It would be wrong to say religion was taboo in my family.  As I grew older, I discussed it all the time with my father.  My mother had little to say on the topic.  But practicing religion was taboo.  It was OK to study the religious practices of others but rational people do not fall for religion.  Assuming I’m rational, I fell.

So at the age of about 26, I had to explain to my parents that I was planning to join the Methodist Church.  It was a very hot simmer’s day and we were outside our house, on the concrete drive, under the first floor extension for shade.  This must have been the late 70s.

When I made my announcement, my mother’s response was to disappear indoors.  I don’t remember being concerned, maybe she told us to wait for her.  Several minutes later she reappeared and threw something down on the drive, with some force.  A pall of dust flew up off of it. 

My mother explained she had just retrieved it from the loft, which is where we stored stuff we didn’t need in case it came in handy at a later date.

It was a beautiful edition of the Methodist Hymn Book, with gold-edged pages.  I still have it.  It is inscribed by my grandparents, as a Christmas gift to my mother.

My mother explained that after her parents moved to a part of Sheffield called Crosspool, in the late 40s, I think, they lived yards away from Stephen Hill Methodist Church.  She joined the youth club, as many young people did in those days.  The hymn book was from those days.

Then the Minister left and his replacement was an evangelical.  The Youth Club didn’t like the change and so they all resigned and moved en masse to the Unity on Crookesmoor Road.  A significant theological change but maybe not such a great ecclesiological move. 

It was there she met my father, who lived a few hundred yards away.  I had no idea about this history but my mother took part and sometimes hosted monthly “Girl’s Nights” and most of her friends were still active members at the Unity. 

I was examined in 1984 to qualify as a local preacher by an evangelical minister.  I told him as a response to his question that I could never be an evangelical (my father’s scepticism has some lasting impact!)  But I said, evangelicals have helped me every step of the way, indeed if it wasn’t for an evangelical minister, I would not exist!  He smiled.

I think my mother was the most sceptical of all of us.  It was after she died, my father started to attend the Unity again.  He saw the potential of churches to offer space for those who are isolated.

They can offer solitude too.  A few years ago, I helped a church plan how it could offer spirituality to the many people who passed its doors.  It struck me how there are many church-linked organisations offering excellent retreats, silence, space to find solitude.  And how easy it is to spoil it, by insisting you need to believe this that or the other.  We all seek solitude as much as we do company.  It’s a pity those who know how to find it, so often insist on what we have to believe to find it.

Day 5/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: Teesside Advertiser. Next: Steel.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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