Tuesday, 18 June 2019

My wonder as I wander.


I've previously written about the Jehovah's Witnesses who sit quietly in Arlington Park, Sarasota (and other places), ready to have a conversation with those passers-by who would like to so do. 

Yesterday afternoon I came across two J.W.  teen-aged lads who sat on a bench in the summer heat -  attired nattily in long sleeved shirts with ties, dress pant, and dress shoes.

I paused and greeted them. I asked them which Kingdom Hall they attend, and was given a warm invitation to that Hall.

I explained that as a retired Christian Pastor I would be unlikely to accept that invitation.  Then I added "but I am deeply depressed about the vicious persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, and am very disturbed that not one main line Church ( to my knowledge) has protested this".

Zion and I walked on.  At the other side of the pond I met two other teen witnesses who were packing up for the day, ready to go home and miss the threatened rain.  We also had a wee chat.

They moved on.  I noticed that one of them had left his Bible Bag on the bench.   I called out to them and said that I would bring it to the parking lot.

Nice kids indeed but much too young to be at this business.  All they can do is to parrot what their Elders have taught, probably fully convinced of their truth (for now), and masking or burying their doubts and questions.  Nice kids, but probably social misfits at school.

I know, because I was once there, not as a J.W. but as a "keen young Christian" in the Plymouth Brethren:

Going to their out door preaching sessions in local parks, housing estates, or the villages near Bristol -  feeling very embarrassed about the whole endeavour - lurking at the edge of the preaching circle and handing out those ghastly "gospel tracts" (an activity from which I was banned for a while because I had not yet been (re) baptised.  

Of course I was the first of my group to be (re) baptised -  that's what keen young born again Christian do, especially those like I was  - precocious people pleasers.

Going at aged 14/15 (who knows) to the adult prayer meeting, and praying out  with all the high sounding phrases which I could parrot from the senior saints.

It was reported that I prayed like an old man.  One of the youth leaders took me to one side and said that I should pray as a young man.  Point well made of course, but not in my case well taken.

Then with three of my pals forming an a cappella singing group which we rather grandly called The Bristol Gospel Quartette, then for about four years singing and preaching all over the place.

Yes indeed, preaching from the age of sixteen.  NOT GOOD

Much too young.
Much too self assured.
Entirely precocious,  with a Masters' Degree in people pleasing.

At about the the age of nineteen I worked for a while with an English evangelist who styled himself "Britain's Billy Graham"  (I am not sure what Billy thought about that!).

I discovered that this man lived fairly high off the hog.  He and his wife had a fancy home in Eastbourne, U.K.  -  a tony middle class town.  His wife dressed stylishly, and flaunted a mink stole - yet the man and his wife described themselves as poor.

I stayed at their home one night.  We took the train from Eastbourne to London the next morning.  We traveled in the First Class Pullman dining car and enjoyed a fancy breakfast en route.

Was he in the evangelism business for the money?   I'll never know, but I could not help but wonder about their ostentatious life style.

Next I worked with another itinerant evangelist.  He moved from town to town in an old parcel delivery van which he had converted into a rudimentary mobile home.

We stayed with farming people who lived near Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, and then with a gamekeeper and his family on an estate in Yorkshire.  We did no evangelism.

The second evangelist had been influenced by what was called the Charismatic Movement -  speaking in tongues, miraculous healings etc.

He took me aside in Yorkshire (by now I was twenty)  and told me that I was demon possessed and needed exorcism.

He never named the "demons" but I knew what he meant. 

Whatever I was, and whoever I was, I knew that my "demons" were not demons, and that any exorcism would be a denial of who I was.

Upon my refusal he paid my train fare, and I high tailed it back to Bristol, bruised badly,  but not entirely broken.

I returned to Bristol -  but there was not a soul with whom I could bare my soul.

Grace abounds!

In due course I found my way out of the Plymouth Brethren and into tentative wholeness in  the Church of England.

In due course I found my way to Seminary at aged 28, and to ordination four years later.

Grace abounds  so as I met these four young and very pleasant Jehovah's Witnesses, and since they reminded me of a younger and  precocious me, I prayed (not about their theology), but about their souls (not in terms of eternal salvation)  but in terms of the wholeness of their lives. 

Such wholeness is often hard to find in fundamentalist groups be they heterodox or orthodox.

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