To anyone blessed with the gift of discernment, it was obvious: the Devil was at work in QZ Solutions. He paced the corridors, lurked in the cloakrooms, squatted in the chief executive’s office. The Enemy had always been present — you could tell from the drunkenness, the profanity, the sexual immorality — but recently the attacks had intensified. Our prayer group had been forbidden to meet during working hours. The accounts manager had left her husband of twenty years. And the newly-appointed head of marketing was a lesbian.
Then we heard that management had decided to recruit a new finance assistant. You can imagine how we prayed. Yet another opening through which the Enemy could wriggle! Our prayer group — myself, Roy, Sally, Kirsten and Darren — met daily, during the lunch break and after work, to ask God to send us a Christian, to fight back against the Devil’s assaults. We prayed for the HR department, for the interview panel, and particularly for Sally, who, working in personnel herself, would be the closest of any of us to this battle.
The advert went out, the applications came in, and the interviews were organised. Every day, we prayed: every day of those three weeks we waited, and on the day itself.
Sally had the task of showing the interview candidates around. All morning she was up and down, rushing through her emails in between photocopying test papers and introducing the prospective new assistants to me and the rest of the finance team. I made sure to shake the hand of every one of them, to look them in the eye and pray for discernment as I did so. Some were shy; some looked back at me and smiled. I was nervous, oh yes, but I was excited, too, for what God was doing here.
When Sally came back the third time her face was glowing. “He’s the one,” she whispered.
I lowered my voice. “That one you just showed round? James?”
She nodded. “He’s a Christian, I’m sure of it.”
I’d thought the same. I’d liked his firm handshake and neat suit. Here was our Christian. We just needed him to get the job, now. When Sally went off to collect the next candidate, I shot off a quick email to the rest of the group. We weren’t able to meet, of course, but I knew that every one of them would be praying.
James Pugh started work at QZ Solutions a month later. He was good: quick to learn, not afraid to ask questions, and far more skilful — and far more patient — with our antiquated computer system than I was.
“I don’t have to tell him anything twice,” Harriet said. That was high praise, coming from Harriet. I agreed with her. I couldn’t fault his work — although of course that was hardly the important thing. The important thing was that God had answered our prayers. When I talked to James I could see the same thing as Sally had: there was a kind of humble confidence in him that led me to the same conclusion. He was a Christian. Thank God. We needed him. He had no idea how much we needed him.
I had to tell him. I prayed: “Lord, help me find the right moment to speak to James.”
God brought me that moment that same week: after our team meeting, James started collecting the empty coffee cups. I lingered to help him, brushing a few biscuit crumbs off the table and tearing up an abandoned agenda.
“James,” I said, when the last couple of people had straggled out, “I wanted to ask you…” There wasn’t any subtle way to put it. “Are you a Christian?”
“Gosh,” he said, and laughed, a bit nervously. “Is it tattooed on my forehead or something?”
“I’m right, then?”
“You are,” he said. He inhaled, audibly, then said, “In fact, my partner’s a vicar. As of three weeks ago.”
That threw me off balance. I’m open-minded myself, but some of the members of our group have strong views about whether women should speak in church. And he’d said ‘partner’, not ‘wife’ — were they not married, then? I sneaked a look at his hands: yes, there was a gold ring — but on his right hand, not his left. He wasn’t married. But God was saying the same thing to me as he’d said to Sally: this man was a Christian. I had to trust God on this.
So I said, “Wow. You must be so proud.”
His face lit up. “I am. Things are moving on in the Church, of course, but it still isn’t easy.”
“Of course,” I agreed. “But the Spirit is moving.”
“Let’s pray you’re right.” He looked wistful. Then he started speaking fast. “But yes. We’re here now, and everyone at St Giles has been very welcoming; they’ve really made us feel at home. I’m so glad — I’d been praying so hard for Kevin to have a good experience in his first parish…”
Kevin? I choked.
“Are you all right?” James asked. I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to speak.
“Let me get you a glass of water,’ he said. “Back in a moment.”
The door swung shut behind him. Faintly, I heard his quick footsteps, and then the clatter of the cups as he put them down in the sink. I flopped into a chair and buried my face in my hands. I tried to pray: “Lord, I’m sorry. Forgive us. We should have been more specific.”
But I didn’t feel as if anyone was listening, and all the while James’ face, apprehensive, resigned and yet hopeful, rose before my mind. Jesus must have looked like that, I thought, just before — but I pushed the idea from me.
Kathleen Jowitt lives and writes in Cambridge, United Kingdom.