I am up at 4:30am and wondering how long I can keep getting up this early. I have trained myself over the years to be an early riser but when you deprive your body of maybe just that extra half an hour of which it is used to, and do so conistantly, then man it feels like days of sleep deprivation. I am typing this whilst lying in a double bed sipping hot coffee whilst being covered with a feather filled duvet. I am a wimp.
The video uploads have been going all night. Its twelve days into the tour and I have over 1,000 photos, over 60 videos and hours and hours of recorded audio pieces. If I don’t at least keep these files in order, and labelled, it will be a nightmare going through them when i get back. In addition to this, the tour is live. It’s a ‘today’ thing and like fresh bread, it needs serving whilst it’s hot. I am a baker!
The typing is finished and it’s time for breakfast. These bed and breakfasts put on a great spread in a morning and the full English could feed a platoon. It’s all locally sourced produce: sweet bacon, sausages that have not exploded in the pan, beans, egg, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes, cereal, juice, fresh fruit, yogurt and Danish pastries. Despite my best efforts, I just cannot eat it all. I go back upstairs and get ready for the off. Wire myself up and put my belt on to keep it all together. I am one notch further out that when I started. Oh dear. The Dunlop disease is spreading. I am a fat lard.
I coming back here tonight and so I don’t have to take all my stuff. It’s only five miles to Wells and God has given me the message. I know today that I have Divine appointments and the story of Elisha and the floating axe head is for someone. God can raise from the depths, all our losses. It’s simple but true. It’s resurrection, its redemption, its hope. God can find and raise up all that is lost to us.
I email the Dean of Wells Cathedral. It is the Deans day off. They can’t help me. I try and contact another church in Wells, the phone rings and rings some more. Thankfully my razor blades are now packed away. I am despairing of churches! I shout out loud “THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE FELLAS FORWARD THE PHONES TO A HUMAN BEING!” I am a fat little pudding of a wimpish baker who is now despairingly annoyed. The day is not shaping up well for Wells.
Fifteen minutes later I am in the main city car park putting in the pound coins into the parking meter. Three hours should do for starts and then we can take it from there. According to Wikipedia (which is almost always slightly incorrect) Wells is the second smallest Cathedral city and it certainly has that feel. So from the car park, I walk to the largest church tower that dominates the sky line.
Mel the Mohican is having a few cans on the Cathedral green. The large church is not very grandiose for sure and quite empty. I am surprised. This is supposed to be a centre of learning and education? I am also a plonka and believe it or not it is going to take another hour for me to realise that this is not the Cathedral at all. It’s saint Cuthbert’s. (I despair of myself sometimes.)
Mel is a former punk rocker. He is 47. Ella (and together they are known as ‘Smella’) is his younger girl friend. Mel actually claims to be ‘Steve Ignorant’ from a Punk Group called ‘Crass.’ But this is not the Cathedral and this is not Steve Ignorant either. The real Steve Ignorant is actually touring in the States. I have met a man who thinks he is Napoleon. Most people on the streets are mentally ill, addicts with prison records of some sort. It’s Obvious (not) that ‘Care in the Community’ has been a
wonderful thing over the years and I just can’t wait to see the long term benefits of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. Homelessness is set to explode in Britain and very ill people are abandoned on our streets. This is a stinking mess. I cannot help but think we need to bring back the large Victorian asylums which have now been redeveloped into apartments for the mega rich.
RAINBOW CAME ALONG AND ALSO GAVE HER VIEWS
‘Smella’ both take me around the corner to the Elim church. Its lunch time and they do free meals.
The Elim church in Wells appears to be phenomenal. I get in and meet Steve who is one of the Pastors whilst Emma i the administrator. I also get to meet the cook of forty years, who also just so happens to be the senior Pastor’s wife. I am kindly taken in and shown around the church. I get the opportunity to interview the pastors wife and in the end, my emotional incontinence bursts through and I in am in tears. I was truly touched by the heart of these people, reaching out with no strings attached to these very needy folks. I had seen personel from the Job Centre in there conducting interviews and trying to help people, deprived mums attending a pre-school, a former heroin addict being trained to be a chef and a young man with little hope, now being given very practical ‘get of the bed hope’ for the future.
Elim had a symbiotic relationship with the local authorities which was working well. They had purchased the building from the council for just £1 but had already invested £360,000 into it. In the end they will probably invest a cool £1 million. Oh yes, they got if for a £1 but oh my goodness, it’s cost them since then.
Mel, Steve Ignorant, Napoleon, whoever! Had plugged in all his electronic equipment and they were charging nicely in the corner and had left me to chat with ‘Pagan’. Pagan had the DT’s bad.
Pagan had been in prison all around the country for over twenty years of his life and with his common law wife Lee Ann, was living in the woods with a bunch of other people. Lee Ann had yet to arrive but I was looking out for her. Pagan had also been in and out of mental institutions. “I am an alcoholic and when I came out of the institution they put me above a pub! And I’m the mental one? No, truth is, I am a refugee from the third world war started by Coca Cola.” I apologise for laughing out loud. He says “no don’t apologise for laughing mate its f’ing hilarious!” Pagan speaks kind of slow a little like Danny the Dealer out of Withnail and I “This will tend to get you very high” There was what looked to be like syringe stuck in his hair at the back and I knew he had a marker pen in his pocket. Pagan ate Camberwell Carrots for breakfast whilst downing a few cans.
Pagan is one of the Elim churches ‘characters’ he has destroyed himself with drink. His brain is in tatters. “I got hold of my prison record and tried to calculate how long I had spent inside and on each page I wrote, ‘Twat,Twat, Twat, Twat.” Pagan knows he has messed up his life, well, what he can remember it and is glad that his child is in a safe place. I wonder if I have the faith to believe that God could raise this iron axe head from the depths? It seemed too deep for me. It seemed as though Pagan had gone past the point of no return. The city of Wells Elim church is the place for him to be. They are very practical AND they believe in miracles. Lee Ann walks in.
Lee Ann has painted here face in a blue wode type of satanic symbolism. She has done it without mirrors. Pagan and Lee Ann kiss. It takes an incredible amount of time for them to synchronise their lips to meet. She tells him she has had some vodka this morning. Pagan wants to know where from. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a marker pen and offers me a quick sniff. I decline.
Lee Ann has had six children that she can remember. She has been a prostitute. I wonder if this is what Gomer looked like when Hosea was commanded by God to buy back his wayward and very well used wife. I think it might have been. Yes, I think it might have been. Can this Axe head float?
When Lee Ann found out I was a ‘priest’ she wanted a blessing. I held her hands across the table and blessed her. I prayed that God would pull her from her shit, that she would found the steps out and up from her predicament. Could this axe head be made to float? No really. My faith did not extend that far. In all the dry boned valleys I have walked through, concerning peoples predicaments, when God asks “Can these dry bones live?” My heart, says the seemingly inevitable….No.
Maybe Pagan, Lee Ann and Smella, will all be made to float again this side of heaven. Maybe. And if they do, it most probably will not be how they once were or even could have become…it will be different this side of glory. I tell you though that any step up will be better than where they are now. Can these dry bones live? Can this axe head float? My spirit hopes a “yes”. My mind echoes a “no.”
I think it is worth asking the question at this point if churches like this in Wells and in fact anywhere else, and organisations such as street Pastors are merely enabling a cycle of spiralling destructiveness. I mean if you can get free meals from the church and free health care of a sort, and sometimes free clothing and sometimes free shelter and then STILL go on using drugs and destroying yourself with drink, is this loving social care simply an enabling machine? Is it just a strange way of keeping damaged pets to have the opportunity to express the love of Jesus? Well, I think sometimes it inadvertently can be. I also think that in each downward cycle of destruction such ‘love’ is also a hand of rescue to those who can grasp it. I look at the two lads serving in the kitchen. Saved from what ‘Pagan’ has now become. Even if it is only one out of many, then surly all this is worth it?
As our societies social services break down before our eyes, a strange symbiotic relationship has indeed developed between local authorities and faith groups. It is mutually utilitarian. The authorities get cheaper and often free care, counselling, instruction and even street patrolling from us, thus keeping the lid on a society heating up like a pressure cooker. The church believes it gets a chance to shine and show the love of Jesus. I wonder if when all our grey heads die however, if other grey heads will be there to take their place in such social action and spiritual palliative care. I don’t think so. Me thinks that this church care is for a limited season. A declining church can only provide a stop gap for a time and I wonder if that all the church is doing is providing care in the community, if this what Christ truly intended? Will this kind of church attract those we call ‘healthy’? Will breadwinners and bacon on the table men ever want to get involved with such a socially driven church? These are all big questions we need to ask and answer very quickly. Time is running out.
I finally find the Cathedral. It is massive. It is a magnificent piece of architecture. It is exceptionally well maintained. It is glorious, sumptuous, and religiously seductive. When the roundheads got hold of it, they stabled their horses in the naïve and used the sculptures on the front of the Gothic edifice for musket practice. What disdain! I would have been a Parliamentarian in Cromwell’s forces. I found the very spot inside the Cathedral where I would have tethered my horse. Call me and I shall tell you where.
The entrance to the large Cathedral complex is through the penny gate where 15th century beggars asked for money. Over 500 years later, Pagan and Lee Ann are now set up in shop doorway next to Primark doing the same. It’s the Deans day off. The loveley head verger has an email not to let me speak. I thank him and move on and ask him to pass my kind regards on to the Dean
Prayerfully wandering around Wells I walk into a church where about thirty old ladies are finishing their cooked lunch. They invite me in and I tell them who I am and what I am about. They want to hear my message. I tell them it, reminding them that is God can raise an axe head from the waters. He can raise our bodies form the dead. They are naughty English old ladies. Ladies over a certain age that do not care what they say and do. They are disappointed that I am married and say they wouldn’t have let me in if they had known, cause ‘they are after a toy boy with some money.’ I give one of them a great big hug. They all cheer and whistle. Before all these lovely old ladies leap on me with pull all my clothes off. I leave.
I have taken my stuff back to the car, but I know I am not finished in Wells. Another group of folks are sat in St Cuthberts and its time for me to speak with them. You will be surprised to know that I am hungry. So I go to subway for a Bargain Meal. While I am there, Todd comes in. HE is over 6ft and smiling. He stands next to me in the line and I intorduce myself to him. He tells me that he has just got out of hospital and shows me the large gash on his forehead. “I fell of a rocke when I was fishing. I was drunk. I fit every night now. But my life has changed completely. I donlt drink anymore, I have given it up completly. My past drin was three weeks ago.” Todd orders a Latte and it is my pleasure to buy if for him. he is such a nice bloke. I tell him I will come and and visit with them all soon.
I eat my meal and then make my way accross. Todd is waving. I stit next to him and immediatly am welcomed into the group of seven. I young guy has a bag open and is doling out shrink wrap packets of beef joint. About fifteen quid each one! “Here you are mate you can have one” and he tosses me a joint of beef. I begin to say “thanks mate, but you see…” when, Kel, a young woman with high heels, reaches over and takes it back. It’s his girlfriend and she says they need it. He gets a telling off. I keep my mouth shut.
They all want to know who I am and what I am doing and over a raucous conversation, I get to share my axe head message with them. One of the girls say
“Who is God then and who made Him?”
I say, “No one made Him. He is the I AM”
She says ” Nah you got one of the letters wrong mate, its the M is an N. Really his name is IAN don’t you know that? You’ve been praying to IAN.”
I laughing so loud, they don’t know what to do!
I say, “Well no matter what His name is you had better listen to Him”
She says a lot more – but its not repeatable here.
I speak to Todd and tell him frankly that I am here for him. (I know I am). he needs new friends. I tell him that he MUST get involved with Elim. He says he will.
I get myself back to the B & B by four O’clock, get a bath and rush out the door back to Wells for 18:45. I’m meeting my friend Roy who just so happens to be in the area on business and wants to by me dinner. We talk, share, strategise eat and pray. I get back around 10:30 and literally fall into bed.
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