I sit down in my usual solemn mood at the Monday evening prayer service at the old train station. No trains arrive or depart from there anymore. I actually don’t know the last time they did.
“Hi. My name is Frank,” says very loud voice from behind me. You’re supposed to enter the building with a silent reverence. The guy who sets up every week, Horace, quietly replies, “It’s great to meet you.”
The pastor’s wife, Alice, plays accompaniment to the chant-like songs we sing. She’s sitting behind the electric keyboard used as a harpsichord.
“Hi. My name’s Frank.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I’m the last person left. Frank, who offers the same introduction even though I certainly already know his name, sits down next to me. With a handshake I say, “I’m Andrew.”
We continue to sit in silence, awkward silence for me. Frank is reading the index of the songbook. There’s an insert that he missed, even with it being a completely different shape than the songbook. The insert would explain to him the order of the service.
A few more people walk in. Frank doesn’t get up to introduce himself, but it’s obvious not doing so makes him very uncomfortable. Why am I so cautious about introducing myself to new people?
I’m sitting there, in one of the chairs facing the corner of the room furnished with a blank table adorned with flickering candles. Next to the table is a stand with a bowl full of sand. At the beginning of the service, usually during the first song, people light a small candlestick and place it in the sand as a representation of unspoken prayers.
Frank still hasn’t caught on to the usefulness of the insert. However, he notices the unlit candlesticks and wants to know what to do with them. Horace sees this and points to the stand. Frank lights a candle, sticks it in the sand, then sits back down.
Pastor Mark arrives. He sits down for a little while as more people arrive. Then he begins the service, pretty much reading the introduction from the insert as he always does. The services are meant to be simple and focused. That’s what I find to be so profound. Mark explains the candles. Frank still hasn’t noticed the insert. As Mark walks back to his seat, the harpsichord accompaniment begins. Frank says quietly—as if to Mark—“I was the first one to light a candle.”
We begin to sing. “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” Frank is squeamishly looking around. He finally finds the right page in the songbook and begins to sing well out of tune. Toward the end of the first song, I finally point out the insert that tells Frank which song we’ll sing next.
We actually sing only two songs at the beginning of the short service. Then Alice acts as the leader in an invocation. (Sometimes it’s a confession.) She reads, “Breath of God, Breath of life, Breath of deepest yearning.” Frank is reading along out loud by “deepest yearning.” The all say, “Come Holy Spirit.” Usually when the all part comes, there is hesitation, a moment when the community takes a breath and tries to say the part in unison. Well, Frank, it is becoming apparent to me, has no idea about unison, and right away he says, “Come, Holy Spirit.” All four times this happens. (The fourth all part actually states God’s Spirit is with us.)
What is fitting during this exercise is the second part has the leader invoking the Spirit as “Disturber.” I certainly am disturbed.
The service continues with another song, and then Pastor Mark reads a selection from the Psalms and the Gospels. These too are printed in the insert. Again, Frank pays no attention to the written-out form of the service. He reads the Scriptures out loud, most of the time not in sync with Pastor Mark. This makes it very difficult for me to focus of the Word.
After the reading, there is a time of silent prayer. Frank does nothing out of the ordinary, except getting on his knees for a few minutes and making the Catholic cross movement.
The time of prayer is extremely difficult for me. Frank’s presence looms in my mind. Throughout the entire service, he’s acted like he couldn’t care less about the way it was meant to go, nor is there any hint as to him caring at all about what others thought of him. But the issue that really haunts me is the idea of living in such a way that we don’t care what others think about us, but we still think of others and how to serve them.
The meditative service ends with a song asking God to let us go in peace. My soul, however, is disturbed.
The prayer service is just the beginning of the evening. The rest includes a time of fellowship, Scripture study and local musicians performing. Frank continues to do out-of-the-ordinary things, like speaking out loud during the sermon. After Mark looks at the passage of Scripture with us, we have a small group discussion. Pastor Mark sits with Frank for the discussion time. We discuss the gain-the-world-lose-your-soul issue of Mark 8. Mark shares with us after the discussion time that he and Frank concluded it was more about giving up than gaining. Frank makes an incredible statement to Mark during that time: “When we learn to give ourselves over to the will of God, by faith we can be changed.”
Before I leave, I want to say goodbye to Frank. I am conveniently able to avoid the manifestation of this desire, because Frank is talking someone’s ear off.
The whole evening has been disturbing for me. And it was supposed to be. I need to deny myself, let my will be destroyed, so that by faith in Christ, I will be transformed.
At this moment, I hope I see Frank again. His simplicity and apparent ignorance to what is happening around him and the way things are supposedly supposed to be disturbs be in a way that I know is the Holy Spirit at work.[W. Andrew Gibbens is a 20-year-old student at Milligan College in East Tennessee majoring in humanities.]
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