Since the beginning of lent, I have enjoyed and valued reading Chris(toph)’s reflections on his spiritual journey. As I recently was challenged to review mine as part of my local preacher training, I thought I’d share some of them for posterity over the next few weeks (given how frequently I blog).
I was one of those children, like many, for whom questions were great but never easy for the suffering adult to respond to, and it is down to my ‘what’s that *for*?’ question that mum ventured into the local URC. At the time there were a group of other people around my age (preschool) and so a firm bond was established. The minister, during these formative years, was a great orator who could command his congregation, and thus was highly respected. His passion and commitment was clear and so I found myself willingly swept up in this family like environment. It also meant that after he’d moved on, and I hit my teenage years, I felt able to take the break I needed from the church.
What makes the church all the more significant is that it encouraged me to grow beyond, and subsequently leave, its walls behind. As I was preparing to head off to university, in the final year of my work placement and A Level, I got inexplicably buried in a very complex and difficult situation with a friend and her mother. The experience pushed me to the limits of my pastoral experience and willingness to offer unconditional love and support to those around me. In this feeling of being out of my depth I turned, for the first time in years, to the church which had supported me as a child. I had ample respect for the minister at the time (with whom mum had continued to worship), and especially in pastoral situations, that I turned to him for a listening ear. He provided the support I needed and encouraged me to persevere with the situation, but he also offered me an unexpectedly marvelous opportunity. He offered to pass my details to the chaplain at my university. While this rather unused resource was new to me, this offered me the hope and opportunity to find communities I could explore at university. Having worked, rather than studied, before university, I felt more like the mature students than those of similar age. His great gift enabled me to make that contact, and thus move onto the next stage of my spiritual life.
The other specific incident from this church occurred a couple of years later, and was equally as transformative but is based in a very different interpretation than the one intended. After my time at university, I found I had moved away from the teachings of the URC at home, but didn’t have the courage to look for an alternative place to worship while there. On this occasion, the visiting preacher was using an analogy of Christians being magnets, and I found this imagery very, very helpful. While he was emphasising the links and continuing path back to Christ as we all stick together, I took a rather tangential approach. If Christians are like magnets, as he says, then eventually those at the end of any one chain will be repelled by those on another. As such, I understood, it was important to find those fellow Christians with whom you can find that unity, fellowship and companionship. If that is not in the congregation you’re currently in that is not the end of the world, it is encouragement to keep looking until you find somewhere you can make your home. So I left, and went to a local Methodist church where I continue to choose to worship when at Mum’s.