This is the third part of a fiction serial, in 750 words.
The prayer group meeting was nothing at all like Jimmy had imagined it would be. For one thing, it wasn’t in a church, but in the hall next to the Working Men’s Social Club. He had hoped to be able to wheel his mum in and make his excuses, but after he got her inside, a scary old lady bolted the door behind him. She said to take a seat at the front, so the wheelchair could be in the aisle.
Looking around, Jimmy guessed that his mum was the youngest in the group. Everyone else looked really old, and the whole place reeked of lavender water and smelly feet. He counted just eighteen people, besides him and his mum. They were sitting on the old wooden chairs arranged in rows, but everyone was in the first two rows. There must have been fifty chairs with nobody in them. He presumed it must be a slack day that Sunday.
Above the stage was a banner with ‘MAKE A DIFFERENCE’ printed on it in huge letters, and a black cross in each corner. Just like mum had written inside his Bible. Nobody seemed to be doing anything. There was no praying, and no hymn singing. Everyone was sat there just staring into space.
Then a man walked out onto the stage. He must have been standing to the side out of sight. As he appeared, the people all raised their heads and started smiling, including his mum. He was a big man. Tall, and stout too. He looked to be about fifty, and he was dressed in a three-piece black serge suit. In his left lapel was a silver cross, shining in the overhead lights, as was the greasy stuff he had used to stick his hair down. He looked around the room, nodding.
Someone behind Jimmy called out “Praise the Lord, Reverend George!” Then the rest of the people shouted the same thing. His mum reached out and grabbed Jimmy’s hand, beaming a smile at him, and inclining her head to suggest he join in. But he didn’t. Reverend George started speaking, and his voice was so loud, Jimmy wondered if he had a microphone hidden somewhere. He welcomed everyone, and thanked them for their preaching work in the community. Then he made a short speech about mum breaking her ankle, as she was preaching in the shopping precinct. How her willingness to injure herself to spread the word of God was an example to all.
Jimmy found that rather over the top. It wasn’t as if she had intended to fall off the three-step stool.
Everyone closed their eyes while Reverend George said a prayer about preaching salvation and repentance to those who had not seen the light. Jimmy kept his eyes open a bit, watching the man on the stage. When he finished speaking, the Reverend suddenly focused on Jimmy. He spoke even louder. “Today we have to welcome a new member of the congregation, young James. He has accompanied his mother to make her journey easier, and joined us for our service. Welcome to you, James”. Everyone repeated what he said, even mum. Jimmy felt his face go hot as he blushed.
For the next thirty minutes, George blabbed on about who should be going where to spread the word. He mentioned that there were plenty of leaflets available, and everyone should take some when they left. He kept on about how important it was for everyone to keep preaching in the town, claiming that the regular churches had been consumed by vice and greed, and only his group could make a difference.
Then he bent down and picked up a wooden box with a handle. Walking down the steps from the stage, he passed along the rows as the people stuffed money into the slot on top of the box. Jimmy was amazed to see his mum put two ten-pound notes into it. She didn’t earn much more than fifty a week, so donating twenty of that was a lot. When everyone had put in, George went back onto the stage to give the final prayer and blessing. It was more of a pep talk really, promising all the oldies a place in Heaven at the right hand of God if they continued to do their good work.
Just before they stood up to go, he suddenly called out Jimmy’s name.
“James! Be aware, young man. The Lord has special work for you. You will make a difference!”