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Saturday, 6 June 2020

Eight Men, Four Women and a Baby

December 1972. Walking in the rain, long hair hanging wet as I saunter along the Strand, heading towards Charing Cross Station dressed in a thick overcoat, covering an open neck shirt and without a tie, I had just presented myself for admission into the Lyceum Ballroom, close to the intersection of the Strand, Waterloo Bridge and Aldwych. Two smartly dressed doormen, one slim with a snooty look about him, the other burly and having every resemblance of a wrestler, stood at the entrance.  The slim one stretched his leg across the open narrow doorway whilst the other told me straight to go, take a hike.

...I sauntered along the Strand... Stock photo

Those two had actually done me a favour. A very big favour. Having been dumped by a girlfriend some eight months previously, any attempt to find another female for a relationship had since then drawn a blank. But as I sauntered along, feeling humiliated, ashamed and defeated, it didn't take much of a resistance to accompany two young strangers who stopped me in the street, each about my age, into a nearby pub after inviting them to dry off in a much warmer, cosier atmosphere characteristic of any tavern.

As they got me to read from a Bible one of them had produced, I suddenly realised that the refusal of those two doormen at the Lyceum to admit me was the work of God, to allow me to encounter these two much friendlier guys and to receive the Gospel. By believing that this whole West End scenario was a work of God resulted in an inner change which would have a massive impact on the rest of my life!

From that fateful night, what have I gotten myself into? This - my heart-belief that this Jesus of Nazareth was presented by the Jews to Pontus Pilate, endured a sham trial, was crucified, buried, and three days later, rose physically from the dead, and has ascended to His Father in Heaven, and eternal life is given freely to everyone who believes. And salvation being a free gift, it can never be taken away - ever. Why not? Because I have received a new birth, a regeneration into a new creation to be forever adopted as a son of God. Moreover, to be "in Christ" means exactly that: To have God the Father see me in exactly the same way as He sees His own Son, and to add to that, to have the whole Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit making their home within me, according to John 14:23.

Through faith, God has put me into a new society, the church. Since 1974, after a time in the "wilderness", I attended three different churches, one after the other. The first was St Jude's in Brixton, South London. Sadly, this Anglican church had long gone out of existence and its traditional building with a spire was demolished. That, to me, is sad. Because, looking back, St Jude's Anglican was looked upon as a "nursery church" - a place where I began to grasp the fundamentals of the faith, to be fed with the milk of the Word. But even back then, the milk must have been very good. By then I found myself contending with a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses, attempting to prove to them that the phrase "Son of God" means that Jesus himself is God, one of the "persons" of the Trinity. Just like with physical exercise, to stress out my faith strengthens rather than breaks it. It was also at that phase in life when I testified at work that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Because each visit to St Jude's involves a train and tube journey, an agreement was eventually made for me to attend a church closer to home. I was recommended Bracknell Baptist Church, and so in the Spring of 1975, I paid my first visit there. I have found the Rev Ben Davies' authoritarian method of ministry quite different from the gentle ministry of the vicar of St Jude's. I personally refer to Bracknell Baptist Church (as it was called then) as the "university church". I remained there until 1989, and I drifted a little before joining Ascot Baptist in 1990, and I have always felt fully at home in this "adult church" right up to the present. Today, it's Ascot Life Church, taken from John 10:10.

Throughout these years I got to know many people of all ages. This included eight men who all passed their 50th birthday without ever marrying, let alone raising a family.

Neil, my former school classmate, was taller than me, slim and quite handsome. His phlegmatic temperament made him one of the easiest chaps to get on with, but such personality also had a downside. He had no sense of adventure, instead, he spent all his life within his comfort zone at his parent's home. Remaining unmarried, he died at the age of just sixty whilst caring for his elderly parents.

The other seven guys are all Christians. One of them, a graduate, has Asperger's and has the IQ of any Mensa member. Another had never attended a university. The rest are all singletons who hold a degree. Of all seven, three have admitted from time to time of their sadness and sense of loss from not having a wife and family. The remainder seems to be content with their non-marital status and take each day as it comes.

Present-day Ascot Life Church, member since 1990.

These eight chaps have all passed their 50th birthday without ever putting a ring on the bride's finger. But throughout my Christian life, I also got to know four unmarried women, all of them older than me. Two attended Ascot Baptist whilst the other two attended Bracknell Baptist. Two of them are already with the Lord whilst the remaining two are still with us. The two who died included Barbara, of Ascot, who has spent her whole life as an active missionary before being admitted into a care home with dementia. The other, Rosemary, died, I believe, of a broken heart sometime during the 1980s. Then there was the youngest of the four, who also attended Bracknell, is only a few months older than me.

But it's Rosemary who gets my attention here. Poor Rosemary! Every week, during the midweek prayer meeting, we sat in a large circle in the back room. Then, as expected, Rosemary would spill out her sorrows aloud in prayer, begging God to give her a man who would pour out his love for her. Often these weekly, regular prayers led her to tears, as she sobs her pleading to the Lord within earshot of the rest of us.

Rosemary was short in height, plump with a round face topped with curly brown hair, and wore glasses. As one guy who was engaged to be married to a pretty young fiancee, once said to me,
Ugh! Who would want to marry her? She's so ugly!

And that Sunday evening in the late 1970s. This same chap stood up at the front, and behind the pulpit, delivered his testimony and finished with the crowning glory of his engagement and forthcoming marriage. Immediately, Rosemary stood up and quickly left the building in distress, midway through the service.

Rosemary may have stormed out of the church building in tears and distress, but if only she knew! I actually attended this chap's wedding, but afterwards, his friendship with me cooled, and with him married and with me remaining single, he distanced himself. But it was some years later when talk began to spread. Apparently, one of his daughters became ill enough to develop a disability, and later, his wife met another man at a house party and eventually divorced her husband to pair off with him. Indeed, amidst such events, Rosemary is now far happier in Heaven.

As for myself, having faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour has made a massive difference to my life. For example, watching my own beloved wife slowly deteriorate in health, changing from a beautiful slim woman with long cascading hair into someone a little plumper with hair loss due to chemotherapy, really, having faith in God does make a difference. All those horrific pains she experiences, the calls for an ambulance, those long waits in Accident & Emergency, the abundance of medicine taken by both of us, then watching her cry over the loss of our daughters, yet secure in my love for her as well as feeling secure in her love for me, our devotion for each other, that sacrificial love which meets her needs before my own comforts - all this from having faith in God.

Thus, I'm happy to say that arguments and disagreements are just as rare as a desert oasis, as we both strive to keep our marriage sweet and robust. Her own faith in God is inspiring and is the source of encouragement whenever I feel down and faithless. As such, as a couple who believes in Divine Creation as recorded in Genesis to be historical and not mythical, we see each other as one created in God's image, after His likeness.

And so there is the church, a beautiful church whose members are each created in the image of God, and each one to be seen in exactly the Father sees His own Son, as each one of us is in Christ. Indeed, as God sees none of us with any form of preference, whether ethnic, racial, Jew or non-Jew, working class, middle or aristocratic class, of which nationality or even man or woman, for we are all one in Christ Jesus! Therefore, let him who holds a doctorate embrace one who is uneducated and pushes a broom for a living, let him who lives in a palace hold no issues against the homeless lying there in the street, and even offer accommodation, as both are made in the image of God.

Therefore I sigh - and sigh deeply - when a particular video poster appears on Facebook. Just to get one thing straight - there is nothing wrong with the poster. It was very professionally done, demonstrating a skill most of us don't have, and with certainty, I don't have! It consists of a video of a couple, only that it's divided into 24 squares, each containing an alternating moving image of his wife and himself. And the climax of the video? An announcement that they are going to have a baby.

Good for them! I congratulate on God's kindness to them.

According to the latest, the video has collected a massive 475 "likes", including love hearts, and 238 comments, just about all sending their congratulations and best wishes. Both are astronomical! And it's here that I may be risking taking on the role of a sour gooseberry. The video itself is good and is worth congratulating. But the video and all the feedback, 713 altogether could well upset another Rosemary somewhere out there, as the video is set to Public.

And here I take an issue by asking: If the chap was uneducated and actually spent time in prison, or to put it another way, holds a felony record, and she a former striptease dancer, would he get so much feedback? Especially from other Christians? Or if he's a road sweeper and she a superstore shelf-stacker, would they still receive 475 "likes" in just a few days from fellow church members?

Therefore I get that horrible gut feeling that there is a connection between the average English Christian and this couple, especially him, who is middle-class and holds an honourable bachelor degree in theology and Bible studies as well as another bachelor degree in business management. And he's now in a role of church leadership. Therefore are they worthy of far greater honour than the less educated?

The issue lies not so much with the poster but more so with their followers who, despite the recognition that we are all one in Christ, instead, as typical Englishness goes, most Christians can't help but cling on to our national culture where class favouritism is ingrained in the genome.

Poor Rosemary. Even if she was alive now, she would still be unable to find a man at the Lyceum, and her weeping due to endless loneliness will continue.

That is because the former ballroom is now a theatre.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,
    Our pastor has recently been preaching (online) from James, noting that "God is no respecter of persons." He loves all infinitely and hence equally, and must chastise all equally for sin. We are to follow His example and not preferentially heap praise and adulation on those the world considers privileged or superior, while shunning those less favored. His agape love seeks nothing in return, while our flesh tends to discriminate in favor of those we may perceive to be in a better position to help or elevate us. May God give us hearts to see people and love them as He does.
    Thanks as always for the excellent post. God bless you and Alex,