I was brought up in a traditional (in faith terms anyway) Church of England family, grandfather a churchwarden for 40 years, grandmother the queen of the church linen (and the am dram society!), father the organist – yes and he even played for our Archbishop’s wedding!), mother the first woman churchwarden and deputy head at the church school …so I just accepted the pattern of church without really thinking about it. It was just ‘what you did’ as a child. But come 16 or 17 years old, late nights at ‘discos’ (that ages me!) meant any excuse not to go to church and I just stopped going really! It felt like part of childhood, not part of my own being and I really did not even notice its loss.
But 12 years later, struggling with a failing marriage to a radical atheist in Scotland I kept finding myself walking into churches when going past – almost involuntarily. Eventually I ended up walking into a Taize service in the cathedral – coincidentally located on my way home. And even more suddenly I felt as though I had suddenly ‘found’ something I had not realised was missing. And that said Fred was that …. Well not quite because it’s been a journey and a half since.
Starting to go regularly to church, initially through Taize, Compline and evening worship, put the last nail in the coffin of our marriage but paradoxically also gave me the strength to end it. Hearing the bells of the Cathedral ringing out in bright sunshine after my first Easter service since I left home filled me with a feeling of joy and happiness I have never since felt so strongly or keenly. Joining with my mother and her close friend to argue for the ordination of women gave me my first taste of the institution rather than the faith (and very angry it made me too!). Going to a URC church in London for 4 years taught me theologically more than years of Anglicanism. Moving with work so often I became a dab hand at girding my loins to get to know another ‘church community’. Singing in the choir was hugely rewarding, even if the cassocks were unflattering. Learning to negotiate the shallows and depths of being a PCC member, meeting and moving in with yes, another atheist (but one who accepted and valued my faith for being an integral part of me), all of these steps were taken hand in hand with God whether I was conscious of it or not.
And of course there were the highs and the lows. The long barren time after I was initially turned down for selection (and possibly ordination) meant faith was largely about ritual practices in the hope ‘something’ would come back to me. The sheer strength my faith gave me after I had to retire very suddenly and unexpectedly – my mental image of God providing me with a swaying rope bridge over a deep deep chasm and a sure hope of arriving on the other side. Both of those are points when I was conscious God was very much part of me and walking with me, even when I was most angry with him!
Yes I have thought of leaving, yes I have thought about worshipping ‘without’ the church, yes I still have a love/hate relationship with the institution of the C of E, especially currently as the Anglican covenant arguments, homosexuality and women bishops cause ridiculous amounts of hot air, distress, anger and bigotry (on both sides) and yes I sometimes ‘get bored’ on a Sunday and fail to concentrate but He has never left me and funnily enough I don’t think I will ever really leave Him.
So now, my faith life is a rich tapestry of experiences and activities. I am an accepted part of the Blyth Valley Team, who have supported me unquestioningly, who have supported my own ministry, who laugh with me and at times at me, and who allow me to hold my ‘radical’ views even if they are not theirs. And if you find yourself walking unexpectedly into churches – go with the flow.