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A Shout From The Attic: Church Building Mission - 3

Ronnie Bray considers profound matters while cleaning out a drain.

The Man in the Drain

I was waist deep in the drain, removing unmentionable material from its flooded chambers in an attempt to get the drain line from the outside toilet flowing again. The house was old. Built of small kiln fired red bricks that were just beginning to crumble in surrender to the ravages of time, but with a good half-century of life remaining in them. The toilet was an add-on that had been stuck onto the side of the house perhaps forty years ago in a last ditch effort to wrench the dwelling out of late Georgian age and into at least a part of the twentieth century.

It was almost summer of 1963 and work on the new Mormon meetinghouse in the grounds of the old orchard and its lone house was well under way. The foundations were all in place and the huge arched pillars that supported the roof were solidly in situ. The massive main floor had been poured and skimmed in a single morning and the classroom wing was set out, its upright timber supports pegged into place and its roof partially constructed.

And that is when the toilet gave up and backed up massive! That may be far too dramatic term for what happened. It backed up making it unusable. A diagnosis of blocked drainage pipes was made and the suspecting pipes were sought, almost in vain, but that’s another story! The broken drain was located and replaced leaving only the problem of the accumulation of detritus to be dealt with, and I was volunteered to deal with it.

With customary cheerfulness I adorned myself with rubber Wellington boots, and raised the manhole cover before plunging into the murky depths of the foetid manhole, trowel in hand, and my trusty shovel within arm's reach on dry land.

The orchard was at least a couple of hundred years old and its trees, though still deliciously fruitful, were getting tired The old trees were varieties that have disappeared from English orchards, such as the diminutive but oh, so sweet, Beauty of Bath.

At one time, the orchard was on the outskirts of Ipswich, but the town had grown and left it incongruously isolated a couple of hundred feet from the bypass, at the rear of the Fire Station. The Church had bought the whole acreage to build the first purpose built meetinghouse in Ipswich after using a converted house on London Road for many years, but being forced by congregational growth to rent space in a local community centre.

During the time the church was under construction the old house was the building office, store room, shelter, dining room, and, of course, the convenience. The convenience was causing the problem. May be one of the wagons that rolled over the roughed out close had strayed too close to the house and caused a ground collapse that had shattered the salt-glazed six inch waste pipe that carried the spoil from the water closet, into the manhole and then into the main drain that ran under the centre Whitegate Lane. Whatever the cause, I was the solution, and undertook my responsibility manfully and without complaint.

Trowelling out the manhole was going to take some time, but it was an unhurried Saturday morning and traffic was light, so interruptions were few. I saw, at a distance, the approach of a tall lean man wearing a raincoat and sporting a trilby. He paused at the edge of the manhole, stepping a few feet off the pavement to offer a polite greeting. Remarkably, he did not refer to my interesting occupation, but asked about the major project going on behind me. He was, he explained, a neighbour who lived a little farther down the road and had come to ask about the need for a new chapel when he was witnessing so many chapels closing down and being converted into carpet warehouses or bingo halls.

I told him what Mormonism was about and detailed the energy of the Church and its unique missionary outreach and resultant expansion. His further questions made it evident that his interest was not so much with the particulars of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but with the rudiments of religious faith – something that he had never experienced.

He was a willing listener as I told him of my conversion to the Church, and he shook his head in wonder as I told him of the kind of things that members of the Church did as a fundamental part of their membership. From my accent, he had gathered that I was not local and asked me how I had come to be working there. That led me to explain the varieties of missions that members of the Church undertake voluntarily and without monetary remuneration. He received the intelligence in a state of disbelief; not able to grasp how faith in Jesus Christ could move so many people to make what he considered sacrifices of so great extent.

He wandered away towards his home shaking his head gently in disbelief. His last words to me had been, “I would give my right arm to have faith like yours!” I explained that you did not have to lose anything to obtain faith but that obtaining faith was attended by gains of such magnitude that it made any apparent sacrifice fade into nothingness.

As he walked away, I resumed my trowelling, and there in the dirt thought about the riches of heaven and how the windows had been opened to me to let me serve in such a place and be engaged in such a task, even if it was seen by those without the blessing of faith to be at the wrong end of the blessing chain.

I pondered quietly on the words of Paul to the Philippians:

I count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them dung, that I may win Christ.

And I wondered how close I was to getting it right.

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