What does church mean to me?

I was brought up going to church. I was taken every Sunday, week by week, sometimes once, sometimes twice a day. I never liked it. For some reason it was just the Sunday services. I don’t know why I was never sent to Sunday School, maybe the bus times didn’t work out. I couldn’t sing. I felt like an alien at my mother’s side as she chatted and gossiped happily to her friends. After the service they shook hands humbly with the vicar; then, out of his earshot, said he was nowhere near as good as the last incumbent. Before long I knew every word of the service by heart as it cycled through year by year. And I never doubted what I heard. I was a true blue Anglican who was not interested in heaven but often looked over my shoulder towards a beckoning hell. I endured church services throughout boarding school days and compulsory army church parades. When I was no longer required to go, I stopped going. To any who invited me, I said you couldn’t be a Christian and a soldier. The teachings were incompatible. There must have been something clinging to me though. I was asked to represent the college in Ealing at the annual carol service in the Parish church. I tried a couple of churches but they seemed just like my childhood one. It was the experience of my first Unitarian chapel that changed things. I wasn’t swamped or fussed. The services were more interesting. The language was free of ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, the Bible was not the only book, and there was a sense that faith should be a challenge and not a script to follow. I joined in the social life and came to know more than just the backs of people from my pew in the corner. They were a real mixture. There were the earthy and the well read. There seemed to be quite a few eccentrics. I used to wonder what it was that made them this community. It could have been that to be a Unitarian you had to accept you were one who stood apart from the mainstream churches. There was a different tradition and history and it was based on discovery more than obedience. You were welcomed to the spiritual wilderness knowing there was something within it you had been searching for, and was more than you had known before. There were markers everywhere and no one would prevent you examining them and testing them. The glue that holds them all together is that word, ‘Unitarian’, and it seems quite apt that it is a word that people find difficult to define. When I go to church now I enjoy the company, but I am also a free spirit. I am free to look above and beyond myself to seek the wisdom that is spiritual. But unless I try to live by its code it will never shine from me and the world cannot change.

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