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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Short Story: God has left His House!

God Has left His House!

A short story by Colin Gordon-Farleigh

It was a typical Sunday morning and the church was slowly stretching itself open at the start of the new day. The heating system clicked on, the timing carefully set by the caretaker to make the most efficient use of it, and the moisture on the windows slowly cleared away. In a few hours the heat, so carefully stored up, would be fighting against the cold draughts as the doors opened to admit the congregation for the morning service.

The service started at eleven o’clock and now, at ten thirty, the first arrivals were settling in to the round of little chores that always needed to be done. The gates at the end of the path were unlocked, the flowers were primped up in their vases and the hymn numbers were put up on the boards that had been donated in memory of some long-forgotten saint from a past congregation.

Time to warm up the organ and for the organist to stretch her fingers in an attempt to beat the arthritis that threatened to stop her from playing. After a few melodies which she considered suitable to get her into the mood, she started to practise the anthem that the little choir would sing at the commencement of the service. ’Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty …’ she quietly mouthed the words in time to the music. It was a favourite piece of hers, just as it had been for her father when he had played the organ in the little church so many years before her. She played on, ’Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore Thee …’ and remembered the days when she was young and the pews were far fuller than they were now. ’Just the remnant now,’ she thought, and sighed a deep sigh of sadness. ‘Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide Thee …’ The darkness certainly seemed to hide God these days she thought to herself, it’s as though He has left the house.

The people were slowly starting to come in now. In twelve minutes time the pews would seat their regular occupants and the organ would quietly play time-loved tunes until the service was ready to start. The organist played a little louder as the music was drowned out by the chatter amongst the congregation, and as if in defiance, the chatter increased in a seeming attempt to drown out the sound of the organ.

A distinguished looking man had entered the church and was sitting quietly towards the back, his head bowed as he tried to prepare himself for the service and to meet with God. The noise around him increased until he had to sit up, his prayers stilled by the chattering people. In his head he heard a loud-speaker shouting out that this was a time to be silent, yet nobody else seemed to hear it. The minister entered the sanctuary, but still many of the congregation continued their chattering. A fleeting look of irritation crossed his face at the unwelcome sound, and then the organist struck up the opening chords of the anthem, drowning out the few who persisted in their interruption of the worship. ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!’ The distinguished looking man loved this hymn which seemed to explain so well in song the way that he felt. The choir sang, a few even managing to put the right dynamics into their singing, and gradually got to the end a they sang, ‘… Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, …’ The man allowed himself a wry smile as he reflected that it was just as well that God was merciful as well as mighty, otherwise this congregation might well suffer for their irritating chatter. ‘If only it could be like it once was,’ he thought, ‘when people sat quietly in the pew before the service began, settling themselves to be in the presence of the Almighty God Himself.’

Now the choir had stopped and the minister was bidding everyone welcome, yet still a few people chattered on as though they felt that what they had to say was far more important. The loud-speaker in the man’s head screamed out at them to be silent. Despite this the few persisted to make comments on and off through the hymns and the announcements, and even during the time of prayer.

The man considered it all, his head slowly turning to take in the whole picture. The minister announced the next hymn; number 48 in Mission Praise, he intoned, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ The man sighed and quietly whispered to himself, ‘If only they would!’ It was as though there was a determination to keep God shut out of His house in case he demanded something from those who claimed to worship and serve Him.

The minister was well into his message now, and many of the congregation quietly thought about what they would do later that day, or about the Sunday dinner. The looks on their faces cried out of the bored resignation that they felt, yet this was a ritual that they had become used to. It made them feel good to be in the little church Sunday by Sunday, and it gave them the opportunity to talk about the days when everyone did the same, and when the world was a better place. Still, at least they would be alright at the end. Soon the minister had finished. He’d been careful not to say anything that might alienate any of the congregation and reduce the numbers still further. The days of true preaching were over! Nowadays the best thing was to preach a social gospel rather than one that spoke of sin and repentance.

The distinguished looking man sighed once more, saddened that this congregation were like so many others that he’d visited, none of which served the real purpose that they were there for.

The final hymn having been sung, the minister was pronouncing a blessing on the congregation before dismissing them to their homes. Ironically, the organist struck up the chords of the anthem that had opened the service and a few of the congregation quietly sang along, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, …’

Soon they were drowned out by the chatter as people got up to leave, and once again the loudspeaker in the man’s head screamed out for silence, yet no silence came. He got up and turned towards the door. Nobody spoke to him for they were too busy speaking with the people they knew.

As he left the church there was the sound of a loud wind whistling through the open door. Those who could hear such things knew that it declared that God too had left His house.

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