Waiting on an Angel – Chapter 1

Samuel waited. He’d been waiting for a while, slightly uncomfortable with his tie done up too tight and the shirt that fitted well just a few months before now rather snug around the collar.

This was a rather novel experience for Samuel. He wasn’t accustomed to having to wait for very much in life. He either got it or he didn’t. And now he was waiting for a church minister.

Samuel fidgeted on the seat and thought that maybe he had made a mistake. He gazed through the glass partition and saw the people seemingly lounging around. He could swear that a couple of them were just chatting over a cup of coffee. He played around with his keys in his pocket, restrained himself from pulling his phone out and tapping out a tweet or two. In fact, he was sure it had vibrated a few times in the moments since he had sat down. Only good manners stopped him from drifting back into the digital space.

It was a day like this two months ago that Samuel had first met the Rev Dr Adam Glynn. The clouds hung low in the sky, desperate to trap the heat in, a day when public transport verges on a health hazard and makes you glad for a change of clothes. And it was only since that day that he had adopted the full form of his name, trying to get used to it so as to not make an inauspicious start to this next stage of life. It had not been a normal interview. Far more examination as to whether he felt that abbreviating his name was paying disservice to the biblical hero of Samuel, than to any skills or qualities that had been nervously rehearsed the night before. The reverend doctor went as far as to suggest that it might be considered a minor form of blasphemy to truncate such an inspirational name.

That was the thing that had very nearly persuaded Samuel not to take the job. His stubborn independence stretched beyond not being inclined to change his name on dubious hermeneutical grounds. He wondered what other points of confrontation would lay ahead, and on reflection it was this aspect of challenge that made him take the leap.

Samuel was also surprised not to have to defend his decision to give up teaching. Virtually every other person who he had spoken to had urged him to think again, quietly suggested that he had a very strong career development programme and should be very grateful for the opportunities that had been presented to him.

“Samuel Engle”, and suddenly he was dragged out of his frustration with his family as the reverend doctor came out from behind the glass doors and clasped his hand between both of his. Samuel also realised at this moment that the tie was the right choice. He’d spent a good few hours going back and forth over whether it was too formal, or not. And everyone had different advice, they might as well have suggested turning up in Bermuda shorts he thought. He’d been tempted to lose the tie, set his stall out straight away and refuse to be defined by tradition or anyone else’s behaviour. But as Adam stood before him, shoulders forced back and elbow pads just visible, wearing a tie seemed to be the only thing Samuel had got right.

“We begin our week with a time of Bible study together as a staff team, it’s expected that everyone contributes, but we’ll go easy on you today, perhaps you could read the passage?”

Samuel nodded in grateful relief, this I can do, he thought to himself, also silently proud that he had remembered to bring his new Bible. He followed Adam into the small hall where the staff had assembled and was introduced to them all. Suddenly before he had acclimatised to the draught that was running across the floor from the side door he was asked to read from James 2.

As he lifted his Bible out of the bag he noticed a few suspicious glances at the book, but he ploughed on and read the chapter in the firm and authoritative voice that had developed in the classroom. Samuel was slightly pleased as he reached the end, no stumbled words, and no difficult names; all told he felt he’d got through that unscathed. But his dreams were shattered as the reverend doctor turned to his left and suggested that Esme might like to also read the passage from her version. Later as they filed out even more furtive enquiries were made in the direction of Samuel’s Poverty and Justice Bible.

“That was perhaps a little unfortunate Samuel” Adam started as they sat down in his office. “As a church we are firmly in the word-for-word tradition of biblical translation and while looser translations can provide an enjoyable read they do not secure us in the same depth of understanding.” Samuel made to point out that he hadn’t actually bought the Bible but it was a present from his sister as he started this new job, but already sensed that this would be futile.

Samuel had attended Holland Park Baptist Church (Continuing) for the past two years, but suddenly everything seemed different now he was on the inside. He glanced around the office for some solace of comfort but between the Hebrew dictionaries and tomes of commentary he wasn’t entirely sure what might offer any encouragement. Adam started up again and Samuel girded himself up for another rebuke to an indiscretion he had not yet noticed.

“You are a very bright young man and we are delighted that you will be working with us. The next year will be full of challenges, the life of a minister of the gospel is never easy, but it will also give you some fantastic opportunities.” With his ego suitably boosted he sat a little taller in his chair and started to speculate what these might be. Before the pause between Adam’s instructions had taken its last breath he had begun to conjure an image where he was stood in front of a large crowd, clearing and firmly guiding them into a full knowledge of what the Christian life was to be. “I will be personally mentoring you this year, and I expect you to apply yourself to all parts of church life as well as your theological study.

All parts of church life seemed positive enough; Samuel had been worried that as a lowly apprentice he would be the receptacle for all the tasks no one else really wanted to do. All parts of church life meant that he would get a chance to preach: because that’s a part of church life isn’t it? And the subsidised theological study, that was the clincher in him deciding to move on from teaching and find a challenge in a more stimulating and enriching environment.

As the revered doctor set out the programme for his first few days he thought back to the interview and wondered again why he had ever doubted he would get the post. Samuel did not consider himself an arrogant man, only one who is confident in what he can offer to the life of a church. Surely they couldn’t have been deluged with candidates for a job that barely pays and a life of the pressures already becoming evident.

Samuel’s sister Emma still hadn’t got her head around what he saw in this church. As his mind wondered he realised it was probably best he hadn’t elaborated on where his new Bible had come from. If there was anything he was going to set as his ambition for the coming year it would be to reconcile the relationship between the churches they both attended. How could it be that he had to tread so carefully when he referred to the church she attended?

In the interview he had been asked about his testimony, in fact he had been asked to prepare a three minute presentation on how he became a Christian which he used when none believers enquired of his beliefs. He was a bit shaky on this, since the halcyon days of conversion he had grown steadily worse at this practice known as evangelism. But at least he had a good testimony, that’s what he reassured himself with, none of this rather boring growing up in a Christian family malarkey. He even had a feather in his cap because Emma had become a Christian after he had so he reckoned he could notch that one up as a successful piece of evangelism.

Samuel didn’t really understand why Emma wouldn’t come toHollandPark, it was also an acute source of awkwardness, having to skirt around the fact that she was living inLondon, close by but attended a different church. When he’d got the post Samuel had suggested to his sister that it might be nice if they both went to church together. This idea, as uncontroversial as any he had proffered was met with a hasty rebuff. Before he got completely sidetracked from following what his induction programme was for the next week he made a note to try again and find out quite what it was that kept Emma away.

The reverend doctor appeared to have finished his spiel, and suggested that they take a tour around the office and meet all the staff. Samuel hadn’t imagined that this many people would work for the church, he knew it wasn’t just a one man show but Adam did preach virtually every week. But the office was a hive of activity as he was introduced to the various different departments. Suddenly Adam drew him to one side and suggested that the following staff were not publicly known to be working for the church because their project was rather on the confidential side. Had this been big business he would have understood the concern about industrial espionage, but in a church it seemed rather over the top. And the two men in question were hunched over a bank of screens playing around with images of an empty unfamiliar church hall.

“We are working on a new project with St Peter’s Stratford; they have requested our assistance during their ministerial interregnum so I will be preaching to both congregations from a few weeks time.” An idea pounced into Samuel’s mind and thought carefully before he spoke.

“Technology can do some wonderful things can’t it? Are St Peter’s looking for a new minister?”

“Not at the moment”, Adam swiftly responded, “We think that there is no reason why should this arrangement work out it can’t be used for the foreseeable future.” And as quickly as the thought had entered Samuel’s mind that he might be being primed for this role it was vanquished.

As Samuel sat down at his desk he looked around and realised that this was an unusual environment. It was an office, everyone was busy, there was a finance department, a communications team, but it was not quite normal. Because the business was not making money, but running a church, and he reminded himself, a very successful church.

So despite the slightly awkward beginnings, and the confirmation that the reverend doctor might not be the easiest person to work for Samuel was content. He had only been teaching for a few years but had realised that it was not the life he wanted. He was not minded to wait for a better option to come along, or to hope that the life of a teacher miraculously transformed into the enriching and stimulating career his parents had promised it would be.

Over the summer he had realised that waiting was not his strongest of qualities. He had even asked if he could begin work during August, previous summers had put pay to the common misconception that teachers got gloriously long holidays as he spent days while the sun shone preparing lessons and researching new topics. In hindsight he thought, perhaps it was never worth the effort, the students did not appear to appear to appreciate his carefully researched and revolutionary explanation of the battle ofAgincourtand the alternative trajectory of European history that quite literally hung on a shoe string.

It was the commitment to biblical scholarship that had attracted him to Holland Park when he moved to London, not just a church committed to God’s Word, but one where his desire to further his theological understanding would be embraced and nurtured. This was why in turn Samuel was content as he found his way around his small desk and realised that it had not been fully cleared from its use by last year’s apprentice. A reminder had he needed one that he was only here for the year.

Samuel thought it was about time he got on with whatever work they had for him but the reverend doctor seemed hesitant. He suggested that Samuel might want to spend some time looking through the church handbook and come to him at the end of the day with any questions or concerns. “Once you have signed the church compact we will have plenty of work for you to be getting on with.”

He thought a little before he opened the red folder which continued the policies and positions ofHollandParkBaptistChurch(Continuing). He knew that this was coming, but he was still apprehensive, he was pretty certain he was going to have to lie. Not really the beginning he wanted. Somehow he had hoped that this formality would not arise and he would avoid putting pen to paper to confirm his deceit.

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