Seeing through the fog

This Sunday, 13 January I look forward to returning to my childhood church, St Nicholas’ Blundellsands, for the induction as vicar of Janet Roberts who served alongside me here at Christ Church in the 1990’s.

Strangely, it is also the 50th anniversary to the day when I made that key step of faith to follow Christ.

The two events are directly related.

From the age of 7, on moving to Waterloo, my parents would send me each Sunday to St Nick’s, to Sunday school. We would leave Sung Matins following the third collect, about half an hour into the service.

Over the years I came familiar with the words and cadences of the Book of Common Prayers, its confession, canticles and psalms, the creed and many of the collects.  I hated every moment.  Those 30 minutes seemed like a lifetime.

Remember, we are talking 1950’s.

Having said that, much of the foundation of my Christian life was laid at St Nick’s, at the church school.  I still remember being spellbound by Miss Lock as she narrated the story of the Exodus morning by morning.  Some of the asides on the Christian life given by Mr Aspinall, now a lay reader in Oldham, stay with me to this day.

But I loathed church.  My parents themselves never went near the place – I was a kind of child sacrifice to their religious aspirations.  So at the age of 12/13 I decided on a cunning plan.  I would leave for church each Sunday at 10.45 and return 90 minutes later – but go for a walk along the beach, wherever.  “Please don’t take this personally, Lord” I would pray each time. “I just can’t stand your church!”

One Saturday in November 1962  salvation unexpectedly came with a visit out-of-the-blue from Roger.  I didn’t know Roger at all, older then me with moderate learning difficulties.  That’s a story in itself – but he invited me to join the Covenanter group at the nearby Brethren assembly.   My parents gave their permission and with a bound, I was free of St Nick’s.

I enjoyed going to Covenanters – designed for young people rather than expecting young people to fit in to adult church.

Then, Roger suggested we attended the 6.30 Gospel service at the assembly.  But that afternoon, 13th January 1963 there descended a terrible smog.  Even so, I went.  Roger didn’t.  Neither did most members of the congregation.  Just four or five people made it – and they were all ancient.

However, the speaker did turn up – Mr Pope, who had travelled by public transport all the way from New Brighton to take the service, a massive achievement.   Clearly he did his best and spoke well, even though he would have been disappointed with the turn out, just a few old ladies and a young lad.

What he didn’t know was that I surrendered my life to Christ.

Looking back I wonder why I made that key decision there and then. I knew what I was doing.

I think that this was the first time in my life that someone actually explained to me that I needed to make a decision.  To be a Christian you need to become a Christian, and you become a Christian by deciding to follow Christ.  A once-in-a-lifetime decision.  That is how God works – through our free, personal response.

Looking back, it has been of huge significance for my ministry that I took that step of faith through a poorly attended service, one which should have been cancelled.  Again, that is how God works – through weakness and disappointment.  Like the cross.

So every blessing to Janet this Sunday at 3.00 pm.   I just hope that no fog rolls in from the Mersey!