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A Shout From The Attic: The Prayer Meeting

...I have always been thoroughly convinced that people of faith can get along and be blessings to each other by sharing what they have in common instead of forging assault weapons out of their differences....

Ronnie Bray kept his Christian faith alive while serving in the Army.

Keeping one’s Christian faith alive during military service is a matter mainly for the individual who has to know who and what he or she is and stick to it like glue in the midst of divers temptations to lower their standards and adopt the easier life of an uncommitted non-believer. There are sometimes opportunities for believers to group together and take and give strength to others in their company. I became part of two such groups when I served in the British armed forces in the Middle East in the 1950s.

The Suez Garrison had an education centre where a Christian Fellowship meeting was held each Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. I attended because I enjoyed the company of fellow Christians, and always have. Besides, having no worship or fellowship services for my own denomination, it was the best I could do, because, according to the best information I had, I was the only Latter-day Saint in the Middle East.

I found some good Christian men in the Green Howards infantry regiment, to which I was attached as a vehicle mechanic, and initially, we formed an vague, irregular fellowship group, attending formal meetings at the Garrison, and informal ones in the NAAFI canteen as friends with common interests.

When we moved from Egypt to Cyprus, stationed at Dhekelia, there was no kind of Christian meeting arranged, except for the Church of England, as there was an Anglican Padre attached to the Howards, a predominantly Protestant regiment. I maintained my connection with the Ashford twins from Northallerton, and a boy from Bridlington by the name of Grayson. They were delightful young men whose Christian natures shone out from them like beacons.

We met in one of their rooms. How they managed to be in a room when the rest of us lived in tents, I do not know. Perhaps one of them was more important than their tented brethren. We met weekly for Bible studies. I was appointed study leader only because I was willing. I had learned by heart the scriptural passages used by missionary teachers, and led the class by using these, so that the Mormon position was shown. Sometimes this caused a little stir among my Anglican compatriots, who would examine their Bibles as if they had not seen them before, and scratch their heads, puzzled by the unusual insights that were thus revealed.

Somehow, it was discovered that an Englishman who was teaching at the American Academy in Larnaca, twelve miles away, and his Greek wife, former missionaries in Palestine, held non-denominational prayer meetings on Sunday mornings. The Green Howards rose magnificently to the invitation to provide transport for such of us as were so disposed to attend the services. Rattling about in the back of a four ton lorry was not everyone’s idea of a carriage ride, but it got the job done, delivered us to the Academy and collected us when it was all done and took us back to our tents.

The Englishman’s name was Hurd, he was a gentleman, and his wife a lady. They had two boys in the low teens that made up their happy family, and they used their living room at the Academy for the meetings. Having been raised more or less Methodist, I was familiar with most of the hymns and had been introduced to some of the choruses when I attended the Foursquare Gospel Church at the top of Dundas Street in my late school years. I enjoyed their fellowship and they seemed to enjoy mine.

When it comes down to it, there is little in a worship service that causes any friction, because we all worship God and revere Jesus, and try to live the Christian life as we understand it from the scriptures, and so passed our worship times together in harmony and affability. None of us took any pains to insist that our particular theologies or Christologies be given pride of place to lord it over either conceptions or principles that we felt were superior to any one else’s. I thanked God for non-denominationalism and felt its joys with my friends and felt myself well blessed.

I have always been thoroughly convinced that people of faith can get along and be blessings to each other by sharing what they have in common instead of forging assault weapons out of their differences. What I discovered about our non-denominational fellowship did not offend me, but it did, and still does, amuse me.

One Sunday, I had been granted the privilege of standing guard duty and could not attend the meeting, although I was well placed to wave goodbye to my fellowship as they bounced up and done behind the tailboard of the lorry as it swivelled out of camp and hit the dusty road to town.

The next day, Grayson smiled me to one side and said that they had not had their usual meeting due to my absence. They had, he explained, held a prayer meeting for my conversion. I did not trouble to ask what it was they wished me to be converted from or to, but I had a shrewd idea. I shared Grayson’s amusement, and loved my friends no less. I was sad, just a little, that they did not acknowledge my commitment to Jesus Christ as Christianity, but I understood their odd perspective, and was not affronted.

When next we met in our non-denominational worship service, I did not raise the matter, and, strangely enough, neither did they. Perhaps we were back to being truly non-denominational. I shall never know. However, every time is see something advertised as ‘non-denominational,’ I smile and wonder whether it really is.

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