I arrived under light rain to Holy Cross Church, Billesley in Birmingham. The charming vicar, Debbie Clarke, had kindly offered to help us to the best of her ability, despite not fully knowing what we were doing or why!
As I walked through the office entrance I was met by two ladies who were obviously trying to resolve some sort of issue. The alarm kept sounding, making it impossible for them to work and Debbie quickly offered an apology for not being able to talk to me straight away. In a former life I trained in electrical engineering and one of my companies had been involved in installing electrical systems, including the occasional alarm. I offered to help if it would assist. It transpired that one of the two office sensors was picking them up, with the alarm off, and then sounding an audible and irritating tone. It also appeared that the company managing the alarm, whilst helpful, would charge in the hundreds to come out and resolve it, which wasn’t that useful. I often wonder why an organisation the size of the Church of England doesn’t have its own workforce or a national contract for this sort of stuff, as you would assume it would save them money.
Eventually a true bit of team problem solving resolved things. I spoke to the engineer over the phone and we worked out fairly quickly the sensor was in ‘walk test mode’ but that it was impossible to resolve if it was due to an erroneous key entry or a fault. The display was reading gibberish so more likely the latter, Debbie and I went to find some silver foil. In the mean time Lesley, the able administrator, had worked out that the annual service was due shortly and managed to persuade the company to simply come a few weeks earlier than planned. With an engineer booked for the next day, we covered the sensor with silver foil, stopping it being triggered by movement and silence descended. ‘You’re our angel, you are’ quipped Debbie.
Now there are many things I would accept I could be but sadly angel is not one I can aspire to claim. I would however accept in my fluorescent jacket that I was reflecting the light quite well and as a Christian that is probably as near to being one as I am likely to get. It did make me reflect on angels though. These messengers from God are a constant theme in the Bible narrative and always herald major events. Having never met one I’m angel curious although Adele and I did have a shared experience of hearing what I would assume would be them singing. We were in Jerusalem with Trinity College Bristol. Everyone else on the trip were either in training to be priests, spouses there of or hugely intelligent folk who delivered courses in Theology. Consequently as the only two exceptions, Adele and I were the only ones to regularly get up early and attend morning prayer at St George’s Cathedral Jerusalem. Since coming to faith unexpectedly in April 2012 I have had hundreds of experiences relating to the meta-physical side of Christianity. When they first started Adele was miffed to say the least. I still recall a conversation where she correctly pointed out that she had always been a believer, having stepped forward at a UK Billy Graham meeting aged 15. Against that I had been at best on the edge of what I saw as a group of nutters who might create havoc with a tambourine. It was simply unfair that all of this had happened to me and she had only a few such experiences. Of course the reason is that I was so far away from God that I needed all of this stuff to bring me back whilst my good lady was genuinely already a ‘good’ person. Sometimes when God has pitched up I have asked to give up what has happened to me, to give it to her, but it was to no avail.
The two of us sat in the morning service which was mostly in Aramaic, the language of Christ. It was being taken by a native speaker and there was a tangible aura of spirituality present. The congregation numbered about eighteen and as they went to sing I heard the voices of thousands, a multitude.
As Bono sings in his song, ‘The ‘Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’:
“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.”
The singing I heard was remarkable. This heavenly choir sang something that pulled at my very soul and I stood there, humbled, quietly weeping. As I was wearing sunglasses I managed to hide this and simply dabbed at the tears with a tissue. Another spiritual event to not tell my wife about, but it would be difficult as in that moment I felt complete. As we walked out I noticed a tear coming from underneath Adele’s sunglasses. It quickly transpired that she had also experienced something as well, although her experience was subtly different to my own. She heard a choir, not in the same way as myself but had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. Again it made her feel complete. The humour in all this is we went back to our group raving about what an incredible experience we’d had and the next day nearly everybody turned up for morning prayer for the first and last time during the trip. To say it was dire would be unfair but it certainly didn’t contain a repeat of that morning, nor has any service since.
Thus my interest in angels has a reason for being and a quick scan of the Bible shows there is a significant number of incidences where they turn up. In looking for a suitable quote I quickly decided that any that involved unexpected children probably wouldn’t be appropriate nor the one regarding Balaam’s donkey in the book of Numbers. Warfare also didn’t seem appropriate although I could imagine it being instigated had the firm charged a call out for the alarm engineer to attend. So the verse I have settled upon is 1 Kings 19:7:
‘The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’
Debbie and Lesley are the angels in this story. Both pictured above were incredibly welcoming and Debbie has safely stored the cross for us to pick up on Saturday, offering to open up specially at 06:30 on a Saturday morning and to allow us to safely put our car in the church’s car park. However it is not just ourselves being helped as their church is having a drive towards helping the environment and I am hoping they will contribute a piece for this blog outlining what they are seeking to achieve. Please pray for them, we are hugely thankful for their help and support.
As a final aside, ‘Florescent’ isn’t a misspelling of ‘Fluorescent’ although I had initially considered using the latter. It is an old word that means bursting forth or to burst into flower and it just seemed to fit with the warmth we’ve been experienced from so many.