Walking down along Charles Street
A shallow canyon of shuttered shops
Seeking traces of the Pioneer Store
And the anonymous side door
Of Pastor Gardner’s
Fig Tree Gospel Hall
The ‘beloved’ enter through a porch
Crammed with bin bags spilling
Sweet sweat rancid jumble sale stock,
Free for all until the rag man comes.
The usher, a farmer
Sentries the inside door
Placed to block intruders
And the exit for backsliders
When the preaching got hot.
Standing beside a dust and varnish table
Stacked high with Authorised Bibles
He shakes every hand as he deals out missals
Well thumbed Redemption Hymnals
His banana thick fingers
Crushing the knuckles of unwary first timers.
A smattering of sisters in white knit hats
Sensible shoes with two inch heels
And coats and scarves against the chill
Dots the rows of wooden chairs
Unaware of the glancing stares of
Blue suited brothers wearing Burton’s best,
V neck jumpers from B.H.S.
And terylene ties noosed tight round button down necks.
As the Spirit moves among and melts the hearts of
His dwindling flock of ‘peculiars’
The chapel fills with breathy “Glory… Hallelujahs!”
Pastor breaks the spell with a “Testimony!” call
A pair of flares and leather sandals
Crumpled shirt and unkempt hair
Rises, shuffles to the front
Shame faced at first but
Spurred by expleted, “Praise the Lords!”
He tells of salacious debauchery
“Till Jesus came and rescued me.”
The pianist flexes knuckles and hits the keys
Gideon Gardner beams contentedly as
A dozen reedy voices in need of
“A thousand tongues to sing”
Their great redeemer’s praise are raised.
Pastor takes his tambourine off its peg
Beating demons from his trouser legs.
A rococo glissando trills into
“When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”
Someone segues, “If you’re happy and you know it…”
Hands clap, feet stamp,
The floorboards bounce
The damp walls shake.
The ‘Beer Off’ proprietor next door
Looks at his wife and sighs.