Bit of a high fallutin' title to this post, but a discussion this evening with the couple of lads that turned up to my youth group made me think a bit more about how I got caught up in this Christianity business and why, coming from a non-believing background in many respects, i ended up here, serving the Church and my local community as a Clergyperson.
The easy, and perhaps way too pat, answer would be 'God' - somehow God sorted all this out so I am doing what I am doing here, there's a plan etc etc etc. This may well be the case, but I think that 'God is in the detail' (rather than the Devil!) so its worth a bit of reflection...
I grew up in a little town in Devon, nothing spectacular, i felt loved and affirmed by my family (though it's a hugely complicated story) and I did quite well at school, which I loved. My father, by upbringing and conviction in early life, was a Roman Catholic who had left the Church behind when his first wife died. My mum was, and is, a member of the Church of England who never forced any kind of belief on any of us, or forced us into going to Church.
At the age of 8, or so, I found myself (along with my brothers and sisters who lived at home at the time) packed off to Sunday School at the local 'Congregational Church'. This wasn't because of any great religious conviction on the part of my parents (as far as I know) but because they wanted a couple of hours peace on a Sunday morning (there were 8 kids at home at the time, I think). There was no compulsion, but it was a fun place to be and children were well catered for in terms of keeping us active and involved in the Sunday school there. As my brothers and sisters got older they dropped off and found other things to do - and as long as we gave our parents the peace they craved that was fine! I stayed, though. And I stayed not because of any great spiritual experience, or because I had to, but because of the example of those who ran the Sunday School and the church.
They were genuine.
By that I mean they lived out values of compassion, faith, justice, love and truth with no pretension, no sense of 'this is what we must or should do' but because living out the ideals of their Christian faith came naturally to them. I know now that this takes some discipline, and they would, and do I'm sure sure, work at this - but at the time their caring, thoughtful, prayerful approach to life impressed and inspired me. As I went through the Sunday School and became part of the Youth Group I grew to see more and more the Christian faith made real through the words and actions of my leaders - particularly through the 'Halse' family who I have mentioned before some months ago. I saw that there was a quality of life that I was lacking, eith a peace, hope and self-giving love that challenged my often self-centered and self-absorbed attitude. At the age of 11 I realised that this was due to their commitment to Christ, so I took the step of dedicating my own life to the journey of faith. In the words I used at the time 'I gave my life to Christ'.
It wasn't due to clever arguments, nor to indoctrination, but to a humble, loving faith that was made real in front of me. I was never pressured into this decision, it was something that I decided for myself, and something that after 27 years I don't regret a bit.
And now, all these years later, I want to play a part in inspiring that same kind of faith. I long to be someone who can be seen just to be trying to live out this faith, not to impress others, nor to gain any kind of reward, just to be the kind of person who tries to be a Christian. I may not always succeed in living up to my ideals, I may not be a great example, but I hope to life with integrity, and with faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.