The chaplain took me by the hand. 'Come and sit down, ' he said. Then when I was seated he asked, 'Are you all right?'
He described it as incoming flak. One of the warders as he left grinned and said, 'You had your hands full today.' Not your average Sunday morning service.
It all started 2 weeks ago.
I visited someone in prison and mentioned that I would be leading the service. I asked if he had any suggestions as to what it should be on. Without hesitation he replied, 'Job.'
My first thought was, 'Oh poop. I don't know much about Job.'
I went home and read the book of Job. My first thought was, 'Oh poop. What on earth do I get out of this?'
I googled it. The internet's a wonderful thing: you can find whole sermons on most bible verses. What most people seemed to focus on in Job was the question, 'Why does a loving God allow suffering?' My first thought was - can you guess? Yes, that's right. Oh poop.
That's a huge topic. It would take a learned theologian much longer than the 10 minutes or so we would have to talk about that subject. And it would take me less than a minute, my answer being, 'I haven't got a clue.' Which is why they are learned theologians and I'm not.
Forget it, I thought. I'll do something else. He'll probably not remember that he suggested it anyway.
I went to visit him again and he said, 'I'm looking forward to Sunday. I've told my cell mate to come to hear about Job.'
Oh triple poop.
Back to the drawing board. Saturday morning found me frantically typing out my thoughts on the subject. Saturday afternoon I walked George over the tip so I could practise it, decided I didn't like it and rewrote it in my head.
And finally the day dawned ...
And the man who'd suggested Job wasn't in the service!!! (He was unwell.)
All was going okay until someone asked me a question. And my answer confused us both and it went downhill from there with voices coming from every where in the room. It wasn't aggressive and once we'd sung another song - giving me time to think and give him a proper reply - the service went from potentially terribly bad to really good. Still lots of input from the guys but they seemed to be on my side. I felt comfortable and had an opportunity to give a totally unprepared and frank answer to the question of 'how do you become a Christian?'
As I say, afterwards the chaplain said, 'let's all sit down and debrief.' He never says that so I thought I was going to be in big trouble. (He doesn't encourage anything that demands a response from the 'congregation' as it can get out of hand - and very nearly did.) But he was really positive. Said I'd done brilliantly!!!! (He's never said that before either.) And that my honesty and the topic had touched people and that was why there'd been the openness and discussion.
I tell you I came away from there on a cloud. Once I'd stopped twitching ...
Oh yes, and when I was trying to remember how long ago I'd become a Christian - was it 20? no, 30 years - I commented how old I was getting and one man said, 'you only look about 60.'
I said, 'Cheek! I'm not 60 until November.'
'I said SIXTEEN!'
Untrue but lovely compliment - and I blew it! Deafness comes with old age they say.