50/50 Tales From the Dark Pews

50 lives in 50 words. A new one added each day.

50. The calamity

Disaster! The church has been declared unsafe, riddled with woodworm and dry rot. The hall too. Can’t rent the local school, too expensive. Only one thing left, have to hold the services outside for now. When it rains bring an umbrella. Jesus smiles, he’s been waiting out there a while.

Luke 8 vv 5-8, Matthew 9 vv 9-13

49. Incognito

She sits at the back, far right-hand corner and waits. A few notice her but most don’t. She’s there every week, watching, waiting. Looking for those moments when she can step in with a kind word and an encouraging smile. Waiting to be welcomed, and offered that cup of tea.

Hebrews 13 vv 1-2

48. The visiting speaker

They’ve been looking forward to his visit for a while now. The place will be packed. It’ll be a good night, there’s a real buzz about it. Some think him controversial but others find him a breath of fresh air. Either way they’ll be at that place of worship.

1 Corinthians 3 vv 4-6, Ezekiel 33 vv 30-32

47. The farmer

He first encountered God out in the fields. He comes to church because he feels he should, but out there, in his workplace, amongst the crops and animals, that’s where he keeps bumping into the face of the Almighty. Church calms his anxieties, but nature breathes life into his faith.

Luke 2 vv 8-14, Psalm 23

46. Lost girl

She loves the singing and finds solace in the liturgy. But the Lord’s prayer is tricky. There’s that line about forgiveness and forgiving others. Whoever wrote that had not lived her kind of life. Abandoned by the one she trusted and pushed around by her family. It’s a tough prayer.

1 Samuel 18 vv 20-28, 2 Samuel  6 v 16

45. Old warrior

He’s been in some dark places, lived through some terrible trials. And he’s seen God’s hand, God’s deliverance. Now he’s hanging on for it again. Waiting for the light to dawn. For the night, with its panic attacks and soul-corroding fear, to disappear in the Light of God’s dawn.

Psalm 102 vv 1-7

44. The ancient guy

He’s been going around the block since before there ever was a block. Seen it all, a wise head on those drooping shoulders. Still has a twinkle in his eye and a smile. But he’s a realist, he knows life is tough for the young. He chats, prays and listens.

Ecclesiastes 11 vv 7-9

43. The odd couple

A while ago they took to living their dream. Walking into the unknown with their God. The problem is, a few years on, it still feels like they’re off the map. Still limping into the unknown. Living their dream continually leads them into uncharted territory. Perhaps it’ll always be so.

Genesis 15 vv 1-8

42. The handy guy

He’s never thought of himself as that spiritual really. He’s always there when a drain needs fixing or a fuse has blown. Now suddenly he’s in great demand. The biggest project he’s ever attempted but he seems to be the best man for the job. Where’s his Black and Decker?

Genesis 6 vv 13-15

41. The capable man.

He doesn’t want to talk about it. Feels an idiot. Can’t appear weak. Doesn’t want to have to ask for help. Indipendance instilled by his father. And he knows if he talks someone’ll make embarrassing suggestions.  Doing something that’ll mark him out as a useless fool. Men don’t do that.

2 Kings 5 vv 1-12

40. The ambitious mother

She wants to see the vicar. Has been on at him for weeks. When will her boys get to do something up front? When can they play in the band? They’re gifted lads. People should know about it. Hasn’t considered other jobs they might do. Lower profile activities. Oh no.

Matthew 20 vv 20-21

39. The quiet one

He’s not heard from God in years. Decades. Others speak easily of communications from on high, but that’s a foreign language to him. He often prays when out walking, sees God in the ragged beauty of the scrawny fields. But hears nothing. He just waits. Walk quietly with his maker.

Psalm 35 vv 22-23

38. Fast girl

She’s hungry. Hasn’t eaten for days. Could murder a curry, can’t break free of those images of cake. But she must. She knows this is important. She doesn’t understand how it works, but she trusts that it makes a difference as she prays. Hopes others can’t hear her rumbling stomach.

Esther 4 vv 15-16

37. Cornered

He feels trapped. As if the world has turned on him. The place he used to come to for hope and encouragement has become a place of harsh viewpoints. Talk and gossip, comments whispered and muttered over coffee and biscuits. Smiles masking other expressions. He’s seen as the enemy now.

Psalm 109 vv 1-5

36. The loudmouth

His dress-code is unique. Whenever there’s an opportunity to pray out loud he stands up. There’s no keeping him quiet. He keeps disturbing the place, shaking things up. Makes grand statements that crush the boundaries of politeness. Some have left because of him, but others are starting to turn up.

Matthew 3 vv 1-6

35. The prodigal daughter

He’s always frowning. Like he’s working out some difficult mathematical problem. His daughter used to come with him, but something’s changed. He sits alone now, and during the prayers the frown lines grow as he concentrates on some deep desire of his heart. Maybe one day he won’t sit alone.

Proverbs 17 v 21

34. The last man in

He’s always late. Doesn’t get out of bed on time. Dawdles in, and noisy with it. He’s always got something to say afterwards. Things not right, or not right for him anyway. He’s on the tea rota but he always forgets. Has grand ideas that only live in his head.

Proverbs 18 v 9

33. The singer-songwriter

She’s written songs all her life. Best expresses herself through music. But she’s not all sweetness and light. Her songs are sometimes near the edge, singing of a God who makes people nervous. Some of her poetry sounds dangerous, subversive. Perhaps she should be ‘advised’. Quietly taken to one side.

Exodus 15 vv 20-21

32. The lady with the loud voice

When she’s not in church she’s often out in the streets. Shouting. You can’t miss her, she sticks out like a sore thumb. Offends their sensibilities, and the people hurry by. But other things grab their attention, subtle things, soul-deadening things. And embarrassment forces them to miss her genuine offer.

Proverbs 1 vv 20-23

31. The church mouse

She barely says a word to anyone. Slips out quickly each week at the end of the service. Most hardly notice her, a few wonder if she’s a Christian. But she prays for others for hours every night when she can’t sleep. And every day she visits her elderly neighbour.

Mark 12 vv 41-43

30. The cunning warrior

She had to do it. It was an extreme solution and some might not understand, but they weren’t there. Others forget it was she who risked everything and instead give credit to the man. But it was she who used her ingenuity and courage to win the day. Not him.

Judges 4 vv 18-22, Hebrews 11 v 32

29. The beat-up hero

He would never judge anyone for failing. Not now. He’s been there himself, understands that bluster can give way to frail fear. People may claim things in the daylight, but turn their back on them at night. He knows that too well. And he’s gratefully come back from that brink.

Mark 14 vv 66-72

28. The leader

It’d be so much easier if he didn’t have to take all these extra folk along. If he could just handpick the best people, those on his side, and disregard the rest.  Trying to move anywhere with this disparate bunch is hard work. So many pulling in so many ways.

Exodus 17 vv 1-4

27. The lonely entrepreneur

He’s always the best dressed. Has the biggest car. He is doing well. Always cool. But he sits alone. Has a few chats with folks after the service, but keeps himself to himself. His success has failed him, his ambition built walls in his mind. His desires have mugged him.

Luke 12 vv 16-21

26. The ex-prostitute

She gets frustrated, angry to the point of tears at their lack of dedication. Missing the point. Just going through the motions. He’s changed her life, why can’t others see who he is? One of these days she’ll walk to the front and do something dramatic. Something no one’ll forget.

Luke 7 vv 36-48

25. The powerful woman

She looks severe, a force to be reckoned with, been round the block a few times. Calls a spade a spade. She’s not afraid to stand up to anyone. She makes men tremble.  But on the quiet people go and see her, one to one she’s a great, straight-talking counsellor.

Judges 4 vv 4-5

24. Fallen hero

He’s a broken man, his family collapsing. He’s already lost one son and now another is out there sleeping around. And proud of it. In a lucid moment he sees himself all too clearly. He’s paying the price for putting his business before his family, his calling above his household.

2 Samuel 16 vv 20-22

23. Expectant

She’s confused. And a little exhilarated. Was she imagining it? She feels no different. She looks around at the others in church, faces so earnest. And she wants to laugh. Not at them, but at what has happened. One of those moments when you realise… there really is a God.

Judges 13 vv 2-5

22. The leader’s father in law

He can see the boy wearing himself out. Running here and there, doing everything himself. Can’t let go of the reigns. All well and good but things will collapse if his son-in-law collapses. He’ seen it before. He may prove to be unpopular but he won’t stand by this time.

Exodus 18 vv 13-19

21. The embarrassing prophet

He’s a typical man. Extra-typical really. Giving voice to his inner thoughts does not come natural. Like so many men he’s not used to talking about things that matter. And he hates speaking in public. Which is why it seems to come out all wrong. Brusque, harsh, embarrassing. But true.

Amos 3  v 3-8

20.  The mother

She worries about him, he won’t behave. Out all hours. She never knows where he is, and others tell her outrageous stories about him. This isn’t how it was supposed to be. He showed such promise. He was supposed to be responsible, mature, the good son. Not a painful embarrassment.

Luke 8 vv 19-20

19. The young one

It was horrible. That night. That pressure from folks. Made him run, humiliated, give up on the person who changed his life. There was a cock crowing, it wasn’t for him, but it might have been. As he sings happy songs on Sunday the memory looms large in his mind.

Mark 4 v 51

19. The preacher

His style of preaching is winding people up. He should stick to teaching the gospel, bringing in outsiders, not experimenting with all these new-fangled ‘creative’ ideas. No wonder the church has problems. He’s confusing the converted, doing things which rock the boat. He’s starting to offend people. He’ll lose them.

Ezekiel 3  vv 1-8

17. The old sailor

Drink has bloated his face. Added crags and crevices. Given him something of a beetroot hue. Others are cautious of him, not knowing his backstory. But he once saved the world, in a way that many would never believe. He followed his God into the unknown. Appearances can be deceptive.

Genesis 9 vv 20-21

16. Split personality

He feels a fraud. A long time ago someone challenged him about his life and the mountain was too big to climb. But he can’t walk away. So he hovers there, straddling the fence. Drawn but reluctant. One foot in one camp, one in the other. Outwardly dedicated, inwardly reticent.

Mark 10 vv 21-22

15. Under pressure

She’s angry. Seething. She wants to do the right thing, but she’s under terrible pressure from him. She doesn’t want to use the word ‘manipulation’ but he’s doing his best to force her into this. An older man and he’s family too.  Hard to refuse his request, but she’s terrified.

Esther 4 vv 13-14

14. Long-suffering lady

She doesn’t understand what’s going on here, but it’s her last hope. She’s not a churchgoer but she’s so desperate she’ll try anything. She keeps her distance. Takes a seat in a far corner away from the numbers. She kneels and prays and does her best to follow the service.

Matthew 9 v 22

13. Wild child

She’s only short but can make grown men quake in their boots. She has a quick tongue. a sharp wit and the confidence that comes from having five brothers. She’s not afraid of anyone. She could be using that strength for good. But right now she’s bringing good people down.

Mark 14  vv 66-70

12. The strong one

He sings the songs, knows the liturgy backwards. When people ask him how he is doing, he knows the answer. ‘Fine,’ he says, ‘fine.’ And he has the appropriate smile. But underneath it all there’s a vast desert of questions. Things have not gone as planned, he’s running on empty.

Mark 9 v 24

11. Scowling man

He doesn’t want to be here. This is not his style. Can’t stand the liturgy, the songs, the smiles. Drives him mad. He wishes the place would go up in smoke. Frackin’ losers. Yet here he is. Driven by something. A divine, unpleasant kick up the backside. It’s not fair.

Jonah 4 vv 1-4

10. Unlikely lad

The others read him all wrong. He just says it like it is. They say he lacks faith but that’s not true. He won’t cover up, he won’t recite platitudes and use all the nice, acceptable Christian speak.  He knows that others think these things, he just thinks them aloud.

John 14 vv 1-5, John 20 vv 24-28

9. Lost soul

She has nothing now. God’s taken it all. Her husband, her son. Soon she’ll lose her home, the home she’s lived in all her life. She knows how Job feels. ‘The lord gives and the Lord takes away.’ She cannot sing those happy worship songs. She can only recite Job.

Luke 7 vv 11-15

8. Rising star

She’s ambitious. Her husband might be youth leader here but she has plans of her own.  Soon she’s going to see the pastor. Talk to him about getting what she wants. She knows it’s a good idea, and she knows how to handle the pastor. She should do, he’s family.

Judges 1 vv 12-15

7. Big shot

There’s something not quite right. He frequently glances towards the exit. He’s refined and educated, but never at ease, and to be honest he’s not the kind of guy who normally comes here. He’s overqualified. And guarded. Keeps himself to himself. Plus he wears running shoes with his Armani suit.

Exodus 2 vv 10-15

6. The new arrival

She’s getting used to the language, not been there long. She’s dedicated, hardworking, already joining in with plenty of things. Never late. People like her. She’s looking for a job. They’re all praying. And a husband, a good man. A kind man. But she hasn’t spoken to anyone about that.

Ruth 2 vv 1-9

5. Allotment man

He loves being outdoors. Often turns up with dirt on his fingers. Sometimes leaves smudges on the hymn books. He stares out of the windows much of the time. Never takes communion, stays seated doing his best to conceal a sad frown. But he’s always there when things need fixing.

Genesis 3 vv 17-19

4. Hidden talent

She’s been going there for years. Ever since her husband died. Some think her a bit daft, she talks about visions and her theology seems a bit off beam. She sometimes talks to herself and her clothes never really match. But she prays more than anyone else in that place.

Luke 2 vv 36-38

3. Sick as a parrot

He’s annoying, a thorn in the side of the other members of the congregation. They believe in healing and he just won’t get well. What’s wrong with him? What’s his problem? Clearly he needs to sort himself out. He just sits behind a pillar and wonders when it’ll all end.

Job 1 vv 13-22

2. Wild thing

He is not your average attender. His hair is rampant, his clothes outrageous. He’s noisy and sings out of tune. Can’t sit still for long, has to slip outside to stretch his legs halfway through. His mind wanders during the sermon. No one shakes his hand or makes eye contact.

Judges 14

1. Back row girl

She has a secret. Daren’t tell anyone else. So she sits at the back and keeps her head down. Leaves early to avoid difficult questions.  Avoids eye contact when asked to share the peace. She’s thinking about running away. It’s hard living like this. Alone with something she must hide.

Matthew 1 vv 18-19

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