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Reflection on the 40th Anniversary of Professing Faith in Christ by Peter Swift.

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In July 1975 after reading an evangelistic book I prayed the “sinners’ prayer” at the end. I was attracted by a desire for purpose and meaning in life. As a 17 year old I had little conviction of sin and saw no particular need for a saviour but I was drawn by the promise of a relationship with God and a joy in life.

I was painfully shy and introspective, reserved and prone to depression; and I was hoping for a miraculous change. I knew I needed to change but conceived that process differently to how things actually turned out.

I joined a little evangelical church in inner city Bradford (my hometown in the UK), it was a few small houses knocked through to form a series of meeting rooms. It was a small church in terms of numbers and one of the problems with small communities is how personalities…

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Reflection on the 40th Anniversary of Professing Faith in Christ by Peter Swift.

In July 1975 after reading an evangelistic book I prayed the “sinners’ prayer” at the end. I was attracted by a desire for purpose and meaning in life. As a 17 year old I had little conviction of sin and saw no particular need for a saviour but I was drawn by the promise of a relationship with God and a joy in life.

I was painfully shy and introspective, reserved and prone to depression; and I was hoping for a miraculous change. I knew I needed to change but conceived that process differently to how things actually turned out.

I joined a little evangelical church in inner city Bradford (my hometown in the UK), it was a few small houses knocked through to form a series of meeting rooms. It was a small church in terms of numbers and one of the problems with small communities is how personalities skew priorities. Only now do I realise how petty and worldly Christians can be. The internal tensions within the church caused one faction to split away within six months of my joining shortly after I was baptised. I hasten to add that the split was nothing to do with me – although on reflection I did nothing to help either and I easily got drawn into the gossip and personality politics. Looking back I see that we were on the cusp of two different versions of evangelicalism; it is hard to describe and the only way I have since been able to come to terms with it is to say that I was a ‘Post-Bunyan’ Evangelical. It seemed quaint to me then how the older Christians would quote “Pilgrim’s Progress” and identify with its analogies of wayfaring and struggle. This version of the Gospel held little appeal for me and it wasn’t, I’m ashamed to say, until many years later that I first read John Bunyan. There was a deep cultural rift within our small church, one side was steeped in non-conformist history, the ‘doctrines of grace’, the Bible and committed to redeeming souls while a newer version concerned itself with redeeming culture and embraced the intellectual disciplines which the former group contemplated with suspicion. The joy I had sought as a Christian thus proved elusive and I sank into deep spiritual depression. My father died unexpectedly around the same time in December 1975.

I had loathed school with a passion so it was a relief to finally leave the following Summer with barely adequate qualifications and start work as a trainee ‘legal executive’ working in the criminal litigation department of a firm of solicitors in Bradford. My job was to help prepare defence cases for hearing in the Crown Court in a variety of courthouses around Yorkshire and further afield. I would interview witnesses, write up statements and prepare a “brief” for the representing barrister. At court I would sit in the well of the court and take notes of evidence to assist our barrister. I did this for over four years and I’m grateful for the experience of life it gave me. It was an invaluable lesson in human nature in all its faults.

I suppose if I was writing a fashionable novel of my life, at this point, I should logically have given up on the evangelical faith. But I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I continued to attend church; I shared the apostle Peter’s sentiments when Jesus asked his disciples if they too were about to desert him as others had done….’to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!’ John 6 v68.

I may have been given a naive misconception of what the “Gospel” was about and I may have been disappointed by the failure of the church but in the meantime I had begun to see something beyond all these things. I was attracted by the person of Jesus whatever the failings of those who professed to believe in him, and more importantly, whatever my own failings had subsequently revealed to me. If I started out with little personal conviction of sin that conviction grew with time, and my job confirmed to me the truth about human nature.

By 1979 I was told about a church in town which taught about ‘the Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and everything in my christian experience seemed to make sense. ‘Of course!’ I thought, ‘I was living a “defeated” christian life because I needed this wonderful experience’. (John Stott wrote a really helpful corrective called “Baptism and Fullness” which I only discovered much later). So I joined this church and loved the honeymoon period but the original problem reasserted itself; the people there were actually no more spiritual than my earlier church and I saw that I was still the same person too! The notion that difficulty and struggle are not part of the normal christian life proved to be as phoney as ever. There was a tendency towards unreality within evangelicalism which reflected badly on it and easily confused me; was I supposed to have faith in Jesus or was I supposed to have faith in all the yarns of ‘victorious Christian living’ that I was buttonholed with? Why was it so important to them that I believed these stories rather than the Bible stories? Of course this blarney was always one stage removed, from just over one’s horizon, hearsay from a friend of a friend. Interestingly I did subsequently have a couple of encounters with people from out of town who had heard some tale from my locality and looked to me with enthusiasm for a confirmation I could not provide! This experience led some of my contemporaries falling by the wayside. Moreover this particular church had authoritarian tendencies because it saw itself as a direct restoration of the apostolic age; it seems laughable now, but it was an enormously influential and sizeable church. I could have easily been drawn in much deeper because, despite alarm bells, I realised that I wanted to be someone special in a special world.. How easy it is to nurture notions of ‘greatness’ even while one makes a virtue of humility. Fortunately I could not reconcile the spiritual hunger in my heart with the worldly pretentions of glory and wealth the leaders urged on us. “Success” would draw in non-believers they taught. I couldn’t articulate it adequately but I instinctively knew that their model of the christian life was false, not that it was vastly different from the views pushed in many popular christian books of the time.

I had not been a great reader. As a teen I acquired a taste for science fiction. By my twenties I was looking for the christian book which would put me on the right track and help me make the breakthrough into the victorious christian life. I bought so many pulp paperbacks about the christian life yet none of them helped me one iota.

Although I wish I could have done it more graciously I quit this last church in 1981 when I moved to Leeds to start my general nurse training at St James’ Hospital. However it was not the last time I had cause to meet its most ardent acolytes who had also moved to that city to plant a church and I was constantly plagued by the suggestion that I had made a ghastly mistake. If I was to try and define the point of conflict I would have to say it was over what constituted ‘the normal christian life’. I did start to read more serious books and found I had an appetite for knowledge. I did have some time away from Leeds with YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in the mid 1980’s, some experiences with them were positive but a lot was decidedly wacky but that is another story! In the meantime I went on to add a paediatric nursing qualification to my general one, while I started to attend, what we would now call an “emergent church”; yet another faddish diversion. It was not until I moved to London in 1991 that I truly felt I’d shut that ‘Post Bunyan’ chapter of my life. Although it still grieves me that I treated so many friendships from Leeds in such a deciduous way I felt that I needed to burn bridges.

In God’s providence in 1991 I found myself in a new job at Guy’s Hospital in London in Paediatric Intensive Care and started attending St Helen’s Bishopsgate, despite having been seriously warned off it as a “teaching church”! In reality, having been starved of spiritual food, this ‘warning’ was a clear indication of exactly the kind of church I was, in reality, searching for! Behind the warning was the assumption that the Spirit and the Word are mutually exclusive, and that the Bible stifles life. I did not buy it then and still do not buy it now. Good doctrine unites believers, it does not divide them.

I started attending St Helen’s that first week on arriving in London abd I’ve been a member there ever since. That means nearly 25 years or more than 60% of my Christian life has been spent there and perhaps it is time to make a few reflections on life’s experiences especially as I am reaching the point of contemplating retirement from nursing.. From a career point of view I had the privilege of helping pioneer the South Thames Retrieval Service and being part of a dynamic children’s intensive care which relocated to the St Thomas’ Hospital site in 2005 as part of the ‘Evelina London Children’s Hospital’. Paediatric Intensive Care’s clientele age from newborn to 16 years and comprise a wide range of pathologies; we have a large proportion of infants and children undergoing open heart surgery for congenital heart defects and others with respiratory infections or metabolic problems requiring ventilatory, inotropic &/or renal replcement therapy support. They come mainly from the south-east but also from wider afield in the UK and from abroad. In fact I’ve had several opportunities to join teams going to Kenya to do open heart surgery on children who would not otherwise have that treatment. I have been enormously blessed in the kind of work experience I’ve had. It was also through the Christian Union there that I met my wife Helen.

The first week I attended St Helen’s the sermon was about the book of Job and it struck a chord with me by avoiding the easy answers of ‘victorious christian living’ and giving true regard to what the Bible actually says about the challenge of being a believer in a world at odds with its Creator. I joined a small group Bible study. If I needed evidence that expository preaching, small group and personal Bible study leads to healthy spiritual growth then the last quarter of a century has provided that in spades. It was the hunger for Jesus and his words that have kept me seeking the right path when I could easily have been blown off course, and the sense longing and yearning for more, far from being a sign of failure, was actually a healthy thing which led me on to a place where that yearning could be nourished and fed; not so much St Helen’s as into the arms of the Lord. And not because there was something in me doing the seeking. It was always the good Shepherd who had come after this lost sheep. It was all by the sheer grace of God and not my own doing.

For several years I’ve been a Bible study leader group leader and I’ve also helped with our outreach to Muslims in the East End. I am seriously considering doing the Cornhill Training Course after I retire in 2017. CTC is aimed at helping people improve their Bible teaching skills. I do not know what the future holds but I may have a few other things to do before I reach the Celestial City!

Call the Midwife

The UK television hit ‘Call the Midwife’ has returned to our screens recently. It is worth bearing in mind that all the original Jennifer Worth diaries have been used up in the previous three series so the programme makers are now creating new storylines.

Episode 3 of series 4 features a young couple Tony and Marie Amos who are expecting their first child. Tony is arrested for trying to force himself on another man. It seems to me that the programme makers are trying to make a point about attitudes to homosexuality. But portraying Tony as the victim of society doesn’t really cut it and sentiments expressed by some of the characters about ‘living and let live’ are misplaced.

The real victim is Marie, who is in the late stages of pregnancy, who has been betrayed by a faithless husband. I would also point out that Tony was prosecuted, not ‘for being homosexual’, but for attempting to have unsolicited sex.

 

C. S. Lewis Blog: Lewis on Democracy

Piers Morgan debates Gay Marriage.

Clearly set up for a fall Ryan Anderson more than holds his own against hostile cross examination by Piers Morgan and his guests. Despite being goaded he remains courteous throughout. Ryan Anderson debates gay marriage with Piers Morgan

St Helen’s Bishopsgate – Resources – ST HELEN’S TRAINING

St Helen’s Bishopsgate – Resources – ST HELEN’S TRAINING.

When I moved to London in the early 1990’s I really benefited from joining a Bible study group at St Helen’s Bishopsgate. I am really pleased that some of this material is being made more widely available on the Internet.

The Day I realised I wasn’t a Catholic!

I was raised in a Catholic family and attended RC schools until I was 18. Three of my Grandparents were Irish who had moved to Bradford in the north of England before WW1. but I never knew them because they had all died before I was born, so to say I come from an Irish Catholic family is a bit of a stretch because we had no links with the old country and if asked I would have said I was from Yorkshire. In fact the only Grandparent I did know was a true Yorkshireman. Bradford was a boom town in the 19th century and attracted Irish people looking for work. My Irish grandfather, Patrick, had several brothers who emigrated to the USA. Bradford obviously had its attractions, with a sizeable population of Irish decent with its own soccer team, Bradford Park Avenue, with Celtic like strip. Bradford City Football Club being its protestant counterpart.

If my ties to Ireland were tenuous my connection to the RC church was little better – I did the compulsory stuff required by the Catholic school system but had no personal attachment or sense of belonging. At primary school it was expected that all the lads would serve as altar boys in the parish church on a Sunday. I refused point blank, not that I was making any courageous sort of ‘statement’ by it, I just felt it looked daft! I gathered later that the Head-Sister (we were taught by nuns) spoke to my parents about this; ‘doesn’t he realise what an honour it is!?’) In fairness to my parents, who were regular church-goers, they never pressed the issue and when I was 13 they allowed me to decide if I still wanted to go to church. I did not.

Despite going through a ‘raving atheist’ phase in my teens, in one respect being Catholic did remain with me. In the late 1960’s when I was 10 or 11 years old ‘The Troubles’ started in Northern Ireland and I vividly recall the parish priest coming to our house and speaking to my mother about the possibility of the violence spilling over to the UK mainland. My mother was in genuine fear and even though I didn’t understand all that was said, being of a sensitive nature too, I registered that sense of foreboding. Occasionally school would finish early and I recall that we would be told to go home directly when rumours circulated that gangs were planning to target Catholic kids – often in response to some IRA bomb outrage. Looking back now it may seem far-fetched that ‘The Troubles’ should affect us but the fear was genuine enough at the time, even if it never came to anything.

When I was 17 I started attending an Evangelical church and it grieved me that some people I knew felt a sense of betrayal far more acutely then than when I had ceased to attend Mass.
Later when I left school, in 1976, my first job was working in the Criminal Litigation department of a firm of solicitors in Bradford. The senior partner was an amiable gent called Desmond Joyce who, as this story will go on to relate, was a pillar of the Irish Catholic community, a point I had completely failed to register. One day I took a phone call for Mr Joyce from his golf partner arranging a game, I wrote down his name phonetically having asked him to repeat it a couple of times. Later I passed on the message to the Senior Partner, ‘an Italian bloke called for you’ I said. He looked mystified, slowly I read out the name ‘ a Signor Roncelli’. Mr Joyce looked at me in despair, ‘that should be Monsignor Ron Kelly, stupid boy!’
That was the day I realised that I really wasn’t a Catholic!

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