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franciscan - May 1996

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1996

One Story - Two Endings

by Steve Croft

Nigel and Rose are both teachers, recent college graduates and members of St Whatnot’s Church in a slightly run-down (but not desperate) area of town. Both are committed Christians and have joined the Church fresh from their experience of college Christian Unions. The vicar, who is very pleased to have them, invites Nigel and Rose to run an evangelism nurture group. He’s under pressure so there isn’t much time to plan and prepare. Nigel and Rose are left to choose their material and are simply given a list of ‘likely’ people.

The couple send typed invitations to twenty people on the list, inviting them to come to the first meeting at their flat at 8 p.m. in three weeks’ time. On the relevant evening they put out twenty chairs, provide a light supper for twenty and are a little embarrassed when only five people turn up. Nigel opens the group in prayer and asks people to say who they are and why they have come. Rose plays the guitar and there is a half-hearted attempt to sing. Then everyone is asked to turn to Luke 15.11 in their Bible and to read aloud, in turn, a few verses from the passage. Nigel throws in a few questions for the group to discuss.

Some have painfully obvious answers (‘What did the younger son do when his money ran out?’). Some are a bit obscure (‘What does the famine in the land tell us about the economic climate today?’). Nigel and Rose smile a lot but there are awkward silences. It was never like this at the college CU. Then they show part of a video with several famous Christian speakers who talk about the Christian life. Rose ends the meeting by leading a time of prayer in which Rose prays aloud, then Nigel, then Nigel again, then Rose. Coffee is served and people leave around ten. There is no contact with the group mid-week. Only two people return the following Wednesday. Shortly afterwards, the group dies.

Dorothy, in her mid-fifties, was quite pleased to receive an invitation to the new group. She was widowed recently and had started coming to church. It took her a while to work out what it was all about. She’d never heard of a ‘basics group’ and had no idea what it did. The only typed letters she normally received were from her bank manager. She was very lonely, though, and decided to give it a try. Perhaps this was the way to make friends. She asked the vicar for directions to the flat. He seemed pleased she was going and introduced her to Rose, who was very nice but a bit young.

Dorothy left home very early to walk to the group meeting, frightened of being late. She had a fifteen-minute walk (it was still daylight, just). She arrived twenty minutes early and spent time looking in shop windows, resisting the temptation to bolt for home. Operating the entry phone to the flats was hard, so was knocking on Nigel and Rose’s front door. When Dorothy saw all the chairs it was a relief to know that a lot of people were coming. There was some attempt at conversation but not much. Dorothy felt awkward and began to wish she hadn’t come. The flat was the poshest she’d ever seen; full of paintings and lined with books. All these people here must be very clever . . .

Dorothy found it hard to make friends but had just begun to talk to a nice lady on her left when Nigel interrupted and said a prayer. They passed round a kind of hymn book next and the lady got out her guitar. ‘That’s nice’, thought Dorothy, ‘she’s going to sing . . . Oh my word, they want us all to join in.’

Worse was to follow. Everyone was asked to turn to Luke 15 in their Bibles. Dorothy had to own up to not having a Bible (she was given one). She had no idea where (or what) Luke’s gospel was and got in a flummox with the pages. Then everyone was asked to read aloud. Dorothy hadn’t read anything aloud since her children were small. Her cheeks burned as she stammered out a few verses. She wished the ground would swallow her up when she made a small mistake.

The rest of the evening didn’t mean very much. All Dorothy wanted to do was to get home. They showed a telly programme with a few vicars on that she’d never seen before. They seemed a lot posher than the vicar at the church. She left around ten for her fifteen-minute walk home in the dark. She arrived home trembling and upset, determined never to go to anything like that again. When she didn’t appear at church over the next few weeks, the vicar assumed that Nigel and Rose were in touch with her. They thought he would go. Neither had time to check and Dorothy was alone in her sorrow.

Nigel and Rose have offered to lead a new evangelism nurture group in the church. They are very gifted but are out of tune with most people in the area. The vicar accepts their offer but he asks another couple, Richard and Anne, to co-lead with them. Richard and Anne are local people and have both become Christians recently, after they brought their daughter to be baptised. They were part of the adult confirmation group a year ago.

The two couples meet the vicar over three evenings and plan a course in great detail. They agree that Nigel and Rose should lead the meetings but that the group will meet at Richard and Anne’s house: people will feel more comfortable there. The vicar gives the four leaders a list and the team work hard in the six weeks before the group begins visiting each person on their own territory. Care is taken to explain to each person what the group will be like and to take away their fears. Nigel and Rose, Richard and Anne continue to meet to pray about the course and to plan.

The first evening arrives. There are about ten chairs in the living room, with some more in the kitchen just in case. About ten to eight the doorbell starts ringing and people arrive. It’s all a bit hectic for a few minutes. Richard and Rose have gone off in their cars to give lifts to a couple of people hesitant about coming out at night, and Anne is still putting her daughter to bed. There is some nervousness as people are introduced but general amazement as the room begins to fill up and fifteen people are packed in.
Nigel begins the evening by welcoming everyone and suggesting everyone takes a couple of minutes to talk to their neighbour about who they are and why they’ve come. There’s no shortage of things to say. Everyone takes it in turns to introduce their partner to the group. After that people are far more relaxed. Nigel gives some input. Richard and Anne tell the story of how they became Christians. There is some more discussion in groups and a time to ask questions. In no time it’s half past nine. Nigel and Richard make the coffee and pass round the biscuits. Nobody seems to want to go home. Transport is arranged for those without cars, both for a lift home and for next week, so no one has to walk. Nigel and Rose liaise with Richard and Anne after the meeting to review what has happened. During the week they arrange to contact each member of the group to check everything was okay and also to contact the five who didn’t come. The group is under way . . .

Dorothy is surprised, but pleased, when Anne and Rose call round to invite her to the new group starting in Anne’s house. Dorothy has known Richard and Anne by sight for years. She’s hesitant about going at first (it’s not easy meeting strangers) but going to church has been the only good thing to happen to her since Stan died and it would be good to get to know people better. She decides to make the effort and is relieved to know that Richard will pick her up in the car at 7.45.

Even so, Dorothy is nervous and ready in good time. It’s much easier arriving with someone else. Richard and Anne’s house is very nice, like hers when she was younger. There are one or two familiar faces there from church and everyone is soon chatting. Dorothy finds herself next to Sue, a young mum. During the opening exercise she finds herself telling Sue all about Stan and his last illness, and all the things that have happened. It’s a relief to talk. It seems a bit nerve-racking to have to introduce Sue to the group but everyone else is nervous too. Most people are just like her: wanting to get more involved; wanting to learn more, but nervous at the same time. Richard and Anne’s story is really interesting. Fancy a plumber becoming a Christian! Everything that’s said makes her think. There’s no shortage of things to ask or talk about and Dorothy is quite reluctant to leave at ten o’clock. She arrives home feeling a lot lighter than when she went: like a burden has been lifted.

Anne pops in a few days later just to see how Dorothy got on, which is nice. It’s a chance to talk through things Dorothy didn’t understand and to ask Anne some questions she didn’t dare ask on the night. Dorothy was afraid since the meeting that she was too quiet but Anne is able to reassure her on this. They agree to see each other on Sunday at church and Dorothy finds herself looking forward to each of the group meetings as they come round. f

The Revd Dr Steve Croft is vicar of St George’s Church, Ovenden, Halifax. In the past four years nearly 400 people have been through his Christians for Life course for enquirers and new Christians.

 

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