Growing up without Christianity

I came to Christianity via a long and circuitous route. I was brought up in an era when the school curriculum still included religious education and, in those days, there was no mention of any religion other than the Christian faith. The local minister would occasionally come to the school to take morning assembly and at Easter and Christmas, the whole school would be marched off to the parish church for a service.

My parents were not really Christians so the church didn’t feature much in my formative years. But, for some reason, there has always remained, at the back of my mind, the idea that somewhere, there is a god, but I didn’t know anything about him.

Looking for answers

In my early twenties, the family moved to England, and, having chosen our careers, my siblings and I went our separate ways and I ended up in Bury St. Edmunds. In the early 1980s, I was doing a stressful job and it was beginning to affect my health. One of my colleagues was very much into Oriental religions and invited me along to her Buddhist group, as she felt that the practice of meditation would help me deal with my stress. To some extent, she was right because I did feel calmer and better able to cope, but I soon discovered that Buddhism is very much a human religion and there is no god involved. I decided it wasn’t right for me.

After the break-up of my first marriage a colleague invited me to go with her and a couple of friends to the Unitarian Meeting House in Churchgate Street where, she told me, the minister was a very clever man and worth listening to. I started going there regularly and after a short time, they asked if I would be their treasurer. I accepted and continued going, slowly picking up what their beliefs were based on. One day, the minister gave a short talk on “What makes a Unitarian tick” and, after I had listened to his discourse, I decided that his ideas didn’t make me tick, especially as it had become plain that he himself didn’t actually believe in God. I felt it was time to move on and resigned.

About this time I met Noreen, who I later married. Noreen regularly attended services at Westgate Chapel. I believe it was difficult for her to begin with as we would often have differences of opinion about church matters, which usually ended with Noreen saying to me in frustration, “No, you don’t understand!” which of course was true – I didn’t.

Every day, without fail, Noreen would read something in a little book called ‘Our Daily Bread,’ and I asked her what it was. She told me it was distributed by a Christian organisation and there was a kind of ‘thought for the day’ on each page with a Bible verse and suggested reading. I asked if I could read it too and after a few days, I found myself thinking, “There’s something in this,” and kept reading it every day. There was something in it, which was missing from Buddhism and Unitarianism.

First Experiences at Westgate Chapel

Rather than let Noreen attend church on her own, I decided to go along with her and give it a try.

I have to say I was quite amazed by the experience. I was taken aback by the fact that people who didn’t know me wanted to talk to me and make me feel welcome. I was also stunned by the quality (and volume) of the hymn-singing. This was something I wasn’t used to at all, as in other churches I had been to, the congregation obviously didn’t know the hymns very well and just mumbled their way through them. Then came the preaching! I wasn’t prepared for that at all!

The minister at that time was Brian Freer and he certainly preached with power and authority. This really shook me and I left the evening service wondering if I could cope with that. It was a couple of weeks later that I summoned up the courage to go again. This time I knew what to expect but the preaching was just as powerful and it had quite a profound effect on me.

At that time, I thought I was an upstanding member of the community. I certainly wasn’t a thief or a murderer so I thought the word ‘sin’ didn’t apply to me. It wasn’t long, however, before a small, quiet voice at the back of my mind started asking me, “What about the time you…?” and “Don’t you remember that you once …?” At that point my self-confidence came crashing down around me and I sat in tears at the back of the church thinking, “Dear God, I am a sinner and I badly need your help.” From that point on, I went to church every Sunday.

I was given a copy of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and I remembered that part of it had been read to me in school. I read it and found it fascinating, but there was something that puzzled me. It described the correct path we must follow to reach the Celestial City, but we can only get on to the path by entering by the Wicket Gate. What is the Wicket Gate and where do I find it? I asked God if He would help me find it. This can probably be interpreted in more ways than one, but for me, the Wicket Gate turned out to be Westgate Chapel, where I would find out the truth of the Gospel, accept it, understand it and believe it.

Coming to faith in Jesus

I continued attending Westgate Chapel every Sunday and found I really enjoyed listening to the minister’s message and began reading bits of the Bible, especially John’s gospel, which really spoke to me. One Sunday evening, the minister said someone had enquired about baptism and if anyone else was interested, would they please see him after the service. At that very moment, I had what is probably the most amazing experience of my entire life. I actually felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and I immediately knew He was telling me that I must be baptised too. That wasn’t just a notion in my mind, it was so powerful that I physically moved in my seat and I gave my heart to Jesus there and then. I spoke to the minister at the end of the service and enrolled on a course of lessons leading up to the baptism. I had mistakenly presumed that Noreen, as a believer, had already been baptised, but she hadn’t, so, on the 26th of July 1998, we were both baptised together and, for me, that was yet another amazing experience, which will never be forgotten.

What about now?

Does being a Christian make a difference? Absolutely! Both my life and my attitude have been completely transformed. I have learned what life is about. I have a purpose now in this world and I also know what I can look forward to in my next life, because there is another life after this one. Many think that God is just a theory or ‘pie in the sky’. No, He is very, very real! Not only have I felt His presence, He has answered my prayers, some of them in a most miraculous way. With hindsight, I can see how He has helped and guided me over the years, so I need not worry about what is to come. God will show me the way.

What about you?

Wouldn’t you like to find out more about this amazing God? Come and join us, for we would love to help you find your way into the presence of the True and Living God.