Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

On 25th July 2004, I joined a new church.

I’d just arrived in NZ, and I didn’t want to spend the next couple of months trying a different church every week. I figured that I needed to put some roots down and make a few friends, and that meant picking a church and sticking with it.

A chance meeting on a Christian weekend back in the UK had furnished me with the contact details of just this one church in the area, which just happened to be within walking distance of where I was staying. So that first Sunday afternoon I’d strode up and down across town (this was Auckland after all) and crept into the service.

It was one of those slightly embarrassing “youthy” churches, complete with rock band, but I got with the local culture and was sorry that I had to leave early to go see a Buster Keaton movie at the current Auckland Film Festival. I particularly liked that one of their self-professed aims was “to build whanau.” (family)

Over the coming months I went on their teaching weekend to Hamilton, on their church houseparty to Howick (where I got baptised), and attended several other functions.

The services were very uplifting and full of encouragement, which was exactly what I needed at the time.

But at the end of each service the same thing would happen. There would be no-one to talk to. There would be many people, but no-one to talk to. Of course, there were one or two exceptions, but they were usually in a group already, and if they were free, then after “How are you?” I genuinely had no idea what else to say to them.

(I felt more among my own over at Tiger’s Korean-language church, where I had not the faintest idea what anyone was saying, but they all knew me because I was white.)

I attended a Bible study one Tuesday night to find that I was the only one, so the leader cancelled it saying there was no point in running it just for one.

On another Tuesday night, I had a 10-minute videotape that I’d been given by a potential Christian employer. With no VCR to watch it on at the hostel, I’d brought it with me to the church office to watch. After an hour-long Bible study at which all present enthusiastically affirmed the huge importance of helping others ahead of oursleves, the leader told me that she didn’t have 10 minutes to let me watch it because she was tired.

Sometimes I would go up for prayer after the service. One time I waited over an hour, while others after me were prayed for first, until I was literally the very last left.

After 18 months, I asked for a reference, but was refused with the explanation “I just don’t know you well enough.”

That afternoon I’d arrived an hour early to help set everything up and welcome everyone at the door.

There was just no glue holding me there. Of course I’m generalising, but I’d found that I was making the trip across town each week, more than anything else, out of sympathy for an ill retired guy who I’d spotted also had no-one to talk to each week. I didn’t really want to let him down.

Tonight I sat down at the start of the service. I was aware that I was sitting in the area normally reserved for parents and families, but I badly needed some floor space to lie-down on during the rather long worship and sermon.

A guy whose face I recognised approached me. I knew everything that was about to happen.

He greeted me and asked how I was. I knew that was a cover.

He shook my hand. I knew that was false too.

He asked me to move. I explained why I wanted to sit there. He said if I didn’t move he’d get some other people and have me removed from the building.

I acquiesced, I moved to another seat, I stayed for the service, and I even helped take everything down afterwards, making sure that I spent a few moments having a laugh with him to make sure that he didn’t feel bad.

But the thing that hurt was that, had I not been sitting in the wrong seat, he would absolutely never have come up to say hello, shake my hand, or ask how I was.

I find it dreadfully hard to confront people, but particularly so when it’s to restore a relationship that I think they’d be happier without.

And in the last 18 months of course I have come across several other churches, sometimes containing people who remembered me when I went back.

I guess I didn’t make a move before tonight because I just didn’t want to give up on these people.

Or let that old fella on his own at the back down.


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