The apprentice Catechist
The youth fellowship leader was totally convinced that the parish priest must move on, retire, go. This was God's will, and that was that. The Rector's stubborn resistance to the divine imperative ("the hairy hand of God"!) only increased the resolve of the "opposition party". At the fellowship Bible study the youth leader decided for direct action. The Rector's resistance was Satanic and they would cast him out by regularly stoning the rectory roof.
And so I was introduced to vagaries of the Anglican church. At some point in antiquity someone decided that theological students should prepare for ordination to the Anglican ministry by spending their Sundays assisting at a parish church. My first appointment was to the Parish of Paddington. This was the old Paddington before inner city living became fashionable. In fact the Rector advised me not to visit homes where the key was left in the front door. He didn't explain why, but I was soon to learn. I suppose you would say Paddington was a little rough around the edges in those days.
There I was, the official Catechist for St.George's Paddington. The Rector was a truly gentle man, none-the-less he expected me to chant the service. I mean: Country and Western yes, Anglican chant ****. Still, 'twas me job. In any case the congregation consisted of a dozen little old ladies who seemed very accepting of my total incapacity to intone chant. Mind you, hitting the right note was a bit difficult. Someone had decided to pinch the pipes from the church organ and the replacement harmonium was anything but tuneful. As was the practice in most Anglican churches of the time, we used the 1662 Prayer Book in direct contradiction to the author of the book who proclaimed that worship must be in the language of the common folk. Getting the mouth around "thee", "thou" and "thine" along with such beauties as "inestimable", took all my powers of concentration. I suppose it is a bit like singing "There is a green hill far away without a city wall". The "without" meant outside the city wall, not a city missing its wall. So much for quaint language.
Lunch was around at the Rectory, always a pleasant experience. What a wonderfully hospitable family. Then came afternoon visiting. This was anything but enjoyable. I mean, who wants a visit from the local Anglican Catechist on a Sunday afternoon anyway? On one occasion some youth fellowship members joined me on my afternoon wonderings. We were working through one of the units and although I got the usual response for waking people up, the girls were greeted with kindly warmth. Ah, the power of hormones!
My meeting with the youth fellowship took place at what is rather a unique event known in the trade as "the fellowship tea". This is a kind of before church eat-in where the youth gather to perform mating rituals in a controlled environment. From years thirteen to sixteen, hormones dictate behaviour. This is why the classic youthful retort, "Don't you trust me mum?" must sadly be answered, "I trust you love, I just don't trust your hormones" (because I've got them too). As part of the mating ritual, the girls tend to provide the food for the fellowship tea and the boys eat it. Some mums try to get their sons to take along a plate of goodies, but no man is foolish enough to be seen walking along the main street carrying a fancy plate of food. The boys are usually in a rush and forget it.
The youth fellowship was warm and welcoming, but the leader, well that was another matter. Blokes are territorial and don't easily share the herd with another bull. The order of the day was head-butting and marking out territory. In the office it's all about getting the keys to the executive washroom and making sure that none of the young bucks get a set. In the church it's all about possessing the secret mysteries of the Bible, and proving that the knowledge of the contender is unsound.
As a theological student of some two weeks' duration I was now fully up to speed, probably around prophet level. Actually I knew nothing, but I was in that dangerous state of not knowing that I knew nothing. The fellowship leader knew more than me, but was similarly flawed with a sense of his own intelligence. The games people play!
Our debate concerned the sovereign will of God. I took the Calvinist position. God was totally in charge of all things. He dictates who will be with Him in heaven and who is going to hell. All life is predestined. My contender took the Arminian position. God allows everything to run its course. He allows people to choose themselves whether they want to be with Him in heaven. Over the next few weeks I lost the debate due to ignorance more than anything else. Still it did cause me to wonder how it was possible for God to be sovereign and for humanity to be free. Surely a contradiction in terms. These days I think the answer lies with a God who has determined to gather a people to himself, and in his sovereign will has freely offered his eternal security to all who seek it by asking Jesus. He has chosen the way of salvation, not who will be saved. With my theological defeat the fellowship leader refocused his attention on the Rector. He tried to remove him with prayer, then by stoning the rectory roof. All failed and so he left with some of the youth fellowship. Life at the parish went back to normal. I continued to pester people during their Sunday afternoon rest, chant the services and eat as much as I could at the fellowship tea. An enjoyable two year apprenticeship.