Sunday, February 26, 2012

Importunate Witnesses

I invite you to share a few moments of my Saturday morning. It won't take long...

I am sitting in the study, working on various bits and pieces for the church, when the doorbell rings downstairs.
"That'll be my new phone!"
The childish excitement lasts only as far as the hall. There are two figures on the doorstep, one of whom has begun to pound the glass panel vigorously. I open the inner door, and then the storm door.
"Give me a chance - I was upstairs ..."
But a horrid recognition is dawning. The woman - about my age - who was pounding the door smiles. "You know me!"she proclaims triumphantly. And alas, I know her - or at least I know who she is. The man behind her, bulky, big leather jacket, stubbly head, is a stranger. There is a moment when I think they are trying to effect an entrance into my porch, but I hold the door firmly, lean out towards them.  A few words of small talk ... "How are you? How's retirement?" (The connection had links with the school, though not recently).
"I'm very busy. With church, you know."

That does it. "What do you think of Armageddon?"
I go for the light touch. "I try not to, much ..."

But they're off. Regardless of the fact that this woman (a) knows exactly who I am, (b) knows that I have a long-standing commitment to the Episcopal Church and (c) has been this way before, she pitches in as if I was somehow virgin ground, ripe for takeover. The man is worse - he very soon becomes aggressive, and actually has to be shushed by the woman. When they see that I don't intend to rise to their questions, she produces a pamphlet.
"Will you read this? It won't take long..." and the man adds "Surely you have an open mind?"

Now, I have been through all this stuff in the past. I thought that we'd been clocked as unlikely converts long ago. I was aware by this time of the rising bile, the wish to be clearer than politeness was letting me. In a small town, you don't really like to let rip at someone whose family you know; it's not like the city where you can - as my nephew advocates - merely shake your head at them and shut the door. But I've had enough. They haven't brought my new phone, and they've begun to tell me about the Bible.
"I'm afraid I think you believe some very odd things," I say, firmly. "And I'm not interested in learning any more about them."

And they go. But I suddenly see how awful this doorstepping actually is. I used to wonder if we should all do this sort of thing - if this wasn't perhaps a laudable exercise. But now I see it as calculated to put people off at best, to give them a complete scunner - for that's what this visitation did to me. If we can't live in such a way as to make it clear that there is an extra dimension in our lives, then I reckon we should give up. Or try harder. And I don't think we should presume to tell people they've got it all wrong.

Unless they're on the doorstep, that is.


  1. The Jehovah's Witnesses who have called on me, in the U.K., France and now Costa Rica have been uniformly pleasant and polite.

    If they were like your recent visitors perhaps I would think differently, but on experience so far I have a lot of time for them in that they try to spread what they see as truth in the face of quite a bit of hostility.

    I don't agree with them; I see no validity in their beliefs; but, in the case of the Witnesses who have called on me, there has been no harassment or even pushiness.

    Perhaps I've been lucky...

  2. That sounds a rather frightening experience. I must say I've never had such hostility, sometimes persistence though.

    My mother once many years ago had someone appear at her door. She was in a particularly 'interesting' mood and decided to listen patiently to the whole 'pitch'. When he finally finished, she looked him in the eye and said, 'you know, that's very interesting. Now, I want to tell you about C.S. Lewis!' And on and on she went and he backed slowly back to his car. As he backed out of the driveway, she chased after him, calling, 'Don't forget that name is C.S. Lewis!'

  3. It sounds like you've been very unlucky here, Christine. Like Fly and The Broad I've been doorstepped by the Jehovah's Witnesses even here on top of out Welsh hillside and they have been uniformly polite. It does amuse me, however, that even when I've answered the door in full clericals, it hasn't stopped them trying to show me where I'm wrong. :-) But if they had been in the least aggressive I would have shut the door on them very quickly.

  4. I'm quite glad we don't get them much around here, and they tend to be a bit meeker than that.

    The last batch got on my nerves with a crass non sequitur, ", ...because the world's ending soon and have you thought about God?". Or something. At that point they re-encountered the door.

    I went away thinking: I work from home, all day every day; not *first* having the decency to ask someone if they're insufficiently busy to spare the time to talk is actually quite disrespectful to the religion they were trying to ram into conversation.

    Just as long as they don't try to feed their poison to the dogs.... ;)