I’m continuing to serialise the 2004/5 Youthwork magazine ‘comedy’ column on my blog because frankly, I’m still really proud of it. If you’ve never read any Bjorn, you might want to start with part one.
You remember I told you about Dave, the immaculately-dressed 17-year-old who found Jesus in a book and then turned up at church? Well, despite my worst fears, he reappeared the following week, full of the kind of infectious dynamism that’s usually reserved for Children’s TV presenters.
I’ve been humbled by Dave in the last few days. Particularly though, he’s made me realise how much cynicism I’d picked up from the British in my first few months here. Thinking back over some of the things I’ve written to you, I’ve been so hard on St Eric’s. I never really gave the church a chance – I just saw that it was big, poorly heated, and filled with geriatrics, and never allowed myself to consider that this might be a genuine place of worship.
Coming from a background where church is a four-letter word, Dave had none of these preconceptions. To him this was a sacred space – a place where he could meet the God to whom he’d just devoted his life (the people at Kwik Tyres, where he’d previously spent his Sundays, were understandably hurt). I’d managed to pluck him out of the first service that he’d tried to attend, but the next week he insisted on staying around. This, I was sure, would be enough to send his enthusiasm into dramatic reverse. Goodbye youth group, I thought.
It seems though, that church is what you make it. In my four months here, I’d contributed to making it very, very dull. But now Dave, a young, spirit-filled new Christian with about as much inhibition as a nightclub dancer, had arrived, and in just one service he very nearly turned the church Pentecostal.
It started in the opening hymn. The 18 other parishioners (I counted them, that’s how disengaged I was) and I were doing our best half-dead cat impressions for ‘O for a thousand tongues.’ It was a good job God didn’t decide to grant that wish – or we’d have set off every car alarm in the Midlands. Dave’s attempt was different though. He belted out the words, even though he’d never heard the tune before, and swung his non-hymnbook hand around in the air to demonstrate his gusto. There were some nervous glances – this was the loudest noise heard in the church since an internal wall collapsed in 1953, and some were concerned that Dave’s vocal chords might create a similar effect – but these turned to smiles soon after. The oldies were encouraged to see a youngster’s passion in their midst.
They saw it even more vividly when the vicar got up to speak. Just as he reached the pulpit, Dave leapt out of his seat and started clapping wildly. Then, during his first pause for breath, Dave started hollering ‘Preach it, preach it’ in an attempt to lead us all in a chant. And the lack of support didn’t put him off either – even when the vicar attempted to bring his sermon to a close, having been whooped and hollered at all the way through, Dave was still screaming ‘more, more, encore!’ at him.
After the service, as always, the congregation was invited to retire to the Agatha Crump memorial room for tea and biscuits. I don’t know too much about Ms Crump, except that she left half her considerable wealth to the church when she died last year, and half to her Cocker Spaniel. Her legacy is a very small, damp-smelling room in which I have been told I am NOT allowed to arrange youth meetings. Apparently the paintings in there are pricelessly rare, although I’ve always thought they looked strangely familiar.
I generally try to make an escape before tea and biscuits, as I’m growing increasingly tired of the questions on whether I know ABBA. But Dave was insistent that he congratulate the vicar on an excellent sermon, and so I reluctantly followed.
The vicar, clearly shaken by the experience of preaching to a responsive crowd, had taken a seat in the corner. Dave bounded over to him and extended a hand. At first, the vicar recoiled in horror as if facing a mugger, but then realised and shook the hand.
‘Great talk!’ shouted Dave, who really had nothing to compare it to. ‘I really think it’s going to help me get through the week!’
The vicar looked staggered. ‘Really?’ he replied. ‘That’s very kind.’
It was more than kind, considering that the sermon had been a detailed overview of tabernacle design.
The vicar clearly had nothing to say to Dave, such was his surprise at meeting him. I interjected quickly:
‘Reverend, this is Dave. He’s the young person I told you about – just became a Christian.’
‘Ah yes,’ the vicar pretended to remember. ‘I remember. Very good. Very… WHAT IS HE DOING TO HILDA BLUNKETT?!’
I spun on my heels, and saw Dave, who had drifted away disillusioned from this uninspiring man, and had clasped his hand to an old lady’s knee. I was just about to wrench him away, when I realised what he was doing. He was praying for her.
There was stunned silence all around the Agatha Crump memorial cubicle. After a few moments, Dave stepped back in anticipation, and Hilda began edging forward. Then, like a stunt cripple from a TV heal-a-thon, she dropped her walking stick, straightened, and started walking around. It was a miracle.
Every person in the room looked stunned at Hilda, then at Dave. They thought collectively for a moment, and then started edging towards him, a little like the cast of Night of the Living Dead, each revealing his or her worst ailment – trick hips, varicose veins, and even one body part which I’m not prepared to mention. I wasn’t sure Dave was ready for a mass healing crusade, so I tugged him out of there. As I did so, he caught sight of the ‘incredibly rare’ painting that Agnes Crump had loved so much.
‘Hey, my Mum’s got one of those,’ he said, ‘she got it from IKEA.’
I knew I’d seen it somewhere before.
The church is still recovering from Dave’s first visit. So am I. I’ve realised that I need to learn just as much from him in these coming days and weeks as he will from me. With young people like this around, you can really change a community, let alone a church. I’ll let you know how we get on.
Bjorn Argen is a volunteer youth worker based in Harley Newtown, in the North Midlands. Not really.