I wasn't asking for anything. I wasn't expecting anything. I just explained that I felt I owed it to the pastor to explain why we suddenly disappeared from the church and why we haven't been back since. And he seemed to appreciate my honesty.
I wasn't bitter or angry, just pleasant, relaxed, open and honest about how Ben felt the church had let him down. As a result I'd been angry with the church back then. Ben had trotted along to church religiously every Sunday morning for over a year yet they failed to reach out to him.
I explained - for the second time, because the first time was the time that S and I went to see the pastor earlier in the year - that, because of the legacy of his illness, Ben finds it very hard to make social overtures himself. He's not the kind of guy to run up to people, slap them on the back and announce: "Here I am, guys!!" Not by a long shot. He needs people to reach out to him. He needs to feel involved and needed. Yet one day all this trotting along to church just got too much for him. He was doing all the giving and getting sidelined while the youth group got on with things in the way they always had done.
"You see Ben isn't like the others," I explained. "He didn't grow up in the church with a family that went to church every Sunday. Attending church was something that was very new to him and he went of his own accord rather than through 'habit' or family pressure. He wasn't clued up on the 'ways of the church' like the other young people are." In other words, he was an outsider. "He also had his own very strong beliefs which sometimes clashed with the standard doctrines of 'the church'. Yet to him they were - and are - very real. On the few occasions he voiced them, he felt as if he was being shot down in flames."
"We both still have a faith," I explained. "But we just don't seem to get along with 'the church' as such. We're just not 'churchy' people and don't seem to be able to find what we are looking for or need in the established church." Thinking of the Friday night Phab club, it was clear that Ben has been made more welcome in secular organisations. They are giving to him what the church failed to do.
We also talked about my friend S who passed away in May and how, without her around, coming along to church was so much more difficult for me. When S wasn't there, few people talked to me - or to Ben. Often I'd arrive home feeling worse than when I set off which isn't the way church should be. It was the same in the other church - the church I went to before I came here. Worse, in fact, which is why I left. Back then, it was me that was crying out for help and support. Ben was going through a very dark patch. Yet no-one seemed to 'get it' or want to 'get it'. They backed off and it was all polite conversation or discussions about praising God, evangelising, doing good and helping the needy in third world countries. Yet here was someone right in their midst who was needy - for very different reasons. Yet they failed to recognise it."
So the conversation was a bit about Ben and a bit about me. "I don't really know where we go from here. I don't expect or want you to do anything, as such. I just thought I owed it to you to explain where we've been all these months."
And he seemed to appreciate that.
It hasn't changed the way I've been thinking about the church over these past months. I didn't expect it to. I just feel it's one more thing that's ticked off my 'to do' list.
I don't feel guilty any longer. In fact I don't really feel anything.