Can I get a witness ?

My sweet TGOnce I’d settled in to my room at Shutters, I ordered room service. There was a knock at the door and there’s a sweet Mexican lady who delivers my tray. A few nights later I order again (there’s a butterscotch pudding like Angel Delight which is so delicious I can’t resist). It’s the same lady. She asks if everything is ok and I immediately break down sobbing and talk about you in a great flood of words. We talk for a while and she asks what I’m doing on Sunday. I say ‘nothing’, so she invites me to her church. In Inglewood. Her name is Arcelia and she suggests I meet her a couple of roads down near a park from the hotel as the management don’t like the staff fraternizing with the guests.  Sunday morning comes and I realise I’ve agreed to meet a complete stranger from Mexico in a nearby park. What the hell am I doing? Am I going to be recruited as a drug runner for the Mexican cartel? Is my life going to end like a scene in Ozark?  After panicking for 10 minutes I decide to go. I haven’t got her number so I can’t just not show up. Call it instinct. I go to the place she suggests and there she is. Arcelia is so happy to see me. I get in and we drive for about 20 minutes and grab a coffee from McDonalds on the way. Then we pull up opposite the church. We walk in. I feel very underdressed in my leggings, flip flops and my Old Navy t-shirt with Sand, sea and Sun on it.  I learn that the whole congregation came from Chicago Illinois years ago then set up the church in LA. Everyone says hello to each other. I am introduced to everybody and everyone is so, so kind. There is dancing, singing – they are led by their formidable pastor Wendy Howlett. She is dressed in a royal blue power suit. She is utterly fabulous and delivers the kind of sermon that would convert Richard Dawkins himself. It’s moving, passionate and very witty in places. I am spellbound. Then suddenly there is a hiatus in the service where anyone can get up and talk to the congregation and testify. Arcelia gets up and talks about meeting this lady in the hotel – she doesn’t mention me by name but she cries and says that she was meant to meet me. She was sent to help. Before I know what’s happening I’m being ushered up to the microphone. I stand looking at the 80 or so people and I’m really tempted to say ‘Hello Inglewood, give me a cheer if you’re single’.. but I find myself gently saying hello and then telling everyone what has happened and how heartbroken I am. I’m so full of grief I can’t even say your name. It’s so incredibly painful, like it’s a terrible dream I’m going to wake up from any day. I blubbed and talked at the same time. I blub-talked. As I talked they all acknowledged what I was saying with nods or noises. When I’d finished everybody stood up and clapped me. When staggered back to my pew, I felt like I’d been lifted up.  

Then the choir sang accappella with harmonies– it was brilliant and inspirational. And perfectly in tune. Even though I felt the kind of sadness and pain that is indescribable, there was a room of people who I’d never met; some going through their own pain and loss. I was part of humanity. There in my tshirt, leggings and flip flops I bore witness to the human condition in all its terrible majesty.

Afterwards Wendy the pastor gave me her book, Faith Runner and a CD – they film the service. I haven’t watched it yet but one day I will.

Blessed Family Worship cover
The little church in Inglewood that lifted me up and held me in my indescribable pain.
Faith Runners book cover
Faith Runners – the book given to me by Pastor Wendy Howlett