Sunday, 8 April 2007

Entry 3 - The First Sunday

Sunday had arrived. I was up early, something I would have to get used to if it was to become a regular thing. The elders would be arriving just after 9, they had telephoned the day before to confirm we were still going. My Mum was probably the more nervous, I was just eager to see what all this was about for myself. We were ready a good 20 minutes before 9, my Dad was having a lie in but he was awake, Pete was up and about though, laughing and tittering about the "morons". I gave my hair another brush , about the fifth one that morning, I was wearing a shirt and tie, which sort of made it feel like a school day, but I was looking forward to this more than a day at school.

My Mum had opened the front door just before 9 and not long after, the elders' car pulled up outside our house. We said our goodbyes, my Dad was now up, not thrilled at the fact we would only be home at about 2 that afternoon. Nonetheless he wished us well.

Elders Crane and Finchley greeted us as we got into the back seat of the car. Finchley commented on how smart how I looked in a shirt and tie. The polite exchange of greetings out of the way, we were on our way. East London was about 30 miles or so away, so it was going to be a fair journey. Crane was driving, Finchley in the passenger seat. I do remember it being hot, this was February in South Africa and sometimes the heat could be unpleasant, so the windows were down. This was understandable, but I had spent about 20 minutes messing about with gel and the like on my hair, and in a space of of 2 minutes it was blowing all over the place. At 14, two things mattered more to me than anything, my hair and my skin. My hair was short, but with a longer fringe on top, with a bit of gel and imagination, I always had it just right. Pimples. on the other hand, were something I would spend ages examining, the slightest hint of one and I was out with the old pimple cream. I was lucky in that I got very few, but one was more than enough for me. The worries of a 14 year old, never ending!

We chatted in the car, my Mum declaring that she was still drinking coffee and that it would be incredibly difficult for her to stop. I hadn't given any more thought to it, after all, I wasn't a Mormon so I could carry on as normal, Crane suggested buying chicory and giving that a try, my Mum agreed to look for it next time she went shopping. He also said Rooibos tea was an idea too, this was a kind of herbal tea, but there was no chance of me drinking that, I hated tea.
Between the two of them, they gave us a run down of what we could expect on our first visit, the main service and Sunday School etc. They also told us there were a number of members from out town who were members and travelled down to East London for the Sunday service. The Sternburg family was one, and Sister Meiring and her son Paul who was a a year or so younger than me. There was no Brother Meiring and to be honest, I have no idea why. In fact, the elders lived with the Meirings so they were actually based in our town. Finchley explained that Sister Meiring was a long time host to missionaries, they boarded with her when necessary. Let me explain at this point that I use the term "Sister" for two reasons, Sister Meiring was actually a hospital nurse, fairly senior if I recall and secondly, that was the common title for a female member of the church, we were told. I really didn't like the idea of someone calling me "Brother" though! I was already thinking about my Mums face when someone called her "Sister".

It was about a 40 minute journey before we arrived, the area of East London where the church was situated was very pleasant and as we pulled up I couldn't help but notice a crowd standing outside the church. As we approached the church I have to be honest, I became very nervous. Almost intimidated. It was a large crowd of people and they all seemed very neat and very well groomed, that is not to say that my Mum and I weren't , but nonetheless, I can remember feeling a turning sensation in my stomach. The one thing that I will always remember is the first member who approached us, and as it turned out, very ironic as you will much later understand. Brother Charles Howard. He came bounding over to my Mum and introduced himself. Brother Howard was , I would guess, in his late 50's, short and stocky, but had a very friendly face. He asked us our names, and within seconds referred to my Mum as " Sister". I chuckled to myself. The elders left us with Brother Howard for a while, it was still another 10 minutes or so before the service began. Brother Howard told us about his family, he was married with children, all grown up, but 2 of them here today. His son Charles jnr and daughter Sarah. His younger son Grant was in the army but was coming home next week and we would meet him then. He had another 3 children also, so he was busy man in his younger days. The crowds outside slowly started moving into the church. The elders returned to escort us in. As I walked in I remember a foyer and offices on the one side and at the back to the left was the chapel, where services were held. We walked in and sat on the right hand side. The front of the chapel had a huge pulpit , behind it where about 3 rows of longish wooden chairs. I was surprised at how large the room was, I would guess about 20 long rows either side, and as ten o'clock approached, it was almost full. There was a piano on the front left hand side of the church and sat at it was a very strange looking lady, young, with huge hair and lots of make up, she reminded me of Toyah Willcox. At the pulpit was , what I would discover, Bishop Robertson. behind him sat three other men, Bishop Robertson began.

I would be lying if I said I remember every word of that service, I don't ,in fact what was actually being said was of less interest to me, I was more interested in the surroundings, the people, the actual format of things. They were things I was was not used to, this was not like the Catholic church service I remember from when I was younger. Different speakers took over the pulpit, not just the Bishop. It was like little speeches or lessons presented by 2 or 3 different speakers.

We did sing hymns, 2 if I recall, and they also passed around bread and water, served by young men, probably my age. The bread was broken into little pieces and served on silver trays, the water was in little medicine cups and served on trays too. They were both blessed before passing out to the congregation. This was called a sacramental communion , as visitors, we did not partake.

At the end of the hour long service, Elder Crane asked us what we thought, my Mum , as polite as ever, said it was interesting, I kind of agreed. What would follow though in the remaining two hours would be far more interesting though. The second hour was Sunday School, and the congregation was split into little classes, as visitors, Elder Finchley announced that we could leave if we wanted, he would drive us home, but my Mum was under the impression it was 3 hours, so we would stay. Brother Howard came over to my Mum and asked how she enjoyed her first service. He was enthusiastic, my Mum tried her best to return the feeling, but came up well short, he had brought his wife over, Sister Judy. She seemed sweet, very gentle and not as boisterous and larger than life as her husband. Before we were escorted to Sunday School, the big man himself, Bishop Robertson put in an appearance, he welcomed my Mum and myself and again, he seemed pleasant too. In fact everyone who circled over to meet us seemed pleasant, I cannot say otherwise. We met many people and I could not remember all their names on my first visit. But they were all welcoming and many commenting on what a smart young man I was. I was impressed. We left the chapel and to the left was a large hall, which Elder Finchley said was used by the youth for social activities or for church functions, behind it was a row of little classrooms, and it was in one of them we would spend the next hour. It was a small class, about 6 or 7 , Elder Crane stayed with us, Finchley was involved in another class. The lesson would be given by another Elder, an American missionary. He was the first American I had met, so I was quite in awe. He was probably the most flashy, full of himself person I had ever met up till then, big white teeth, dark hair and tan, tall and very well presented, and he knew it. Elder Jackson What a character he was!

Our class was for visitors , we were the newbies. I noticed a youngish woman there with a small child, her name was Rachel, she introduced herself to us, very down to earth and what I would call, "one of us". Elder Jackson continued mingling with the 1 or 2 ladies in the class, I could tell my Mum was not impressed by him. He eventually began his lesson, and in fairness to him, it was interesting and he was a good teacher, he talked well, asked questions and we all participated, he addressed issues relevant to visitors, our concerns, our thoughts. He spoke about the church in great length, how it all began, how the church runs , the different roles people have in the church, it was quite amazing. Nearly everybody had a role, I was already wondering what mine, if any, would be. But I enjoyed this hour, a lot more than the previous one. We laughed and told stories, and it was actually fun, as surprising as it may sound. It was a a huge discussion covering all sorts of topics and questions that we may have had. Rachel though was fairly quiet, but she did have a little baby to contend with too. After hour 2, Elder Crane took us outside and was asking us what we thought, I replied that I enjoyed it, my Mum smiled and again trying to be polite, agreed with me.I knew my Mum was not as enthusiastic and I was starting to think this could be her first and last visit. Elder Finchley came wandering over with Rachel and her little lad. He had his arm around her, which I suppose was nothing special as every second person at this church had their arms around the next one, that was one thing my Mum had spotted. Finchley and Rachel joined us and he asked how I was getting on etc. Rachel seemed, in my opinion, very close to Finchley. It was as if they were friends, Rachel had told my Mum earlier in Sunday School that she had been attending for about a month, so she was relatively new. But from what I recall, she asked very few questions in our little classroom, as if she wasn't particularly bothered either way. She was single, not sure what had happened to the father of her lad, but as a curious minded 14 year old, my interest was pricked by her and Finchley, something just didn't look right.

Into hour 3, I said my goodbyes to my Mum and Rachel who were off to the Sisters meeting called womens relief, and I was going with Crane and Finchley to priesthood. We went back into the chapel for the first 15 minutes or so, which seemed like a general meeting where the missionaries gave feedback and elders discussed various church programs. After that, we were again split, the youth went off to a separate class, so off I went. There were about 5 of us in this class, Jamie Farraday was a couple of months younger than me but looked about 4 years younger , Paul Meiring was a year younger but built like a little rugby player, big and brawny. Harvey McKinley was my age , very serious , almost tense, but he was the one who sort of took me in hand and made me feel most welcome. We did have something in common, well almost. His Mum and sister were members and attended, but his Dad was neither here, nor a member. His sister it turned out, was the strange piano player I spotted earlier, Gretchen McKinley. Then there was Craig Hindley, a couple of months older than me, but we had even more in common, his Mum was here and what I would call a part time member, but no Dad. In fact, I have no idea what happened to his Dad, but he wasn't around. But for whatever reason, Craig took an instant dislike to me. You see, at 14 growing up in South Africa, if you didn't play rugby or cricket and attend school matches at the weekend, you were generally not in the "in crowd". That was me. Couldn't stand rugby or cricket and had no interest in mixing it with the lads at a match on a Saturday. Craig was very much what I would call the "in crowd". I was dark haired , pale , wore dark clothes and listened to strange music. Craig was blond, tanned, sporty and liked all the "cool" music about at the time. We were never going to be mates, and he made that kind of obvious within the first hour of meeting him. He went out of his way to ignore me and talk over the top of me. He was an obnoxious sort, and it surprised me that he seemed to get away with it.

However, the lesson itself was again interesting, I don't' recall who took this lesson, it was one of the elders, but he was only standing in for another member who was the regular, but not present today. This hour seemed to fly by, there was a religious aspect to it, but also discussing the social events lined up. I was invited to a youth meeting during the following week, but I declined. I didn't feel comfortable enough yet to become involved in that and it was in East London after all, miles away from home. The lads in my class ,with the exception of Craig, seemed nice enough, Paul was quiet and Craig referred to him as fat once or twice when the elder wasn't listening, Jamie was talkative, a real little chatterbox, but Harvey was the one I most bonded with. At the end of the class, we walked out and had a talk about school things and general stuff. He told me about his Dad, who was waiting outside the grounds for him and his Mum, having a smoke. I found this quite funny. Harvey came across as serious, but was actually quite smart along with it. But he wasn't a confidant person, he wasn't someone I would put as a member of the "in crowd".

As I waited for my Mum outside, Craig Hindley came out with Bishop Robertson and his two children, Shane and Carla. As it turned out, Craig was going out with Carla Robertson and was very matey with her brother Shane.He was a couple of years older. Shane came over and introduced himself to me, Craig and Carla went off together, holding hands. Shane seemed a decent sort or guy. Jamie Farraday then came over and introduced me to his brother, Ivan. He too was a couple of years older but friendly enough. Eventually my Mum arrived, with Elder Crane not far behind.

We stood outside for a couple of moments and chatted. Brother Howard came outside with his wife and he darted straight over to my Mum, asking her how she found things. I wondered for a moment if he had a thing for my Mum, but when I spotted him with his arm around a 20 -something year old a few moments later, I realised that was just the way he was with the opposite sex. He liked the ladies! He seemed genuinely interested and my Mum did her best to respond with a positive outlook. But my Mum had an harassed look about her, I could tell she was getting tired of this and couldn't wait to get home. Before leaving, I was introduced to Sister Meiring, the nurse who lived in King Williams Town, she offered her services as a lift to church should Elders Crane or Finchley not be available. She had chatted to Mum during their women's relief meeting and had mentioned the weekly fireside meetings, which this week would be at her house. She had offered an invitation for the both of us to attend. Elder Finchley meanwhile. was chatting to Rachel a few yards away. I was really curious as to what was going on with them. After a round of goodbyes and " hope to see you next week", we eventually left.

The trip home was an opportunity to chat about the previous three hours. Looking back at it, I realise that most of the religious context had flown over my head, and perhaps that was as error on my part, I should have payed a bit more attention , but in truth, my time was spent with everyone greeting and meeting and observing what was going on around me. Yes I do remember quotes from the Bible being mentioned, I remember quotes from the Book of Mormon being thrown about, I remember forgiveness being mentioned in relation to those who sin against us, but those were not the important issues for me. I was treating the Book of Mormon as " another Bible", they didn't need to convince me of it's validity , it was as valid for me as the Bible, nice stories, nice lessons, but did I hold them as the whole truth and holy?
No! I didn't tell Finchley or Crane that off course, but as I had no problem with the Book of Mormon, I didn't see a need to mention it. My Mum however did, she was not convinced of it's validity and whether she believed in it. She questioned it's origin, she discussed her belief in the Bible and for her, it didn't tie in with Book of Mormon. But Finchley and Crane explained that once she took time to read it, to actually understand it's teachings, she may feel different, We each had a copy of the Book of Mormon, and both said we would take spend a little time reading from it, they referred us to specific scriptures and advised us to start with these.
In terms of the trip to East London, there was more than enough to keep me going again. I felt welcomed, with the one exception, I felt they were a good group of people, and if I was going to be a part of something, perhaps this wouldn't be such a bad thing after all. To my surprise, my Mum accepted Cranes invitation, one which Sister Meiring had already mentioned, to the weekly fireside meeting . It would be on Wednesday at Sister Meirings. The elders would fetch us, but it was only a 15 minute walk from where we lived in King Williams Town. Elder Finchley explained the fireside was an informal meeting where there may be a talk given by another member, sometimes it was a general meeting to discuss things in the church world. There were refreshments etc and lots of interaction. I think Sister Meiring had used her gentle persuasion on my Mum earlier and that is why she had agreed to go.

We arrived back home and before saying our goodbyes, the elders confirmed there next visit on Tuesday. My Mum didn't give a definite answer as to whether she would be going to church again the following Sunday, I had already said that I wanted to go. My Mum didn't say anything when I made that announcement, so it was left to be discussed on Tuesday.

Once indoors, my Dad was asking the expected questions. My Mum was a little downbeat. She was also becoming concerned at how it was taking over. Sunday church, Tuesday the missionaries and Wednesday a fireside meeting. She felt it was too much. My Dad agreed. I told him that I enjoyed it and met some nice people, my Mum felt everyone was " too nice, too perfect". She did mention the self loving Elder Jackson, she had a laugh about him, but on the whole she didn't feel like she fitted in. She particularly didn't enjoy the women's relief hour. My Mum is not one to sit in a gaggle of women discussing women things, and I knew she would find this hard. I told my Dad that Mum had already got an admirer, that pricked is attention. Brother Howard, I told my Dad , was very very welcoming to my Mum. She had a laugh, she knew I was joking, although he did welcome my Mum to the point of suffocation at times.
We talked for about half an hour, I told them I wanted to go again, so my Mum agreed to go with me , to give it another try She was only going because of me, I knew that. I asked why she agreed to the fireside, she said she couldn't say "no" to Sister Meiring. I knew that as well.

I was upbeat though, to the point that I decided I would not be drinking coffee anymore. I don' t know what made me decide that, but I did. I even spent an hour that evening reading the Book of Mormon. Perhaps I should attempt to take an interest in the scriptures I thought. What I read was similar to what you would read in the Bible. But , this was still not foremost on my mind. I was starting to think of this as something positive, something I wanted to be a part of. My thoughts on this were becoming very definite, almost to the point that the more my Mum and Dad expressed doubts, the more I found reason to cement my own certainty.

However, by Wednesdays fireside meeting, my eyes would be opened to something completely unexpected and the results would cause my Mum to make a decision which I was not going to like

NEXT TIME : The fireside and Grant Howard returns.