“Oh, please, you must come,” Eleanor pleaded. “Please.”
“It’s not really my sort of thing,” said Eric, hoping that would be enough.
At that age, girlfriends generally got their way and a few days later they were off on the bus to Earls Court to see Billy Graham.
The arena was tightly packed, with a choir behind the podium. There was a warm up speaker telling the audience how wise they had been to listen to God’s call. There was some community singing of familiar hymns. Arms were waved, hands were held so that everyone was “bonded in God’s love,” but, for Eric, it started to feel uncomfortable and oppressive.
It brightened up a bit when Cliff Richard was announced and, after a short speech, sang, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Eric got a dirty look when he tried to join in with, “When This Bloody War is Over,” so he stayed quiet.
Eleanor was bouncing up and down excitedly, joining in with everything that happened.
Finally, the great man was announced and made his way to the podium to loud cheers and applause.
Eric had seen professional con men at the race course, He’d seen professional con men at the market, he’d even met them on the doorstep selling all sorts of rubbish. Standing on the podium was the most polished and professional con man he had ever seen. His suit, his hair and his delivery told you he didn’t believe a word of it. It was all marketing.
The punters had all paid to see and hear him and Billy didn’t disappoint. He preached about the evils of drink and sex. He preached about Cain and Abel. He talked about sin and God’s love. “But,” thought Eric, “he didn’t really talk about anything. It was all spiel. Every single word of it.” Nothing new or original that you couldn’t hear in church on any Sunday.
The sermon came to an end and after a short prayer, Billy asked people to step forward to be born again. The choir began singing. Some people went forward immediately. Some needed encouragement. Eleanor tried to pull Eric forward , but he resisted. She pouted and frowned at him, then went forward alone.
All at once Eric found himself being pushed forward by two of the stewards. He was determined not to go and struggled, eventually breaking free, but losing a shoe in the process. As he left the arena he looked at Eleanor for the last time. There was no affection in her eyes. He also noticed that quite a few reticent converts were being escorted to the front by stewards.
Feeling sad at the probable loss of a girlfriend, Eric caught a bus home. The conductor looked at Eric’s feet and asked, “what’s up mate, did you lose a shoe?”
“No mate,” Eric replied, “I found one.”