Tuesday, 4 November 2008

America - In Black And White

Our mini-tour took us out of Georgia and into the Carolinas and two of the most bizarre places I have ever been.

But before that, let me tell you about the show we were performing. Show is probably too strong a word for our presentation. It was meant to be informative about Rob Frost's Share Jesus organisation, giving a taste of various aspects of the ministry including the drama productions he was best known for in the UK. Rob would give an overview of Share Jesus and Polly and Kate would punctuate the talk with comedy drama sketches, written by me. I would be wheeled out to tell a few funny anecdotes about working with Rob and the church scene in Britain and all in all it was a pretty slick, fun evening. The highlight however was anything but slick. It was it's excruciating awfulness that made it so brilliant (to me anyway). Rob had brought along a young man called Matt to drive, move boxes and man the ubiquitous bookstall. Matt was, and is, a good friend, with many talents, especially in the field of evangelism. He is not, however, in any way, shape or form, an actor.

Around the time of the tour it was the 200th anniversary of Methodist founder John Wesley's conversion. At the time he wrote a now famous passage in his personal diary.

“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldergate Street, where one was reading
Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was
describing the change which God works through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed.
I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had
taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death”.

Rob, working on the assumption that Americans love all things Olde Worlde English, persuaded Matt to don a period wig and dress up as John Wesley and then recite the famous passage. I can not adequately communicate how much Matt loathed doing this. The normally articulate young man was reduced to a stammering, word muddled misery. To make matters worse, Matt was fair haired with a complexion to match. The southern sun gave him sunburn, which in combination with flaming embarrassment turned his face into a tomato red. The audiences always gave him an appreciative round of applause, though whether cause they enjoyed the virtually incomprehensible performance or out of pity for his suffering, we'll never know.

The vast majority of our performances took place in Methodist churches. There were a couple of major differences between our familiar British Methodism and Methodism in the deep south of the USA. On one occasion I was doing my bit when I looked up to see, leaning against the door jam, a huge man with a sheriff's star. If you had to cast a Hollywood caricature of a 'good ole boy' southern sheriff you need have looked no further. He wore reflective sunglasses (even though it was dusk) and had a belly hanging well over his belt. Most disconcerting of all was the enormous gun he had attached to the belt. He stood watching me and chewing gum before leaving when he decided I was neither funny nor a threat to national security. I've been in many churches in my time but have never seen anyone armed in one before. Not even in the rougher parts of south London.

The other thing you could not help but notice was the fact that in the churches we visited everyone was white. This seemed at odds with the warm, friendly and, yes, Christian people we met. As the days and churches went by I realised that if a black family had turned up at any event they would have been genuinely and warmly welcomed. I also realized that this would never happen. Coming from a multi-cultural city like London this was, to say the least, odd. I can not stress how nice people were. I presume that had we met a black family they would have been every bit as nice. But we didn't. Not once. There was no sense of segregation, only separation.

So, on to North Carolina and the mystery of Ay-uh.

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