A personal story: John

John at Cromarty

Duncan was talking this morning about sharing our unique faith stories.  Here’s my story, in a version I wrote just this week for another purpose.

I was born in 1952, and brought up in a traditional evangelical church in Lanarkshire, Scotland. As a young teenager I became deeply concerned that I seemed to be unable to have the experience of ‘conversion’ which was urged upon us in sermon after sermon, and I was consequently very afraid of being ‘left behind’ at what was termed ‘the Rapture’  the return of Jesus for his Church. My anguish at my sense of being forever an outsider was deepened by what I now know was the onset of the neurotic anxiety/depression which seems to be part of my nature.

When I was 15 I was asked if I was a Christian, and I said ‘yes’, referring to my most recent attempt to beg God to convert me, but in fact I knew I was lying. Too immature to confess, I went ahead with believer’s baptism and joined the church.  This compounded my guilt, and I feared Sunday by Sunday that I would be struck down dead as I took the bread and wine.  In time, I confessed to what I saw as my hypocrisy, but I was not believed, and I wondered what terrible action I would have to commit to persuade people that I was in fact far from God.

When I was 21, a few months after graduating from Glasgow University, I at long last had a sense of calling from God, and my response to that marked the beginning of my future. Over the next few years, I read most of Martyn Lloyd Jones’s sermons and other Reformed works, volunteered at Scripture Union summer missions, and worked in a Scripture Union bookshop. I had a fluctuating sense of God’s presence, but also had fairly intense bouts of anxiety/depression. I left the bookshop not because I particularly wanted to, but because my parents felt it would be best for me – I was still living at home.

For three years I worked near home as a school librarian. I hated the job, but was blessed by contact with the school Christian Union, and initially due to an invitation from a pupil began to attend a different church from my parents. This in turn gave me the belated courage to leave home and move into my own flat.

I was deeply involved in my church in the late 1980s. There were moments when I was conscious of God’s presence, but also periods of crippling anxiety. I did not feel church particularly meaningful – it was a place which gave me the opportunity through involvement to feel a little better about myself.  There were a handful of people who let me know that they loved me, and that was very meaningful.

I kept thinking (as I had done as a teenager) that I needed a particular experience (for instance baptism in the Spirit) before I would be truly whole, but I came to realise that what I sought was in fact already within me. I was precious, and loved.

The journey to wholeness continued when the medics at last put me on medication which dulled the impact of anxiety. I recall the instant it kicked in, and I felt a new peace and confidence.  In time I signed up to a Christian dating agency, and met and married my wife.

We married in 1992, and I moved to Inverness, Lorna’s home town. Up until then, I had been a fairly conservative evangelical, but in the late 1980s I began to have concerns about the Bible – its inconsistencies, the strange behaviours of God at times – and about black-and-white Evangelical moral orthodoxy.  I found it hard to allow myself to think these things, but was enormously blessed by Dave Tomlinson’s Post Evangelical, Anne Townsend’s Faith without Pretending, A Churchless Faith and other books on faith journeys beyond the churches.

We continued to attend evangelical churches, but I was conscious of theological differences between me and others in these churches, to point where I felt I was ‘helping my friends do church’ rather than acting out of personal integrity. At this point, I was reading and benefitting from Brian Maclaren’s books, and discovering that decades before I knew the word I was postmodernist, a poet rather than a theologian.

And there were, increasingly, times of joy when I sensed myself held by the God of Mystery despite my rather threadbare credo. Eventually, I resolved to turn my back on church – but one Sunday when I was at Hilton Church early in 2011 someone spoke about folk who were ‘beyond the churches’ and yet were expressing their spirituality in other broadly Christian groups. It seemed to me that a church where this message could be shared was a place where I might be at home, and I have been attending there since. I also got to know a wonderful chaplain at the local psychiatric hospital whose heart is full of love and who affirmed the journey to wholeness I was on.

In recent years I have read and been encouraged by Richard Rohr’s writings; helped through the experience of a TIA (‘mini-stroke’) to accept my own mortality; and have retired from my career in libraries. In many ways, these have been the happiest years of my life. I have been writing my story, and I had the idea that it flowed from difficult beginnings to a broader place where I trust the Great Love we see in Jesus with more questions than answers.  But I’ve discovered that it’s messier than this.  There are times on this journey where I feel torn between post-evangelicalism and the old certainties – or perhaps the old fears – of conservative evangelicalism. It would be lovely to have clarity and certainty, but I need the courage to entrust myself to the Love and to place my feet on the rock of Jesus. And that’s why I appreciate being in touch with others on similar journeys – similar, but not identical for our journeys are as unique as we are.

 

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