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