Have you ever played Encouragement Pingpong? It’s an amazing new game that’s taking churches by storm. Fun for all the family and you can have as many players as you like. You don’t need any special equipment. Just tenacity, a basic grasp of English and, most importantly, hours of free time. But be careful who you play. Ministers are particularly adept at swingballing your compliments, after years spent finely honing their craft. Many’s the pale-faced rookie who’s punched above their weight and lived to regret it. It’s very difficult to predict the skill of your opponent. But put it like this – you’ll know if you’ve been Ponged. And you’ll know if you’re in the presence of a Pong Master.
So here’s how it works…
Jed MacVicar has just preached another sermon. It’s been a good one and he’s clearly put the work in, (not like last week. That was Disastrous. Four hours of life, wasted. Endless droning, punctuated only by the gentle thud of parishioners passing out. The very thought is enough to provoke a cold sweat and the pricklings of unadulterated rage. And breathe…). Yes, this week, some of it actually made sense.
You fix Jed with a beady eye as he winds his way to the door during the closing bars of Little Donkey. Already a small queue has started to form. Better be quick.
Coffee in hand, you position yourself at the front of the line, turfing aside small children and the weak. And so it begins.
You’ll deliver a blinding one-liner. ‘Vicar, that sermon was great. Really helpful’. Back of the net, surely?
But before you’ve had time to step away, a neat backhander will leave you wheezing for breath. ‘Thank-you – so kind’.
Foolishly, you may attempt to save the point. You’re dealing out the compliments here, not him. Only one person will leave this conversation Affirmed. And it ain’t gonna be you.
A nervous smile starts to twitch, but it’s all okay. Still got everything to play for. Get a handle on yourself woman. Stop twisting that service sheet.
‘No, no’ you rally, ‘I’m a worm’. (Too much? Dammit. Try again).
‘I just love what you did with Psalm 914. Really insightful’.
Ha! That’s got him, surely. Don’t parry with the daddy.
But oh, dear friend, you are solely mistaken. Remember, who you are. A young, unformed pad wan learner, blundering into the presence of Holy Yoda. Step away from the conversation. Before it’s too late.
Whether it’s a torrent of verbal volleys or a deft conversational slice, your days are numbered.
‘No, no dear sister’. A pitying smile. ‘You’re the encourager’.
Quick, quick! Run! Stab him with the Jaffa-cake.
He’s walking away.
‘I love you! I’m your greatest fan! You’re Preacher Gold!’ Take the encouragement, take it. End this now. Oh, everyone’s staring.
He turns, briefly. to deliver the death blow. The comment from which no man has ever been able to respond.
‘I don’t know about you sister. I just love Jesus’.
Oh yes. You know when you’ve been Ponged. But there’s always next Sunday.