Sunday, 30 November 2014
I wasn't sure what to expect when I stepped into the community hall. According to the website, the church wishes 'only to provide evidence of life after death'. Blimey. Would it be more like a religious service or a séance?
There were about forty people sitting in rows, facing a table at the front with two women sitting behind it. Everyone seemed to be smiling, and there was a buzz of chat. On the table was a homemade 'Spiritualist Church' sign next to a cross and a hymn board. I knew I had to leave early, and was hoping for a seat by the exit, but the only free chair was right at the front. The woman next to me was friendly. 'We turn off the lights and talk to the dead, you know,' she said. She was laughing, which suggested church service. A silence fell, and the older woman at the front, after a few welcoming words, invited everyone to stand and say the Lord's prayer. I stood up and kept quiet, feeling awkward and intrusive. We sat down and someone passed me a folder full of typed sheets – a homemade hymn book.
The first 'hymn' was Wonderful World, which isn't a hymn, but is a good song. I stood up and opened my hymn book, but couldn't bring myself to sing, possibly because I felt I should stick to my observer role, possibly because my Louis Armstrong voice would be bound to slip out and give me a coughing fit.
We sat down, and one of the congregation was invited to step to the front and read the 'Age shall not weary them...' verse as Remembrance Day was coming up. Next hymn: I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing. This was already getting a bit muddled. After this, the visiting medium was asked to say some inspiring words. She was a primary teacher, it turned out, and she talked about her class's reaction to learning about Ann Frank, and particularly about the people who helped the Frank family. At first the theme was courage, but then God and Angels became involved, and I lost the thread. But it was very soon time for the final hymn: Bring me Sunshine - a fine song to accompany the strange combination of images in my head.
'Yes – that's definitely him!'
The medium thought this was too easy. She proceeded to stage 1b: 'He says things were difficult for him at the end of his life'. Nods 'He says you were really good to him.' More nodding, and what looked like a tear. 'But his life before that was a bit easier,' she said. This was amazing. It was at this point I noticed she was doing strange things with her hands before she spoke, writing in the air with a far-off gaze, or frantically tapping the side of her head, as if she her body and mind were temporarily taken over as she received these messages. Surely people weren't believing this! I looked around - they were. Maybe it was me who was crazy. 'I could be stubborn, though!' she said, switching to the first person. 'And he could get cross if anyone said anything bad about his family,' she added, switching back to the third person, as if she'd gone too far. What were we supposed to be picturing. Was the neat gentleman standing next to her, or had he taken her over. Why was he talking in short, vague, sentences? And what was he making her write in the air? It was too mysterious for me to comprehend, especially when the spirit went on to reveal that he'd had a nice life, and that the lady in pink would have an opportunity coming her way in the next year, which she should take, because it would be a bit of fun. The spirit had clearly read the Daily Mail horoscope when he was on earth.
The medium moved onto another, oldish, woman. This time it was a cantankerous old lady who actually had a heart of gold who was speaking to her. She was well below average height. The woman in the congregation shook her head. 'No, I can't place her.' The medium momentarily looked annoyed. 'She could be difficult!' she snapped. 'I'm well below average height ... no more than five foot!' The woman in the audience was clearly failing to place her. 'No,' she said, 'It's no one I know.' This was too much for the medium, who clearly didn't suffer fools. 'Does anyone know this lady?' she frowned. 'She's NOT VERY TALL!' There was no response, and the medium rolled her eyes. Forty people in the audience, and not one of the dopy feckers recognizes this basic stereotype. A few deep breaths and she recovered her composure and chose another receiver. The woman – it was almost all women in there apart from a couple of old men, me, and a teenage boy in there with his granny – took the bait, as did the next two, nodding, smiling and even shedding a few tears as the medium typed and tapped, barely keeping up with her inbox.
An hour had passed, and it had long since become tedious. The 39 people whose dead relatives weren't being channeled all carried on smiling benignly, receiving some kind of comfort. I waited till the medium changed receiver, and headed for the door. I caught her reading my mind as I left. My mind was saying that although she was tricking these people, they were there voluntarily and seemed to be comforted. Pretty much the same deal as in any church, but with a bit of homemade charm. I felt a twinge of guilt for intruding.