Of Time and Spare Wheels
Time and planning – two things that are managed very differently in different cultures. When asked to serve and pray during the communion service at our church in St Albans, I would be on a rota organised six months in advance, I would know where I would sit and which part of the congregation I would serve. And everything would run like clockwork. It’s done a little differently here, as I was to discover for the first time, a few years ago.
That Sunday we arrived at church on time and settled into our usual place (yes, we have a usual place), and I noticed the communion table was prepared. The service began. As we were singing the first song, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Pastor Girma (who has been at the church over 40 years) had sidled up. “Brother” he whispered in my ear, “would you please serve communion, and give thanks for the bread?” My world stopped. I’ve done Myers-Briggs - I need to think and plan before I have to do something public. “Where shall I serve?” I asked, panic rising in my throat as I scanned the huge auditorium. “Over there” he said, waving his arm in the general direction of the left side of the building. “I usually know in advance and have time to prepare my thoughts!” I whispered back. “Well,” replied Pastor Girma, “you have a whole hour!”
And just like in St Albans, it all went like clockwork.
This Friday evening it happened again. A few weeks ago, Pastor Girma had asked Chris and me if we would “do a 10 to 20 minute talk” at an evening for married couples on 15th February. “What would you like us to say?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be. “Whatever you feel is right” he smiled, “It’s called ‘In It Together’, so talk about being in it together.”
Since then we had tried without success to find out exactly what would be happening at the “married couples evening”. Was it a “Valentine’s Day” thing? Was there a speaker? What angle should we take? (After 39 years of marriage we have a lot of material.) We had been asked because I am one of the church elders, and another elder was to do a similar thing, so I located him and asked what he had been asked to do. He didn’t know. “Just a testimony I think” he said, uncertainly. He’s from west Africa – and west Africans have an enviably relaxed attitude and don’t seem to be phased by anything. Unlike me. I needed to plan.
The day approached. Adverts for the evening appeared in the church notices. A main speaker. Testimonies. A meal. Who was the speaker? No-one knew. Chris and I pondered what we could say as part of our “testimony”, and came up with something. I jotted down some notes.
When we arrived on Friday evening we eventually found a programme, and we were billed as “Dr and Mrs Griffin – a reflection”. There was no main speaker – just us and the other elder and his wife. I found Pastor Girma. “A reflection?” I enquired, “we have prepared a testimony!”. That smile again. “Well, you have 15 minutes…”
My brain went into overdrive. I needed something amusing to start with. What if our wedding had been like an Ethiopian wedding? After the ceremony at Westminster Chapel if we were Ethiopians we would have been in one of several cars driving round and round the Victoria monument in front of Buckingham Palace hazard flashers on, horns blaring, bridesmaids sitting up dangerously out of car windows waving bouquets and ululating. I could make something of that. Then I remembered a profound comment from John Piper about Ephesians 5:25 in a recent article I had read – there’s an ending.
Under strict instructions from Chris to make sure I didn’t say anything about our 15-minute warning, the talk went off fairly well and we “reflected” together in front of about 90 couples scattered around the auditorium sitting at tables adorned with flowers, hearts and packets of imitation Smarties. Phew.
Today at church nothing surprising happened. But something did on the way home – for the first time in a very long time, I heard Chris scream.
We parked by the kerb a short way from a small supermarket where we wanted to buy some bread and to use a cash machine. We were only a few minutes. When we came out, there was that scream, and Chris began running. Realising what was happening I yelled and ran after her. A group of men had emerged from a minivan that had stopped next to our car and were trying to steal the spare wheel from under the back of the vehicle. They heard the scream too, and hopped back in and drove off, door still wide open – I tried to block them, but they would have run over me had I not jumped out of the way. It was with great relief that we realised Chris had scared them off before they had managed to extract the wheel. After all, this is our second spare wheel (the original was stolen over a year ago and replacement wheel and tyre cost me a fortune) so rather than just being chained on it is locked in place. A group of locals converged on us to see what the fuss was about. Finding out that nothing had been taken they smiled and praised God, and we drove off – slightly shaken and a little stirred…