The Charismatic Church of Jesus Christ Built on the Rock is no more. Immediately outside our school gates the skeleton of the building still stands but workmen have been dismantling it with heavy bangs and thuds for the past week now. Piece by piece, prayer by prayer, the flimsy boards are stacked in the alleyway; to be carted off in the back of a contractor’s lorry to cross the River Jordan and onto eternal glory. Or a scrap yard in Dagenham; believe what you will.
Pastor Modesto stands with me as I smoke a cigarette outside the demolition site. He lives in a modest dwelling just off the alleyway and directly adjacent to the vanishing church. He is a slight man, much younger than me. His Filipino upbringing is instantly signals as soon as he speaks. He has that rich blend of a relaxed pacific basin drawl and Americanised English. He often pops out to chat when he spots me pacing the alley, attempting to light my tenth Benson and Hedges of the day.
In the past, I would sometimes pop into the now vanishing Charismatic Church of Jesus Christ Built on the Rock for a coffee. Pastor Modesto would make me a muddy Nescafe and explain his great vision for his ministry. A dozen or so Filipino worshippers would be inside the church which was full of fairy lights and shiny foil streamers. The devoted would strum electric guitars and practice hymns for upcoming services.
Evangelicalism, Charismatic Christianity, Happy Clappy, call it what you will: it makes me uneasy. “I grew up in America,” I explain to Modesto, “I have seen the evil fundamentalism perpetuates in the name of good.” I find the notion of New Life, speaking in tongues phony and manufactured.
Luckily, spirituality was never the subject of the good reverend’s conversation. Instead he would discuss the common bond we shared, via our professions, in that we both have our flocks to look after. The old building was a gift from a long-dead parishioner. Leaking and worn; it had been built as a pre-fab at the end of World War 2. Originally the plan had been to leave the building standing for a few years in order to ease the shelter crisis forced on this neighbourhood by The Blitz. The Charismatic Church of Jesus Christ Built on the Rock had been true to its name; its five year life span went on for another 60 Christmases and Easters.
Pastor Modesto has been following our school’s journey out of its failing category with interest. This morning as I smoked he asked what was new. I explained that we had recently undertaken a very big project which had demanded most of my time. We have set a learning trajectory for every single child in the school; mapping out their current ability and setting a progressive target. If we managed it, the school would not only be satisfactory but in the top 25% of schools in the country. The project had highlighted some very interesting and (until-now) hidden data about the children’s learning.
I explained to him that one girl, in her final year with us, was solidly able and a good learner. Ask any of the staff and they would have told you we had no worries about the child and she would easily make the national age –related expectation by the time she left us in July next year. Our project uncovered that her trajectory wa s actually much steeper than we imagined. In short, she had been coasting and we as a staff had been perpetuating her academic sloth.
Exhaling a lung full of Benson and Hedges I pushed the smoke into the air and towards the bare rafters which once supported the church roof. Through it I could see the school; a view I had never had of the place from this familiar alley. “I’ve never seen the school from this angle,” I offered.
“It good to look at thing from new perspective”, replied Modesto in a Cockney-Filipino casserole of an accent.
“The old church give you one last gift before she gone.”
Keep the Faith,