It was a scene of utter devastation. A battlefield was littered with abandoned siege equipment: upturned buckets, half buried spades. Turrets were crushed by titans’ feet; walls were breached, smashed into grains of sand by thrown rocks. The generals lay wounded in the grass, their plastic weapons cast aside. Sir Thomas Johnson and Sir Simon Johnson bawled for their Mummy as though mortally wounded.
Mrs Johnson trudged out of the kitchen and triaged the casualties. “What happened?”
“He started it.”
“No, he started it.”
“Never mind.” She took the garden hose and flushed motes of sand from smarting eyes, hair and clothes; she smirked at the bedraggled warriors. “You can stay out here until the sun dries your clothes. You’ve been baptised, so why don’t you play a nice game, like Church?”
Thomas and Simon thought this was a splendid idea. They decided that the steps to the garden terrace would be the pulpit. A pew was made out of a plank set upon stacks of bricks and a picnic table served as the altar. They sang the snatches of songs they could remember and passed a plant pot round to take an offering of snail shells, twigs and other treasures. They prayed for a plentiful supply of ice cream and then took turns preaching to one another. Thomas concluded a particularly fine homily with the observation that there needed to be more than two members in church, so they decided to embark on a mission to invite their friends to join the congregation.
After lunch, the church grew to such an extent that the ministers had to request an offering for additional materials, in order to expand the nave. The collection also yielded the loan of a portable stereo and a collection of rock CDs donated by Thomas’ friends. This faction pressed for their use in the service. Simon’s followers argued for the traditional hymns and sermons about doing good works, but Thomas had more friends and loud speakers, so drowned out the other.
This resulted in schism. The Church of St Thomas set up on the patio near the mains supply, was more celebratory in style, whilst St Simon’s moved to a contemplative cloister on the garden terrace. The sermons became more competitive, remonstrative, hostile…
Each church vied to demonstrate that it was the ‘True Church’ ™. St Thomas’ promoted its seeker friendly, party atmosphere. It measured success by shear number of enthusiastic converts, who flocked to the beat of the music and the lashings of ice cream served up at the after service social.
St Simon’s was altogether more earnest. They did the shopping for old Mrs Goodwin at number 92, cleaned up the litter from the patch of wasteland at the end of the street and undertook chores to raise money for charity. This righteous effort gained the admiration of many, who said that it was just the kind of church that they would want to join, if only “Church” were the sort of game that grownups played.
Events came to a head, when St Simon’s returned from weeding a neighbour’s garden, to find that their pews had been pillaged. They were hot, tired out from their exertions and the weather had become oppressively close, liable to ignite thunderstorms and tempers. The Rev. Simon Johnson, who could not contain his rage, boiled over with righteous anger.
“You stole our pews.”
“You weren’t using them.”
“We were doing good works.”
“We believe in salvation by grace.”
“Faith without works is dead.”
Theological reasoning turned into a crusade. Simon grabbed the last beam that remained in his desecrated church. Thomas similarly equipped himself. Their friends formed themselves into a circular counsel, to cheer on their respective representative as they prepared to thump orthodox theology into each other.
Their staves were wrenched from their grasp as Mr Johnson interposed himself into the middle of the controversy. He was still dressed for work and looked stern as a judge. There was an awed silence as he demanded to know what was going on.
“He started it.”
“No, he started it.”
“I don’t care who started it.” Mr Johnson said wearily. He sent all the friends home before anyone was martyred, and wondered about the rows of seats on the patio.
“Why can’t you two just get on with each other?” Justice Johnson summed up, as he imprisoned the defrocked ministers in their rooms, “Play nicely; together. Build sandcastles or something.”
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