As our Baptist Pastor’s conference ended recently and we were singing together I looked across the room and saw a face that took me back to my early church days as a young teenager in Maylands Baptist. It began a cascade of memories… and then other faces I landed on reminded me of the various other churches I have been part of over the years and the various ways they have shaped me.
52 years of churching is a long time. And as I pondered the memories I found myself smiling. Some memories are fond, some are kinda quirky and others are just steps along the way, neither good or bad, but all of it has been formative in different ways…
As the music rolled on I found myself revisiting in my head the various experiences of church that have shaped me and brought me to where I am today. I have had friends who have grown up ‘pentecostal’ and finished ‘high anglican’, or taken the opposite direction (not that those two are the ends of a spectrum) but my own journey has been less dramatic. Its been a very ‘Baptist’ experience, but within that there has been significant variance and diversity.
So theses posts are as much for me and my own reflection as they are for anyone who may read them…
My introduction to ‘church’ began in a Baptist church back in Belfast – Grove Baptist. I don’t have many solid memories of this time but I do remember faking sickness at times in the hope of being allowed to stay home. It never worked – in the 60’s unless you were dying from typhoid and coughing up blood, you went to church morning and night without fail.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like church, but more that I didn’t like all of the stuff that went with the ‘Lord’s day’ experience, as it was called.
I remember ties… and not with fondness. The female corollary was the hat and many in that culture still wear them. A few years ago my aunt from Belfast came to Perth and in chatting I asked her what the major issue was for the church in Nth Ireland at this time. She said ‘hats’ and I just remember thinking that this was a conversation that wasn’t going to go any further. We were clearly in different culture and dealing with very different issues.
I remember Sunday as a day when I couldn’t kick a soccer ball. Nor could we go to shops, watch TV or do anything else that might be seen as worldly, or (as I perceived it) fun… That left a definite mark – the link between church and solemnity, or the absence of enjoyment. The distinct impression of God as being generally unhappy with the world and looking sternly on us if we seemed to be enjoying life. I would never once have seen church as a fun place to be, although I’m guessing there must have been some enjoyable experiences along the way.
I remember Bible memorisation in Sunday School. I once learnt Psalm 23 and recited it the following week. The Sunday school teacher told me it was ‘excellent’, but I was 6 years old and had no idea if I had done well because I didn’t know what excellent meant. True… I had to wait until I got home to ask mum. I can still remember the Psalm. That was useful.
I do know that in those first 10 years I at some point realised I wasn’t a Christian, because our pastor asked me directly one day ‘Are you a Christian Andrew?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and instantly knew I had lied.
I knew… and I felt embarrassed. Like I should have been, but wasn’t. I’m sure he knew. It wasn’t a case of growing up in a church going family and feeling like I could call myself a Christian because of them. I knew from a young age I needed to make it personal.
I remember the Sunday church experience as a silent, ‘reverent’ gathering where you sat still and quiet… verrry quiet… as it was ‘God’s house’ (and clearly he didn’t like noise). It was in this church building that I first took to counting the timber boards in the ceiling as a way of passing time. I’d count them each week during the sermon and then check them the next week. I don’t think I ever thought they would change, but in the absence of paint to watch drying this was the next best thing.
As I said, that was the 60’s and was probably par for the course for any church in Belfast, so my reflections are less a critique than simply observations. The church I grew up in was a product of the culture of the time and the broader church culture that we found ourselves in. I just assumed this was ‘church’ and it was what I was going to be doing until I had some opportunity to have a say in the matter.
That time came when I got my license but in between I went wherever my family went…
To be continued