catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 15 :: 2009.07.17 — 2009.07.30


Portraits: Men of the Church

I.  John

John is a long-time member of the church. By any exterior account, he is not what you would call outstanding. He is Dutch, bearded and a landscaper; he is the husband of the wife of his youth and the father of a few strapping boys.

It is Father’s Day, and John is at the front of the church. The youth pastor is asking him questions about what it is like being a father to his boys. They banter back and forth a bit; John’s voice is not eager, but steady and thoughtful.

“So, what advice, what words of wisdom, would you give the men of our congregation about being a father?”

John’s smile is slow and gentle. He swallows hard before answering. “Time.” He says. “Time to make memories.”

John scrubs the back of his hand over his eyes.


II.  Henry

It is the Sunday after Father’s Day, and an assorted collection of young people are gathered on the stage at the front of the church. They are about to make profession of faith — an event in the Christian Reformed Tradition that signals the personalization of their faith and their full integration into the local congregation.

The girls are in pretty knee-length dresses, and most of the boys are in shirts and ties. They look tall and lithe on stage, swaying slightly and twisting their hands as they wait nervously for the ceremony to end. The youth pastor will ask them a series of questions, and to each question they must answer, clearly, confidently: “I do.”

One boy — Henry — stands at the end of this wavering row. He is obviously the youngest of the group. His face is pale, and he is twisting his hands with unusual energy. He answers the questions with appropriate clarity, but then turns an even paler shade of pale. Backing quickly out of the line, he then slips out of the sanctuary through one of the side doors. His father stands up and follows him outside.

The youth pastor is distributing Bibles to the young people. “Well, it looks like Henry had to step out for a moment.” He says, when there is one Bible left. At that moment, Henry reappears and accepts the Bible. Then he takes his place at the end of the line.

“Henry has something that he would like to share with us.” The youth pastor says.

Chin up, Henry walks across the stage. Approaching the podium, he extracts a single sheet of paper from his pocket and places it on the smooth wood surface. Then he clears his throat:

“This is a poem I wrote last year.” He says, his voice smooth and even. He begins to read. The poem reads like a hymn or a psalm: describing moments of joy and despair in colorful imagery and metaphor. Whatever the circumstance, the author choruses again and again, “I call upon my Lord.”

There is a moment of almost startled silence. Then a shattering of applause. Henry ducks his head and returns to his place in line.


III.  Benjamin

Benjamin is John’s son, and he is one of the young people who professed his faith. After Henry was finished reading, the youth pastor says, “And now Benjamin has something to share with us.”

The boy’s cheeks flame red and his hands shake as he places his papers on the podium. With his head down, he begins to read his testimony. He talks about growing up in church, attending Sunday school and vacation Bible programs. He talks about his Christian education, youth mission trips and Bible camp where “God and nature were brought together.”

Benjamin’s voice breaks and tears drop from his eyes. “And my parents were always there when I came home, to talk to me and listen to me and teach me and encourage me.”

Benjamin finishes his testimony among small explosions of applause. His face is wreathed with smiles, and fresh and wet with tears.


IV.  Andrew

The profession of faith ceremony is over, and a few of us are enjoying a light celebratory lunch of soup and buns. The air is thick with chatter, with the sound of metal spoons chinking against the insides of porcelain bowls, with the soft whoosh of rain falling on the pavement outside.

This is quite possibly the best soup I have had in a long time; the broth is fragrant with spices and simmered vegetables, and its warm flavor fills my mouth. I take another satisfying spoonful and look at the faces ringed around my table. Conversation flows easily.

“Dear!” I hear someone call. Turning around, I see Andrew standing behind the soup buffet. His glasses are perched low on his nose, and he is swathed in a large green apron. He is calling his wife.

“Dear! Do you want me to put these pots back on the stove?” Andrew asks her.

“Yes, that would be lovely, dear.” She replies with a smile.

Andrew’s eyes twinkle over his glasses as he picks up the pots and returns to the kitchen. 

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