I was prompted to write this recently as part of a discussion on a website to which I belong … thought that it might also be useful/interesting to post here.
Resisted church as a child (bribed with raisins to keep quiet, favourite part of church was sliding up and down the pews on the lovely tapestry cushions, taken to one side in Sunday School – run by Mum! – for being too disruptive). Given a choice between farmwork and church on a Sunday morning, I chose the farm(!)
Early teens – saw Cliff Richard on the TV and he said that if you asked Jesus through the door into your life He would come (Behold! I stand at the door and knock etc….) and I thought that was quite a good idea, so I prayed that prayer. My sister and I attended diocesan youth group activities (called “Holy Disorder”) – all dry ice, drama, standing on the pews, hugging and modern songs etc. Enjoyed that, and remember praying that God would make me a better Christian. That lasted for a while, but my attendance tailed off eventually.
Confirmed aged 13 (largely because my younger sister wanted to be). Confirmation classes meant watching the ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ videos with Ian McShane in (yes, Lovejoy!) and having a bit of a vague chat. I don’t remember opening the Bible at any point (eek!), but do remember that my sister and I were asked not to attend one session, because it was going to be about suffering, (and we hadn’t suffered bereavement/divorce etc. at that point).
Late teens – monthly church attendance only, playing in the music group (compromise struck with Mum). Prayed three prayers each night:
1)thanking God for the day (because I knew you were supposed to be thankful),
2) praying that if I died in my sleep God would take my soul,
3) praying that the house wouldn’t burn down while I was asleep. Sometimes I threw in the Lord’s prayer for good measure as well. Wasn’t reading the Bible at this stage, but I do remember borrowing my sister’s youth Bible – although I spent more time reading the little ‘boxes with real life situations’ rather than the text itself.
University – 1st year
Church attendance stopped (no-one to nag me!).
Went to the college CU welcome lunch (because Christians = nice people), but had ‘better things’ to do with my time than go to CU (like study, student politics etc.). Heard brief talk at the lunch, along the lines of “there once was a young man who achieved material success and never found time for God, and then he got run over and died…..”. One of the college CU reps, John-Daniel, asked me “if you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”…. and seemed to think that my answer of “I certainly hope so” wasn’t quite good enough… Left thinking they were all terribly keen (which was fine for them, but not for me…).
University – 2nd year
Lived with 9 other students. The two girls on the top floor with me were both Christians. One was very keen and seemed to spend hours praying (very audibly) next door in the evening. Mildly intrigued by this.
Six weeks into the New Year (having just been elected JCR President) Mum died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage (she was 45). Left a note asking the CU to pray as I left for the hospital. Coped/dealt with grief (badly) through: college politics, working, drinking, partying.
After 6 weeks, I realised that this wasn’t working. At this point, my theology was all over the place (not sure if the confirmation class on suffering would have helped though) – I felt outraged at the interment when the curate said “God, you don’t know why these things happen” as I felt that He certainly ought to… although I also thought that it might have been linked to something I had done as well. Praise God, that my sister’s cell group was steadily praying for me during this time, and the college CU rep Louise was becoming a good friend.
University – 3rd year (1999/2000)
Louise mentioned that the CU were looking for a room in which to hold their weekly prayer meeting, I offered mine as it was the biggest in college. So, every Tuesday at 7.59am I would wake up, roll over and unlock the door to let in all the slightly scary CU people (who had cycled in from houses two miles away and eaten breakfast). Prayer meeting would then start (and I would be slightly unsettled by all the non-liturgical prayers…. some of them were very enthusiastic…. it didn’t seem very Anglican to me….).
Was taking Philosophy of Religion as part of my degree, and was irritated by my tutor who classified me as a liberal Anglican, on the grounds that I was quite vague about what I believed, and generally put up a feeble defence to any of the arguments he (and my atheist tutorial partner) came up with, whilst being insistent that God really did exist.
Decided to read the Bible as I thought that this would help me in my PoR exam. Bible reading was distinctly uncomfortable as for the first time I began to feel convicted of my sinfulness.
Accepted Louise’s invitation to the talks at the mission week (thought that that would also help). The ‘CU guest’ helping the college CU asked me a lot of pointed questions, and pointed out that I needed to respond to what I was hearing in the talks. The evening talks were on John’s Gospel (passages leading up to, and dealing with the Cross). I remember sitting high up in the theatre where the talks were held, dwelling on the Cross and was all very, very, real. I’m fairly sure that I repented and asked for the Lord’s forgiveness then, (I certainly did several times over the following weeks… just in case). I went to (what I can tell with hindsight was) a follow-up evening course – (a bit like CE) to keep my friend (another CU rep) company.
Started to really pray, attended church at least a few times (very odd – vicars wore suits and badges rather than vicar-frocks… was a little worried that they might be American televangelists, sermons lasted closer to 30 minutes than 5, and were based a passage from the Bible, rather than ‘Thought for the Day’, sermons also expected you to make personal application of what you were hearing), went to a couple of student lunches, where I started my collection of Christian books.
Remember us being urged to find a church (when we left university) which placed the Cross at the centre of everything which it did.
London – 2000+
Arrived and was keen to find a church to attend regularly, as I knew that if I didn’t find one soon, I would fall into the habit of not going.
The church of which I am now part was mentioned by a friend, but they thought that it might be too far away from Camden where I was living. Looking around on the internet and had found a few churches, although not attended any.
Randomly (or rather, providentially…) one weekday afternoon I came out of Next on Oxford Street and bumped into (almost literally) Kate, who was CU rep at college when I was a 1st year. I asked her to recommend a good church. She took my contact details and told me to come to St.H.
Started coming in the evenings (terrified, – surely it wasn’t quite right that a church should be this full? and preaching on the Old Testament?).
Joined a bible study group looking at John as a way to make friends, although I thought it faintly odd that you needed to take a whole year to read a book of the Bible. I thought that it was very fortunate that Kate turned out to be my group leader (little did I know that this was not random).
During that first year, much changed as I learned how to really study the Bible for myself.
I started a group looking at Romans the next year convinced that studying over the course of a year was a very good thing indeed, and came prepared with a special set of colouring pencils, notebook and the entirety of Romans printed out from the internet with all the ESV subtitles taken out (as these are not part of the original text)… and the chapter and verse references…. (which made the question “where are you getting that from?” a little tricky).
Since then there have been ups, and quite a few downs, through which the Lord has taught me many things about constancy, dependency and prayer, (whilst gently reminding me of my utter sinfulness and fecklessness).