Baptist Church and Sunday School – my parents had left school at 13 and 14 and wanted me to have the education that they hadn’t had. I was sent with an acquaintance (not even a friend) of my father when I was eight (probably in 1943). My parents never owned a Bible and never attended any services at that church.
Joined the Cubs attached to the local Anglican Church when I was eight. I think I had to choose whether I attended the monthly church parade or went to Sunday School – I went to Sunday School. Just before I was 11 I spent two nights camping with the Scouts – the first of more than 200 nights I eventually spent under canvas over the years.
I had been eleven when my father got me a job delivering papers before school seven days a week (for 7/6 or 37.5p a week)
Some of the things I was being taught at Sunday School didn’t seem to make a lot of sense but I have no recollection of ever doubting the existence of God. I must have said something to my parents because they insisted that I continued to attend until I was 14 when I could make up my own mind.
It was a couple of weeks before I was 14 that we had a lesson on the trinity that just didn’t make sense. I remember being angry and saying something to the superintendent that I was glad I wouldn’t have to come after the following week. When I got home I told my parents how angry I was and my mother surprised me by saying that I didn’t have to go the following week. It’s hard to imagine such a scene today but my mother was a Cockney born in 1901 who actually lived in The Old Kent Road when she was a child!
I had continued to be an active member of the Scouts.
I had obtained a scholarship to the local Grammar School when I was 11 and had a flair for Maths. I was due to take the GCE ‘O’ level exams in the first year of their existence but because I wasn’t 16 by a certain date I had to stay at school an extra year (that rule was waived the following year). The Headmaster suggested I stayed as school for another two years with a view to studying Maths at University. When I spoke to my father his immediate reaction was, “You do realise that this is going to cost me a lot of money, don’t you?”. My equally immediate reaction was to say that if that was how he felt I would get a job – and got one as a Scientific Assistant in the Meteorological Office and spent eight weeks in London on a training course.
Then came two years National Service in the RAF working in the Met Office.
I had wanted to get into Industry but couldn’t get what I wanted and ended up living at home and working for an Insurance company. I really didn’t get on with my father and asked the company for a transfer. I was offered a job in Christchurch, New Zealand or a job in London. I would have had to accept the job in Christchurch almost immediately but my parents were on holiday, so I moved to London.
I stayed with the couple I had been with previously in London and joined a social club where I met Ken who was single-handedly running a Cub Pack attached to the local Anglican Church and immediately offered to assist. Shortly after this Reg, a new curate arrived in the Parish and was happy to become the new Group Scout Master. The boys had to attend a monthly church parade. I felt that as the boys were expected to attend that I ought to get to know something of the teachings of the church. I joined a Young Adults group where I immediately met Barbara, my wife-to-be. Ken, Barbara and I soon became part of an established four-some, and Reg soon took me under his wing and prepared me for Confirmation in about six weeks! With hindsight that was surely rather silly!
This was a very active church with an average Sunday morning congregation of around 250. After the service every week there was a sit down breakfast that was attended by about 100 people.
At this time I was living with a Plymouth Brethren family. The Confirmation service took place one Thursday evening across London. When I got back I told these people where I had been. They were so upset that I was asked to leave the next morning. The family that Reg was living with had a spare room and I moved in that night while the Choir Master collected my belongings after work. That was my first experience of the abusiveness of Christians to others who didn’t believe exactly what they did!
It was about six weeks later that I found new accommodation with a Jewish lady who was separated from her husband. Their daughter was married on a Sunday and I moved in on the Monday. She knew I was a Christian but that was fine. With hindsight she treated me as if I was a replacement for her daughter. She even cooked breakfast for me on the Day of Atonement! What was even crazier was that her husband visited every Sunday and he and I would frequently play chess after lunch for a couple of hours before I went off to meet Barbara at church in the evening!
Around that time a former member of the Young People’s group had gone to Cambridge University to study theology and took great delight in sharing what he was learning. I particularly remember his enthusiasm for the J, E, D, P Theory (about who wrote the books of the Old Testament).
In 1959 I decided that I didn’t want to continue working in London. I obtained a transfer to Southampton and Barbara and I got engaged with the idea that I would spend every other weekend with her and her mother until we got married the following summer. I found accommodation with an elderly widow who attended the local Parish Church.
Reg and I had got to know each other quite well and he was my Best Man when we were married in 1960. It was three weeks later when visiting Barbara’s mother that I had a conversation with Reg where he said something along the lines of, “Now you are married you no longer need my friendship”. I had always been a ‘loner’ and I’d had no idea that this hadn’t been a genuine friendship. I found out years later that at the time that Reg was in Theological College they had been taught that they should not have ‘friends’ in their own parish! This had a long lasting effect! Could I really trust church leaders?
We were able to buy a maisonette and found ourselves in a parish where instead of being part of a congregation of some 250, we were two of the regular congregation of nine! This was the first parish in the UK for the Vicar who had spent some years in Kenya. He was a former Rover and Group Scout Master who was very keen for us to set up a new group which we did. The Vicar was very disillusioned with parish work and spent quite a lot of time as a Chaplain at a major prison several miles away. With hindsight I can see that he used me as a shoulder to lean on. It must have been difficult for him when we decided that we had no choice but to leave the parish.
Barbara’s mother had her own drapery shop in London but had suffered with Multiple Sclerosis for many years. She was faced with a choice of moving into a home in London where she had many friends or coming to live with us some 70 miles away (if she helped us to buy a suitable bungalow). She chose the latter much against the advice of the rest of her family and also of my parents (who just did not approve).
The Scout District Commissioner at that time was an Estate Agent. He knew what we were looking for and sent us to look at a bungalow with nearly half an acre of land that wasn’t then on the market. We were able to offer the asking price.
We quickly found ourselves in a very active village church with an average congregation of about one hundred. Almost immediately I offered to help the local Scout Group that was run by the local Congregational Church. It took little more than five minutes to realise that they wanted nothing to do with anyone who was attached to the Anglican Church. That was my second experience of the abusiveness of Christians to other Christians!
When the Vicar realised that I was volunteering to assist he asked if I would be willing to take over the role of treasurer from the person who was retiring in about four months. I was 28 at the time and had no accountancy experience – I was given the help I needed and did the job for eight years which meant that I was a member of the PCC – the Church Council.
We were living in a village with a population of about 4,000 where there was a lot of housing development. We saw a need for a community guide book that would give helpful information to both existing and new residents. Barbara and I were instrumental in publishing this guide.
At the same time the Church was struggling to maintain the church hall that wasn’t big enough to meet the needs of the community and which had an entirely inadequate heating system. We were involved in negotiations with the Local Council involving them buying the hall; renovating and extending it; and leasing it back to a new Community Association. There were people who felt that the Church had no right to sell the hall, and others who wanted an assurance that no alcohol would be sold there. But eventually a new Association was formed. Three months later the secretary (one of the team of boffins who had developed the use of radar before and during the war) had a heart attack. The Chairman of the Association (another boffin who had worked on the formation of aircraft contrails during the war) approached me and asked why I wasn’t on the Association Committee. I went along to the next meeting totally oblivious that he was going to propose that I be the new secretary (something else that I was totally untrained for).
The end result was that I ended up as treasurer of the church that was selling the ‘village hall’ to the local Council, and secretary of the Community Association that was going to lease the premises and provide some of the needs of the village.
It was an interesting position to be in, but I did have a full time job and a large garden that I had started to landscape. I remember on one occasion saying to Barbara, “We are like ships that pass in the night”.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Vicar who had been the Principal of an Anglican Theological College during the war encouraged me to attend his Diocesan course on the Old Testament (that I will refer to later).
I had had problems with my understanding of the trinity since I was 13 and I once asked the Vicar to explain his thoughts to me. Basically he said that greater minds than his had wrestled with this for hundreds of years and he just had to accept what they had taught. At the time I guess I just accepted what he said, but some time later he was appointed as the Bishop of Mauritius and I found myself wondering why a Bishop would be unable to explain the trinity (made more difficult when he was subsequently appointed as the first Archbishop of the Indian Ocean).
We had a new Vicar who was much younger. He started a Men’s Discussion group and asked me to lead one of the early meetings. One of my first questions was “What is the purpose of life?”. The Vicar’s immediate response 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 the beginning of my disillusionment with the Anglican Church!
It would have been around this time (either before or after) that I had started reading “The Plain Truth Magazine” published by the Worldwide Church of God – a Sabbath-keeping Christian Church that rejected the teaching of the trinity and kept the biblical Holy Days and taught that Christmas and Easter were Pagan festivals that should be ignored. I wasn’t convinced but by 1972/3 I had stopped attending church while Barbara continued to attend the local Anglican Church. Then in 1975 I was invited to attend a series of lectures in a local hotel, after which four of us were invited to attend services. I attended for a few months and then stopped. But with the build up to Christmas I found myself getting more and more agitated and returned immediately afterwards. I was baptised in 1978 and Barbara followed in 1981. I felt very comfortable despite the many assertions that we were members of the one and only true church. Barbara and I knew in our own minds that there were some true Christians in other churches (including the ones we had come from), but were able to accept that they were ‘deceived in part’. We really did feel part of a worldwide family and this had been reinforced in 1980 when the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated in our home town (as it was then) of Brighton when the church took over the whole of the Brighton Centre for eight days for the only English speaking venue for the whole of Europe with a congregation of around 4,500. There was even a satellite link (the very first commercial link across the Atlantic) for one service from the Church HQ in California. In 1987 Barbara and I were invited to America for the Feast and spent 27 nights in the States without paying a single hotel bill – how’s that for hospitality?
There’s a lot more I could write but at the end of 1994 the leadership of the church announced that much of their theology had been misguided.