Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

"Even if you attend just one meeting, something positive will have come of it."

On 6th April those were Brett's approximate words to me over lunch regarding the possibility of my joining a cell group. (a weekly church meeting in someone's home)

He'd been inviting me to join one for donkeys' years. Initially I'd had the really good excuse that I was too busy in the evenings teaching. Now however I had to wonder just what my excuse had been since those days had reached their conclusion.

Between his and Sara's later encouragement at Quirk, I decided that that whole "attend just one meeting" option just wasn't good enough. If I was going to do this thing, then I was going to do it properly. I wouldn't attend just one meeting, rather, I would attend just one meeting of each of them. That way I could make an informed decision about which small group was the best one for me. After all, as I was about to experience, each group did cell a little differently.

And so the battle commenced!

TEAM A met at 7pm on roughly 3 out of 4 Tuesday nights, but rather than at someone's house, it all happened at Esquires coffee shop, Botany. My initial concerns on that first 24th May that I couldn't commit to regularly buying a non-FairTrade coffee were quickly answered when I realised that, yes, these were FairTrade coffees after all!

Despite the public location, straight away I felt at home. Maybe the younger, more single demographic felt more like 'me' than some of the other couple-filled groups, or maybe it was the deep personal questions, but I came away ditching the idea of even trying the others. I had struck gold straight away, so why bother inconveniencing TEAM B and upwards? Surely forcing myself to continue with my original plan, as opposed to my newer and better experienced decision, would be surrendering my spiritual life to some form of OCD?

Presently however, I heard that TEAM B hadn't met for a while, and were now looking forward to arranging a new meeting specifically to accommodate me. I guess that's when it sank in that this was a two-way process. In some sense, my visiting each group could actually be good for them. Well, that settled it. Now I was on a mission, or a 'quest' as it would be dubbed by Megan from TEAM C. Yes, TEAM B still weren't meeting again for a little while, so TEAM C seized their chance ahead of them. I decided to keep on attending TEAM A while I decided. Y'know, just in case they won anyway.

TEAM C met at about 7:30 every Wednesday night in the only couple's living-room. I say "the only couple", although without me they seemed to make up about half the group. Despite being so close-knit, they too were fully welcoming, and also delved into close personal discussion questions. I guess the real spin here had to be the music - each meeting began with a time of worship, led by a DVD. Couldn't get away with that in a coffee shop!

Legend had it that TEAM D were also secretly meeting at 7:30 on 3 out of 4 Wednesday nights, and initially they proved a little tough to infiltrate. Again, not because of any hostility (everyone in every group is a friend), but because the first week, I was told, was going to be a particularly close time of sharing, to which bringing in a visitor just wouldn't be fair on the others. Another new hopeful (a potential transfer from TEAM E) had been turned away that week for the same reason. Sheesh, this application process sounded so exclusive that now I really wanted to join. Just what were they all secretly sharing in there - each others' blood? Even more mysteriously the following week was their monthly week off, so I went back to visit TEAM C again. And with that, yes, I was now regularly attending two cell groups simultaneously.

Well I wasn't TEAM D's first moonlighter. When I finally did get in to TEAM D, after initially turning up at the wrong house, I witnessed that Paul and Kate from Team A were fifth column members here too.

And I have to admit that of all the groups that I visited, I found TEAM D to have the deepest, most soul-searching questions going on. "At what point did you own your faith?" "Is all theology heresy?" (1 Corinthians 13:9-10) "What would shake your faith?"

I was truly in awe at the level of openness and honesty on display here, and slightly ashamed that I just couldn't match that. They were disqualifying themselves really - they were just too good for me.

Well, that didn't quell my determination to join them as well anyway. However, given how all TEAM D's meetings were scheduled directly against TEAM C's, attending both groups regularly was going to be a bit of a sitcom.

Nonetheless juggle them I did. For example, TEAM C couldn't meet for two weeks' running, so those nights I attended TEAM D. Then I caught flu, so I had to cancel them both. With a trip to the UK looming, I figured that would be good for maybe another month. After that I would have to start sending in someone from TEAM A wearing my coat and a wig.

Meanwhile, TEAM E was meeting at 7:30 (realistically 8pm) on 3 out of 4 Thursdays. This was the most extrovert gang, and conversations could wander wildly between the highly educated and the extremely silly. As it also included the church's pastor, when he was leading we sometimes got the cell-group equivalent of a DVD extra to his current series of sermons.

One week, TEAM E also out-TEAM D'd TEAM D with the rather searching question "What is your worst fear?" Yeah, we all shared, in my case learning something about myself that I hadn't really before. I've known for years of the defences that I've developed against the ways girls have attacked me, but trying to muddy my admittance of it, I realised that it's broader than that - I'm really afraid of condemnation. It's just that I've received so much more of that from girls. So there it was - TEAM E had helped me to learn something about myself.

Anyway I kept on attending TEAM E, and presently got added to the leadership schedule. Yes, at some point I would have to lead it. Time to covertly recycle one of the other team's meetings, I figured.

And finally, TEAM B sadly never ran. In theory they met on Wednesdays against TEAMS C and D, but hadn't for some time. As mentioned above, they were keen to get some meetings going again, but due to busy schedules, not for a few more months yet. Ultimately, they had thrown the fight. Oh well.

So, after over three months and about 30 meetings, in the end, just who did win the Goble Super Holy Cell Group Wars™?

Well, it was an extremely tough contest, all the teams played well but, hand on heart, the judges were honestly unanimous in their decision to award the membership to… (long pause) … TEAM A! (sorry everyone, but if I'm honest, it was always going to be TEAM A)

So, tonight I was back at TEAM A yet again. Saying goodbye to them all. I'm going home to the UK tomorrow.

Disappointingly, it seems no cell can hold me.


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