James had been a member of St Oswald’s for as long as he could remember. First, as a toddler, he was awed by the enormous silence inside the church itself. As an older infant, ignored by his parents, he loved visiting when there were no services, so he could walk quietly round, hearing only the sound of his sandals on the dusty stone floor. At his funeral, his father struggled to relate through his grief that James had always said he wanted to work in a church. It was ironic that it should have brought about his untimely death.
At Sunday School, James was fascinated by the Old Testament. He imagined that, somehow, to belong to the church community would draw him into that ancient history, the tales of Moses, Noah and David and Goliath. It would bring those stories to a life as real as the relationship he suffered with Eric, the older altar boy at the church who had tormented him daily about his limp, his iron brace and his “queer” blonde hair. It wasn’t only Daniel who picked on him. James was indeed disadvantaged by the treatment for polio, but also his mother’s insistence on bleaching his regular brown hair so he would resemble the ideal of the girl she had so dearly wanted.
James endured the bullying because as he grew older, he felt protected by the story of Jesus on the cross. As he became more familiar with the still, lifeless figures returning his transfixed gaze in St Oswald’s, he came to believe in the real superhuman power of the Risen Christ, just as another child might invest complete trust in the power of Thor or Iron Man to overcome all odds.
It seems only Daniel knew that the thirteen year old was so utterly obsessed by the church that he would take refuge there when the police came to question him, searching for his mother’s killer.
And only Daniel knew that his favourite hiding place place was up in the organ loft. So it was that on that fateful Sunday afternoon, he waited there to confront the slow, encumbered James. His instinct was right, but what he could not have foreseen was that James not only sought refuge, but rescue. Daniel taunted James as he emerged panting into the confined space, but then watched in disbelief as he climbed on to the rail behind the organ. Unsteadily at first, but then with a confidence fuelled by the unshakeable innocence of his belief, James confidently stretched out crucifix arms and let himself fall forward.
“Lord, hear my prayer!”