It was expected to be a simple job, just pick up a cheque, on behalf of Prostate Cancer UK. It was from a church that had recently completed some fundraising. I had volunteered to do the job because, though I didn’t recognise the name of the church at first, it was local to my mums address and I had never done a cheque collection. From what I understood all you needed to do was to go and pick up a cheque, possibly say a few words and it’s a done deal.
Of course, it was never going to be that simple for me.
Two nights before I had called the Pastor, Dennis, and introduced myself. I had previously looked on google maps and instantly recognised the church, I had been there before. I reminded him where and how we met and he laughed as he remembered. Calgary Church of Christ has the most amazing location. It’s not buried away down the end of a street but it’s basically an island all on its own in the middle of the road. It spreads out in a wedge shape just like the Gridiron building in America, New York city. It was just the address that I didn’t quite recognise. Two years previously I had shot a great wedding there and the outside of this fantastic building made for one of the best shots I had taken of the wedding party.
I got there a little early just before noon. All suited and booted and shiny looking but the first two people I met inside had no idea who I was. Not a problem I thought I will just sit back here and wait. Eventually another woman who knew all about what was happening introduced herself and led me up to the front of the church. She explained that PCUK was one of five of the charities that they were going to present a cheque to within the service, at some stage.
“Would that be OK?”, she asked. I smiled. I had a long list of outstanding things that I had planned to
do later so I was rapidly thinking, rejigging and reprioritising jobs in my head. “Not a problem at all”. I replied and smiled.
The church is of the Pentecostal denomination. For those that don’t know – think stiffness, preacher in robes and solemn soulless singing from a hymn book and you got the wrong type of church. Think gospel music and lots of energy, old boys and girls singing obliviously out of tune, clapping and singing and you have summed it up. It has kept a lot of its old character and original ornate fittings. Row after row of wooden pews from an age long ago majestically fill the sanctuary floor, something that you almost never see now outside of a Catholic church. The current pulpit sits about ten feet in front of and below the original pulpit that is no longer used. There is also a metal framed balcony that rings three sides of the inside of the church. A church historian’s dream.
The parishioners fall mainly into a small number of groups; the very young, pensioners, families, young teens and thirty plus. There was a distinct lack of late teen to thirties but that’s pretty much how it is in a lot of churches. All of these groups want to be here except the very young and some of the young teens. The very young can be bribed and pacified with crayons or tablets on silent, playing the latest games. The young teens that don’t want to be here are easy to spot. They have the nonchalant, grief- stricken, despondent and lost look on their faces, or as an adult would say slapped in the chops with a wet fish. The cause of all this misery? Is it an urgent call to the child welfare authorities that needs to be made? No. They have been stripped of their mobile phones.
Then a strange but good strange thing happened. I had church.
I really had church.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy singing my favourite worship songs in church and they sang them all. Now I am not a singer as those that have been unfortunate to witness will testify. However, I can mime well and gesture like a smooth London version of Luther Vandross so I was in my element. I thoroughly had a fantastic time for a solid half an hour. They then had the church notices. Afterwards Pastor Dennis took over and told the church the mission’s theme of today’s service and mentioned the charities that were here today. They then showed a couple of videos related to the charities and their work.
We were called up to the front, introduced personally and presented with the oversize cheques. Each of us said something regarding our charity and what the money was going to do;
“Hi, my name is Peter Ellis and I am here today representing PCUK. Prostate cancer UK is the UK’s’ biggest cancer charity. Unfortunately one in eight men will develop prostate cancer however this number jumps to one in four for black men. One of the reason why prostate cancer is so prevalent is because men will not talk about it. My dad had prostate cancer but he did not tell me so I went on the develop prostate cancer this year. So I said to God that if he gets me through this I will be the biggest headache for prostate cancer because I will tell everyone about it. It does not have to be a killer if you go and get tested. So I am just doing my little bit. So this money will go the wealth of literature that PCUK produces about prostate cancer, research and organising volunteers like me to go and talk to individuals and group’s. I will be here afterwards if anyone wants to talk. By 2030 prostate cancer will be the most common cancer in the UK regardless of sex. That’s bigger than the common ones you hear about like breast and cervical cancer. I can tell you that this money is going to a great cause and together we can make a difference.”
The experience from going to the front to collect the cheque to sitting back down was absolute torture. The speech in the middle was my only respite. I was unfortunate to be positioned next to a woman from one of the local hospitals. Young, blonde, long hair and good looking – the type who most women want to scratch their eyes out. Worse of all one of those types who is forever smiling. You know the one. Smiles when they sleep, the bus just hit me – oh but it’s not the driver’s fault – smiley time.
My usual default facial expression is a blend between normal, ‘deep in thought’ and engaged. Others, that have known ne for some time, would tell you more of an alloy of ‘what’s wrong with you then?’ and miserable. That’s not to say how I feel – no not at all. It’s just a default setting that I have had all my life. I have gotten much better now and it’s only occasionally that I look like I don’t want to be here and others will agree. I can manage up to a minute or so no problem. You are taking the mick at three minutes and anything after that is unchartered territory. However, standing next to Miss World means the magnifying glass was on me now and I had to stand and be a smiley git for five minutes or people would think I was ungrateful or didn’t want to be there. You can imagine them saying that the ‘prostate cancer guy looks a little sour’ She spoke and she smiled. Flicked her hair and smiled some more. Smiled again, just because.
The other most annoying part was I managed to keep it up for five minutes. At five minutes and ten seconds some young spark decided that would be the perfect opportunity to stick a camera in our faces and take a picture. Which coincided exactly when I finally, momentarily cracked and yes – I have that look.
What are the odds??
Alas, unfortunately, General Data Protection Rules (GDPR) forbid me sharing the picture with you. That’s definitely worth a smile.
We went on to the main service and the guest pastor made a reference to something that I had said about my condition. He then went on to deliver a very good and interesting service. As visiting dignitaries, we were to be fed and watered downstairs. I had a baguette from Greggs gently liquifying in my bag so I didn’t need to be asked twice. I was ushered to my reserved seat, would I like a drink? This is the menu – what would I like? Sorry did I have to be somewhere? Well I could hardly insult my guests and not stay for dinner. Nah I’m not moving anytime soon. It was well over the time I thought picking up this cheque would take. I was meant to be bringing back food for the sprogs. The girls were probably starting the ‘I am getting weak with hunger stage’. We are not talking something out of Charles Dickens London, with a couple of unkempt children with wooden bowls and spoons meekly holding them up. No, we are talking two different sizes of bottomless pits called stomachs. If Pepper Pig was on Joel happily turned off his food reflexes, unless you made the mistake of passing his field of vision with some food that was not green in colour or rustling a wrapper in the background.
Miss World had scarpered with her cheque, leaving more for me. it was the least she could do for the suffering she caused me upstairs. More for me. I ate like a King and engaged in small talk with the locals. One guy had told me he had also had the operation. I had a missed call from Annette. By the time I had finished talking and eating it was just after four o’clock. I had left my bag upstairs as DeeDee the pastors wife said it would be fine as she was staying up there.
I came back up with Pastor Dennis and the guest pastor. Pastor Dennis was looking forward to inviting me back to speak at one of his health seminars that the church holds annually. I was happy to agree to attending and presenting. I left the pastors to have their chat and I went back out into the main sanctuary. DeeDee was sitting in the same place that I had left her earlier, taking in the choir rehearsals for the next service. They could have been pinching the lead off the roof, I was happy and full and didn’t take much notice. I could hardly just grab my bag and run off as I had not said much to DeeDee all day, so I sat down and relaxed.
One of my better decisions.
DeeDee asked me how my day had been and I told her that I had thoroughly enjoyed it. I told her about my story and she was fascinated. This prompted her to open up about hers. Her father had been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer. This means the cancer has metastasized, that is spread from the prostate to other areas of the body. It is the final stage of prostate cancer. Typical of that generation they keep illness much to themselves. He won’t allow DeeDee or her sisters to accompany him to any appointments and only tells her the same thing after these appointments – the doctors say he is OK. He does not ask the doctors any questions so its detective work trying to piece it all together. They had recently told him that they will not be operating on him as they had previously told him. He proudly announced the news to DeeDee thinking that it was a good sign, when in effect it’s the total opposite.
I mentioned my blog and her eyes actually lit up, she was also a writer.
She had written about the dysfunction that her father had sown in the family and what effect it had had on her. She had given it to him to read and instead of feeling ashamed or reflecting on how his selfish behaviour had deeply affected his daughter he turned it completely around. He hurriedly called her back excitedly telling her it was brilliant and a best seller – when was she going to complete the book. It was a macabre badge of honour.
She never would, he completely missed the obvious clues and the point.
Her husband could never understand what she had been through. He had the model family when he was growing up. His mother and father were pastors of the same church before him. They have the model family that she never did. Each generation aims to reboot the failures.
We bonded over fatherly dysfunction, totally understanding each other like no other could. Another thing – they are both called Richard.
I said to her she should write again. A wise person told me to write a blog. Now a ‘deep in thought’ and engaged person was telling her she should do the same. I had never seen a physical word of her’s but she so enthralled me with the little she had told me I knew it was something very special.
My phone buzzed furiously again in my pocket. I had to go.
I really look forward to reading her blog and directing everybody I know there.