why my Mum felt Crane was a " genuine person". In short, he told my Mum how impressed he was with her , her ability to listen and understand, her willingness to come along last Sunday and on Wednesday to the fireside, the fact that it was not a " family " thing with my Dad not being present must have put her in an awkward position and he understood it, but he felt she had come so far and he would be sad if she didn't carry for a little while longer, she was not a failure for having these feelings and that she was a good person (which is accurate). He said that she did not have to be what they were, she was herself and an individual, he went on to say that he was not perfect and often slipped up and made mistakes, this was part of life, and my Mum should not feel inadequate.
Whatever the words, whatever the reasoning, it worked. My Mum had a change of heart and was now going tomorrow. I think in truth it was part Crane, part my soft Mum, part me hoping she would go.
Crane added that Brother Howard would be pleased as he was looking forward to seeing my Mum again. I smiled to myself! Finchley then spent a few minutes talking to me. He knew I was keen to go, so he didn't need to convince me, it was more a "how are you and how are things going" chat. I told him about the stick I had been getting at school in the last few days, he said that many people my age had that problem, but not to let it get in the way of my beliefs. It wasn't my beliefs that were under attack though, it was my pride. My stubborn pride. I hadn't really gained any beliefs yet, but that was best kept to myself.

Sunday arrived, we were well on our way to church with the Elders. My Dad was" disappointed" to say the least that my mum had changed her mind. But so is life. She knew what she was doing and I think he felt better about her being there with me, than me on my own.
I took my Book of Mormon with me for the first time, I had wrote my name in the front page and dated it. Marko Adam Slade - March 1987 it read.

We arrived at the church and it was only on my second visit did I learn that in fact there were 2 services. One set of members held their service from 9 - 12, the second 10 - 1. As we were going into the chapel for the main service, the early group would be starting their second hour of Sunday School, this amazed me that there were so many members. Apparently those who lived in a certain close proximity to the church had their service early, allowing those who had a little further to travel to attend at 10. Something like that anyway. Again, we were greeted by an army of people as we approached the main entrance. Brother Howard made a lightening bolt approach to my Mum, calling her Sister Slade (it sounded like a rock group when he said it ). It tickled me. Jamie Farraday and Harvey McKinley came over to say hello, as did Paul Meiring and his mum. We spotted Rachel pushing a pram into the church and waved to her. It was a very welconing feeling. I felt like people were genuinely pleased to see me and it was a good feeling. Sarah Howard , Brother Howards' daughter came over to me too. We had a really nice chat, she told me that she was on a mission in England two years ago, she knew we were originally from England, but wasn't sure what part. I told her all about my hometown, she said she loved England and especially missed a lot of the music.

We slowly walked into the chapel and again it was filling up with people. I spotted Craig Hindley on the backrow with Shane and Carla Robertson I tried to see how many people I still recognised and how many of their names I could remember. We took our seats with the Elders. Up on the front podium was Bishop Robertson and sitting behind him Elder Jackson, the American missionary. 15 minutes into the hour, having had a brief talk from the Bishop and Elder Jackson, members were invited to come up and bear their testimonies. It was a mad rush. Half of the chruch stood up and made their way to the front podium area, by the time they had sat down, the benches up at the front were full. A few familar faces had gone up. Brother Sternburg was there, Brother Howard, Sister Meiring and one man in full army uniform!
I then remembered who this would be. Grant Howard, His Dad had told us he was coming home this week and we would meet him on Sunday. Also making his way to the front was Elder Crane. I was curious to hear what he had to say. This was all new to both my Mum and I. We realised how new it was when Sister Ida McKinley got up first. I will never forget it. This was Harvey and Gretchen McKinleys' mum. She had the sort of face that looked permanently " hard done to". As she got nearer the podium, she began to cry. I wondered what this was going to be about. She began. So did the tears. She had a Scottish accent. She beagn to thank God for helping get over an extremely difficult week in her life. The difficulties turned out to be something like a leaking washing machine and arguement with her husband. I kid you not. She went on to say that it took all her faith and strength to carry on, and she thanked God over and over again. Was this what testimony hour was all about it? As it turned out, not. She was a one off. As the other members got up and spoke, I realised there was some seriousness about the practise. I actually found it fascinating. Listening to people bear there inner most thoughts and beliefs. However, the person I was most impressed with was Grant Howard. When he got up to speak, an even quieter silence broke out. He was only a short man, but the manner in which he spoke and what he had to say was impressive. Confidant, but not arrogant, pleasant, but not false. Clear and to the point. As he walked back down to his seat after speaking ,my eyes followed him back to his seat. He sat with his family and I could tell already that this was a good group of people.
The first hour flew by,as we got up to walk out, Brother Charles and Grant Howard came over to my Mum and I. He introduced himself and shook our hands. I knew instantly that this was someone I was going to like. He walked with us outside to have a chat. I asked him about his uniform, he told me he was seving his national service, if I remeber correctly, he wore it to church as today was his pass out, he was not staying for the remaining 2 hours as he had to leave to attend this. His fiance Caryl was going with him. She was a member too, very quiet girl, but sweet. I asked him about the army and he told me a little about it, he told me about his mission which he had done before doing national service. He said he would be involved a lot with the youth as from now, he had been elected as some sort of youth leader within the church, so he would be happy to see me at some of the events he would be organising. Crazy golf was mentioned (called put-put in South Africa) - which I loved. I enjoyed talking to Grant and we shook hands before he left. I was looking forward to seeing him again next week and already thinking about going to some of the youth meetings during the week.
Up till this point, everyone I had met within the church I found welcoming and kind, well, Craig Hindley apart. This to me was great. Today however, I had met someone who was not only all of that, but someone who was going to have a huge influence over me, more than I could have imagined on that Sunday, when I first met Grant Howard.

NEXT TIME: New friends and old habits