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