My first experience of church was at the age of four when my parents, who didn’t go to church themselves, sent me to an afternoon Sunday School at the Church of England church across the road from where we lived near Blackpool. My first memory and overriding impression from those early years is that this was where I belonged. In many ways I felt more at home in church than I did in my family and I desperately wanted to belong to this thing called ‘church’. I knew in my heart that what I was taught was true and when I was confirmed, aged eleven, I made a very clear decision that I wanted to commit my life to following God and being part of his church. It’s a decision I have never regretted.
As I look back, one of the things which drew me to the church was the sense of community I observed. There was a very strong tradition in Lancashire of Rose Queens and the extensive preparations for the annual procession and gala drew people together with a sense of unity and commitment which I craved. I always felt on the edge, as my parents weren’t involved and didn’t encourage me to be part of the church. I was an only child until the age of eleven and we lived a very insular lifestyle and I always wanted to be part of an extended family and community.
I was also drawn to church as a place where I could learn more about God and share that discovery with others. I had been given a Gideon Bible at school, which I read every day, but I really enjoyed listening to the Vicar explaining the scriptures and I joined a small Bible study group where I learnt a tremendous amount from members who had walked with God for many years. As a teenager I had lots of questions about my growing faith and why some of what I read in the Bible seemed at odds with what I experienced in church. I can remember asking the Vicar why church services were so ceremonial and formal and why the gifts of the Spirit, which I read about, weren’t used in church. He always answered me and, whilst I wouldn’t now agree with everything he said, his patience and persistence encouraged me to seek God and those answers for myself, and I am grateful for that. Several decades later I have been a member of four different churches, different denominations and in different areas of the country. I have had good and positive experiences of church life alongside some very difficult and frustrating experiences, but I have always carried in my heart that early vision of church being a community where we can learn and grow and serve the Lord together – and I still love church. I feel very fortunate now to be a member of Halesworth Community Church where the vision I have carried for so many years resonates with how the church seeks to operate and where I am part of a community who strive to follow the Lord together.