Hmmm… controversial? Some of the things I say here may be, but I don’t intend to offend or upset. This is a rambling in the truest sense; I’m starting without knowing exactly where it’s going.
Background first. I was, like many, Christened when I was a baby. My parents weren’t regular Church-goers but it was important to them that I took this rite of passage, and besides, they intended me to go to the local Church school, because it was the best, in their opinion, in the area. This came to pass and I spent four happy years at St James The Great C of E Junior School, attending Church most Sundays and going on to become a Sunday School leader. I liked the Vicar, Father Whelan, and he liked kids; his services reflected that and youngsters were made welcome. I attended confirmation classes and took Holy Communion in what was in many ways a traditional Church, with many of the rituals that my Roman Catholic friends think belong to them and them alone. I believed, because I’d been told this, that the Church was not the building we worshipped in, but the people who went there to share in worship. I felt special.
By the time I reached secondary school church-going was a habit, and if I’m honest, it was routine rather than belief that kept me going. The ethos of the services was changing and Father Whelan moved on, and my visits became less and less regular as I discovered boys and makeup and shoes and alcohol. If I was an important member of the Church, why was I ignored, not even worth a passing ‘hello’, by the older people I’d worshipped alongside for the last six or seven years? Why didn’t I have a role any more? By the time I left secondary education, I think I’d pretty much stopped attending altogether.
At this time, I read a lot. I read things which made me question the church and its attitudes. I particularly questioned its attitude to me as a young woman, because while I’d been taught to believe that God loved me, the Church’s history proved that there were times when women (and other groups of course) had been treated very cruelly in the name of Christianity. I began to feel (as I still do) that the face of Christianity in Britain was one with a significant amount of egg on; I felt embarrassed that beliefs much older than Christianity were being passed off as the teachings of Jesus and for me the rituals that were part of my life lost their significance when I realised how pagan ceremonies had been manipulated to fit what was by comparison the ‘new’ religion. I could also see by looking at the news (Ireland, The Gulf, etc) that religion was the cause of much suffering, and I could not reconcile the beliefs of any crusading Christian with my understanding that all gods are in essence the same, only the names are changed.
Over the last five years I’ve described myself as an ‘interested sceptic’. I’m fascinated by what makes people believe and I’m intrigued by religion. I believe that a person can have morals without following a religion, and I don’t believe any loving, forgiving god would punish a person who’d lived a ‘good’ life because they had not followed a traditional belief system. I have however felt slightly envious of the faith that some people have; it must be a remarkable comfort.
I think I have come to realise that it’s not God I don’t believe in, it’s religion. Father Whelan, the vicar of my childhood at St James, told my mom, when she fretted about being busy on a Sunday and not attending worship, that if God wanted her, he knew to find her in her kitchen. That stayed with me. I also believe in Jesus. I believe he existed, that he was a teacher of remarkable skill, and that he was a loving and compassionate man whose example we should follow. Whether he was the Messiah, the promised Saviour, I don’t know, but I am confused as to how his tenet of forgiveness and patience can be in keeping of the angry God of the Old Testament.
Today, I attended the Christening of my friend Julie’s second child. Julie would not mind me saying that she has had her share of troubles over the last few years, and she’s as taunted by demons as any Christian prophet doing penance in the desert, but today, God was with her and with her family. She was smiling and happy, and her little family unit was demonstrably a tight and loving one. Jesus, my Jesus, the one I believe in, would have approved, and would have been proud of her strength.
He would also, I am sure, have approved of the service at the Church of Digbeth-in-the-Field, where we were made so welcome, and made to feel so comfortable. The hymns were uplifting and greetings sincere. The sermon didn’t beat around the bush; reflecting on the reading from Amos the Reverend reminded us that worship was futile if we didn’t live every day in the way Jesus wanted us to, and that being in Church for appearance sake or out of a sense of duty was not worthwhile. But for the first time in about twenty years I shared in Holy Communion and felt as if I could, if I wanted to, be part of the community there. While I consider whether that is what I want, I intend to try to be a little more patient and a little more forgiving. Whatever the outcome, that can’t do any harm.