My parents never, ever owned a Bible but both read well.
I was forced to go to Sunday School for 5 years until I was 14.
I don’t remember ever doubting the existence of God, but rejected the nonsensical teaching of the trinity as it was presented to me as a 13 year old.
After completing National Service in the RAF for 2 years I lived in digs in London and got to know Ken, a Cub Master who was running an Anglican Church Pack of 30 boys single handed. I became his assistant.
The boys had to attend a monthly Church Parade and I felt I needed to get to know more about what the Church taught and started attending Church on Sunday evenings.
Ken and I quickly became part of a foursome and were also members of the Anglican Young People’s Group. One of the former members was at Cambridge University studying theology and occasionally gave us talks on what he was learning – such as the J, E, D, P. theory of the way in which the Old Testament had been written by these four different authors.
The Church had a new curate – Reg – who had arrived in the Parish three weeks after I did. He subsequently took me through confirmation classes in six weeks (with hindsight that was crazy).
At the time I was living with a Plymouth Brethren family. When I got back late in the evening after the confirmation service I told them where I had been. I was allowed to sleep the night but was asked to leave the next morning (how’s that for Christian tolerance?). The Church Choir Master picked my things up that evening and I moved into a spare room where Reg, the new curate was living.
It took me six weeks to find new digs with a Jewish lady. I moved in a day or two after her daughter had been married. The lady was separated from her husband (unusual for Jews in those days) and he visited her every Sunday. It didn’t take long for a game or two of chess with me on a Sunday afternoon to become part of the routine – after which the foursome would meet again at church.
Some time later Ken apologised to me for the need to break up the foursome because one of the two girls was getting serious with him and he didn’t want that. This left Barbara and I wondering what we would do – and 54 years later we are still together!
When we decided to get married I asked Reg to be my Best Man. That was fine. But a few weeks later Barbara and I were visiting her mother when I had a conversation with Reg in which he told me that as I was now married I no longer needed his friendship. That was a body blow. It was only years later that I learned that in those days part of the teaching at some theological colleges was that those who were ordained needed to avoid making friends with people in the Parish (how sick was that?).
Before we were married we had been part of a strong Anglican congregation – average attendance on Sunday mornings was about 250, followed by a sit down breakfast where about 100 would normally attend. As soon as we were married we started attending our new Parish Church where we were two of an average congregation of nine at the main family service. The Vicar was in his 40’s – it was his first Parish. He had been a very keen Scout leader and we very quickly formed a new Cub Pack with Barbara as my assistant. I got to know the Vicar very well – he was a fish out of water – who quickly became an unofficial chaplain to a high security prison. He later took a post in Nigeria.
Within two years of being married we were faced with the problem of Barbara’s mother who had her own small shop in London. She had Multiple Sclerosis which had reached the point where she would have to go into a home in London where her friends would be around her, or come and live with us. Against the advice we received from both sides of the family we invited her to live with us – if she would help us financially to move from our flat to a bungalow where she could have her own space. She was with us for some five years before she died peacefully.
One of the first things I did when we moved was to contact the leadership of the local Scout Group that was attached to the local Congregational Church. A meeting was arranged but it was obvious within the first few minutes that the really didn’t want anything to do with a committed Anglican (just another rejection!).
We had moved to a village with a population of about 4000. We immediately felt at home in the local Church and I soon let the Vicar know that I was ready to assist. He already knew that his treasurer was retiring within six months and asked if I would consider that. At that time I had no accountancy experience but said I would – and did the job for eight years.
It didn’t take me long to realise that we were living in a community that was expanding rapidly. It could best be described as a dormitory between two big cities about 30 miles apart. As treasurer I was on the church council and easily persuaded them that we should publish a guide to what went on in the community (that’s a long story cut very short).
Quite separately the Church was having financial problems maintaining an old hall that was in need of serious renovation. An even longer story is the way in which the Church sold the hall to the Local Authority who renovated it and leased it back to a new Community Association. The first Secretary of the Association was one of the boffins who had developed radar. When he had a stroke the Chairman (another boffin) asked me to step in as Secretary because of the work we had done on the local guide. Now so many years later, and with my knowledge of the influence of Aspergers Syndrome, I look back on decisions then that had a major impact on the rest of my life.
The Vicar had previously been the Principal of the Anglican Theological College in Mauritius and was recognised as an authority on the Old Testament. He encouraged me to join one of his introductory classes. These were cut short after eight weeks when he was appointed as the new Bishop of Mauritius. It was only years later looking through some old notes, that I realised that in about 20 hours of study we had only reached the second chapter of Exodus, but had ignored the myth and symbolism of the first eleven chapters of Genesis (his words).
On an earlier occasion (bearing in mind my questioning of the teachings of the trinity when I was 13), I asked him if he could explain the teachings of the trinity. He told me that greater minds than his has wrestled with this for centuries and he just had to accept what they had taught (and this was a man with a degree in science). it was only years later that I recognised the real significance of that comment. This man had subsequently become the first Anglican Archbishop of the Indian Ocean and he couldn’t explain the teachings of the trinity!
At no time in all of this do I have any recollection of doubting the existence of God.
Some time later, after the appointment of a new Vicar I was leading a Men’s Discussion Group meeting where I asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?” and was told immediately by the Vicar, “Peter, you can’t ask that, it is the 64,000 dollar question” – and in the 1960’s that was a lot of money! Again but only with hindsight, I can see that this was probably the beginning of my disillusion with the Anglican Church and its lack of radical Christianity.