‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 13

Link back to Chapter 12

I talked to Emma about the concert at Merton Chapel, and as I had expected she was quite interested. The following evening, when we came home from her birthday party and drank our late night hot chocolate in front of the gas fireplace, she said, “I was talking to Alanna tonight about that concert with the Radcliffe Singers; she thinks she’d like to come along with us. Do you think that would be okay?”

“I’m sure it would. I don’t think I can ask Wendy to cover the cost of another ticket though”.

“Oh no, of course not – Alanna’s going to get her own ticket. She says she knows the pianist who plays for that choir”.

“A friend of hers?”

“A fellow-student; she says she’s really good. And Alanna really likes choral music”.

“Why don’t you ask her to come over here for a light supper that night? We could go down together afterwards”.

“That would be great – thanks, Dad”.

******

On the weekend before Christmas the weather turned cold and clear. We went out to Northwood on Friday night; Rick and the family joined us for dinner on Saturday, along with Becca and Auntie Brenda, and that afternoon while my father was sleeping Emma and Becca and I went for a long walk in the country. My father was looking quite well; he and Emma had enjoyed a long conversation in the living room that morning while my mother and I were playing Christmas carols in the music room.

“What were you talking about?” I asked her later.

“Lots of things. He asked me about some of my favourite books, and then we started talking about school in Meadowvale, and then we got onto family. That one kind of kept us busy for a while!”

“I guess”.

“He has a good sense of humour, you know”.

“My dad?”

“Yeah”.

I shook my head. “No”, I said quietly; “I didn’t know”.

******

On the Sunday morning we drove home early in order to attend the service at Banbury Road Church. Alanna McFarlane came back to our place afterwards, and she and Emma went out together for a couple of hours while I had a nap, read for a while, and got a few things ready for a light supper.

“Is this a dress up kind of thing tonight?” Emma asked as we were eating.

“I don’t know”, I replied. I smiled at Alanna, who was wearing jeans and a brightly coloured sweater; “You don’t seem too worried about that!”

She laughed; “The choir will be dressed up, but I’ll be surprised if the audience is. Although, if there’s a reception in the hall afterwards…”

“I wondered about that, but Wendy didn’t mention anything. You guys are still skipping the reception, right?”

“Yeah, we are”; Emma replied, “we’ve got that thing with Matthew and his friend. I’ll probably be home around eleven or eleven-thirty; I’ll call you if that changes, Dad”.

“Okay”.

We cleared up and did the dishes and then I went up and changed for the evening, putting on a tweed jacket and open-necked shirt. Emma nodded her approval when I came down; “Very posh”, she said in her best imitation of an Oxford accent.

“I’ll do, will I?”

“Oh yeah”.

“Okay; let’s go”.

******

We had decided to take the bus rather than try to negotiate parking in the centre of Oxford; we got off on the High not far from St. Mary the Virgin church, and then cut through Magpie Lane to Merton College. The ancient buildings of Oriel College loomed high on our right; straight ahead was Merton Chapel with its high square tower. A few people were standing in a loose cluster around the chapel door and I recognized Wendy among them, bundled up in a grey duffel coat and scarf against the cool air. She waved and smiled when she saw us. “You’re just in time; the pews are already starting to fill up in there. My friends Bev and David are saving places for us”.

“It’s rush seating, then?” Emma asked with a grin.

Wendy laughed; “I’ve never heard that phrase used to describe an event at Merton Chapel before, but yes – it’s rush seating!”

“Is Colin here?” I asked her.

“No; Lisa’s choir’s not really his sort of thing. It’s mutual; she doesn’t often go to his football matches either”.

She led us into the chapel; we stopped for a moment at the back of the nave to hand in our tickets and get our programs, and as our eyes adjusted to the light I remembered that – as in most of the college chapels in Oxford – the pews here faced each other across the centre aisle, rather than the usual orientation toward the front of the church. We passed under the carved wooden screen; the ceiling above was high and ornate, and on each side of us tall pointed windows were recessed into the plastered stone walls. As Wendy had said, the pews were already beginning to fill up, and there was a low buzz of conversation in the building.

Emma took my arm and whispered “This place is enormous! Are you sure it’s just a college chapel?”

“Yes, and it’s not the biggest one in Oxford either”.

“How do they get the money to keep these places up?”

“They’re all paid for by rich dead people”.

She laughed; “I guess it’s useful to have the dead on your side!”

Wendy led us to a pew about half way up the length of the chapel, where she introduced us to an elegant-looking woman and a jovial man with curly grey hair and a thick beard. “Tom, can I introduce you to some good friends of mine?” she said. “This is Bev Copeland; she teaches Classics here at Merton. We’ve known each other since we were students in London in the seventies. This is her husband David Wiseman; he’s an archeologist across the road at Oriel”.

Bev Copeland took my hand with a smile. “It’s a pleasure to meet you; Wendy’s told us quite a lot about you”.

“Not that I really know all that much!” Wendy added, glancing at me with an embarrassed look on her face. “Most of my knowledge about you ends in 1982!”

We took our seats with the Wisemans; Wendy had removed her coat and I saw that she was wearing a grey skirt and a thick woollen roll-neck sweater. “I’m relieved to see you’re not in formal evening dress”, I said; “I wasn’t quite sure what I should be wearing”.

“You look fine; most of us are just trying to keep warm!”

At about seven-thirty a young clergyman in a black suit and clerical collar walked up to the front; Wendy whispered in my ear that he was the college chaplain. He welcomed us all to Merton Chapel and said a few words about the Radcliffe Singers, and then as he sat down the choir made a formal entrance from the back, the men in black suits and bow ties, the women in black dresses and red scarves. They took their places at the front, each one carrying a music folder; off to one side a young woman with long red hair took her seat at a grand piano. A thick-set man who was obviously the music director took his place out front, facing the choir, and as he was getting ready I leaned over and whispered to Wendy, “Which one is Lisa?”

“First from the left, on the front row”.

She was strikingly beautiful, standing there in her black dress with her long dark hair hanging loose down her back. I saw the resemblance to her mother immediately, and to Colin, although she was noticeably taller than him. I opened my mouth to speak again, but at that moment the music director raised his hands, the choir members opened their folders, and the pianist began to play the introduction to the first carol.

The concert lasted for about ninety minutes; it included familiar pieces as well as some I had never heard before. I recognized some of my favourites: the Wexford Carol, ‘Adam Lay Y-Bounden’, ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’, ‘Gaudete’, and a wonderfully light and fluid arrangement of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Most of the songs were accompanied by the pianist, but a few of them were performed a cappella, and these I found particularly enjoyable.

The last carol of the evening was ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’, sung in full four-part harmony with piano accompaniment on all but one verse. When it was finished, the audience rose to their feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation. The choir members bowed a couple of times and then, as the applause continued, they processed out to the back of the chapel.

“That was awesome!” Emma exclaimed, taking my arm as the people around us began to put their coats on and the low buzz of conversation began.

“You enjoyed it?”

“I really did; I’ve never heard anything quite like it before. Especially the a cappella ones; they were my favourites”.

“Mine too”.

As people began to make their way out of the chapel Alanna slipped out of the pew and went over to talk to the young woman at the piano. Wendy had been talking to the Wisemans but now she turned back to us with a smile. “Well, what did you think?”

“It was totally amazing!” Emma said; “Thank you so much for inviting us!”

“I’m really glad you liked it”. Wendy hesitated and then said “Emma, would you mind if I introduced you to Lisa? I asked her to wait for us outside the hall because I knew you wouldn’t be going in for the reception”.

“Sure; that would be fine”.

At that moment the young clergyman came over to us with a smile on his face; “I’m Stephen Jeffreys”, he said in a high-pitched voice.

“Tom Masefield”, I replied as we shook hands.

“Stephen, these are the friends I told you about”, said Wendy. “Tom and I were students together; this is his daughter Emma”.

“Ah yes – the Mennonites; how fascinating! Wendy mentioned to me that you were coming; I don’t expect you get this sort of thing very much in your churches, do you?”

“Not very often”, I replied, “although at one time there was a real tradition of unaccompanied four-part singing in Mennonite churches. It’s not as common these days as it used to be”.

He shook Emma’s hand; “Are you going to be staying for the reception?”

“I’m afraid not, but my dad is”.

“Have you ever seen Merton Hall?”

“No I haven’t”.

“You must come in for a minute and have a look, even if you’re not staying; it’s really worth seeing. Wouldn’t you agree, Wendy?”

“It is rather lovely”, Wendy agreed with a smile, “but perhaps Emma’s got another commitment she needs to get to?”

“I’ve got a minute”, replied Emma. “Matthew’s not going anywhere fast”.

******

Not everyone in the audience stayed for the reception but there were still a good many who made their way across the front quad to the old thirteenth-century hall. Lisa was waiting for us outside the entrance, and I saw she had put on a coat and scarf against the frigid night air.  There was a young man of her own age standing beside her; he was a little taller than her, with very short blond hair, and I recognised him as one of the tenors from the choir. Wendy went up to them with a smile and kissed Lisa on the cheek; “You were excellent of course!” she said.

“Thank you”.

Wendy introduced us; “This is my daughter Lisa and her boyfriend, Mark Robarts”.

Lisa took my outstretched hand with a dazzling smile. “I’ve heard quite a lot about you, Mr. Masefield; it actually feels rather intimidating to meet you!”

Emma grinned mischievously; “Yeah, my dad can be intimidating sometimes!”

We all laughed, and Emma continued “Your mom’s right, Lisa – you guys were outstanding”.

“Thank you”.

“Dad plays a few of those songs, but of course they sound quite different on guitar”.

“You play Christmas music on guitar?” she asked me.

“I do”.

“Shall we go in?” Wendy suggested; “I want Emma to have a chance to see the hall before she and Alanna have to leave”.

******

I had been in Merton Hall two or three times in my student days when Wendy had invited Owen and me to eat there as her guests. As we entered from the back I took in at a glance the high beamed ceiling, the wooden floor, the tall pointed windows in the plaster walls, and the old portraits hanging in various places around the room. Three dining tables ran the length of the hall, with the high table at the front, but for the reception the chairs had been removed so that people could stand around. There were trays of finger food on the tables, and servers were already moving around the room with drinks.

Emma spoke in hushed tones. “This looks like an old church. Who are all the people in the paintings?”

“College dignitaries from a long time ago”, Wendy replied.

“How old is this college?”

“It was founded in 1264. The hall dates back to not long after that, although there isn’t much of the original structure left”.

“And this is just the dining hall?”

“Yes”.

“Are there classrooms too?”

Wendy smiled. “There are lecture rooms all over Oxford, and science labs and things like that, but in the English school we do most of our teaching in small group tutorials in the fellows’ rooms”.

“How small is small?”

“Years ago they were one on one but these days they’re usually in groups of three or four; your dad must have told you about it?”

“Actually”, I said apologetically, “I don’t think I’ve told Emma very much about how we did our studying”.

“That’s something you’re going to have to make up for real soon, Dad”, Emma said with a grin.

“Absolutely”.

Emma glanced at Alanna and then smiled at me; “Well, I guess we need to be making tracks”.

“Do I have time to walk with them to the gate?” I asked Wendy.

“Of course – all we’re going to be doing here is standing around for an hour talking and drinking wine!”

Emma and I followed Alanna out of the hall and across the quad to the porter’s lodge; I put my arm around her and said “There’s going to be a designated driver, right?”

She grinned at me; “Have you been worrying about that all night?”

“A little”.

She reached up and kissed my cheek. “Don’t worry – I may be eighteen now but I still don’t care for drinking. And anyway, Alanna and Matthew aren’t into that kind of thing; it’s true we’re going to a pub but it’ll be about the conversation, not the beer”.

“Sorry – just being a dad, I guess”.

“That’s fine”, she replied softly as we walked through the alley onto Merton Street; “You keep right on with that”.

“Okay. Ah – there’s Matthew waiting for you”.

******

Back in the hall I found Lisa standing with her boyfriend beside one of the tables, a glass of wine in her hand. She smiled when she saw me; “Would you like a drink?”

“Sure, but don’t worry – I’ll snag a server next time they come by”.

“Do you really play Christmas music on guitar?”

“I actually rather like Christmas music – the spiritual sort, that is. I’ve been arranging old carols for guitar and voice for years”.

“Arranging for performance, you mean?”

“Occasionally. I was one of the music leaders at our church back home, and sometimes I played in coffee shops and house concerts and that sort of thing”.

“Do you still do that?”

“Not so much; we’ve been pretty busy since the summer”.

“Mum said she had a wonderful time singing with you the other week. She used to sing with my dad when I was little but she hasn’t done anything like that for a long time now”.

“She hasn’t lost her gorgeous voice, though. When I first heard her sing I thought it was the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard in my life; I still think it comes pretty close”.

“She is a really good singer. Oh, here comes a server – let’s get you a drink”.

I helped myself to a glass of red wine from the server’s tray and then turned back to Lisa and Mark. “I was actually a little surprised to hear that you were into choral music”, I said to her; “I assumed you’d pick up your musical tastes from your mum or your dad”.

“Not from my dad; I picked up as little from him as possible”.

I heard the hard note in her voice and I decided to steer clear of it. “So I know you’re at Christ Church and I know you’re reading Modern Languages, but I don’t know much beyond that. Do you have plans?”

“Actually I do – I want to be a translator. I’m not sure at the moment whether that would mean written work, or actual oral translation for governments or the UN or that sort of thing. But I enjoy languages and I’ve always had an ear for them”.

“I expect good translators are always in demand”.

“It depends on the languages” she replied, taking a sip of her wine. “I’m studying Russian and German – I like them both and they give me good opportunities to work in Eastern Europe. I’d actually like to go on and do a postgraduate degree but I might feel differently after I’ve finished four years here”.

“So you’re in your third year now?”

“Yes. I spent eight months last year studying at Yaroslavl in Russia; it’s northeast of Moscow”.

“On your own initiative, or is it required for the course?”

“It’s required for the course; all beginners in Russian have to go to Yaroslavl State University for their second year. I didn’t do Russian in high school so that was the program I had to take”.

“Did you get to go with her?” I asked Mark.

“I’m afraid not”, he replied with a grin. “I’m in biochemistry, not modern languages, so I was rather busy around here. I did fly out to spend a few weekends with her, though. It was certainly very interesting”.

“How’s your Russian?”

“Totally non-existent!”

“That must have been quite an experience then”.

He grinned at her; “Well, I always had my own private translator with me, so I was alright”.

“It was nice to see him of course”, Lisa said with a mischievous grin, “but he was a bit distracting”.

“Glad to see me come and glad to see me go?” he said.

“Something like that”.

“So you had a good time, all in all?” I asked her.

“It was outstanding. I was able to do some travelling to places like Moscow and St. Petersburg, I made some good friends, and I got a really good working knowledge of the language and culture”.

While she was speaking Wendy appeared at her elbow, a half-empty wine glass in her hand. “Her mother, of course, got a few more grey hairs!” she said with a smile.

I helped myself to a piece of shortbread from the table. “I actually have a family connection with Yaroslavl”.

“How so?” asked Lisa.

“Well, Emma and I have relatives in Russia”.

I saw the surprise on her face; “Really?”

“Yes. My wife was a Mennonite; the Mennonites are originally from western Europe but some of them migrated to Russia in the late eighteenth century. Kelly’s ancestors lived for over a century in a big Mennonite colony just north of the Crimean peninsula; her grandparents fled from Russia after the First World War and moved to Canada”.

“Fled from persecution, you mean?”

“That was part of it, but there were other factors too; it’s a long and complicated story. Not everyone was able to get out; lots of people got left behind and some of them died in the Gulag. Some just disappeared and we don’t really know what happened to them. But some survived, so we have living relatives over there today. Kelly got interested in the family roots back in the nineteen-eighties; over the years she made contact with some of the folks in Russia and found out about their stories”.

“Do they live in Yaroslavl?”

“One of them, Stepan Konrad, but the person Kelly was mainly in touch with was a woman called Justina Wiebe. She and her husband live in Zaporizhia. Justina and Kelly were third cousins, although there was quite an age difference between them – I think Justina’s sixty-five this year”.

“Zaporizhia’s in Ukraine, isn’t it?”

“Yes – just across the river from where the Mennonites lived before the First World War”.

“That’s a long way from Yaroslavl”.

“Yes”. I grinned at her apologetically; “It would take a long time to tell the story of the travels of all our relatives! But getting back to the Konrads, they’re descended from one of Kelly’s great-aunts, Gertrude Reimer; she married Heinrich Konrad in the early nineteen-hundreds. Their great-grandson Stepan teaches at the university in Yaroslavl”.

She shook her head; “I don’t think I’ve heard of him. Do you know what he teaches?”

“Something scientific, I think”.

“That makes sense – all my classes were in the faculty of communications and philology, so I wouldn’t have had any reason to know him”.

I smiled at her; “Emma will be very interested to hear you’ve been to Russia and you speak Russian”.

“Has she picked up on her mum’s interest in the family history?”

“Yes, especially since Kelly died”.

“I’ll have to have a talk with her. What are her plans in Oxford?”

“She’s taking a gap year at the moment, spending time with family and volunteering at a nursing home not far from where we live. She wants to be a nurse; she’s got her application in to Oxford Brookes for the autumn term”.

“Rather her than me; I don’t think I’d have the patience for nursing”.

******

After a few minutes Lisa and Mark excused themselves momentarily; in their absence I turned to Wendy and said, “Well, I’m impressed with your girl”.

“I’m glad. Of course, she’s turning on the charm for you right now”.

“You’re telling me there’s a non-charming side?”

She shrugged; “I shouldn’t really be talking about her. Things between us are – well, we don’t always have an easy relationship, let’s put it that way”.

“I’m sorry, Wendy”.

She shook her head. “Just normal parent-child issues; you must have your share of them with Emma, too?”

“Actually I’ve been very, very lucky with Emma; her mum did a good job of passing on her basic stability and common sense”.

Wendy laughed; “I’m sure you had something to do with it as well”.

I shrugged; “Maybe a little, but I’m pretty sure it was mainly Kelly”.

******

I stayed at the reception longer than I had expected. Wendy introduced me to a couple of her colleagues, the Wisemans asked me about Canada, and for a while the young chaplain quizzed me about Mennonite Christianity. I found some of his mannerisms a little odd, but there was no mistaking his genuine interest in the spiritual journeys of others and I could see why Wendy got along well with him.

It was after ten o’clock by the time Wendy and I emerged onto the quad with Mark and Lisa; the darkened sky overhead seemed to be overcast and I thought I caught a hint of snow in the frigid air. Lisa turned to her mother; “Well, I’ll see you later”.

“I’ll probably be in bed and asleep. Still, come in and let me know you’re home, alright?”

“It’ll probably be very late”.

“I don’t mind – I’d rather know you’re home”.

The girl smiled indulgently; “If you insist”, she said, leaning forward and kissing her mother on the cheek. “It was lovely to meet you, Mr. Masefield”, she said to me; “I hope we see you again soon”.

“Nice to meet you, too, Lisa”, I replied. She flashed me a brilliant smile and then turned and slipped out of the main gate.

“They’ve got another engagement tonight?” I asked.

“I think they’re going out to a club for a little while. Mark’s a very nice young man and he’s always very polite to me, but for some reason I’m wary about him; I really don’t know why”.

“Has she being going out with him for long?”

“They’ve known each other since their high school days but I think they started dating in their first year at university”. She smiled apologetically at me; “I’m probably just being a typical paranoid mother. How about Emma; what are she and Alanna doing tonight?”

“They’ll probably be home in a couple of hours; they went out to a pub with Alanna’s brother Matthew and one of his friends. Emma assures me they’ll be behaving themselves”.

“Is she taking advantage of her newfound freedom to buy drinks in public?”

“Actually Emma’s never liked alcohol, not even wine, and certainly not beer or hard liquor. She’ll probably be the one drinking tea tonight”.

Wendy laughed; “Have you got any idea how lucky you are?”

“Yeah, I know. Well, I’d better be going”. I leaned forward, kissed her lightly on the cheek, and said “Thanks for inviting me, Wendy; I enjoyed myself”.

“I’m glad to hear it. Would you like to get together again some time in the not-too-distant future?”

I nodded; “I would. Shall I give you a phone call in a week or so? We’re going out to Northwood tomorrow night to spend Christmas with my parents and we won’t be back for a few days. Maybe we can do coffee or something during the holidays”.

“I’d like that very much but it’ll have to closer to New Year’s. We’ll be visiting with my brother and my parents down in Essex over Christmas; we’ll probably be back around the 29th or 30th”.

“Alright; I’ll talk to you soon, then”.

“Good night, Tom; thanks for coming”.

******

I was able to catch a bus quickly and I got home around ten-thirty. I knew it would likely be a while before Emma came in and I didn’t want to go to bed without knowing she was alright, so I made myself a cup of herbal tea and went up to my den; I had a couple of little jobs I needed to finish off to put the term to rest, and I needed to access the school website to be able to complete them. I worked quickly, sipping at my tea from time to time, and by about eleven fifteen I was done. I thought of texting Emma to see what time she thought she would be home, but decide against it; the last thing she needed, I told myself, was a father who gave the impression of not trusting her.

I don’t remember exactly what led me to search for Lisa’s school records; I suppose I was curious, having enjoyed our conversation earlier in the evening. I used my password to access the school’s central filing system and then typed in the name ‘Lisa Kingsley’. The search came up blank, so I tried again with ‘Lisa Howard’. The machine stirred and the information appeared on the screen in front of me: Lisa Elizabeth Howard, date of birth February 25th 1983, Acton, London.

It was a moment before I realized the significance of the date in front of me. Wendy had told Owen and me that Lisa had been born about a year after she and Mickey moved in together, which would put her birth some time in the summer of 1983; February 25th was definitely not in the summer. And immediately I began counting back in my mind; nine months of pregnancy meant that Lisa had been conceived toward the end of May 1982, after Mickey and Wendy had broken up, but before I left for Canada.

At that moment I heard the front door open, and Emma’s cheerful voice calling out “I’m home; are you still awake?”

I quickly quit the program and shut down my computer, my mind still reeling. “I’m up in my den”, I called.

I heard her bounding up the stairs two at a time, and a moment later her head appeared around the doorway. “Did you have your hot chocolate?” she asked.

“I was waiting for you”.

She came over and kissed me on the top of my head; “Where you working?”

“Just finishing off a few things; I was just shutting down when you came in”.

“I’ll go down and make the hot chocolate then”.

“Alright – I’ll be down in a minute”.

******

A few minutes later the two of us were sitting on either side of the gas fire, our mugs in our hands. “So – how was it?” I asked.

“Interesting”, she replied with a grin; “We went to the Eagle and Child”.

“Ah – the Bird and Baby!”

She laughed; “Matthew reminded me about the history of the place. Did we go there once last time we were here?”

“Yes; we had lunch there with Becca”.

“I was pretty sure I remembered that. You talked to me about Lewis and Tolkien and all those guys writing their books there, didn’t you?”

“I don’t think they actually wrote there, but they used to meet there to read to each other”.

“Right – that’s what Matthew was saying”.

“Is he interested in that kind of thing?”

She shrugged; “He seems to know a lot about it, anyway. He’s read a few of their books”.

“You guys had a good time?”

“We did”, she replied, smiling mischievously at me, “and in case you’re wondering, Matthew and Alanna and Neil had one pint each, and I had a whole pot of tea to myself”.

I smiled apologetically; “I wasn’t really worried”.

“Yeah – you were!” she replied mischievously.

“Alright – maybe just a little!”

We both laughed, and then she said, “How about the reception?”

I told her about my conversation with Lisa, and as I had expected, she was very interested to hear about her time in Russia and her interest in the Russian language. “Maybe I can get together with her some time”, she said; “I’d love to find out more about what it’s actually like to live there”.

“I’m sure she’d be glad to talk to you”.

“You know, I’d love to go there some day”.

I nodded; “Somehow I’m not surprised to hear you say that”.

“It’s interesting to think about our roots, isn’t it?”

“It was really important to your mom”.

“I remember”.

“She’d be glad to know you were interested”.

“Well, I’ve spent a lot of time with all those notes she wrote”.

“I know”. I took a sip of my hot chocolate; “Tell me about Matthew’s friend Neil – what was he like?”

She laughed; “He was the strange one!”

“Oh?”

“He’s very ‘theological’”, she said, making air quotes with her fingers.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I think someone needs to tell him that Jesus didn’t say ‘Follow me, and I will teach you to be weird!’”

“A little other-worldly?”

She laughed again; “More than a little!” she replied.

******

We went to bed around midnight, but it would be a long time before I went to sleep. I tossed and turned in the darkened bedroom, my mind going over the events of those spring days back in 1982.

After that first time she had come to my bed-sitter Wendy and I had gradually started to spend more time together. Mickey was not taking his dismissal from her life lying down and he began to come to her room in the evenings, knocking on her door and refusing to go away unless she let him in. In order to avoid him Wendy began to come over to my place to study, and from time to time the two of us would go out to see a movie or share a late drink in a pub. Owen, Wendy and I were still playing music together occasionally, but as our final exams drew closer we found it more and more difficult to make time for it.

A number of people assumed that Wendy and I had begun to date; Owen in his straightforward way once asked me about it directly. We were out walking together on a fine Saturday morning in late April and he said, “Sorry if I’m prying, but are you and Wendy a couple now?”

“No – we’re just friends. She seems to be turning to me to help her get over Mickey but I’m not about to fall into one of those rebound love affairs. Anyway, she knows about my plans for Canada”.

“Told your mum and dad yet?”

“There’s nothing to tell, since I haven’t definitely got the position”.

“But you’ll tell them when you get it?”

I shrugged and looked away. “I think I’d prefer to leave it as long as I can, to cut down on the amount of time I have to listen to my father doing his volcano act”.

“Up to you, but I think the longer you put it off, the more violent the eruption’s going to be”.

I had told him the truth about Wendy and me; we were not dating, and we were certainly not sharing a sexual relationship. There had been times, when she was feeling particularly low, that she had asked me to hold her as I had on that first night, but that was as far as it had gone.

******

The digital clock on my bedside table showed 1.15 a.m.; tired of lying there sleepless, I got out of bed quietly, slipped out of my room and made my way as noiselessly as I could down to the kitchen. I boiled the kettle, made myself another cup of herbal tea and went to sit in the darkened living room. The mantelpiece above the hearth was full of Christmas cards from Canada and our tiny Christmas tree stood in the corner of the room by the front window, a few gifts clustered underneath it waiting to be taken out to Northwood for the holidays. I was looking but not seeing, while my mind was reliving the vivid memories of twenty-one years ago.

******

One night in late May Wendy appeared at my door as usual after supper. “Hello there”, I said; “I just made the tea”.

“Getting predictable, aren’t I?” She followed me into the room, dropped her canvas backpack on the floor and started to take out her books; “Did you have a busy day?”.

“Yes, but a good one”.

I gave her a mug of tea, and we sat at my table in near silence for the next couple of hours, both of us studying our respective books and notes. From time to time we would make comments about what we were reading, and occasionally those comments led to longer discussions. At around nine o’clock I made a fresh pot of tea and put some quiet music on my record player. At this point I moved over to the couch; a few minutes later she joined me there, her back against the other arm of the couch and her feet tucked under my left leg. We sipped our tea for a few minutes without saying anything, listening to the music and easy in each other’s company.

Eventually I drained my cup, put it down on the coffee table in front of us and said, “Well, I’ve got some news”.

“Oh?”

“I’ve got the job”.

“The one you applied for in Canada?”

“Yes”.

“Wow – congratulations!”

“Thank you”.

“Are you pleased?”

I nodded slowly. “It’s not that I won’t miss a few people – yourself included of course”.

“And Owen; you’ve been friends for a long time”.

“Yes”.

“What’s the name of the place again?”

“Meadowvale; it’s a small town in Saskatchewan, on the prairies. I’ll be teaching English at the local high school”.

“Do you know much about the town?”

“It’s pretty small; the school’s got about six hundred pupils, I think”.

She smiled at me. “Mr. Tom Masefield, high school English teacher. Well – I’m proud of you!”

“Thanks; to tell you the truth I feel a bit nervous about it. Studying is one thing, but actually doing it – in a foreign country, in a place I’ve never seen – that’s completely different”.

“You’ve done alright with your student teaching, though”.

“Yeah – for the most part it’s gone well”.

She looked at me in silence for a moment, a thoughtful expression on her face. Eventually I smiled awkwardly; “What is it?”

“I’ll miss you”, she said softly.

“I know, Wendy; I’ll miss you, too”.

She reached over and put her hand on mine; “You’ve been a big help to me over the past couple of months”.

I shrugged; “All I’ve done is given you a chair at my table for studying”.

“No, you’ve done more than that, and you know it”. She leaned forward and kissed me gently on the cheek, and then shifted around beside me on the couch, laying her head on my left shoulder, her face against my neck. I put my arm around her, and we sat there in silence for a few minutes; I was breathing the intoxicating fragrance of her hair, and I could feel my body beginning to stir in response to her proximity.

“Do you mind me cuddling with you like this?” she whispered.

“Of course not”.

“I know I’m not really being fair to you, but…”

“Hush, Wendy; you say that every time”.

We lapsed into silence again, listening to the music in the background, our senses full of each other. Time in the room seemed to be standing still. Eventually I touched her cheek with the fingers of my right hand, prompting her to turn a little on the chesterfield and lift her face to mine. Our lips were only inches apart. I hesitated, and then slowly crossed the distance, leaning forward and kissing her, tentatively at first, but then with greater confidence as I felt her lips open to mine.

When we drew back, I searched her eyes and asked, “Do you mind me kissing you like this?”

“I don’t think so”, she replied in a barely audible voice.

“Do you mind if I do it again?”

“I want you to do it again”.

******

I had finished my cup of herbal tea, but my body felt no closer to sleep. I was surprised at the vividness of my memories of that night. Part of me – the part that still felt like a married man – even felt a little guilty as I remembered the warmth of Wendy’s body as we made love together on the bed in my one-room flat. I got up from the chair and walked around the room for a few minutes, trying to get warm. It was after two o’clock now, and even the street outside was silent and still.

******

Wendy and I woke up when my alarm went off at seven o’clock. It had not been a good night for sleep; my bed was not really big enough for two people, and we were forced into continual contact with each other’s bodies. In the first part of the night, when our hunger was strong, this had just led to more sex, but later, when we were exhausted and sated with each other, it had simply become uncomfortable. At about four o’clock I had moved over to the couch, where I was curled uncomfortably when the unwelcome morning came.

I got up painfully, shut off the alarm and looked at Wendy lying on my bed with the blankets and sheets wrapped crazily around her. Her long dark hair was messy and her eyes were red from lack of sleep. I crouched beside the bed and put my hand on her shoulder. “Would you like some tea?” I asked.

“Yeah”, she replied with a yawn, “and then I’d better get out of here”.

“I could make you some toast if you want”.

She pulled herself into an upright position, the sheets and blankets falling away from her naked body, and pushed her hair out of her face. “I don’t think so”, she said. “I’d better get back to Manor Place before things get too busy around here”.

She pulled on her clothes, washed her face and brushed her teeth in my sink, tried to bring some order to her hair, and then accepted a cup of tea from me gratefully. As we stood there, drinking our tea and looking at each other, she said, “Tom…”

“I know”.

“It’s not that I don’t care for you…”

I raised my hand and touched her lips; her hand came up and held my fingers to her cheek. “You’re such a good friend…” she whispered.

“…but friends and lovers are not the same”.

“You understand”; the relief was plain in her voice.

“I understand what you think about the subject; I might not agree, but I know you feel strongly about it”.

“It’s not that I don’t care about you, or that I didn’t enjoy myself last night…”

“I think it was this morning, actually!”

We both laughed awkwardly, standing there facing each other, our tea mugs in our hands, knowing instinctively that no matter how much we tried to minimize its impact, what we had done could not be undone, and it had changed everything between us. A few moments later she left my room with her backpack slung over her shoulder.

********

I climbed the stairs back up to my solitary room at around two thirty. I was not hopeful that I would fall asleep any time soon, but at least I could lie down and rest my weary body. Suddenly, as I sat on my bed, I felt an overwhelming sense of desolation. My mind was moving to the conclusion of the story of me and Wendy, but at a different level my heart and my body were aching for Kelly; it was always at these times of sleeplessness that my bed seemed far too big and empty without her. I shook my head and offered a silent prayer for a sense of God’s companionship. Then I lay down on my side and pulled the comforter up around my neck.

******

That night was the only time Wendy and I ever had sex with each other. I knew in my heart that I would have been happy for our relationship to continue to grow, but Wendy’s views about mixing friendship and love were firmly and stubbornly held. And in a sense it turned out that she was right. After that night she never came around to my room again. It was as if she knew instinctively that I would want to make love with her again, while what she needed most from our relationship was my friendship and support. We met a few times to study in cafés and pubs, but our conversation was awkward; our night together loomed too large in our thoughts, but we knew we couldn’t talk about it without risking our friendship even further.

The only person I told about it at the time was Owen. One evening at the beginning of July he and I went out to the ‘Plough and Lantern’ for a quiet drink; the pub was only half full that night, and we found a secluded table in a corner and chatted quietly about our future. My move to Canada was only four weeks away and for both of us it was casting a dark shadow over everything. After a while he gave me a significant glance. “I notice you and Wendy aren’t spending so much time together; is everything all right?”

I had thought long and hard about whether I would tell him what had happened, but now that the opportunity had arisen it seemed natural to talk about it. “Well, we spoilt our platonic relationship”, I said. “We spent a night together at the end of May”.

“I had a hunch that might happen sooner or later”.

“You don’t approve, of course”.

“The more important issue is if you approve. Has it been good for your relationship with her?”

I shook my head. “She’s so stubborn about not combining friendship and love. If I wasn’t leaving for Canada, I’d have a stab at changing her mind, but I think it would be really selfish of me to try to force the issue, given the circumstances”.

“So all in all it hasn’t been a good thing?”

“No; in fact, we’ve probably spoiled our friendship without gaining anything in its place”.

“I’m sorry to hear that; you two were pretty good friends”.

“We were, but now I don’t know where we stand”.

******

Emma had to go out early to Marston Court; unusually, I didn’t wake up until I heard her closing the front door behind her. I took a hot shower, drank a cup of strong coffee, and then turned on my computer and went back to the school records. There was the information again, staring at me from the screen: Lisa Elizabeth Howard, date of birth February 25th 1983, Acton, London.

The truth was staring me in the face: Wendy had lied to me, wanting to continue to hide the truth about her daughter’s parentage. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Mickey and Wendy had not been sharing a sexual relationship in May of 1982, and it was inconceivable that Wendy could have been sleeping with anyone else. The only possible explanation was that Lisa was my daughter.

I sat there for a long time, thinking about the implications of this fundamental shift in my universe. Emma was not my only child. For nearly twenty-one years I had been the father of another daughter, and the secret had been kept from me. I found myself thinking back to the years when Kelly was struggling so hard to accept the fact that she would not be able to have any more children; a big family had always been her dream, and it had taken a long time for her to come to terms with the hard reality that Emma would be her only child. It had not been such a huge issue for me – I had been relieved that she had survived ovarian cancer at all – but there had been a few times over the years when I had found myself wondering what it would have been like to have another daughter, or perhaps a son. And all that time, unknown to me, my older daughter had been growing up in England. For all I knew, perhaps she had always called Mickey her dad and assumed he was her biological father.

After a few minutes I picked up the phone and called Owen’s clinic. When his receptionist answered I said, “Hi, Janet, it’s Tom Masefield here. Could you ask Dr. Foster to call me at home when he has a free minute?”

“I think he’s free right now, Mr. Masefield; shall I put him on the line?”

“Please do”.

A moment later I heard Owen’s voice. “Tom – what’s up?”

“I need to talk to you about something, preferably face to face. Do you have any free time this morning, or early afternoon?”

“Actually, I’m free now; I just came in to check a few things, but I’m not really working”.

“I really need to bend your ear if you’ve got a minute”.

“Of course – would a coffee shop be okay, or do you want to come in here and have me charge it to the National Health Service?”

I chuckled; “No, let’s meet at that café round the corner from the clinic. I don’t want Becca to know we’ve talked”.

“Well, now I’m curious! See you there in about fifteen minutes?”

“Right”.

******

We sat in the corner of the dimly lit café, sipping our coffee while I tried to get my thoughts into order. Owen was dressed formally in suit and tie, but he had loosened his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. “So”, he said, “what’s this about?”

“It’s about Wendy’s daughter Lisa. Tell me if I’m remembering this right: the day before Emma’s party Wendy told us she moved to London in the summer of 1982 and moved in with Mickey, and Lisa was born about a year later”.

“That’s what she said”.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes – why?”

“She was lying to us. I checked the school files last night and the dates don’t match. Lisa isn’t Mickey’s daughter at all; she’s mine”.

He stared at me; “You can’t be serious!”

“I’m very serious”.

He put his cup down on its saucer, his eyes searching my face. “And how are you doing with this piece of information?”

I shook my head; “I hardly know how to answer that”.

“Royally pissed off with Wendy?”

“Really pissed off! How could she do this to me? How could she keep this from me for over twenty years? What sort of an act of friendship is that?”

“I suspect there’s only one person who can answer that question and I strongly advise you not to ask her about it while you’re angry with her”. He frowned; “How did you begin to suspect?”

“I didn’t; it was totally accidental. I met Lisa at that concert at Merton last night and we had a good conversation afterwards. I happened to be on the school website after I got home and I just got curious and looked up her records. It’s there in black and white: Lisa Elizabeth Howard, born February 25th 1983”.

“Damn”, he swore softly; “Then there’s no question about it”.

“None at all”.

“I take it you haven’t talked to her yet?”

“No; I decided to talk to you instead”.

“Good plan”.

“That’s what I thought”.

We drank our coffee in silence for a moment, and then he looked across at me again; “You’re worried about Emma, aren’t you?”

“I sure am – she’s an only child, and since her mother died we’ve been even closer to each other. This is going to break her heart”.

“I don’t think so”.

“Why not?”

“You and Kelly have done a great job of raising that girl; she’s an unusually secure teenager. Yes of course, it’s going to be a shock to her at first, but I think she’ll work her way through it and she’ll be fine”.

“I wish I could be sure about that”.

“I understand, but I don’t think you should be too worried. She’ll probably have a quiet talk about it with Becca or Ellie, but that’s nothing new, is it? And it surely won’t come as a surprise to her that you had relationships with other women before you met her mother?”

“The conception of a child puts this in a rather different category, don’t you think?”

He grinned; “Well, that’s true, I suppose”.

“I’m just having a hard time picturing how I’m going to tell her that I had a one-night stand with Wendy six weeks before I left England”.

He sat back and looked me in the eye; “Well, for a start I would encourage you not to use the phrase ‘one-night stand’”.

“Why not?”

“You yourself admitted to me years ago that you would have liked your relationship with Wendy to go further. I think you’d started to fall in love with her”.

I shook my head vehemently; “That’s too strong a word; it was…”

He leaned forward and put his hand on my arm. “Tom, this isn’t about loyalty to Kelly; she wasn’t anywhere on your radar screen at the time. This is about honesty about the past. Let’s tell the truth to each other here; Wendy was fundamentally wrong about friendship and love, and you know it. In 1982 your friendship with her was beginning to turn into love, whether or not either of you wanted to admit it. So I don’t think it does you any good to describe that event as a ‘one night stand’. You weren’t strangers; you had been talking with each other at a deeper level for some time. Of course the sexual element came into your relationship too soon, but I know you pretty well and I’m sure in my own mind that the night you spent together wasn’t only about sex. Tell me – am I wrong?”

For a long time I didn’t answer; I avoided his eyes, drinking my coffee and staring out of the window. Eventually I shook my head slowly; “No, I don’t think you’re wrong”.

“So then – why not admit that, and frame the picture a little differently?”

“So you think I should tell Emma the whole story, including the fact that I’d started to fall in love with Wendy?”

“I do. You and Emma aren’t in the habit of keeping secrets from each other”.

“No, but as I said…”

“I understand that this is a big one, but she’s a big girl with a heart full of love for her dad”.

I nodded slowly; “You’re right about that”.

He finished his coffee and set the cup down on the saucer. Pointing at my own cup, he said, “Want a refill?”

“Why not?”

He picked up both cups, got to his feet and went over to the counter. A few minutes later he returned with fresh coffee, sat down and said, “So what do you want to do about this?”

I shrugged. “There are all kinds of things I’d like to know, but there’s a basic problem, isn’t there?”

“You’re talking about the fact that Wendy still doesn’t want you to know the truth”.

“Right”.

“That’s a tough one. Are you going to try to talk to her?”

“I think I have to – otherwise it just becomes the big elephant in the room, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah. You’re not going to rush into this though, right?”

“Well, I’m not going to see her until after Christmas; she’s going down to Essex to spend time with her family. I told her I’d give her a call closer to New Year’s”.

“Good. And while you’re out in Northwood, go for some of your long morning walks and try to think this thing through. I’m on call Christmas Day but we’ll probably be out to see Dad and Mum on Boxing Day, and you and I can go for a walk and a talk if you want”.

“That would be good”.

“Meanwhile, I’ll keep it to myself”.

“I’d appreciate that”.

“Are you going to talk to Becca about it?”

“Probably not until after I talk to Wendy, and then Emma”.

“When you talk to Wendy, be gentle with her, okay?”

“What do you mean?”

He frowned; “I’m trying to work out how she might have arrived at the decision not to tell you she was pregnant. She must have been really torn; she must have at least considered the possibility of telling you what was happening and asking you to stay in England and help. After all, you and she had become very close. Granted, you weren’t in a good space with your own family, but she knew you were basically a good guy and you’d been giving her a lot of support since she and Mickey broke up. Surely she would have at least considered asking you to change your plans”. He paused, thought for a minute and then went on, “But then, maybe you were already in Canada when she found out she was pregnant. And she knew the two of you had moved into a sexual relationship prematurely without really being sure that you wanted to be a couple; with you being already in Canada she probably didn’t want to put any pressure on you to come back to England and marry her just because she was pregnant”.

“Okay, but…”

“No, let me finish. It probably didn’t take her long to realize that she had another option – she knew Mickey was in London, gainfully employed, and she was still at least a little bit in love with him. She also knew that in London she could go to university and work on her doctorate”. He nodded; “Yes, it’s all coming clear to me now. And I understand why she cut me out of her life so decisively: once she’d chosen to conceal the child from you she couldn’t risk any contact with me because she knew that once I found out about it I would figure out the dates, and she knew I couldn’t possibly conceal such a thing from you. But she’s got to have paid a price, hasn’t she?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, you know what Mickey was like, even when we knew him. What do you think his reaction would have been when she went to him in London and said, “Mickey, I’m pregnant, Tom’s the father and he’s gone to Canada without knowing about it. Will you please take me back, help me raise Tom’s child and support me through my doctoral study?”

I stared at him; “He must have gone ballistic”.

“Exactly. So that’s why I’m saying, be gentle with her. Think about what came of this decision she made. She married Mickey, and their marriage was so abusive that eventually she charged him with assault and he went to prison. If she hadn’t done that – if she’d called you in Canada and told you she was pregnant – you might well have come back and married her. I mean, Wendy’s a great person, but I don’t think you seriously want not to have been married to Kelly, do you?”

I shook my head emphatically; “Kelly was the best thing that ever happened to me”.

“Right. So Wendy did you a good turn twenty years ago, but she didn’t do herself any favours at all”.

“I see what you mean”.

“So – when you talk with her, be gentle, all right?”

“I’ll do my best”, I replied.

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Sermon at the Commissioning of Lay Evangelists at All Saints’ Cathedral, Edmonton – January 14th 2018

Tonight our Lord Jesus Christ has given a wonderful gift to his church. He has given us the gift of Alison Hurlburt, Corinna Kubos, and Jenny Stuart to be sent out as evangelists, to spread the good news and to help make new disciples for Jesus. These are the three lay evangelists we are commissioning tonight. But I want to say right from the start that there are more people involved than just these three. Sandra Arbeau has been with us through the whole process of formation; she has recently been ordained as a deacon so will not be licensed as a ‘lay’ evangelist, but she is very much a part of our community of evangelists in this diocese. Also in that community – and here tonight with us – are Richard King and Steve London who have been with us as participants, teachers and learners together with the others.

So these evangelists are the wonderful gift God is giving to his church tonight. I’m using this language of ‘gift’ intentionally, and I use it knowing very well that not everyone would see an evangelist as a gift! Some people see evangelists as a nuisance, or an embarrassment, or a theological anachronism. Some people would see them as fitting in more easily in a Pentecostal or Evangelical setting, and wonder why we’re doing this tonight in an Anglican cathedral!

But we’re here tonight because we don’t see it that way. We’re here because we’re enormously grateful to our Lord Jesus Christ for giving us the gift of these evangelists. We’re here to receive that gift with joy and celebrate it together, and to pray for them, and to ask God to bless them and guide them as they continue in the ministries to which God has called them.

Why am I using this language of ‘gift’? Because it’s the language used in our reading from Ephesians tonight. Look at Ephesians 4:11-13:

‘The gifts he (that is, Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ’ (NRSV).

In the NIV it’s even more clear:

‘So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’.

The fullness of Christ – that’s what this is all about. The job God has given to the Church is to live out the fullness of Christ before the world. But it’s not possible for each of us to do that as individuals. I by myself am not the Body of Christ, and neither are you. The Church – the whole Christian community together – is the Body of Christ, and together we live out the fullness of Christ in the sight of the world.

What is the fullness of Christ? Paul doesn’t use the word ‘love’ here, because he’s already rung the changes on that word many times in the first three chapters of Ephesians. But we really can’t start with anything else but love. What do the most famous verses in the Bible tell us?

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him’ (John 3:16-17).

Behind the coming of the Son – behind his ministry to people in his own time and down to the present through the Church – behind all of that is the mighty ocean of the love of God – God’s steadfast, unconditional, stubborn love.

And how does God demonstrate that love? Some modern translations say “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son” – which is not a wrong idea, but leaves out an important nuance in the original. “God so loved” doesn’t just mean “God loved the world so much”; it also means “God loved the world in this way”. In other words, the specific act of love the author has in mind is the gift of the Son. God loved the world by giving the gift of his Son, who would leave his place of safety and take the risk of coming among us as one of us, to save us from all that binds us and destroys us, and to give us the gift of eternal life.

So the central fact of the character of Jesus is this outgoing, risk-taking love of God. How does the Church live out the fullness of this love? Paul says that we do it by receiving the gifts he gives us – the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. We can’t live out the fullness of his character if one of those gifts is missing, or (even worse) if we refuse one of those gifts. All of those gifts are necessary to build up the Church so that we live out the fullness of Christ before the world God loves.

In the Anglican Church in recent years we’ve been a little hesitant to receive Christ’s gift of ‘evangelists’. We’ve been happy to receive the gifts that express love and pastoral care for those inside the church. We’ve been happy to receive the gifts of service and practical care for those on the outside. But the evangelist – the one who announces the good news of Jesus – the one who shares it with others and invites them to become followers of Jesus – we haven’t always received that gift quite as enthusiastically! But tonight, we’re redressing that balance. Tonight we’re celebrating this gift, and the way it helps us live out the fullness of Christ.

And I want to underline for you – going back for a moment to those verses from the Gospel of John – that evangelism is all about love. If it’s not all about love, then it really isn’t evangelism! We Christians believe that God’s gift of Jesus to the world is the greatest expression of the love of God the world has ever seen. The fact that God would come among us himself in the person of his Son, to live and die and rise again to reconcile us to himself – if that’s true, it’s the most important event in the history of this planet. It can’t be just an incidental detail. It can’t be just one item among many in the smorgasbord of religious resources.

No – the news that the God of all creation loved us in this way –  by coming among us as one of us, and by calling people to follow him – is news that needs to be shared with others. Because if it’s true, then – as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s evangelism adviser said a few years ago – the best decision a human being can ever make is to follow Jesus. ‘No one has ever seen God’, says John; ‘It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known’ (John 1:18). So with love and joy in our hearts we’re called to share the good news of God’s Son with the world he came to save.

And that’s what Alison and Corinna and Jenny are going to help us to do. That’s why we’re commissioning them tonight as lay evangelists in the Church of Jesus Christ.

I can tell you, because I’ve had the privilege of getting to know them very well, that each of them – along with the others who have been part of our learning community – each of them has a wonderful story to tell of how God has been at work in their lives, helping them know Christ and follow him. God isn’t just a theory to them; God is a living reality, and for each of them, the great passion of their lives is to know God better and live out his love for others. And especially to – as my daughter likes to say to her little kids – ‘Use your words!’ These three people are not afraid to ‘use their words’ to share the love of God! In fact, when they get together, we often have the opposite problem! They have so much to say that we have a hard time getting through the agenda for the day!

I can also tell you that these three evangelists are not ashamed of living as Christians outside the walls of the church. It’s important to say this, because I think a lot of Christians are shy about that. They don’t mind being identified with Christ on Sunday mornings when they gather together with other Christians, but during the week they’d rather keep quiet about it. Sometimes that’s understandable; we know that not everyone who names the name of Christ right now is necessarily bringing credit to that name, and it would be easier for us not to be associated with those folks. I know these three feel that way sometimes too. But I also know that out in the working world, and in their daily lives with their families and friends, each of them has taken the step of somehow – not aggressively, but firmly – identifying themselves as followers of Jesus. And each of them is finding ways of effectively engaging the world they live in every day, for the sake of Jesus and his gospel.

So what do we hope our evangelists will do?

First, we hope they’ll carry on doing what they’re already doing – following Jesus and sharing his love with the people around them, by action and also by word. We hope they’ll keep growing in the skills they’ve been learning to help them do that. We hope that through their witness people who are not yet followers of Jesus will fall in love with him and begin to follow him.

Second, we hope they’ll teach and mentor others to be effective witnesses too. I find it interesting that in the reading from Ephesians the evangelists are included among the list of gifts Christ has given to the Church, to build up the Church’s life. That’s because all Christians, not just evangelists, are called to be faithful witnesses for Christ. But most of us are scared to do this.

And this is where lay evangelists can help us. I think most of us have had the experience of going to an expert for help and then finding that he or she is so far advanced that they can’t remember what it was like to be as confused as we are! I’m conscious of the fact that some clergy are like that – we use words like ‘ecclesiastical’ and ‘soteriology’ and ‘salvation history’ and ‘epistemology’, to which a lot of people respond with a blank stare and a ‘huh?’ And most clergy don’t have to live their faith in the context of a largely unbelieving or apathetic community, so it’s hard for them to relate to the struggles ordinary people have as they try to be faithful witnesses for Jesus.

But these three lay evangelists know all about those struggles! Jenny’s a property manager, and Corinna works in a penitentiary, and Ali works in student services at a university. So they are well placed to help us learn to be effective witnesses in our daily lives in the world, because that’s where they live day by day.

So we hope our evangelists will continue to share their faith and make new disciples for Jesus, and we hope they’ll teach and mentor others in their churches to do the same thing. Thirdly, we hope they’ll be leaders in helping their churches connect with the world around them. Years ago, all kinds of people used to wander into churches in times of crisis, or family occasions like baptism and weddings and funerals. Nowadays, a lot less people do that. We can’t wait for people to connect with us any more; we have to find new and creative ways of connecting with them.

This is nothing new, of course! After all, in the great commission Jesus did not say “Wait for people to come to you and then make them my disciples”! He said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It’s up to us to make those connections, and I know these three lay evangelists will be helping their parishes find creative ways of doing that.

I want to close by saying that it’s been an enormous privilege and joy for me to work with these three, along with Sandra and Richard and Steve, as we’ve gone through the formation process together. I’m not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I’ve gone to our Saturday sessions stressed out and discouraged by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but I’ve always – always – come away encouraged and revived and renewed in my joy in the Gospel, because of their enthusiasm and their joy. This is the gift they’ve given me, and it’s a gift I look forward to continuing to receive and share with them in the years ahead as we work to spread the Gospel together.

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 12

Link back to Chapter 11

Wendy and Owen and I got together to play music at our house on the first Saturday in December.

After we had met Wendy at my school back in October, Emma had checked her other books out of the library and read them both. She had been hoping for an opportunity to meet her again soon; in this respect, however, she was to be disappointed. A couple of weeks after our first meeting I emailed Wendy, asking if she would like to come over to play some music with Owen and me. She replied immediately, saying that she would be interested at some point but she was especially busy right then and would get back to me later. After that I heard nothing from her, and gradually I came to the conclusion that even though our meeting at the school had been enjoyable, she was not really interested in renewing our old friendship.

It was Owen who pointed out to me that there might be another explanation. “She might just be genuinely busy, you know”, he said.

“You think so?”

“Well, it’s term time right now, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so”.

He grinned at me. “You’ve forgotten when Oxford university terms run, haven’t you?”

I smiled sheepishly at him; “I guess I have”.

“Michaelmas term lasts from mid October to the end of the first week in December, and if you remember, it’s rather intense. And Wendy’s a single mother with a teenage boy still at home”.

I nodded; “She takes him to a lot of sports events, too”.

“Give her a chance; she probably hasn’t got a minute to call her own”.

“I never thought of that”.

******

Wendy called me after supper on the last Sunday in November; I was working at my desk up in my den when the phone rang. “Tom?” she said; “It’s me – Wendy”.

“Hello there – I was wondering when I would hear from you!”

“Yes, I’m sorry – I don’t get many moments to call my own once term starts. What about you – have I caught you at a bad time?”

“No, not at all; I’m just doing a bit of prep work for tomorrow”.

“Do you want me to ring you back in an hour or so?”

“No – this is fine. So how’s your term been?”

“It’s always busy – tutorials and lectures and individual conferences with students, and I do some curriculum work too”.

“Are you doing any more writing?”

“I’ve been exploring some ideas but I haven’t got anything in process at the moment”.

“Will you write about George Eliot again?”

“I don’t think so; I think I’ve said everything I’ve got to say about her. No – I’ve been doing some lectures on 18th and 19th century poetry and I’m toying with the idea of working them up into a book”.

“That would be excellent!”

“Yes, you always were a lover of poetry, weren’t you?”

“I still am”.

“I think you might enjoy some of my lectures. One of them concentrates on George Crabbe and John Clare; you were a big fan of Clare, weren’t you?”

“I still really like him”.

“You were the one who first got me interested in him; I’d never really paid much attention to him before you and I met”.

“I didn’t know that”.

“You thought I spent a lot of time ignoring you, didn’t you?”

I laughed softly; “You had pretty strong opinions. Wendy”.

“I know – I’m sorry about that”.

“I wasn’t complaining; I always enjoyed our conversations”.

“Me too. How’s Emma?”

“She’s well. She’s been reading your earlier books, actually; I think she’d love to ask you about them”.

“I would enjoy that”.

“Apart from that, she’s still busy volunteering at Marston Court, and spending time with family and friends”.

“She’s made some friends, then?”

“We’ve started going to a little Baptist church in north Oxford; she’s gotten to know some of the young people there”.

“I didn’t know you were a churchgoer”.

“Yeah, that’s something that happened since I moved to Canada. I married into a Mennonite family and it kind of rubbed off”.

“I’ve gone back to church over the last few years too”.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes – it happened after we moved back to Oxford”.

“It would be fun to compare notes”.

“I’d like that”.

“So are you interested in a visit with Owen and me?”

“Yes I am, but I want to make sure you both understand that I haven’t sung any of our old songs for a long time”.

“That’s fine, Wendy. Like I said the other week – singing or not, it would be good just to have a visit”.

“Yes, it would”.

“So when were you thinking?”

“Would next weekend work for you?”

“Saturday would work. Sunday we’re kind of tied up – it’s Emma’s eighteenth birthday”.

“Well I certainly don’t want to interrupt that! We can wait a bit longer if you want?”

“No, I think it would be fine. We’re having a family party at Owen and Lorraine’s place on Sunday evening. My sister and Emma are cooking jambalaya and I’m baking the cake, and that’s about the limit of my responsibilities”.

“Did you tell me Owen and his wife had children?”

“Yes – Andrew and Katie. They’re quite a bit younger than Emma but they get on really well with her”.

“Is that why the party’s over there?”

“No – it’s because there are going to be sixteen of us, and their house is bigger”.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait a few more days for our visit?”

“Let me talk to Owen – I think he might enjoy a couple of hours on Saturday”.

******

She came over to my house on Saturday afternoon, dressed casually in faded jeans and an Aran sweater, her hair hanging loose to her shoulders. Owen and his family had come for lunch earlier, and then Lorraine had taken the children and Emma out for the afternoon; I had told Emma I thought Wendy would be less self-conscious about singing with us if there was no one else around.

Owen and Wendy greeted each other warmly; I made tea, and then we sat around the living room for a couple of hours, singing our old songs. Wendy asked Owen and me to sing a few by ourselves at first, but eventually she began to join in, and it quickly became clear that even though she hadn’t sung the songs for a long time she still remembered them very well.

“Nothing wrong with your memory!” Owen said mischievously after we finished one of our old favourites.

“I’ve always liked ‘Reynardine’”, she replied with a grin.

“I remember”.

“What about some newer stuff? Surely you boys haven’t stopped learning songs since we last saw each other. Do you still play in public, Owen?”

He nodded. “I’ve got a band, actually; we call ourselves ‘The Oxford Ferrymen’”.

“Is that your band?” she exclaimed with a smile; “I’ve seen posters around town from time to time”.

“Yes, we do gigs at the ‘Plough’ and a few other places; occasionally we go a bit further afield”.

“What sort of music do you play?”

“Mainly Celtic stuff; I’ve learned to play bouzouki and cittern since the last time you and I saw each other”.

“You didn’t bring them with you today, though?”

He shook his head; “Hopefully there’ll be another chance”.

We sang a few more songs, including some that Owen and I had learned in the years after we had lost touch with Wendy, and then I made another pot of tea and we talked. Wendy was sitting in Emma’s easy chair by the hearth with her feet up on a footstool; “This has been really good”, she said softly. “Thank you both”.

“It’s really great to see you”, Owen replied.

“You too, Owen. Have you always worked in Oxford?”

“Yeah – I joined a little practice after I finished my training and eventually I became one of the senior partners. Tom’s sister Becca works at our practice”.

“As a doctor?”

“Yes”.

“I didn’t know she was a doctor. Actually, I didn’t really know much about her at all; the last time I saw her I think she was about eleven. Didn’t she come to that concert we did for your mum’s music society, Tom?”

“Yes, I think she did”.

She glanced at Owen again. “You’ve got a family too, I hear?”

“Yes – I’m married to Lorraine and we’ve got two children; Andrew’s twelve and Katie’s nine. It took us a while to get going on the reproduction business”.

Wendy laughed again. “Did you already know Lorraine when we were here together?”

“No, I met her not long after you two left – in church, actually; she showed up there one Sunday in September of ’82”.

“Are you still a churchgoing family?”

“We are”.

“I’ve gone back to church myself in the last few years”.

“Tom told me that”.

“My dad’s pleased, of course”.

“Where do you go?”

“When I first started I just went to Merton Chapel, which is where I was confirmed, but it only has regular Sunday services during term time and they’re in the evenings, which isn’t very convenient for family meals. So after a couple of years I started going to St. Michael and All Angels here in New Marston; I sometimes sing in the choir and I get on pretty well with the vicar. I’m still involved in some Merton Chapel activities though, and now and again during the week I sing in their choir too, so I suppose you could say my church life is a bit schizophrenic. What about you?”

“We go to St. Clement’s; I was going there through most of my student years”.

“I went there once or twice but it was a bit too charismatic for me; I like something more traditional”.

“We three have really got the Christian spectrum covered!” Owen observed.

Wendy nodded, looking across at me; “You said you’d started going to a Baptist church?”

“Yes, but Emma and I are actually Mennonites”.

“Right – you told me your wife’s family were Mennonite”.

“Yeah – I guess I sort of married into it”.

“I expect there was a bit more to it than that”.

I nodded; “There was”.

“Do you mind me asking about it?”

“Not at all. Kelly’s dad Will Reimer was the principal of my school in Meadowvale and he and his wife were very helpful to me in my first few months there. They were pretty strong in their faith, but Kelly had strayed away from it for a while as a teenager. When I got to know her she was just finding her way back. She and I talked about it, and I also had some really good conversations with her brother Joe; he and I became really good friends. And of course I’d been getting interested in spirituality for a while; Owen and I had been talking about it before I left England”.

Owen nodded; “We exchanged a few letters about it after you moved, too”.

“We did”.

“Kelly came back to her faith, then?” said Wendy.

“She did; we made that journey together, and eventually we were both baptized on the same day”.

“An adult believer’s baptism, you mean?”

“Yes; that’s the Mennonite tradition”.

“Mennonites are pacifists, aren’t they?”

“They are”.

“So you’re not cheering for Bush and Blair and their war with Iraq?”

“No we’re not; peace and justice are a very important part of our faith for Emma and me”.

“Emma’s a practising Christian too?”

“Yes – it’s very real and personal for her”.

“That’s brilliant; I wish I could find a way to help my two make that connection”. She frowned thoughtfully; “What was it you found attractive about the Mennonite faith? I mean, I came back to the church I was raised in, but you moved to something completely different”.

I shrugged; “I didn’t really know very much about different denominations; it wasn’t as if I was evaluating all the local churches to see which one I liked the best. Kelly and her family were all Mennonites and their pastor, Rob Neufeld, had been one of the people who guided me on my way into Christian faith. So it just seemed natural that after I became a Christian I would stay with the people who had helped me find faith”. I grinned; “Rob was sneaky, actually; he invited me to play music in their church before I became a Christian. Kelly’s dad played guitar and Joe’s wife Ellie played the fiddle, and we worked up some gospel songs together, and before we knew it the people liked us and they wouldn’t let us stop!”

Wendy laughed, and Owen said, “They’re wonderful people, all of them”.

“You’ve been out there, then?” Wendy asked him.

“Oh yes – several times. Lorraine and I really loved Kelly, and of course we were kind of fond of this bloke too”.

“It was mutual”, I replied softly.

“Lorraine had difficulty conceiving when we first got married”, said Owen; “We tried for a few years and nothing seemed to work. She got really upset and angry about it, and then one time when we were out at Tom and Kelly’s on holiday Kelly spent a lot of time with her, just listening to her and loving her. She was a remarkable human being; I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone else with such a gift for sympathy and love”.

“She’d had struggles of her own, of course”, I said.

“With her cancer, you mean?” asked Wendy.

“Yes. After her first go around with it she lost both her ovaries, which meant she couldn’t have any more children. That was a real heartbreaker for her”.

“I can imagine”.

We were quiet for a moment, sipping thoughtfully at our tea, and then Owen smiled and said “So what about you, Wendy Howard; what have you been doing all these years?”

“Oh, well, my life’s not exactly been a smooth ride, I’m afraid!” She looked down at the floor, gathering her thoughts, and then said “I went to London, as you know. Mickey and I were able to work things out and we moved in together”.

“That was a big surprise for me”, I said; “You seemed so keen on staying in Oxford for your doctorate, and I was pretty sure you and Mickey were past history”.

“It might have been better if we had been. Anyway, my daughter Lisa was born about a year after we moved in together, and we got married not long after that. I worked on my doctorate at UCL, and Mickey did well in photo-journalism and set up his own business. He got to travel to all kinds of exotic locations to take photographs for magazines, and later on he got a name for going to dangerous places on assignment”.

“That must have been stressful”, I said.

“Yes. Anyway, by the time Colin was born I had my doctorate, and a couple of years later I got a job teaching at UCL. The rest you know. I wrote some books, and I got a chance about six years ago to move back to Oxford and get a fellowship at Merton. The time was right because Mickey and I had just broken up”. She paused, and then said, “He got quite violent, and the children and I were just too afraid to stay with him any more. I actually had him charged when I left; he was convicted, and he spent some time in jail. He’s out now, but he’s supposed to stay away from us. Most of the time, he does”.

Owen and I were both suddenly silent; I was amazed by the matter-of-factness with which she had summed up what had obviously been a horrific experience for her. I was just opening my mouth to speak when we heard the front door open, and after a moment Emma came into the living room with Becca behind her, both of them still wearing their coats, with shopping bags over their shoulders. “Look who we found in the covered market!” she said with a triumphant smile.

“I was shopping for ingredients for jambalaya”, said Becca, “because someone told me she’d like to have it for her birthday”. She glanced at the three of us; “Sorry – I didn’t mean to interrupt”.

“Not at all”, I replied, getting to my feet. “Becs, you probably don’t remember Wendy Howard? Wendy, this is my sister Becca”.

“Actually, I do remember you”, said Becca as Wendy got up to greet her; “I think I must have been about ten or eleven the last time I heard the three of you play together”.

“Did you hear us more than once?” asked Wendy; “I thought perhaps it had only been that one time we played for your mum’s music society”.

“You came to the house to practice a couple of times; I remember you using Mum’s music room”.

“So we did!” Wendy held out her hand, and Becca took it with a smile. “Are you going to sing some more?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know; I should be going soon”.

“Do one song for us, at least”, Emma asked eagerly; “I’ve heard so much about the three of you and I’d love to hear you play together”.

I glanced quizzically at my two partners; Wendy shrugged, and Owen grinned and said, “Take your coats off, then, while we try to think of something that won’t embarrass us too badly!”

“Is there tea in the pot?” Emma asked.

“I think there is”.

So Becca and Emma hung up their coats, Emma poured tea for them both and then they sat down with us. Owen glanced at Wendy; “What do you think?”

“What about ‘The Recruited Collier?’”

“Good choice!” Owen looked across at me; “Key of E Flat?”

“I’m on it”.

The song was not one of the pieces we had played earlier, but it had been one of our favourites years ago. Owen and I began to play a slow introduction, and after a moment Wendy took a deep breath, closed her eyes and began to sing:

“What’s the matter with you my lass, and where’s your dashing Jimmy?
Them soldier boys have picked him up, and taken him far from me.
Last pay day he went into town, and them red-coated fellows
Enticed him in and made him drunk, and he’d better have gone to the gallows”.

For the second verse of the song, I sang harmony with her:

“The very sight of his cockade it sets us all a-crying,
And me I nearly fainted twice; I thought that I was dying.
My father would have paid the smart and he ran for the golden guinea,
But the sergeant swore he’d kissed the book so now they’ve got young Jimmy”.

“When Jimmy talks about the wars, it’s worse than death to hear him.
I must go out and hide my tears, because I cannot bear him.
A brigadier or a grenadier he says they’re sure to make him,
and still he jibes and cracks his jokes, and bids me not forsake him”.

Emma was sitting on the floor, her legs stretched out in front of her and her back resting against the front of the sofa, a smile of pure pleasure on her face; Becca was sitting forward in her chair, her legs crossed, obviously captivated by the music. Wendy and Owen and I sang the last verse together:

“As I walk o’er yon stubble field, below where runs the seam;
I think on Jimmy hewing there, but it was all a dream.
He hewed the very coals we burn and when the fire I’m lighting,
To think the lumps were in his hands, it sets my heart a-beating.
So break my heart and then it’s o’er, oh break my heart my dearie;
And I lie in this cold, green ground, for of single life I’m weary”.

When the last chord died down there was a brief silence in the room, and then Becca shook her head and said, “My God – that was absolutely gorgeous!”

Emma nodded; “Beautiful!” she said softly. “I had no idea…”

Wendy coloured slightly; “You’re both very kind”.

“Will you do another one?” Emma asked.

“Oh, I don’t know”, Wendy replied; “I should be going soon. My daughter’s joining us for supper tonight, and I need to get something ready”.

“Speaking of families”, said Owen, “Did you lose mine somewhere along the way, Em?”

Emma laughed; “Lorraine told me she had a couple of other things she needed to get, so she sent me home with Becca”.

Owen gave her a knowing grin; “I see how it is!”

“That’s what I thought!”

“Are they coming back here to get me, then?”

“I think that’s the plan; Lorraine told me to tell you if there was any change you should call her on her mobile”.

“Right”.

Wendy smiled at Owen and me; “I really should be going”, she said.

We all got to our feet, and the next thing we knew, the three of us were gripping each other tight in a three-way hug. For a long moment we held each other, and when we stepped back, Wendy’s eyes were shining. “Thank you both”, she said quietly; “I really enjoyed myself”.

“So did we”, Owen replied; “Let’s do it again soon”.

“Absolutely”. Wendy turned to Emma; “Happy birthday tomorrow”, she said.

“Thanks!”

“I hear you’d like to talk about my books some time”.

Emma gave her a delighted smile; “I really would!”

“Well, we can make that happen. Get my e-mail address from your dad”.

“Thank you – I would love that!”

I followed Wendy out into the narrow hallway, took her coat down from the peg and helped her on with it. “That was very thoughtful of you”, I said; “You must be really busy”.

“Term’s over now; I’ve got a bit more free time”. She wound her scarf around her neck, zipped up her coat, and turned to face me. “Tom, I wonder if you and Emma would like to come over to Merton for a special Christmas event?”

“What sort of event?”

“I mentioned my daughter Lisa; she’s up at Christchurch reading Modern Languages, but she also sings in a chamber choir called the Radcliffe Singers, and they’re doing a Christmas carol concert at Merton Chapel on the Sunday before Christmas. It’ll be an evening event, of course”.

“A Christmas carol concert?”

“Yes. The university’s down so there aren’t many people around, but they usually get a good turnout for their concerts; if you want to come I should get tickets for you fairly soon. They’ve arranged to have a reception in hall afterwards, if you’d like to stay”.

I smiled; “I’m actually rather fond of Christmas carols”.

“They’ll probably do a few of the less well-known ones”.

“All the more interesting. Put me down for sure, and I’ll talk to Emma and see if she’s interested, too. How much are the tickets?”

She shook her head; “Come as my guests”.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course”.

“All right, then; I’ll talk to Emma and get back to you as quickly as possible”.

“Good”. She held out her hand, and I shook it rather formally. Then, a little impulsively, she leaned forward and kissed me lightly on the cheek. “This was a really good afternoon”, she said; “Thank you”.

“I’m glad you could come, and I know Owen is too”.

“I hope you have a wonderful party with Emma tomorrow”.

“I’m sure we will”.

******

Link to Chapter 13

Baptism in the Holy Spirit (a sermon on Acts 19:1-7 & Mark 1:4-11)

Today I want to talk to you about Baptism in the Holy Spirit.

I’m guessing some of you might be puzzled by this phrase. I can almost hear you thinking, “What the heck is ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’?” We all understand baptism in water – we’ve seen it lots of times. Sometimes it happens when adults come to faith in Jesus and then step forward to be baptized to seal their commitment to Christ. But most often it happens to babies, when parents present them to be baptized, or ‘christened’ as it’s still often called. But what on earth is ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’?

If you feel confused about this, you’re in good company! In our reading from Acts today we heard that when Paul was traveling through what is now Turkey, he came to Ephesus and found some people who claimed to be Christian disciples. But when he asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” they replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” (Acts 19:2).

Christian people today often share their confusion. We understand about God the Father who created the world and everything in it. We understand about Jesus the Son of God who lived and died and rose again to save us. But we find it hard to understand or even imagine the Holy Spirit. This third person of the Trinity seems shadowy and vague, and perhaps it seems appropriate to us that we once called him ‘The Holy Ghost’! And as for the idea that you can somehow be ‘baptized’ in the Holy Spirit in the same way we’re baptized in water – well, that sounds really strange to a lot of people. But in fact it ‘s clearly taught in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

So let’s think for a few minutes about water baptism and baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Baptism in water is something we got from Jesus himself; Jesus teaches us that it’s part of the process of becoming his disciples. He says in Matthew 28 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (18b-19). The early Christian missionaries enthusiastically obeyed this command; they traveled all over the known world preaching the good news of Jesus. People heard their message, and some believed it and wanted to commit their lives to Jesus and become his followers. So they were baptized and they joined the Christian community where they learned to put his commands into practice.

At first all those who were baptized were adults. Later on, many Christians came to believe it was right and good for children of Christian parents to be received into the Christian community by baptism, so that families could be united as followers of Jesus. But whether adult or infant, from the beginning baptism has been a missionary act. The Christian message goes out and those who believe and want to practice it are baptized – along with their children – as a sign of being reborn into the new life in Christ. It’s part of the process of becoming a Christian.

One of the difficulties about reading the Bible is that the different books were written by different people, and they don’t always use words in the same way. This is true with this phrase, ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’: it’s used by Paul in one sense, and the gospel writers in another. Paul only uses it once, in 1 Corinthians 12:13, and it’s clear that he means exactly what we’ve just been talking about – the experience of becoming a Christian. He says, ‘For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit’.

He’s talking about the experience of becoming a Christian: you put your faith in Jesus, you’re baptized, and you receive the Holy Spirit – in whatever order those things come for you! We’re all alike in this, Paul says – all of us Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We should never take this incredible gift for granted. In Advent we were thinking about Mary becoming pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, and carrying the Son of God in her womb for nine months. She was literally a human temple – a place where God lives. But what was true of Mary in a physical sense is also true of you and me in a spiritual sense: as Paul says in another place, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul means by being ‘baptized by one Spirit into one Body’ – we put our faith in Jesus, we are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

So a baptism service isn’t just about parents and godparents standing up and making promises. And an adult conversion – when a person turns from unbelief and commits themselves to becoming a Christian – isn’t just a human process either. It’s not just about human reasoning, human decision, or human willpower. No – the Holy Spirit is at work, coming to live in you, marking you as belonging to God, connecting you with God, giving you the power to follow Christ. It’s actually quite miraculous! So please – let’s not take it for granted! Let’s thank God every day that we’ve been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and let’s learn to recognise his presence and follow his leading.

And this leads me to ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ in the second sense – the sense in which the gospel writers and the Book of Acts use the phrase. In our gospel for today we heard about John the Baptist and his preaching of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People came to him from all over the place and were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins for all the world to hear. It was a powerful religious revival and it had some people wondering whether John was the Messiah that they’d all been waiting for. But he said ‘no’. Look at Mark 1:7:

‘He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”’.

The Greek word ‘baptizo’ means to be totally immersed, to be surrounded and filled with water, like a sunken ship sitting quietly on the bottom of the ocean – or to be overwhelmed, like a house swept away by a flood. This, says John, is what the Messiah is going to do for you. Baptism with water may seem pretty exciting, but it’s pretty tame compared to what you’re going to experience when the Messiah comes! You’re going to be totally flooded, overwhelmed, immersed, and filled to overflowing with the power of God’s Spirit!

In the Book of Acts, after Jesus’ resurrection, he himself confirmed this promise to his disciples. He told them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for ‘the promise of the Father. “This”, he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now”’ (Acts 1:4-5). And so it was; a few days later we read that the early Christians were all together in one place, when ‘suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’ (Acts 2:2-4). People heard the noise, and a crowd gathered, marveling because they could each hear the Christians speaking in their own language. Eventually Peter got up to speak, and the Holy Spirit used his words so powerfully that three thousand people decided to become Christians that day. They saw that God wasn’t just a theory or a theological symbol: there was a real God who did real things in the real lives of real people. They had seen it in the newly Spirit-filled Christians, and they wanted it for themselves.

And by the way, this wasn’t just a one-off thing in the lives of these early Christians – they had a similar experience in Acts 4, after they’d been persecuted for the first time by the religious establishment. We read that they gathered together and prayed, and when they were finished ‘the place where they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness’ (v.31).

Experiences like these seem to be just part of normal Christian life in the New Testament. In our reading from Acts this morning Paul notices immediately when the Spirit seems to be missing. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asks, and they reply, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit”. On further inquiry he discovers that they haven’t actually received Christian baptism yet, only the baptism of John, so he baptizes them. Afterwards we read that ‘When Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (Acts 19:1-7).

So in the New Testament there’s this strongly experiential element to Christianity. It’s not just about belonging to an institution called the church, and going to its services on Sundays. It’s not just about reading the Bible and believing the creeds and the doctrines of the Christian faith. It’s not just about trying to put the teaching of Jesus into practice in your daily life.

No – New Testament Christianity is also an experience – an experience of knowing God. It’s an experience that makes absolutely no sense unless there’s a real God who does real things in the lives of real people. It’s about my life and your life being touched by the hand of God. It’s about God coming to live in us in a spiritual sense, so that we become temples of the Holy Spirit – places where God lives.

Some Anglicans are afraid of this kind of talk because it sounds rather Pentecostal to them. They think “That’s not why I go to an Anglican church; if I wanted that kind of thing I’d go down to Millwoods Pentecostal!” So let’s address this for a minute: is this sort of spirituality only for Pentecostals, or is it for us too?

The thing about reading the stories of the earliest Christians is that they weren’t Roman Catholics or Baptists or Anglicans or Pentecostals – they were just Christians. Their Christianity had a strong sacramental flavour to it – they had a very high view of sacraments like baptism and Holy Communion – something we associate today with the catholic traditions. They also had a high view of scripture and the importance of teaching, like modern evangelicals. They took the teaching of Jesus seriously and tried to put it into practice in their daily lives, loving their enemies and living simple lives with few possessions – something we associate today with Mennonite and Anabaptist traditions. And they also had a strongly experiential element – they expected the Holy Spirit to touch them and do remarkable things in their lives – just like modern Pentecostals.

Nowadays we’ve split up these emphases and made different denominations out of them, but the Holy Spirit won’t go along with that. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have many churches, he has one Church, the Body of Christ. All of these truths are part of the universal Christian faith, meant for all people in all places. We Anglicans are happy to share our gifts of liturgy and sacraments with other Christians. And we also need to be open to receiving from the treasures other Christians have been given.

I’m not going to describe for you this morning what an experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is like, because there isn’t just one experience. God works in many different ways in the lives of many different people. Some people have experienced something very dramatic – an overpowering feeling of the love of God, maybe accompanied by something like the speaking in tongues described in our Acts reading. For other people it’s been something much more quiet and gradual, perhaps deepened as they’ve given more time to silent prayer on a regular basis.

But I do want to say something about the fear factor. I can understand it, because I’ve felt that fear myself. I like a form of Christianity where everything’s under control, where everything’s predictable. I can preach a pretty good sermon and do a half decent job of running a parish all by myself, thank you very much, without having to call on God for help! God’s so unpredictable; if I pray for the Spirit to come, he might and he might not, and I’m going to look pretty foolish if he doesn’t. So I’d rather just avoid the whole thing.

But I don’t think avoiding it is normal Christianity. Read through the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts, and see the place of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the early Christians. See how Jesus promises this gift to his followers, and how he reminds us that the heavenly Father gives good gifts to those who ask him. Ask yourself, “If I pray to be filed with the Holy Spirit, would God give me something bad in response?” And if you decide – as I’ve decided – that this is meant for us today too, then pray, and keep on praying, trusting the Father who loves you, until you also experience baptism in the Holy Spirit, as the early Christians experienced it and as Christians down through the centuries have experienced it.

Let me close with this thought. In Psalm 34:8 the writer says, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him’. He doesn’t say, ‘Think about eating’ or ‘Do a study on eating’, or ‘listen to the experiences of others who have eaten’. He says, ‘taste’. In other words, for this Old Testament writer the experience of the presence and power of God was as tangible as the taste of his food.

Now whether you’ve experienced that for yourself or not, I think you can agree that it would be a life-changing experience. So let me encourage you to cultivate your hunger for God. Don’t be satisfied with anything less than the touch of his Spirit. Ask, and seek, and knock, and keep on asking, seeking, and knocking until the Lord answers your prayer – and then come back and tell your brothers and sisters in Christ what the Lord has done for you.

‘A Time to Mend’ Chapter 11

Link back to Chapter 10

Through October and early November Emma and I gradually fell into a pattern of going out to Northwood at least one evening during the week to visit my parents. We usually went out for part of the weekend as well; if we went on Friday night we would stay until late afternoon or early evening on Saturday, and then go home so that we could attend Banbury Road Baptist Church the next morning. If we went out on Saturday morning we usually went to the village church Sunday, had lunch with my parents and then went home early in the afternoon so that I could finish my school preparations for the week ahead.

One weekend in mid-November we drove out to Northwood for supper on Friday night, intending to spend most of the weekend. Becca was on call but she was planning on joining us for supper on Saturday, and so was my Auntie Brenda. My father was getting over a mild stomach bug and was still feeling a little nauseated, so he went to bed early. I had brought some work out with me, so I asked my mother if she and Emma would excuse me for a couple of hours; “If I get this work done tonight I’ll be able to forget about school for the rest of the weekend”, I said, “or at least, ’til Sunday afternoon”.

“Of course” she replied; “Would you like to use your dad’s study?”

“Actually the kitchen table will be fine, if you don’t mind?”

“Not at all”.

So I sat in the kitchen for a couple of hours, marking assignments and then doing preparation work for the week ahead. In my early days as a teacher I had found marking tedious; reading thirty papers one after another, each one dealing with basically the same material, had a tendency to drag after a while. But gradually over the years I had come to see it as an opportunity to get inside the minds of my students; not all of them would let me in very far, but some did, and they gave me insights about themselves I would not have been able to discover in any other way.

When the marking was done I made a few general notes to cover with the classes the following week, and then did a little re-reading of some material I would be introducing to my Year Elevens on Monday. I was almost finished when my mother slipped her head around the door. “Can I come in?” she asked with a smile.

“Of course; I believe it’s your kitchen!”

“I’m just going to put the kettle on. Emma’s reading her book in the living room but she tells me she thinks you might be just about ready for a cup of hot chocolate”.

“She knows me well. I’m nearly finished here”.

“I hope I’m not interrupting?”

“No – I’ve got about five minutes to go, so by the time you boil the kettle I’ll be done”.

She came into the room, glancing at the files on the table in front of me. “I remember you talking with your brother about these long working evenings”.

“I’m used to it. Usually I’m at my desk for two hours at least two nights a week, but with this unfamiliar curriculum it’s more likely to be three. I try to keep my weekends free until Sunday afternoon but this week I got a little behind, so that’s why I’m playing catchup tonight. On Sunday afternoons I start work around three or four and I usually put in at least three hours”.

“It’s a time-consuming job”.

“True – but as Dad used to remind me frequently, the holidays are good”.

She went round to the kitchen sink and poured water into the kettle; “I’ll just put this on the stove to boil”, she said, “and then I’ll leave you alone for five more minutes”.

“Thanks”.

******

As usual I was awake early the next morning, and I went out for a solitary walk before anyone else was up. My mother was making tea by the time I got back; I took Emma a cup and then, as sometimes happened on a Saturday morning, I sat in her room with her while she was drinking it, talking with her about all kinds of things. After about half an hour she glanced at the clock beside her bed and said, “Well, I suppose Grandma’s waiting patiently to make us some breakfast”.

“Probably”.

“What about Grandpa?”

“I haven’t seen him yet”.

“He’s starting chemo again soon, right?”

“Next week, if they think he’s well enough”.

“Do you think his stomach bug is chemo-related?”

“I doubt it; it’s been a couple of months since his last dose”.

“Well”, she said, swinging her legs out of the bed, “I’m heading for the shower. Tell Grandma I’ll be down in ten minutes”.

******

By mid-morning my father had still not appeared downstairs. My mother went up to see how he was feeling, and she came down a few minutes later to tell us that he sent his apologies and would probably not be joining us for morning coffee; he was still not feeling well enough to leave his room.

“So this is a little more than a mild stomach bug”, I said.

She shrugged; “It’s persistent, anyway”.

“Should we call a doctor?”

“I’ll wait ’til after Becca comes; if she thinks it’s more serious I’ll do whatever she suggests”.

“Good plan”.

Emma had been sitting quietly in the corner reading; now she closed her book and said, “Would you like me to make him a cup of herbal tea, Grandma? It’s a lot easier on the stomach. Do you have any in the house?”.

“I think there might be some chamomile somewhere in the kitchen. We very rarely drink it; I don’t know what he’ll think”.

Emma got to her feet; “Shall I put the kettle on?”

“Alright, then, I suppose there’s no harm in trying”.

They went out to the kitchen together. I sat in the living room alone for a while, sipping my morning coffee and enjoying the sunshine pouring in the windows. It was a fine late-autumn day outside, and the weather was beckoning me; I was already planning a long walk that afternoon. I glanced at the book Emma had been reading; since finishing Wendy’s introduction to George Eliot, she had begun to slowly work her way through Daniel Deronda.

After a few moments I heard the creak of the staircase as Emma and my mother made their way upstairs, and then for a long time all was quiet. I could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock out in the hallway, and back in the kitchen the faint sound of a radio playing classical music. Finally I heard footsteps coming down the stairs; my mother came back into the room, a smile on her face, and sat down beside me. She leaned over and poured herself a cup of coffee. “I know I’ve said this before”, she said, “but you’ve raised a wonderful girl there”.

“She’s charmed her way into Dad’s good graces again, has she?”

“He was surprised, of course, but she sat down beside the bed and asked him how he was feeling. The next thing I knew she was helping him sit up a bit and putting some pillows behind his back; then he started to drink the tea she’d poured for him and she started asking him questions about this and that, and now they’re chatting away like old cronies up there”.

I smiled and nodded; “I’ve seen that happen many times. She just seems to have a way with older people, especially when they’re feeling under the weather. Kelly was like that too”.

“Yes – she’s so very much like her mother, isn’t she?” She glanced at the book in my hand; “What are you reading?”

“It’s Emma’s book actually. She’s on a George Eliot track right now”. I told my mother about our discovery of Wendy’s book, and our meeting with her; to my surprise she remembered Wendy very clearly from our student days. “Yes – you and Owen brought her out here a couple of times; you played a concert for our music society one night, didn’t you?”

“We did – I’m surprised you remember!”

“I remember it very well. It wasn’t often I got the opportunity to hear you and Owen play after you went to university, and then when Wendy joined your group – well, I think that was the only time I heard the three of you together in a concert setting. She had a marvellous voice, didn’t she?”

“Yes she did”.

“Do you think you’ll be seeing much of her?”

“I’m not sure; she seems fairly busy”.

A few minutes later I heard Emma coming down the stairs. She came into the living room, put two empty cups on the coffee tray and said “Well, I think chamomile tea was a hit”.

My mother put her hand on Emma’s. “Thank you; you’ve brought a little bit of sunshine into his life this morning. I know he sometimes seems hard and unfeeling but he’s actually really very pleased that you’re here”.

“I know he is”, Emma replied.

******

Emma and I went out for a walk for a couple of hours after lunch. She enjoyed having me show her the country walks Owen and I had taken when we were teenagers and she especially liked the footpath along the bank of the Thames, which had become a standard part of our afternoon outings. Also, it had become customary for us to drop by for half an hour at the home of George and Eleanor Foster. Eleanor’s hip was giving her a lot of trouble but George often joined us for part of our walk; he had discovered that Emma enjoyed good books and he liked talking with her about her reading.

When we arrived back at my parents’ home later in the afternoon my father was sitting in the living room with my mother. In answer to our queries, he said that he was feeling a lot better, and perhaps there was something in chamomile tea that could be marketed to the National Health Service. Then, sitting in his easy chair by the fire, he looked across at Emma and said, “Speaking of the National Health Service, what’s happening about that little glitch you ran into when you were applying for your nursing training? Have you got it sorted out yet?”

“Yes and no”, she replied quietly. “They’ve admitted I don’t really fall into either of their usual categories, so they’ve agreed to let me begin nursing training next September after only a year’s residence in the UK instead of three. But they won’t waive their policy of not funding me until I’ve lived here for three years”.

“That won’t be a problem”, I added; “As I said, I’ve got the money to cover it”.

“Where will you be going for this training?” my father asked Emma.

“Oxford Brookes – the School of Health and Social Care is right in Marston and the teaching hospital is the JR”.

“So you’d be living at home?”

“Yeah – that’s one of the nice things about it”.

“And is this a degree program or some sort of diploma?”

“A degree; that’s what I want to do – or at least make a start on, depending on how long we stay here”.

He nodded his approval; “Very wise. Now tell me – exactly how much per year is this going to cost?”

“Dad, you don’t need to worry about this”, I cut in. “As I said, I can handle it, and the chances are that before too long Emma will be able to get a paying job too, so she can help”.

“Will you just answer my question, please? How much money are we talking about?”

I was determined not to let his insistent manner irritate me. “For an overseas student it’s around six thousand pounds a year”.

“Emma’s considered an overseas student, is she? Even though she’s a British citizen?”

“Yes”.

“And that cost probably doesn’t include textbooks and other incidental expenses?”

“No, it’s just registration and tuition”.

“That’s a lot of money”. He turned to Emma; “I’d be glad to pay those fees for you”.

“Dad!” I exclaimed angrily; “Haven’t you been listening? I’ve got the money – we don’t need financial help!”

“But there must be many other things you could spend the money on; if you end up staying  for a longer period of time you may want to buy a house, and the Oxford area’s very expensive. If I cover Emma’s fees you’ll be free to use your money on other things, won’t you? And why shouldn’t I do this for my granddaughter? Surely you’re not saying you don’t ever want me to give her anything?”

“Of course I’m not saying that”. I frowned; “Are you planning on doing this for Rick’s children too?”

“They probably won’t need it; Rick’s making a lot more money than you are”.

“Dad, I really would rather you let me handle this in my own way. I’ve got enough money to cover it”.

He eyed me in silence for a moment, his face hardening. I could feel myself reverting to my fifteen year old self, and I knew that if I wasn’t careful his overbearing manner would provoke me to lose my temper.

“I don’t understand this”, he said slowly and coldly. “I’m offering to pay Emma’s fees through her time at university. This will be a real help to her because she won’t have any financial worries through her nursing training. It will be a real help to you because you’ll be freed of the expense of her education and you’ll be able to use the money you’ve saved to get ahead in other ways. And it will be a benefit to me too, because I’ve hardly seen her at all for most of her life and I haven’t had the opportunity to do her any good. But you’re sitting there telling me you don’t want this help. I find it hard to attribute that attitude to anything other than unwillingness to accept anything from me, and I find that quite offensive”.

“You’re wrong”, I said quietly; “That’s not the reason”.

“Then why?”

“As I keep telling you, I have plenty of money to cover Emma’s education, and at the moment I don’t really have any other pressing financial needs. We aren’t planning on staying here permanently so I don’t need to buy a house, and I can cover our monthly rent from my teacher’s salary with a little help from what I’m earning in rental income on our house back home. Emma and I are living simply – which is the way we’ve always lived – and we really don’t need a big infusion of cash right now”.

“Don’t be ridiculous. That car of yours won’t last very long – it’s already five years old – and anyway, I’m sure you’re going to want to make some trips over to Canada to see family and friends some time in the next couple of years, and those trips will need to be paid for. There isn’t a person alive whose daily living couldn’t be made more comfortable with a little more money. Why not let me cover Emma’s fees, at least? That way you’d have another six thousand a year as a cushion”.

I shook my head slowly. “I really don’t know what else to say. I don’t know how else to convince you that I’m fine and I don’t need your help”.

“But I’m not asking you to let me rescue you from financial difficulty; I’m asking you to let me give you a gift, so you can use some of your money on other things or save it for a rainy day. Why won’t you let me give you a gift?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes – honestly”.

“Because I know there will be strings attached”.

He looked at me coldly; “What do you mean?”

“I mean you’ll assume that providing the gift gives you the right to exert control over our lives, just like you tried to do when I was in university”.

“Don’t be ridiculous! How could I possibly exert control over you and Emma? You’re proving the absurdity of that remark right now!”

“You’ll find a way”.

He stared at me for a moment and I saw the anger in his eyes. “And you wonder why I find your attitude offensive”, he said.

“You say it’s a gift?”

“Yes”.

“Then why aren’t you planning on giving the same gift to Rick’s children?”

“As I said, Rick’s in a much better financial position than you are”.

“Maybe so, although you don’t really know anything about the financial position I’m in. But Emma’s got some advantages too; for instance, her dad’s not a workaholic. I don’t spend all my time at work and when I’m home I’m not constantly answering work-related phone calls; Emma and I actually get time to do things together. That’s got to be worth something”.

“This is not about Rick’s busy life; that’s an entirely different subject”.

“Not really; this is about you comparing your two sons – the older son who refused to go along with your plan and went off to Canada to find his own way, and the younger son who dutifully went along with the path you had planned for him and who’s now very successful and very wealthy”.

“Well, you must admit there’s some truth in that – Rick’s financial position is very good and his children will have no worries when it comes to university. And as for you refusing to go along with my plan for your life – well, I still think you made a big mistake there. If you’d stayed in England and gone into Law, Emma would be a UK resident and the NHS would be covering her fees now, and you’d be a lot better off financially than you are”.

“If I’d stayed in England”, I replied softly, “Emma wouldn’t be Emma, because I would never have met her mother, and she wouldn’t have had all the benefits of being part of the Reimer family – one of them being that in that family I never once had this kind of argument”.

He shook his head slowly; “I see”, he said coldly; “I spent your high school years being unfavourably compared to George Foster, and now I’m going to have to sit here and listen to you telling me I don’t measure up to the saintly standard set by the Reimer family. Don’t forget – I paid every penny for your five years at Oxford, even though you refused to follow the career I wanted for you! I didn’t force you to do what I wanted, or refuse to fund your education unless you went along with my wishes; I paid for the whole thing. And I was able to do that because I worked hard in the job you never approved of. Lots of parents need to ask for government help to fund their children’s education, but thanks to the career I had chosen I didn’t need to ask for handouts like that. There wasn’t even any real need for you to work in your summer holidays – you insisted on doing so, but you didn’t need to. So I’m getting rather tired of you getting on your soapbox and criticizing me for my wealth without acknowledging your debt to that wealth. I find that attitude hypocritical in the extreme”.

“You’re calling me a hypocrite?”

“In this instance, yes”.

I could feel my heart pounding. “Well, perhaps I’m not such a wealthy man as you”, I retorted, “but at least I haven’t been too busy to spend time with Emma while she’s been growing up!”

Emma had been listening quietly, but now she spoke up. “Dad”, she said softly, “please stop”.

I turned to face her; “But…”

“I think you should both stop”, she said, looking from me to my father. “This has gone a lot further than my tuition fees, and honestly, if you’re going to go after each other like this, I’d rather not go to university at all”.

“Em…”

She shook her head. “I think you should tell him, Dad”.

“I would really rather not…”

“I know, but he’ll understand”.

“Tell me what?” my father asked.

Emma fixed me with her eyes. “Please, Dad”.

“But…”

She reached out and put her hand on mine; “Then let me tell him”.

I looked at her in silence for a moment, and then I shook my head; “I’ll do it”.

“Do what?” my father demanded.

“Hush, Frank”, my mother said softly; “He’s about to tell you”.

I squeezed Emma’s hand and then sat back in my chair. “I don’t need any financial help from you, Dad”, I said. “I have a hundred thousand dollars, plus two years’ worth of interest, in a savings account for Emma. It came from Kelly’s life insurance policy. After her first bout with cancer back in 1986 she insisted on taking it out. She said it would be the smart thing to do, because…” I paused for a moment, feeling the sudden surge of emotion I had been dreading; “Because cancer sometimes recurs, and we had a child to think of”.

I saw the sudden understanding in his eyes. “Of course! I should have realized that! That’s exactly the kind of thing Kelly would have done”. He frowned thoughtfully for a moment, and then he said, “Well, that was very wise of her, but I still don’t see why you won’t let me pay Emma’s fees; then you could save that money and use it for something else in the future”.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Dad!” I cried, blinking back the sudden rush of tears; “Can’t you see that I could never live with myself if I used it for anything else? Don’t you get it, even now?”

“Oh Tom”, my mother breathed.

I wiped my eyes angrily with the back of my hand. “How could I possibly allow myself to benefit from Kelly’s death? Don’t you understand that I’d give up every penny I had, and far more besides, if I could only get her back? The only reason I haven’t given every cent of it away is that I know Kelly would never, ever want Emma to be deprived of a good education just because she’s not here any more to help me pay for it. But I can’t possibly use it for anything else; I just can’t”. I got to my feet quickly; “I’m sorry”, I said; “I need to…”

My mother reached out and put her hand on my arm. “Go”, she said quietly; “Take all the time you need”.

I nodded gratefully at her, and then turned and left the room.

******

About half an hour later I was sitting in the wing chair beside my bedroom window when I heard a quiet knock on the door.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“It’s me, Tommy”, Becca replied.

“Come in”.

She slipped into the room, closed the door quietly behind her, and then came and knelt down on the floor beside me. “Hello there”, she said, sitting back on her heels.

“Hi; did you just get here?”

“I’ve been here for about ten minutes; Auntie Brenda came out with me. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine”.

She put her hand on mine. “I heard what happened. Emma’s worried; she told me she was the one who suggested you tell Dad about the money”.

“And she was right. I should have told him a long time ago, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it without breaking down – which is exactly what happened”. I looked at her; “Is he down there still?”

“Yes, but he’s not saying much”.

“I still don’t think he understands how I feel”.

She frowned; “I wouldn’t be so sure, Tommy. I’ll be surprised if he brings up the idea of paying Emma’s tuition fees again”.

“You think?”

“I do. It took him a bit longer to get there, but I think he’s there now”.

I gave a heavy sigh; “I hope so”.

She squeezed my hand. “Come on”, she said; “Every minute you spend up here by yourself makes it harder for you to come down. Mum’s made a pot of tea and she and Auntie Brenda are working on dinner; let’s go down and give them a hand”.

******

Emma and I drove back to our place early on Sunday morning to go to church. Later, when we were sitting at the table eating a light lunch, she was strangely quiet. Eventually I said, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah”.

“Are you sure?”

“I’m just thinking”.

“About anything in particular?”

She nodded, looking at me seriously. “Why do you and Grandpa have such a hard time getting along with each other? I sometimes think you really hate each other”.

“That would be a pretty strong word”.

She shrugged; “I’m just telling you what I see”.

“Fair enough”.

“So – what’s it all about?”

“Well”, I said reluctantly, “that’s a big subject”.

“I thought it would be”.

“You want the whole story, do you?”

“Yes”.

I looked down for a few minutes, collecting my thoughts; then I said, “Okay, but it’s not a pleasant story, Em”.

“I understand that”.

I took a sip of my coffee and looked down at the plate in front of me. After a moment I said, “I don’t remember him being around much when I was little; he was busy building up the law firm, and he worked long hours and often brought work home with him. He pretty much left the day-to-day upbringing of his children to my mum. I have no memories of walks or games with him when I was a kid”. I paused for a moment; “Are you really sure you want to hear this?”

“Yes; I want to understand”.

I nodded; “Okay. Well, despite his absences, he was the kind of father who likes to control his kids’ lives and likes to push them to go further and achieve more. Nothing was ever good enough for him; no matter how hard you tried he’d always be able to find things to criticize. He had a wicked temper too; when he got angry he’d say things he shouldn’t have said, really hurtful things, and I was a sensitive kid, although I did my best to hide it. And like I told you a while back, he had definite plans for me”.

“Becoming a lawyer and taking over his practice”.

“Yes”. I gave her a wry grin. “That’s how ‘the Great War’ began; that’s what Owen called it. It started when I was fifteen. I had known since my early teens that Dad was raising me to be a lawyer, but by then I’d met Owen and his dad and I’d begun to realize for the first time that maybe my relationship with my dad wasn’t a normal one. Owen’s dad was my first taste of what a father is meant to be like; he was the one who first inspired me to want to be a teacher, too.

“I told Dad when I was fifteen that I wanted to become a teacher and we fought about it for two years. He’d followed in his father’s footsteps, and he’d just assumed I’d do the same. He was determined to stop me from screwing up my life, and I was just as determined to do what I wanted to do.

“It all came to a head in my last year of high school. We had a spectacular shouting match that lasted for hours, but in the end Mum took my side, and Dad knew he was beaten. From then on he very rarely spoke to me. I studied in Oxford for five years and every day he drove into Oxford to work, but he never once came to see me or asked me out for a drink or made any attempt at all to contact me.

“But even though I hardly ever saw him I could still feel his disapproval. Whenever I went home for holidays the atmosphere in the house was ice cold. He made no secret of how he felt; he was paying the bills so he ought to have the right to tell me what I should be studying and what I should be doing with my life. In his eyes paying for my education was a claim on my future, and I was rejecting that claim. After I finished my three-year English degree he put the pressure on again; he said it wasn’t too late for me to change my mind and I could still transfer to Law.

“But I refused, and for a few months after I started working on my PGCE he was angry with me again. But then he changed tactics; he started to try to control my teacher training and my plans for the future. He criticized the schools I chose to go to for my practicums – especially the one I went to in south Oxford, because it was in a poor area of the city. And then he started looking at job advertisements for me. Once toward the end of my second year of training he even called a school on my behalf to try to arrange an interview. He had no sense at all of how inappropriate that was; when I challenged him on it he said he didn’t want me throwing my life away teaching in third-rate schools on council estates. That’s how far he was willing to go in trying to control my life”.

“And that’s one of the reasons you don’t want him to pay my fees – because you’re afraid he’ll try to control my life too?”

“Yes”.

She put her hand on mine; “Oh, Dad”, she whispered.

I was quiet for a moment and then I said, “In the end I decided that the only way to be free of his interference was to leave the country. There was a student from Canada at our college and he told me about openings for teachers on the prairies. I made all the inquiries in secret, I applied for jobs and initiated the immigration procedure, all without telling Mum and Dad. I knew that once Dad found out he’d go ballistic.

“And I was right – he did”. I stopped talking, took a sip of my coffee and stared off into space. “I had lied to the whole family and told them I was going to get a job in Reading. Then a week before I was due to leave I told them the truth. We were all in the living room, including Rick and Becca; Becca was eleven at the time. I told Mum and Dad I had some news for them: I’d decided to move to Canada and I had a job at a school in Saskatchewan. Mum started to cry, Becca started to cry, and then Dad started to shout. He called me an idiot and a fool and a sneaking liar, and then he took his walking stick and attacked me with it”.

“Oh my God!”

“He struck me three times across my shoulders and twice across my lower back. Mum was crying and pleading with him to stop, but he didn’t, not until I managed to get out of the room and out of the house”.

I had avoided this scene in my memory for years, and as I was retelling it the raw anger was resurfacing. When I was able to continue I said, “So a week later I flew to Canada. I avoided home for that last week; I stayed at Owen’s. And as you know, since then I’ve only come to England a few times and dad has never been to Canada to visit – not for my wedding, and not even for your mum’s funeral”.

She looked at me for a moment without speaking, and then she squeezed my hand; “I don’t know what to say”.

“There isn’t really very much to say”.

She shook her head slowly; “You’re amazing, Dad”.

Amazing? Where did that come from?”

“When you heard that he was dying you came over here anyway, despite all you’ve told me, and you’ve been doing your best to be patient with him. And you’ve been so different in the way you brought me up – so patient and gentle and loving. Where did you learn to be such a good father?”

“Sometimes I’m not sure I am”.

“Yeah, you are”. She frowned; “I remember you told me once that you and Auntie Becca had a quarrel when she was younger”.

“Yes; she felt really hurt because I hadn’t told her what I was going to do: in fact, I’d lied to her about it. I’d told her the same thing I told the others – that I was moving to Reading to take up a teaching job there. She felt like I’d betrayed her; she refused to read any of my letters for the next two years. It was the only time in our lives that there was ever anything like a breach between us”.

“What brought you back together?”

I smiled at her; “Your mum, of course”.

“How?”

“We came to visit here two months before we got married. We attended Rick and Alyson’s wedding, and two weeks later Owen and Lorraine got married. But in between times we stayed at Northwood, and your mum was just herself; she spent time with Becca and listened to her and won her trust. And eventually she got Becca to talk to me, and we apologized to each other, and after that things got a lot better”.

“Auntie Becca’s in your wedding pictures”.

“Yes, your mum asked her while we were here if she’d be one of her bridesmaids. Becs was pretty excited”.

Emma leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. “I love you”, she said.

“I love you too, honey. Do you understand a little more about Grandpa and me now?”

“Yes”.

“Would you like some more coffee?”

“You sit tight; I’ll make it”.

She got up, picked up our mugs and went across to the kitchen sink; she rinsed out the cafetière, and then filled up the kettle and plugged it in. I watched her for a moment, and then got up and went to stand beside her as she was taking the ground coffee down from the cupboard. “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this since yesterday, and I’m wondering if I’m not just being stubborn”.

She rinsed out the mugs, wiped them with a tea towel and stood them on the counter; “You think you should let Grandpa pay my fees?”

“I don’t know. What I said is still true; I honestly don’t know if I could bring myself to use your mum’s life insurance money for anything else”.

“I understand”.

“But maybe I’m wrong about your grandpa’s motives. Maybe at seventy-two, with terminal cancer, he really doesn’t have the energy to try to control people’s lives any more. He certainly hasn’t shown any desire to control yours; quite the opposite, in fact”.

“What do you mean?”

I smiled at her; “Well, you have your mum’s way with you. I think he really likes you”.

She shrugged; “Maybe. I know he’s old and tired and he feels ill a lot of the time, and somewhere down inside there he must be scared, even if he won’t admit it. I try to keep that in mind when I’m with him”.

I bent and kissed her on the forehead. “Emma Dawn Masefield”, I said, “you are one special kid”.

She grinned at me; “You’re not bad yourself, Dad!”

“Thanks”.

“Do you have time for a walk after we have coffee, or do you have to get right down to work?”

“I have time; let’s wash the dishes up while the kettle’s boiling, and then we can have our coffee and go out for a while”.

******

Link to Chapter 12

Be Mery and Glad This Gude Newyere!

Here’s a medieval New Year’s carol.

What cher? Gud cher! Gud cher! Gud cher!
Be mery and glad this gude Newyere!

“Lyft up your harts and be glad”
In Cryste’s byrth the angel bad;
Say eche to oder, yf any be sad:
What cher? Gud cher! Gud cher! Gud cher!
Be mery and glad this gude Newyere!

Now the kyng of hevyn his byrth hath take,
Joy and myrth we owght to make.
Say eche to oder, for hys sake:
What cher? Gud cher! Gud cher! Gud cher!
Be mery and glad this gude Newyere!

I tell you all with hart so fre,
Ryght welcum ye be to me.
Be glad and mery for charite!
What cher? Gud cher! Gud cher! Gud cher!
Be mery and glad this gude Newyere!

The gudman of this place in fere
You to be mery he prayth you here;
And with gud hert he doth to you say:
What cher? Gud cher! Gud cher! Gud cher!
Be mery and glad this gude Newyere!

(From a manuscript from Balliol College, Oxford, MS.354. Described as ‘Richard Hill of London, commonplace-book in English, Latin and French, including transcripts of late medieval poems and carols, London annals, family memoranda, etc., first third of the 16th century.’ Original here. The Clerk of Oxford has a modernized text here.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018

Yes, I do believe in these things. I think the reason most people fail is because they make resolutions without making a plan to keep them. But I learned in the first half of 2016 that if I make a plan, I can keep it. And I also know myself well enough to know that if I do these things at times when there is a natural ‘new beginning’, it gives me an added psychological impetus.

So, the Lord being my helper, here are my three 2018 New Year’s Resolutions:

Resolution #1: Get back down to 165 lbs by the end of February (I’m currently at 174).

Plan: use the same diet and exercise regime I used January to June 2016 when I succeeded in losing 52 lbs.

Resolution #2: Don’t buy any new books in 2018. Instead, read the dozens of unread books on my shelves.

Plan: sign out of my Amazon account and let Marci change the password! (Just kidding: she knows about this resolution and will help me stick to it! Although, come to think of it, it might not be a bad idea…)

Resolution #3: Each week, plan and implement new ways to love my neighbour as myself.

Plan: Pick a day of the week to journal about this (probably Saturday) and, having decided what to do, put it on the calendar. I need to do this because I’m very selfish and this is the command I (can you believe it?) get most bored with.