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