The early years
Up until I was 8 we went as a family to Mass every Sunday. Other than the smell of incense the only memory I have of Mass is of my Grandad as a sidesman. He would help take the collection and when he came back to his pew he would genuflect toward the altar and make the sign of the cross before taking his seat at the end of the pew. I wanted to be a sidesman one day. My first school was a convent school, and I was taught by nuns. Sister Rita was nice to us, but Sister Paul was a different matter. She used to shout a lot and I was scared of her. My mum had to come into school and ask her not to shout at me. One of the things we did at that school was something called Holy Communion. I had no idea what it was, but I got a set of rosary beads at the end of it which was nice.
Being put on the spot
When I was about 8 we moved to a different area and stopped going to Mass. For a while we didn’t attend church at all but then my Mum and Dad started going to a church that met in a school. I particularly remember one service where the pastor asked me a question during the service. He knew my catholic background and obviously thought that I would know the answer. But I didn’t and sat there in awkward silence. He never asked me again. After a while we stopped going.
Early conclusions about God
Later we moved again and once more attended a church for a while. I think my parents thought they were Christians, but I certainly didn’t consider myself a Christian. I had sampled church and it had made no impact on me. I thought it was boring and irrelevant. All I had from it was a vague belief in God but no idea of what being a Christian meant. I remember being puzzled by Jesus. Why did they always end their prayers with mention of Jesus? Those sermons that I heard must have explained about Jesus, but I wasn’t listening. There was an idea in the back of my mind that becoming a Christian would probably be a good idea. But I didn’t want to be a Christian. I had a life to live. Being a Christian could wait.
First Job and the Big Match
One of my first jobs was in Hull. On Sunday mornings I used to play for a team in the Hull Sunday League. In the afternoon I would usually watch ‘The Big Match’ which showed highlights of matches from the previous day. One Sunday in May 1985 they showed events from a match in Bradford. During this match a fire started in one of the stands and within a couple of minutes the whole stand was on fire. I sat watching people desperately running out of the stand and onto the pitch. I watched as some came onto the pitch with clothes on fire and others trying desperately to help them. I watched aghast and thought to myself, that could have been me. It was the first time I had faced up to the idea that ordinary people doing ordinary things sometime didn’t make it home.
Questions and purpose
A couple of years later I was working in central London and a similar event got me thinking again about the uncertainty of life. There was a fire at Kings Cross Underground station and people died. The thought crossed my mind again that it could have been me. I used the underground every day. What if that fire had been at one of the stations I used? At the time I lived in West London under the flight path to Heathrow and planes would fly over. I remember one-night hearing of the bombing of a plane as it flew over Lockerbie in Scotland. As I listened to the planes flying over my home, I couldn’t shake the thought that something bad might happen to one of them and it would land on top of my home.
Anxiety settles in
I began to worry about dying. I had no doubt there was a God. Suppose something happened to me before I found God! I decided that I needed to do something. Near where I worked at that time there was a church that held a Thursday lunchtime service and so I started going. Later I began to attend on Sundays as well. At the same time, I started reading a Bible. I was trying to discover what I needed to do to be right with God. The preacher at the church kept saying that Jesus alone saves and all we need is faith and repentance. Well that was great, but I couldn’t see what Jesus had to do with me. I thought that if I just did the right things then I would earn God’s respect and I would be OK. But gradually I became aware that this was not going to work. The harder I tried to do and think what I thought were the right things the more I came to realise that there was too much within me that I could not put right and that I was not acceptable to God.
Something was missing
I remember sitting in the church looking round at the people there and thinking to myself that they had something that I didn’t have, and I wanted what they had. I worried that my name was not in the book of life that the preacher had spoken about. Gradually I came to realise that I could not get to God by myself. The bar was set too high and I could not reach it. At the same time, it became clear that I had to look to Jesus. I couldn’t get to God on my own, but Jesus could get me there. Jesus had done everything that I could not do, and He had done it for me. Having got to this point I waited for something to happen. I assumed that I would have some encounter with God where He would clearly speak to me and I would know in an instant that all was OK. I had heard lots of testimonies about this sort of thing. But nothing happened.
A new dawn
I began to realise that it was not going to happen. I also began to realise that I knew all that I needed to know about who Jesus was and why He came into this world and that I had to make a response. I had to reach out in faith and trust that Jesus would save me. Romans 5:6 was important to me. “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (KJV). This described me completely. I had no strength to save myself. I was ungodly. Therefore, it must be me that Christ had died in order that I might be saved. Jesus had offered Himself and all I needed to do was to accept. I prayed to God that he would accept me because of what Jesus had done for me and that He would forgive me for all the wrong things I had done in my Life. The relief I felt was huge. At last I could stop trying to save myself and I had found the rest that Jesus promised to all those who came to Him. For a while I sometimes struggled with doubts. Could God really accept me? I learnt to look to the Bible and remind myself of the promises of Jesus in verses such as John 3:16 and especially John 5:24 “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (NIV). I have trusted and followed Jesus for over my half my life now and have had my ups and downs but through it all I know that Jesus is with me and one day he is going to come and take me to be with Him for ever.