The Methodist Church is on a year of ‘telling stories’ (I hope I’ve got that right: I’m so far out of the loop that what once seemed familiar is fast becoming a mystery) ; getting people to talk about their faith in a way that is natural and doesn’t sound like an automaton or an embarrassed salesperson trying to sell you 6 impossible things before breakfast.
I was in a church service a few weeks ago and the person leading it gave us a sheet of paper with 3 sentences with blanks in them. The idea was that you filled in the blanks and tried to tell your story. This was the first sentence:-
‘I once met with…… who said……..and that made a big difference in my life.’
The blank page, or even a page with blanks in used to make me feel nervous: how could I start? Now I see it more as an invitation to create and to dream; the blank page is my friend.
Suddenly, I was 17 again and studying for A levels and I remembered my Maths teacher. I wasn’t a great mathematician and A level maths, although I passed was a step too far: I’m inordinately proud of my ‘A’ at O level but it lulled me into a false sense of security. I began the sentence with ‘I once met with Mr Stoeter who was my maths teacher’. I remembered: it was a lunch time in the canteen and he sat on our table and listened to us and began to talk with us as most teachers did at VIth form- we weren’t yet adults but were taking our first hesitant steps in that direction.
‘Who said…. and that made a big difference to my life’. The thing is, I don’t have a clear memory of what he said although I remember the general sense of it. He talked of how his faith made sense and how it was real. I had a church background; never really left, but it seemed disconnected and embarrassing to how I lived my day to day life. Plus, I was 17, left wing and cynical of anything that smacked of indoctrination.
Normally I would have listened- we learn more my listening- walked away, analysed it and thought ‘No: not today- in fact: not ever’. Even though I don’t remember the detail of what happened, there was no ‘hard sell’ or abuse of authority. But there was something about his coherence, his authenticity, that got through. From that moment, I knew that I wasn’t a Christian and there was something different to what I knew and what a Christian was.
There was no ‘conversion’ then, but just the beginning of a questions and the start of a searching that would take well over a year. In fact, the more I reflect on it, I’ve never stopped searching since.
I’ve often gone back to that conversation when someone has talked about Christianity as ‘bronze age superstition’ or for the gullible , the naive or stupid and thought ‘Not in my experience… not at all.’
Part 2 to follow soon, and it is not specifically about faith….