I was recently told that Mother’s Day was originally a chance for workers away from home would be given a day off to visit the church they grew up in, to return to their home communities, to reconnect. It got me thinking about my own faith roots and that is often a very long story.
My testimony has often concentrated on the changes, the renewed faith, the miracles. However, today I want to tell a story about the churches in my life that affected me at the very start, way before anyone tends to think my journey with God began.
I was brought up (nominally) Roman Catholic. I remember the Sunday School, I remember the homework before I took my first Holy Communion (annoying), I remember the kindness of a good man who lead our church when I was very young. My love for him came in shyness and smiles but I was young so it was cute. However, by the time I was 8 years old my faith had disappeared. It was tied to prayer and the death of my Nanna. I was certain very early on that I was not going to repeat liturgy, sing songs, or pray words that I did not believe. So I stopped going to church, refused to be a part of it anymore. From that point on anything I learnt about the hypocrisy of the church, “catholic guilt”, or pretty much anything anti-religion I would absorb it, keep it close and back myself up. Even when God found me again, I pulled away from anything too “religious”, too “catholic”, because it hurt, because it angered me, because I didn’t think it represented Jesus as I knew Him.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised the benefits of Catholicism in contrast to the rules and horror stories. Before that I had rebelled and rejected the black and white teaching, but I began to see that what seemed strict was not intended that way. Whereas the rules and regulation seemed harsh, I learnt that it was simply the longevity of thousands of years of thought, writing, and study. It may seem more sure of ideas that I struggled to believe were that simple but I had to give credit to the effort in which many people had searched for God’s answer in difficult situations. The liturgy, rather than being dull and repetitive, allowed a stable base in which to worship God that did not rely on fragmented and fickle thoughts and feelings of the mass of cells within the body. Even when studying medical ethics I found myself being drawn back to the hopes that we could be safe rather than sorry, that we could always be forgiven no matter what, and that God was truly in everything.
This is a sense that I feel many are returning to. Our parents and elders may have rebelled a little against the structure, but churches like my own Vineyard cannot deny that we have simply created a new, different, liturgy in place of the traditional one. Recently I have been leading a monthly event to dig deeper into God, think over devotionals based on theology, history, and liturgy. We will be looking at Catholicism, the Orthodox tradition, Celtic Christianity, and so much more. By revisiting my Catholic roots I have been able to accept a broad wisdom of God that I had put away from me for so long.
In complete contrast to this portion of my life was Southend Christian Fellowship. It was here I finally came round again to accepting God in my life. This bubbly group of people were passionate, kind, and down-to-earth and was exactly what I needed in my life. The building became my sanctuary in my breaks from school, and the people became a kind of family that accepted me, prayed with me, and often gave me a place to stay when I needed it.
In this evangelical setting I learnt how to free myself from my pride, my embarrassment, my requirement (tied to so much unnoticed Britishness) to look calm and in control at every moment. I grew and was able to take on challenges which taught me about social justice, Jubilee economics and prophecy, and my art took on a spirit that I had not expressed before. It was here that I was baptised as my first decision as an adult, here that I learnt to trust God with the zig-zag craziness my life seemed to be, and here that I gained more fully two of my very best friends, prayer warriors, and women of God.
My third highly influential church was my beloved Kingdom Vineyard. It was here I found that theology could be integrally linked to worship; surrounded by student theologians and academics of every variety as well as quite simply the brightest minds you could imagine, I was welcomed into discussing big topics, relating them to our lives, and sharing how God could use our mental gifting as well as our physical or financial options. Our worship was something to be practised and meant to give God glory with our effort and work just as much as in our soul. Our prayer life could be a continuous background conversation as we walked the streets, a 24/7 month of prayer in the secluded rooms of the town, or something personal and precious among our house-group.
It was also this church community, and specifically some loving and wise leaders who allowed me to work through some of the hardest points in my life. Depression was not a curse worse nor was it hidden. This was a community of vulnerability, of honesty, and of support. As a student, a wife, and a mother they have continued to pray for me, welcome me back, and love me in the moments I needed them.
These three points in my life cannot be weighed up as more important than each other, but combined they are my Mother Church; they transformed me, bit by bit, into more of Jesus. The breadth of God is obvious in His Church. In my life I have experience not only Roman Catholicism, Evangelical, and Vineyard, but Church of England, Church of Scotland, Orthodox, Free Church of Scotland, and so many visits of other denominations and none. I have also known incredible people of God from all walks of life and churches who have guided me along my path.
Mother Church for me is broad, beautiful, and blessed.
It is now my job to bring as much of this blessing to my current home in Rayleigh Vineyard. Wonderfully, here I have found cells in the body with their own stories, experiences, and wisdom that tell similar stories: God is everywhere, and we are just catching Him up when we find Him somewhere new.