A tapestry containing the history of St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, UK
A lot of people I’ve met inherit their church from their parents, well those whose parents attend church. They go to Sunday School and seem to give their life to God when they are quite young. Even though they may have a period when they drift they drift back to church and probably attend a church similar to the one they grew up in.
For me it wasn’t like this (and I apologise if I’m about the repeat something I’ve said in the past). As a young child I didn’t go to church or Sunday School. However, at school we began each morning with an assembly with prayers and hymns and we ended each day with a prayer. This was not a church school but in those days all school functioned this way in the UK – the period I’m talking about is the 1960’s and 1970’s. We had religious education in primary school but all I remember from those days is being confused between who Jesus was and who God was. For me they were separate people and it was Jesus who mattered. I also remember the pictures we had of Jesus on the wall – white, serene, nice looking but I had no feeling either way about him.
In secondary school religious education was more about people like Martin Luther King and I actually enjoyed learning in RE classes, though our unruly class made if difficult to learn anything as the poor teacher could not keep control.
When I was probably somewhere in my pre-teens my parents suddenly decided to attend church. Pre-teens, the rebellious period! We went to several churches as my mother began looking for a church she felt at home in. I didn’t really feel at home in any and went to great lengths to let her know this! Some of this was pure defiance and I purposely switched off in services and longed for it to end so I could go. I remember we once attended the United Reform Church (then called the Congregational Church) but my mother considered it too low church. I preferred it because we did lots of singing and the liturgy was minimal! But for some time we went to an Anglican church and this was where boredom set in big time. Eventually she chose a church – Anglican and very high. I was then older and stopped going to church altogether except for the Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas which I loved and still do.
I should pause here and say that when growing up and again this would have been pre-teens, I remember my brother and I had a Christmas story book with the lessons and carols in it and each year we would read it all out. I even remember playing at being a vicar, which seems a strange occupation for a child! Anyway, you can see that some things are handed down and remembered and stick with you in life. My mother in fact had a very strong faith and my father had been a choir boy.
As an adult my mother ‘feared for my soul’ because I wasn’t confirmed. I think she despaired of me. She’d always try to get me to services on Sunday mornings saying I’d like the sermon because the vicar spoke about nature and things I’d like! Actually the sermons were usually the best part, she wasn’t wrong on that. But I wasn’t interested so my Sunday mornings were washing up the breakfast things while everyone else went to church.
I always said I’d never marry in church and be hypocritical – ah famous last words! Of course I married in church and in my mother’s church. In the end I knew it was right. My husband and I even attended some Evensong services after we married but it all tailed off but after the birth of our first child we began going again because we wanted him baptised. It was also during this time that I was really lonely and was recovering from post natal depression. My mother suggested I attend a pram service at church. For once I listened to her I did go and from that time on I became a regular at my church and gradually joined in with things and to my mother’s great delight I was confirmed! I had found God for myself.
My church in those days was more vibrant – there were lots of groups you could join, outings and Bible Study. My kids went to Sunday School until my eldest was about eleven and then he stopped so the younger one stopped too (because Daddy doesn’t go so why should I!) Ah! things coming back to haunt me! I felt very alone for a while without my kids but there was still a lot going for church and I was involved in various things at there.
But over the years things have changed. The older ones in the congregations are unable to do what they used to, many have died and there aren’t any people willing to take things on. We have got set in our ways and are stuck in the past. Virtually all the groups have faded out. There is nothing for children apart from Sunday School and hasn’t been really since I’ve been going and there are no Bible study groups. Technology has passed us by. I used to feel great when I left church – I don’t anymore. I don’t know whether it’s due to the way my church seems to be crumbling or whether it is my faith. I can’t seem to separate them from one another.
Most of my friends go to my church. That’s where a lot of my social life has been. Leaving seems unthinkable which is why I have this huge dilemma. Writing about it helps me to see the background to my faith even if I can’t yet see a way forward. I still run a group which has nearly 30 members, which when I think about it is huge considering we are almost the last group to survive, but only ever a maximum of five members ever come to meetings, though I can call on others for help when I am planning the lunches at our church fairs. I have two more years of leadership in that group and then I must stand down. I fear for that group as I don’t think at the moment there is anyone able or willing to take it on.
Over the last couple of years I have had moments of energy in my faith/church and moments of despair with faith and church. I even considered whether to just bow out and forget God but I can’t. The idea of abandoning it all is a dark tunnel I don’t want to enter. I can’t imagine giving it all up. Even when I’m fed up with everything I find myself visiting churches when I’m up in London or away on holiday. I am drawn to learning and studying about religion and other faiths and I read many books about both. I’m still drawn to the Celtic way of life which if I look at my past should be no surprise as nature and being good to the earth and all in it – humans, animals and everything else – has always been very strong in me since I was a child.
But what I actually believe has become confused. At the very least my instinct to help others, my strong feelings for the earth are still there. If I take everything else away those feelings remain.
I would be interested to hear from others on what I have said. Meanwhile, having seen what other churches offer I may have to split my time between churches. I still think of my church as home but it is not enough. It was once but now as I read what I have just written I feel my church has just lost it’s direction and though I like our vicar and his sermons are brilliant I don’t think he is the one who will lead us out of the hole I think we are in. I know I am not the only one who has doubts about our church but I’m not sure anyone has the strength to change things.