I promised to write about myself, so as to fill a gap some of you have found in How to Cope with the Church. I said I would tell something of my own journey. Here are some of my earliest memories of that journey.
What did I first find hard to cope with?
Firstly, I have never really been religious. I have never liked ceremony, dressing up or any of the obvious physical aspects of religion. My parents were not atheists, but were not regular churchgoers either. We went at Christmas, Easter (sometimes) and to weddings. The language of the King James’s Bible and the 1662 Prayer Book were as offputting as the hardness of the pews. In addition, I found kneeling uncomfortable, distracting me from whatever was being said. I was not sorry that my parents valued our time together, often going into the countryside. Therefore, they didn’t make me go to Sunday School (whatever that was).
What was easier to cope with?
When I went to Bristol University, I was amazed to find that quite a lot of people went to Church voluntarily, even getting up on Sunday mornings. Some students ran lots of Christian activities through the week. There were Bible studies and prayer-and-fellowship meetings. On Saturday nights, they held sessions of singing relatively modern hymns, followed by teaching from visiting preachers. It was all more relevant, interactive and understandable than Church as I had known it.
Did this help me cope with Church?
Yes. I gradually got around to going to Church too. By then I understood what it was all about more than I had done, but I still struggled. At least, I was accompanying some Christian friends. There were also quite a few other people of my age in some of the churches we went to. Some churches were experimenting with updated versions of the Prayer Book and the Bible. There were meetings after the evening service, where we could discuss the sermon or some other topic.
When did I almost fail to cope?
The years immediately following university were difficult. I moved to another town where I didn’t know anyone. After a search, I found a church with some young people, where services were in fairly modern English. It was, however, led by older men and was very conservative in outlook in many ways. They did not encourage us to question anything much. On top of all that, in hindsight, I think I was suffering from culture shock as I came from the student World to the nine-to-five. I was dealing with people who were far more set in their ways than those I had been living among for the previous three years.
After about three more years, just as I was beginning to cope, big upheavals were to come to my life, including my church life. I will write about those, and how I coped, in another blog or two. Perhaps this series will help you get more out of my book, How to Cope with the Church.
If you are a determined atheist this book is not for you. If you are strong in the faith it is not for you either. If you are somewhere in between, if you have problems with Church, Bible reading, prayer, if you have not been for a while and are nervous about going back, if you have doubts and questions and do not like to ask, then this book could be just what you need. John Harvey Murray shares insights gained from experience in many different churches on the journey of faith and life. If he can cope, so can you.