My Own Story – the early years

Life took quite a dramatic turn at the beginning of 1995. This is a lengthy introduction covering some of the formative aspects of my life prior to that time. It just never occurred to me when I started putting the story together, how many significant stepping stones there were on the journey.

I had been married six years when in 1966 I took a significant drop in salary and gave up my job as the chief clerk of a branch office of an insurance company. At that time I was also the treasurer of the local Anglican Church and secretary of the local Community Association. I was on the organising committee of the local carnival and played Bridge one night a week. I also maintained a garden of almost half an acre. I was a real workaholic – I was always busy and my wife really didn’t see very much of me. It was almost a year later that I ‘accidentally’ drifted into a job as a trainee computer programmer when I was already over 30.

On a number of occasions I have written about different parts of what has been an interesting journey. I’ve reached a point where I wanted to try and draw that story together and show something of how it was all intertwined. I need to go back to the time of the Second World War when I was 8 or 9 and my parents arranged for an acquaintance (not even a friend) to take me to a Baptist Church. My parents never ever owned a Bible and had left school at 13 and 14. They wanted me to have the education that they had never had. I have no recollection of ever doubting the existence of God. My parents had decided that I should continue to attend until I was 14 when as they said, “I would be old enough to make up my own mind”. It was a couple of weeks before I was 14 that there was what I saw as a ridiculous teaching of the trinity that with hindsight had an enormous impact over many years on my understanding of the Christian faith. I never returned. But because I was a member of a Scout Troop attached to the local Anglican Church I then felt duty bound to attend the monthly church parades. There was no separate teaching and parts of the service didn’t make much sense – what was communion all about?

After completing two years National Service in the RAF I eventually moved to London and it wasn’t long before I was helping Ken who was running an Anglican Church Cub Pack. The boys had to attend a monthly church parade and I felt that I ought to know something of what the church was teaching. I had made friends with Reg, the new curate who had arrived in the community three weeks after me and who was quickly established as the Group Scout Master. He took me through confirmation classes in just six weeks and I was confirmed one evening. At the time I was living with a Plymouth Brethren family. To say that they were angry when I told them where I had been that evening would be an understatement. They allowed me to sleep that night but asked me to leave the next morning. A friend picked up my belongings that evening and I moved into a spare room where Reg was living for about six weeks – long enough as I thought, to get to know Reg as a friend. By this time Ken and I had become part of a foursome with his friend Daphne and her friend Barbara who would later become my wife. We enjoyed the theatre and cinemas and were very active members of the Anglican Young People’s Association. One of the members of the congregation was studying theology at Cambridge and we were fascinated when he started giving us lessons – he was hooked on the J, E, D, P theory that the Pentateuch was an amalgam of the writings of four people, and that the author of Isaiah 1-40 was quite different to the author(s) of the rest.

When Barbara and I decided to get married I asked Reg to be my Best Man. Everything was fine until we were staying with Barbara’s mother about six weeks after we were married. I had the chance to spend some time with Reg and during the course of the conversation he calmly told me that as I was now married I no longer needed his friendship! I had always been a loner and that came as a serious shock – that at the time I just could not understand – it was a shattering blow! Could that have been why, many years later, someone who knew me quite well had suggested that I seemed to be surrounded by an impenetrable shell? Or was that the influence of Aspergers Syndrome that I only learned about in 2008? Years later I learned that in Theological College at that time it was recommended that clergy should not have close friendships with members of their own congregations.

Barbara and I had been members of a very active church. The average congregation every Sunday was around 250 and about 100 sat down to breakfast after service every week. As soon as we married we started attending our new local Parish Church and instead of some 250 we were two of a regular congregation of 9 at the main family service (a church that had seen better days). It was the Vicar’s first parish after returning with a young family from missionary work in Nigeria. He had at one time been a Group Scout Master and it wasn’t long before we created a new Cub Pack attached to the church with Barbara as my assistant. The Vicar and I spent quite a lot of time together and he frequently shared his disappointment with his own position – genuinely not having enough to do – a square peg in a round hole – who took on an additional voluntary role as a prison chaplain – while considering plans to return to Nigeria. With hindsight this was the time when I first experienced what it was like to provide a ‘listening ear’.

We had our own flat and had only been married two years when Barbara’s mother who had Multiple Sclerosis chose to live with us rather than go into a home in London where all her friends lived. This resulted in buying a suitable property (with her help) several miles away. The new church was very active and we soon settled in.

I immediately made contact with the leadership of the local Congregational Church that ran the only Scout Group in the community, but it only took a few minutes to realise that they didn’t want anything to do with an active Anglican.

It didn’t take the Vicar long to tell me that he was looking for a new treasurer in six months time. I was not qualified; I had no experience; but was promised the necessary help with book keeping. That role continued for eight years during which time the population of the Parish more than doubled to about 9000. We saw the need for a newsletter or guide to the Parish and Barbara and I took a lead in this project.

It wasn’t long after this that the Church negotiated to sell the Church Hall to the Local Authority who would renovate the building and lease it back to a new Community Association. The first secretary of the Community Association was one of the ‘boffins’ who had helped to develop radar before and during WWII. He had a stroke three months later and the chairman, another ‘boffin’ who had been responsible for research into the formation of contrails made by high flying aircraft, wondered why I wasn’t involved and asked me if I would join the committee of the Association. Only when I attended my first meeting, without even mentioning it to me, did he propose that I should be the new secretary. I had no idea what that would entail. Being treasurer of the church that was selling what some people said was not theirs to sell, and being secretary of the association that was going to run the hall that would be inadequate to meet the needs of the community is a separate story in its own right! With hindsight I can see that I was very happy being busy!

Now back to my questions about the ‘trinity‘. The then Vicar had previously been the principal of the Anglican theological college in Mauritius and was a recognised authority on the Old Testament. On one occasion I asked him if he could explain the significance of the ‘trinity’. He told me that greater minds than his had wrestled with this problem for hundreds of years and that he just had to accept what they had discovered. At the time I suppose I just accepted this. I do remember thinking later that here was a Bishop who couldn’t explain the trinity – and that feeling was reinforced when he was subsequently appointed as the first Archbishop of the Indian Ocean.

On another occasion the Vicar persuaded me to attend one of his diocesan classes on the Old Testament. I made a lot of notes at the time and it was very interesting looking back many years later to see that in about 20 hours of teaching we got as far as the second chapter of Exodus after ignoring the ‘myth and symbolism‘ of the first eleven chapters of Genesis! It was at this point that the Vicar was appointed as the new Bishop of Mauritius.

We subsequently had a new Vicar and on one occasion (probably in 1967) I was leading a men’s discussion group. I asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?” The immediate reaction of the Vicar was, “Peter, you can’t ask that, that is the 64,000 dollar question (a lot of money in those days). Let’s go on to your next question”. With hindsight that was really the beginning of my disillusionment with the Anglican church and it’s lack of ‘radical’ Christianity.

When I gave up my job as a chief clerk in 1966 it only took me three days to realise that the job I had then taken had been a big mistake, but in the post the next day was an interview for another job that seemed much more suitable. I handed in my notice on the Monday and left on Friday. With hindsight I can see that I only ever had two weeks experience of a job I hated – and I don’t imagine many people would be able to say that today.

I had been in the new job less than six months when everyone in what was then the data processing department was invited to take an aptitude test (largely based on reason and logic) to become a trainee computer programmer, and despite my age I came out on top, but it was another six months before I was sent on a training course. About 2½ years later I found myself the programming manager of another company marketing the first desk top computer developed by Mitsubishi (with a memory of 1K). We had a staff of some 20 trainees . . . it was an amazing experience that came crashing down within two years as a result of conflict within the management structure and I had been made redundant for the first of four times. I was unemployed for about four months until I got a job as a senior programmer and we moved to Brighton, where we still live, in 1971.

I first started reading ‘The PLAIN TRUTH’ magazine published by the Worldwide Church of God in 1967/68 after seeing an advert in the Readers Digest. One of the things that I could never understand about the Church of England was how so many families would attend services at Christmas and Easter, and that would be all – except for christenings, weddings and funerals. The number of communicants on Easter Sunday exceeded 200 but on Good Friday on one occasion the number attending the three hour devotional service had been about 10. I suppose this made me very receptive to some of the magazine articles suggesting that Christmas and Easter were really Pagan festivals that had nothing to do with ‘real’ Christianity. Although I had become somewhat disillusioned with the Anglican church I found myself on the Church Council of the local Anglican church within a year of moving to Brighton but stopped attending the following year (1972). By then I was on the management committe of the local Community Association and became secretary the following year but felt uncomfortable with the confrontational attitude of a couple of members.

It was in 1974 that my then employer decided to install a new computer and rather than pay for my retraining decided to get rid of me. I understood at the time that when attending a job interview that it was inadvisable to criticise the company you had left. Ironically I said something about my former manager. The person interviewing me had very little respect for that man because he had had the responsibility for clearing up the mess when he had left that company. Three hours later I had a new job! Even that is an interesting story for anyone interested in the history of computing. But there was one thing that the person who had employed me said at the end of a staff appraisal a year later that subsequently had a big impact. He suggested that one of my biggest problems was that I under-estimated my own abilities. When I look back at some of the things I achieved with that company (the 12th largest in the UK at the time) I have realised how much of a one track mind I have always had. There was one occasion when my manager gave me a job to do. We hadn’t spoken to each other for about six weeks and when I mentioned this he had said that he knew the job he had given me would probably take about three months, and he knew that if I had had a problem I would have spoken to him. How’s that for total trust in an employee? It was in 1981 that I was made redundant after a major reorganisation – along with the whole department.

It was in 1975 that the Worldwide Church of God ran some local campaign meetings and I started attending early in 1976 but for some unknown reason I stopped attending for about four months prior to Christmas. I found myself getting irritated by the traditional build up to Christmas and went back immediately afterwards (I wasn’t told for about 18 months what had happened in the four months I had been away).

I was baptised in 1978 (while Barbara was still attending the Anglican Church). Later Barbara and the two children started attending and Barbara was baptised in 1981. We used to joke about the possibility of whether it was a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”. We had come to understand that we were members of the one and only ‘true church’ because nobody else kept the Sabbath and Holy Days as we did. But because of our previous experience we understood that there were genuine Christians in other churches (who hadn’t come to understand the full truth) – how misguided could we have been!

With hindsight we really were members of a ‘worldwide’ family of over 100,000 members. Not only did we tithe, but we kept a second tithe to enjoy the Feast of Tabernacles. There is so much that I could write about these times – that our children enjoyed (instead of Christmas). Let’s just say that directly as a result of a friendship that had developed with an American family at the Feast in Brighton in 1986, Barbara and I spent 27 nights in the States the following year without paying a single hotel bill. But in many ways we really did cut ourselves off from the community in which we lived until there were some changes within WCG teaching in 1993.

Although our son had enjoyed Summer Camp on Loch Lomond in Scotland for three weeks each year, he had never been interested (he says he has always been an atheist). The minister did not approve when I took the decision to tell my son when he was 16 that he didn’t have to attend. Our daughter who was three years older had told me when she was 17 that while she respected my beliefs it was my church and not hers, and she wanted to see what the world outside was like. A couple of years later she was travelling round the world when she was given a lift in Tasmania by a Pentecostal Church member. She stayed with them for several days, and as she told me later, she knew that some of what they were telling her was not right. When she moved back to Australia she made contact with a WCG minister – and sometime after she returned to England she was baptised and later married a member of the church. At the time we were members of a congregation of about 90 and we were part of a family of 14 related by marriage.

Herbert W Armstrong, the founder of the church died in 1986. Things didn’t change at that time as much as some people had expected. I think it was about a year later (I can’t remember the detail and I really don’t want to go back down that rabbit hole), that some changes were announced and I turned to Barbara and said , “Isn’t that what we have always believed?”.

It was in 1990 that I was again made redundant when the company I was working for completely changed their computer system – and by this time there was no way I could be retrained. I bought my first PC (with 2K of memory and an 80MB hard drive and the earliest version of Windows 3). It was hard work but I taught myself Microsoft Office (that had to be installed from I believe, 48 floppy disks) and worked part time for a local company until 1995 which was the year my father died.

It was in 1993 after the leadership started suggesting ways in which members of the church should get involved with local communities that I started picking up some of the pieces of where I had left off some 15 years previously. By 1994 I was again secretary of the local Community Association. I attended a couple of Counselling Skills courses and became an Active Age Adviser with the national charity, Age Concern in 1996. In 1996/7 I attended an abortive two year Christian Counselling course (one day a week) that was crammed into 34 weeks. That was an amazing learning experience – I learned so much about myself – but I also learned a lot about how counselling should not be done! In 1997 I started a drop in for the ‘Over 60s’ one afternoon a week that only closed last year. We obtained a grant of £5000 to buy a Short Mat Bowls mat and four computers. Barbara and I were trained by Age Concern to teach the over 60s. We had some 70 trainees in the first year. Directly as a result of this we were given the opportunity of opening a Cyber Cafe with a grant of £20,000. I found the bureaucracy too much but Barbara is still a volunteer more than ten years later.

It was in 1997 that I first had a dial-up connection to the internet – and I would have to admit that that has been a major part of my life ever since – although I now struggle keeping up with the new technology.

Logically this might be the place in the story to explain something of the teachings of the church at that time but I started leaving this behind more than 15 years ago, and as it is said, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. I really don’t want to go down that rabbit hole again now. I might come back to this later.

What is really significant is what happened from 1995 onwards – and that’s the second part of the story.


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