I have decided to attend church each week as an act of faith but a faith not connected to a God. A different church group comes in each week. This morning it is Pastor Bobby and 3 middle aged women with odd straightened hair and or wigs. James Brown and his backing singers are reborn in front of us, though any sex machine has long since left this building.
17 chaps out of 387 have made it to the 10 am Sunday service. Which is a good turn out. Many parish churches would love that percentage to attend. Prior to prison, I would have said they would not have wanted 17 criminals to attend, now I realise the nonjudgemental approach of Christians. Forgiveness is the heart of their faith or desperation giving the rise of Richard Dawkins.
One of the Pastorettes has a Mr. T fetish going on, wearing a lot of gold bangles. I get the chance to study these in some details as they are waved above her head and in my face of the next hour or so. I can see one of the bracelets is a golden handcuff. This is a dedication to one’s audience.
They launch into a reggae version of “O come all ye faithful.” The weight of the Lord must be pressing hard on the congregation as no one is standing. The lady at the front with Darth Vader boots and matching hair asks:
“Can you not feel me today? Stand up and praise the Lord.”
Many sink lower. Pastor Bobby dances and sings for all of us. The prison chaplain would normally stand but today he is on drums so he can only cajole confined behind a plastic screen.
The happy, happy, happy singing does not catch on which is a shame as this is the best Carribean riff of “Away in a manger” that I, or anyone, has ever heard.
Pastor Bobby is standing at the front pointing to the roof, maybe he has spotted a leak, which is miraculous as his eyes are closed, he then starts repeating “I believe, I believe, I believe” who is he trying to convince? He raises both hands measuring out that Biblical fish God will catch for him or be hailing a taxi, one can’t be sure.
The lack of spontaneity is making the relaxed hair girl become tightly wound. She asks in desperation
“What Christmas songs would you like?”
Various requests from ABBA to the poignant “Wish I was at home for Christmas” fly at the singer
“NO, no, no…….. carols”
“Carol Carpenter” is offered in all sincerity but the boys catch on and add quickly
they are stretching it with”Lewis Carrol” but from the back, a clear shout of “I want Carol Vorderman’s number.”
The heckling leads to a kerfuffle, a flutter of hymn sheets before they settle on the religious tome “We wish you a merry Christmas” which she belts out very well, ending with “May God have a blessing for your head in the new year.” I resign myself to have to wait 4 weeks for my blessing but suspect I will have to wait an eternity.
Pastor Bobby has been lying face down in front of the altar for most of the last song. It is a contact lens thing I’m sure. He rises to give a sermon, describing that we should not be labeled by our crimes. Good point. He pictures for us the sign outside the prison ‘HMP Tabley Heath.’ A sign I have not seen, as my sweat box seat was on the other side of the prison van. He assures us it stands for Her Majesty’s Pleasure. We are detained in Her Majesty’s Prison. Some long term sentences can be determined at Her Majesty’s pleasure. These sentences have transferred the belief that the Queen enjoys to lock everyone up, the feelings of the Queen on the matter are private.
Oscar Wilde commented, one old queen on another, that “If this is the way Queen Victoria treats her prisoners then she does not deserve to have any.” Little has changed since Oscars day. Homosexuality is still the last taboo in British jails. The soap is safe to pick up.
Another dent in the veracity of the word of Pastor Bobby comes when he asks us if we have seen his favorite film “The short sharp redemption” while this sounds an ideal reconciliatory pathway I’m not sure it’s the same movie Morgan Freeman movie Pastor Bobby has in mind.
Just when I feel my cliche count for the day has been passed the ladies start up with ‘When the saints go marching in.” They may be follically challenged but they are plainly in the number when it comes to singing. Their version is again the best ever.
I retire to the corner for my free coffee, my raison d’etre and reflect I have only 8 more of these to go. Pastor Bobby comes over and hands me a blank cellophane wrapped Christmas card to post to my family.
Hallelujah. I wonder if my faith will remain strong.