YESTERDAY, Rachel, her sister and I went to my old church in London, Christ Church Cockfosters. I really enjoyed it. It was on Acts 8:26-40 and Isaiah 53:7-8, featuring a terrible joke about former Newcastle footballer Alan Shearer.
I had felt that when I left Christ Church, back in June, I hadn't really been as involved or integrated into the church as I could have been or wished to be. I occasionally helped with the music at two services, including leading the Fixed band on one unexpected occasion, and I attended many talks and discussions, including a house group. I even helped at the Church's Easter weekend away for the teenage youth groups, in which I was rugby tackled by 11-year-olds and got into a lot of trouble for starting a game that got a little too risque a little too quickly - the theme of which I am honour-bound to NEVER MENTION AGAIN - all while recovering from flu. I even attended several dinners with one of the more established members of the congregation who adopted me as a steward - it is to Peter that I owe the most, but sadly he has now left the church and moved away. But every weekend that I was not helping at the church, I wasn't there at all. I made several friends, but not so close or as many as I should have done, and I genuinely felt that once I had left, nobody would remember me.
So it was particluarly special that after yesterday's service, a family service including all of the local youth groups (Cubs, Brownies, Scouts etc.), many people came over to see how I was. It's strange how you don't appreciate how valued you are until you go back some time later. There was Steph and Violet, stepping up to lead the youth work in the absence of the charismatic Tom O'Toole, a much missed legend of a man; Barbara, the church's secretary who had me round for dinner more than once and whose husband, Bela, is a fascinating man with quite some history; Olive, who I didn't really know so well but who gave me a very big hug; Ashleigh and Annie, who, amazingly, now have a baby; Richard James, the vicar, who always had time for me. But in particular, it was touching that the curate, Tom Lake, came to talk to me. To Tom I owe much: I spent (now that I think about it) a surprisingly large amount of time at his house. I attended a course there and discussions, but he also had me round to catch up, to talk things through and to offer advice. I would usually arrive at an inopportune moment, with either Tom or his wife Helen sat on the floor quickly wolfing down their dinner (for some reason, I seem to remember a lot of jacket potatoes and tinned tuna), but they would always make room for me, feed me tea and biscuits (and on one occasion, Helen cooked a whole meal for Tom and I, went out and left us to it) and make me laugh. Helen in particular is plain crackers.
Rachel's first experience of Helen was at an evening service, when Helen and Annie sat behind us.
"Good to see you Helen," said Annie. "What have you done with the kids? Did you find a babysitter?"
"No no, I just tied them to the radiator," Helen replied.
So it was nice that Tom spent some time after, catching up, doing his best to understand the project that I am working on back at university and genuinely being interested in our endeavours. I don't think he knows this, but it was he who knew the engagement plan before anybody else!
The church hasn't changed much in half a year - they have ambitious redevelopment plans that I am excited to see come to fruition, but nothing has yet been started. Neither, it would appear, have certain other things changed either: Tom's dancing, during the hand-action-heavy children's songs at the start of the service, was absolutely hilarious! (I hope he doesn't mind me saying this...)