In the 21st Century only 7% of the population of the UK go to Church and yet so many people are seeking answers to their spiritual questions and feeling something missing from their lives. Hear some of our members stories
To the casual observer, at some point within the last year I have become a Christian. Following my confirmation on Palm Sunday I was asked by a family member, “who converted you?” My desire to confirm my faith in Christ hasn’t just taken me a year; although there has certainly been a lot of progress within the last twelve months, and I have a lot of people, especially from St John’s, to thank for that.
My parents decided to baptise me a few years after I was born. All of my immediate family have been baptised but beyond this, Christianity was never a real feature in our lives growing up. After this my earliest exposure to the Church was through Brownies. I begrudgingly attended church parade once a month; if I could get out of bed on time. At my secondary school we all had our own copy of a Hymn book, and were given a Gideons Bible and our assemblies involved both singing hymns and singing the Lord’s Prayer, but there was no true understanding on my part what the true message of Christianity was.
As a teenager, and indeed until quite recently I described myself as Agnostic. Two of my closest friends are Catholic and I was always envious of their faith and the comfort and grounding that it seemed to bring to them, but I could never make that leap of faith myself. I used to think you either had it, or you didn’t. It happened to you or it didn’t happen to you and that was the deciding factor as to whether you could be a Christian or not. I used to wish that I had been bought up in a religious household so that I wouldn’t have any questions and could have been taught faith from the word go. I would attend special services at Our Lady of the Angels with one of these friends and her Mum, waiting for that faith to appear. And it didn’t.
At University I would quite aimlessly attend Choral Evensong services at different Colleges. I have always found Church buildings comforting and in Cambridge I was somewhat spoilt for choice. At the same time I spent a lot of my history degree looking at the history of Christianity; the reformation and post-reformation in England, the move away from religion during the Enlightenment, Christian revival movements in North America, the faith of the Founding Fathers, the work and effects of missionaries as colonists in South America and West Africa.
I graduated then with a sense that I knew Christianity. I certainly knew about the history of the church but I did not know God.
For most of my life, academic success is what I relied upon to validate myself and to show people who I was. I measured my worth by my academic achievements despite ultimately finding myself wanting. This fell apart six years ago when I had to leave my Master’s degree unfinished due to ill-health. Because I had placed so much of my identity and self-worth into education, when something did go wrong the knock-on effects were magnified out of proportion and I suffered a serious crisis of confidence and self-worth.
A few years after this I began to attend church with my Partner and his family on a semi-regular basis. The church is an extremely large charismatic church and whilst I enjoyed certain aspects of the services and wider community I did not feel comfortable with the prosperity gospel focus, and with collections that seemed to benefit the Pastor directly, as opposed to the Church mission. I stopped attending after one particular service that I could not tally with my personal yet formative Christian beliefs. For over a year I did not attend any church but through work and my extended family I was always in contact with Christians and the desire to possess “faith” remained. I have never looked to Christianity to provide a moral compass, although it obviously does so, but rather it was a sense of belonging and purpose that I have always sought, never realising that it was always within my power to take those steps to faith for myself.
A defining moment in my journey, and one which prompted me to come to actively seek God was when someone who I dearly love and respect was suffering terribly. Yet despite the apparent hopelessness of her situation, her faith did not falter, and it was her Bible and prayers that helped sustain her and gave her the strength to face another day. After witnessing this I researched local churches and decided to attend St John’s, which is my parish church.
The first service I attended was the Palm Sunday service and afterwards Nicky came and introduced herself to me and made me feel extremely welcomed. From my first visit I have always found St John’s to be welcoming, inclusive, and unpretentious. After a few months and due to Marjorie’s encouragement I inquired about attending Pam’s House Group.
The fellowship, friendship and personal discussions that we have as a group have encouraged and inspired me; and of course it helps that there is always plenty of laughter. House group has made me appreciate the power of prayer, especially in a small group.
My confirmation classes with Rob and with Ann have helped me to reassess how I thought about and approached faith and we have touched upon theology. One of the biggest “issues” that I had was that I didn’t understand the timing of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Why then? What about those who came before? On that particular evening having heard both Rob and Ann’s opinion on the subject I felt like the last piece of the puzzle clicked into place and I felt that my head was finally in sync with my heart.
I feel that there is a strong focus in St John’s on what we can do as Christians to help others, and this spoke to me. It was touched upon by the Bishop during my confirmation; when he spoke of the candidates as going out into the world as “Jesus shaped people” which is my aim and something that I try to improve upon week after week.
So as to who converted me? A great number of people have played a part, however big or small and they have all enabled me to get to the stage where I confirmed my faith. “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
One Sunday morning in May, Jim Bennett came to take the service at St Johns. Jim’s talk was on Luke 24:13-35 which was about the two men travelling on the Emmaus road and their discussion about the events that led up to Jesus’ crucifixtion; how downcast they must have felt; how they must have had many questions that they could not find answers for and their grief at losing Jesus. Jim ended his talk by saying there are periods in all our lives when we go through traumatic times when we do not understand what is happening, and why and when we cannot always see God in situations. Sometimes the word of God really strikes home and this particular Sunday, it did for me.
I was prompted to share this with you because only the day before I had been clearing out some cupboards and drawers and came across some loose papers that had fallen down behind a drawer and had been there for at least six years. Intrigued I retrieved them and found four large sheets of lined paper that I had scribbled on during the long nights of John’s illness in which I had questioned whether God was with us. On reading these scribbled notes again I was shocked at the depth of my feelings about God at that time, and indeed went on to feel for the best part of the next five years. I had long forgotten I had written such things but feel it was no co-incidence that I found those papers on that particular evening.
During the time I had written the notes I was feeling desperate and frightened and coming to a realisation that I could no longer cope with the situation. I felt helpless and a failure and didn’t know where or who to turn to. All I could do was pray. I had continually asked God to help us but felt nothing.
Even when I prayed I felt God wasn’t listening.
Somehow I could understand that John’s illness was terminal but could not get my head around the endless suffering we and our family were going through. Endless nights without sleep had obviously prompted me to write my feelings down to relieve some of the nightmare we found ourselves in. Where was God in this? I felt angry, disappointed, let down and even abandoned by him. And I told him so!
Some time later I spoke to Neil Bunker about how I felt and after being able to speak about my guilty feelings of being so angry with God, Neil simply suggested that I ‘tried to look at the things that God was in’ This was a turning point for me. By this time John was in a nursing home with full time nursing care. I decided I would take up
my daily readings again, something I had neglected to do for a long time. The first reading ended with this prayer:
O Lord my thoughts are tangled, I don’t know what to say
My heart is sore and full of pain and Heaven seems far away
O Lord it’s hard day after day to smile and hide my tears
I need your grace to help me now, your love to still my fears
O Lord give me the peace of faith, draw near and take my hand
And lead me through the here and now to where I’ll understand
This was followed by the scripture Matt 28:20 “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world”. For the first time in a few years I felt that perhaps God was with me. It was easier to look around and see some good in the situation and perhaps thank God for that.
Although, of course I appreciated those who supported us and nursed John, and thanked God they were around and they will never really know the impact their care, love and support had on me. However it was at that service (and two years since John has died) I felt God was saying to me He was there every moment of the time. He was in my friends (and you know who you are), in my family, my church fellowship, in the nursing staff, in Neil who ministered so regularly and faithfully to both of us, in the Bishop of Woolwich who visited and spent time with John and on many other occasions too. But most of all he was with John and that I never questioned. I know without a doubt that the name of Jesus bought a smile to his face and a twinkle in his eye and a peace within regardless of his illness.
I do not believe it was a coincidence that I found those papers and then heard Jim’s talk the very next day. The final realisation was bought home to me (the penny sort of dropped and everything was clear!!) So many people had passed my way during that distressing journey, many were friends, many were strangers who have become friends and many will probably never pass my way again.
God had used all of them and their gifts in different ways to bring help, comfort, practical aid, prayers and probably many more things that I haven’t even noticed!
I thank God that he has graciously helped me to realise that when times are tough he will always be with me, even if I don’t feel his presence and that sometimes I need to look around (outside the box) and see where God is in any given situation. He will always be there with me, and often ministering comfort and his love through others. – Chris Day
I have been brought up in a Christian Family and have known the Lord since birth. I always enjoyed Sunday school and the worship each week at church. I loved reading my Bible ad completing the memory verses each week. Through this I began to know Jesus more closely. One afternoon I was sitting reading the Footprints Poem. I Loved this poem and had read it many times before, but this time something was different, when i got to the part where “there were only one set of footprints in the sand it was then that i carried you” I stopped and thought am I being carried?, at that point I realised that I didn’t have Jesus, I knew Him, but I didn’t know him on a personal level. So I then decided to pray and asked the Lord into my life, I asked that He would take my sins away and be there in my troubled times. I asked Him to carry me. Immediately I felt that a load had been taken from and knew in my heart that he was caring me.
Since then the Lord has blessed me richly He is walking with me all the time. He has been my source of Light in the darkness.
There have been some difficult times but looking back i now see Jesus’s Timing in it. Starting off from when we arrived in the UK, the house we planned to rent fell through and we had nowhere to go. Luckily my uncle put us up in Catford, there Mum and Dad joined a local fellowship and became involved in the Church, Prayer was really needed as we had a shipping container coming by boat and arriving within 6 months! So the Church Prayed, The day the Container arrived in Port, we got handed the keys to a place in Belvedere. So God had provided just at the right time. Then the landlord wanted to sell his house so again was given 6 months’ notice, at this point we were fellowshipping at Belvedere Baptist Church, so once again w came together in prayer, this time the Lord worked quickly and we was able to move to Erith on a housing estate that needed the Light of Christ on it.
During the time in Erith my mum’s health took a hit. She had heart surgery, and has many other problems with her health, the one that has been the most significant and the one we struggle with is her recent diagnoses of PSP, which is Progressive Suroncular Palsy. This in a nut shell means her brain cells are dying off, which affects her speech, swallowing, balance and makes her prone to falling. She now needs a wheel chair to move; again it was time that we had to pray for a new home something suitable for her needs. We prayed for about 2 years kept waiting asking why Lord you aren’t providing this for us. the scripture kept coming back My Grace is sufficient for you and the passage (1 kings 18:41-19:8) when Elijah prayed and asked for rain after 7 times it happened again it was Gods timing we had to wait for.
“He didn’t just send drizzle he sent a down pour”
This was the same for us, we moved out of our house in Erith and a fellow friend we were praying to get a house got our old one. God delayed the move until he had someone else ready to shine the light in that area, so it was fantastic to know that God didn’t just open our door, but he opened a friend’s door at the same time, his works are amazing! He doesn’t just let it rain He sends a down pour.
God has brought me to the CLC Mission. Many times this has been confirmed to me. The Main Confirmation was when i wen from part time volunteer to fulltime paid missionary, before I became a full time paid missionary, I was Studying at college and working in an office in London, during this period CLC took over some of the Wesley Owen Shops and this meant they started to employ some staff, this varies between each individual, some will remain unpaid missionary while others receive a basic wage or part of a wage. Many hours go unpaid as they are given to the mission. When this happened an Assistant Manager role became available, I prayed about it and felt it was were the Lord wanted me. So I applied and got an offer, before I went to hand my notice in I was made redundant from my job in London, travelling home that night I started to listen to my IPod which has over 2,000 songs on it and the one that started to play randomly was
“God Will Make Away Where There Seems To Be No Other Way”
Some may say this was a coincidence; well the amazing thing is I didn’t have that song on my IPod. This confirmed that God has closed one door so I could go through the open He has opened.
One of my favourite promises of God’s Word is Matthew 7.7 Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open unto you. This verse as helped me so much along my walk in Christ It really brings home the gospel message to have faith in the Lord, as he says in scripture Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. If you have a personal relationship with Jesus, you have that seed of Faith within you.
Through reading the scriptures and resources they help you dig deeper into your faith. Jesus Died on the Cross so we can once again have new life in him, through our second birth in baptism, God has already opened that door for you. Along your walk, God will continue to close doors and open new ones for you, in his timing not ours, you just need to be ready to have the faith to get out of the boat. But in those times remember to Ask God, Seek His will in the scriptures and others, and remember to test the word, and then open your eyes to see when the door will be open.
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