When Dave lifts his head up a few moments later, the seats around him have all filled up, & with a ‘Hello & Welcome to Jubilee’ over the mic, all eyes are on the front.
He can’t see a Vicar anywhere, but everyone else seems to know this guy with a guitar around his neck who is speaking. There is a palpable sense of anticipation in the room. The closest thing Dave can compare it to is that moment before kick off on the football pitch…..but this is church?
Suddenly they’re off. Everyone is on their feet, Dave & Mel stand too not wanting to look odd. The music is really ok. Even though he’d heard some on the website, he had still secretly believed it would just be organs & old ladies, or even worse, country & western. But this was good, Dave even clapped his hands & tried to sing along with some of the words on the big screen in front of them.
‘Here comes the hard sell bit where they take our money’ Dave whispered to Melinda & tensed up as baskets were passed along the rows. ‘Just let it go past you if you are a guest,’ Guitar guy said. ‘This offering is for church members, it’s a part of their worship.’
Ok, so no embarrassing moment for Dave. He felt comfortable just passing the basket along, although he couldn’t help noticing out of the corner of his eye that Ian didn’t just put his small change in. This was different from bringing a few tins of out of date soup to a Harvest Festival. ‘These guys are serious’ thought Dave.
The next 30 minutes flew by in a whirlwind. Dave had no idea really what was going on. He didn’t know any of the songs, but no one seemed to be looking at him & he just carried on reading the words on the screen. There seemed to be some phrases that looked vaguely familiar, maybe they were famous bits from the bible or something.
Either way, Dave’s impression that these guys were serious, began to morph into: ‘They are serious about Jesus. Every song, every prayer – this guy is getting some serious headlines!’
The prayers? Someone shouted out a prayer behind them as Dave & Mel grabbed each others hands again. They’d never heard praying like it. It was as though these people really believed God heard them, as though they really thought they knew Him. What was even more striking was that no one was asked to pray, no one seemed to direct them or tell them it was their turn. Dave tried to see who was in charge, but however hard he looked, he couldn’t quite work out how it all hung together.
The prayer that made them cling to each other all over again was from the Chinese lady. She was on the other side of the hall & began to shout it out in a loud voice. At least, they thought she was Chinese, until Dave saw her through gap in the crowd.
‘She’s served me in Sainsbury’s & she’s as English as I am!’ Dave whispered wide eyed to Mel as the nerves turned his stomach again. They looked around them – no one else seemed remotely concerned for the mental health of this dear lady who appeared to be praying passionately at the top of her voice in Mandarin!
Ian was in the process of leaning over to say something to Dave, when Guitar Guy spoke into the mic again. He explained that Cathy had just prayed in a new language given to her by the Holy Spirit so that she could really express her love for God in a new way. ‘Is there someone else here who can tell us all what she was saying, who is the Holy Spirit giving that to?’ Guitar Guy continued.
Then he just went quiet. It seemed like time slowed down & Dave began thinking about what medication would best help these poor people, when an older man with a white beard spoke up in a tentative voice.
To this day, Dave can’t really remember the detail of what he said. Only that he began to say thank you to God for all kinds of things in his life, his voice cracking with emotion.
It was as though all the air got sucked out of the room & Dave started sweating bullets. Every time this older guy said ‘Thank you God for forgiving me, thank you for loving me.’ It was as though a deep ache started to grow in Dave’s chest.
‘Thank you, thank you.’ Mel turned to see Dave mouthing the words quietly, tears running down his face, his hand that she was still gripping, slick with sweat.
Pretty soon, Guitar Guy asked them all to sit down. Dave, still unsure what was happening just followed suit as all those around them took their seats. His heart was still thumping & he tried to whisper to Mel but didn’t really know what words or expressions to use.
Dave had no context for this, no language, other than the crazy, growing notion that God might actually be real after all & might be……well….speaking to Dave? This is the God, he might add, that he didn’t believe existed, that he thought was probably a myth made up to help the poor, or people in less developed societies than modern Britain. Yet Dave couldn’t deny it. Here he was in church, saying thank you to God with an ache in his chest & tears in his eyes.