I grew up in an ordinary house, in an ordinary family and went to an ordinary school. Although I wanted for lots, I needed nothing more. I went to a school that really only had links to church in assembly (hymns), Easter, Harvest and Christmas.
While thinking of my future career, I remain very grateful to my deputy head teacher at King Edward’s sixth form for spotting that my academic gifts needed a direction. She realised that although a natural scientist and mathematician, a job in a lab was not going to work for the extrovert people-person that I am. So four weeks before the deadline I sorted out some work experience and decided I wanted to be a doctor.
Despite several of my fellow students discussing Christianity with me at university, I wasn’t really in a place to receive it. At twenty years old I felt invincible and that everything I’d ever wanted I’d managed to get, providing I was dedicated and worked hard enough. Nothing in my life was really going wrong. I wasn’t looking to be fixed. Being a scientist didn’t help - even creation was explained by the Big Bang and I couldn’t really find any hard evidence of a God.
Half-way through my time at University in Newcastle was where I met Nichola. After a bit of a rocky start (that was all my doing I hasten to add…) we started making plans for being grown ups, with proper jobs and responsibility. This brought us to Leicester in 2007 and Nichola agreed to marry me, when I eventually got around to asking two years later.
Nichola asked me where I thought we should get married and I think was rather surprised when I responded that, “I assumed you’d want to get married in your Parent’s church”. Once that was agreed, we started to attend All Saints, Sawley on Sunday mornings and set about meeting the Rector, and underwent some very basic marriage preparation.
After getting married in 2010 we continued to trip up and down the M1 to J25 and got involved a little more in church. Nichola went on an Alpha course first and convinced me to attend the following year. I was surprised to largely be surrounded by normal people asking sensible questions about Christianity. Nichola also convinced me to go on a pilgrimage to Holy Island with the Sawley folk.
Eventually we realised that our topsy-turvy rotas and being involved with a church thirty miles away wasn’t really working and we joined WBC.
One morning Nichola asked Nick Swanson to our house to discuss being part of a house-group, and though I had never intended to, Nick’s gently persuasive enquiring tone meant I “accidentally” became a member of a new house-group on the same day. This turned out to be a great decision.
I think as a result of being lectured to at university for multiple times a day for five solid years, I have a short attention span and I struggle to concentrate through Sunday sermons, often feeling like I had more questions at the end of it with no easy way to get answers (there’s a reason I joined the worship team, it forces me to hear each sermon twice on a Sunday, some of it’s got to sink in right?) And so I am really thankful to my house-group leaders for spending time translating some challenging history and concepts into plain English.
Sometimes I would find these sessions extremely challenging, especially around the time Nichola and I were having fertility treatment and in the years before Harriet was born. It’s the first time I’ve ever really thought, “Why me? Why us? What have we done wrong?” But it was more than that. It felt like something was missing. Carolyn, a curate at Sawley, used to speak of the ‘God-shaped-hole that’s in all of us’. I think that was probably the first time I had prayed sincerely or had an inkling what she was on about.
I’ve often found that the times where I’ve made any progress understanding faith have been as part of longer social events, where things don’t feel rushed or forced, most likely because it gives me time to reflect and for the messages to sink in. So I’m grateful to all the people who answered my questions on the Peak Pilgrimage and all this year’s Soul Survivor crew. Though aimed at youth, I found the topics covered at Soul Survivor remained completely relevant and were pitched at a perfect level for me.
Probably since Harriet was born, I’ve become more content with not knowing and understanding it all, accepting that I make mistakes and need to be forgiven. I also feel more open to the idea that the truly unselfish love in all of us is what makes us in God’s image.
Gradually, I began to understand an overwhelmingly simple concept. Church is not a building but the people in it. I had always expected that if God were real, he would make it really obvious by giving me a momentous, all-encompassing, overwhelming experience that would be the equivalent of a super bright neon sign flashing in my head. But I don’t think God works that way with me. I think he sends the right people or the right thing at the right time.
Christians describe faith as a journey. So I’ve spent a long time waiting for God, like waiting for a train. Hoping one day I’d just get on and get it. I decided that I’d come as far as I could, just by being preached to. To move any further I’d have to actually do something.
There’s a teen book/film series called Divergent (Veronica Roth). Young people in the Dauntless faction can only be initiated into their group if they are brave and they trust, if they have faith. To access their headquarters they have to sprint alongside and jump on and off a moving train and finally jump off a ledge atop a high building, down a huge chasm like drop, in the pitch black, to land on an unlit trampoline at the bottom of a hole in a building. Terrifying. Crazy. A leap of faith.
Being baptised, to me, feels like that leap of faith.
So that’s my testimony, an ordinary person, with no neon flashing signs, doing something to try to accept and understand more about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; to be forgiven for all the mistakes I have made and to see where it leads.
Baptised on 8 September 2019