FRIENDSHIP AND A SERIOUS SUNDAY

Posted 12/2/07

Yesterday began with a sore head and ended with tears. So tidily packaged were its themes and lessons that, were I writing a diary, the historian within me would question the credibility of that day’s entry. By way of example, I spent most of the day noisily informing anyone who’d listen how blessed Nina and I were in our group of friends, before unexpectedly spending the evening discovering the true cost of that friendship – surrounded by people preparing for the death of a young man they very much cared for.

Let me backtrack – to my 28th birthday celebration on Saturday night– the source of my aforementioned sore head. Now this isn’t one of my angst-riddled confessions. I actually did quite well. This was always going to be a challenge; my first birthday outing since unofficially recommitting to the Christian faith. It involved 6 straight hours in a bar, at least 25 non-Christian friends, all of whom vowed to buy me a drink, and a precedent for considerable merriness. With this in mind, I took along Tom Stanbury – known by most who may read this. He was there as a tentative first bridge between my fledgling Christian community and the outside world, as well as because he’s starting to feel like a proper mate. However, unbeknown to him, he was also there to induce in me a sense of accountability – I wanted to be able to look him in the eye the next day during the sermon. And so the evening rolled by, everyone was late but got there in the end. Fun and profound conversation was had by all and I drank more than a model churchman probably should – but considerably less than the Bishop of Southwark. Above all, I kept to beer, drank it relatively slowly, kept control of my tongue (Cursing, bitching, stupidity and flirtation being among the common drunkards’ worst vices) and, some dodgy dancing aside, steered clear of utter foolishness. Stanbury, on the other hand, was definitely slurring his words…

So I awoke Sunday feeling blessed. I still do. It is great to have people who care for you and wish you well – people who will think nothing of travelling to central London (despite the Tube all but packing up) and spending lots of money for the sake of little old me. But I am aware I owe them more than that in return. If my friendship is true and sincere, then I will endeavour at least to get them to an evening service and to speak to them honestly about the gospel. It’s easier to write than do, but the events of Sunday night were a chilling reminder that time is not unending, and neither are the opportunities to save my friends from a death far worse and more permanent than that awaiting James Meagher.

James is a guy I met a few times, had dinner with once as part of a group, and turned down an invitation from to spend New Years’ Eve at his party. Those memories will never be added to, as cancer is claiming him (perhaps by the time I write, perhaps a little later in the week) before the age of 30. He is married, like me, to his childhood sweetheart, who will never have children by him, nor grow old alongside him. These facts, more than any other, did sting my eyes when Perks shared the news of his demise and dedicated the evening service to him. All around me, however, were people who could truly call him a friend. Some of the congregation weren’t present – his wife and best friend Sarah was by his bedside, whilst her friend Audrey was alongside her, offering support. That’s the real deal and the real blessing of friendship. The difference between it happening to James, and it happening to someone among my Saturday night crowd, is that among the sadness in Sunday’s congregation – and it was a real choking sadness – was the assurance that James was going somewhere amazing, and that they would meet him again. That’s when you realise, as Perks stated, that church is so much more than hobby – it is indeed a matter of life and death. By the time James crosses over, his faith in Jesus better be well-placed, everything depends on it. Much to my relief, forced to consider the grim reality of death, I find myself genuinely believing that it’s very well-placed indeed.

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