One of my earliest memories is of sitting by the fire on my grandmother’s lap, hearing about inviting Jesus into my heart. As I grew up, I always had a sense of God being with me. My grandmother had come from a non-churchgoing family but chose to become a Christian in her teens. She attended a traditional rural Anglican church, was active in the Mother’s Union, read her bible, prayed a lot and shared her faith with those whom she loved. Her faith sustained her through being widowed at the age of 50 and having a daughter with severe bipolar affective disorder, my mother.
My parents were involved in the Charismatic movement of the 1970s and my father was ordained. In the muddy fields and marquees of charismatic camps, I learnt that God does not make people better, however fervently people told me that He can. And also that Christians can behave in really weird ways, which sometimes seemed to be connected with my mother ending up in a psychiatric hospital.
In my teens I found relative safety in what I now realise was a conservative Evangelical church, where head knowledge and obeying rules won the day. A large youth group was good for me in many ways, but the teaching did not help me make sense of life. A close friend, another vicar’s daughter, was killed in an accident. I learnt that bad things happen to good people and that God does not keep you safe.
At eighteen I arrived at university, unsure of what I believed, but I still sensed God’s presence. I remember being invited to join the Christian Medical Fellowship, but I was unable to sign up to their doctrinal statement. I went to the Christian Union once and knew that I did not belong. Then I found a book called ‘Am I still a Christian?’ written by a ‘liberal’ and from this I learnt that there is more that one way to be a Christian. However, I had been warned about ‘woolly liberals’ and ‘slippery slopes’! I then discovered David Adam’s Celtic prayers which resonated with me then and have continued to be a source of strength when times have been hard.
My husband and I both inherited a faith where weekly church attendance was the norm, so we have always chosen to belong to a church community. From attending church with my grandmother, I was familiar with the Book of Common Prayer and traditional hymns and I still have a love for the richness of liturgical language. In 2004 we left a church due to a new incumbent’s particularly graceless evangelicalism. Being repeatedly told from the pulpit that you are evil is not good for anyone. At this time we found our current church which initially felt like a spiritual home. It was higher church than I was used to but I liked the greater emphasis on the different seasons and on symbolism.
Greenbelt has been an important part of my faith journey since I was in my teens, exposing me to a wide variety of Christian traditions and beliefs. It was there that I learned that the sky doesn’t fall in when women preside over communion. This seems so normal now, but at the time it was mind blowing. At Greenbelt, my husband and I heard Dave Tomlinson speak about his book, ‘The Post-Evangelical’. It was a significant moment for us; we had found our clan.
I have continued to question and attempt to make sense of life as I have encountered a variety of challenges and losses. Experience has taught me that deep love for family and a strong faith in God do not prevent depression and suicide, and that prayer does not keep someone alive; conception does not necessarily equate to the start of human life; sometimes you have to choose which is the lesser of two evils; love between two people of the same sex is beautiful and natural and not an abomination. Observation of the natural world and human behaviour has taught me that for life to exist, some pain is necessary and that the experience of joy is inevitably linked to suffering.
About two or three years ago I was struggling with changes in our church. Again, I frequently found that the teaching was not answering my questions and I had an experience that was completely new to me. God was absent. Even in the darkest periods of my life, God was present and sustaining me. Even when, in my head, I questioned God’s very existence, He was there. But this experience was in my heart or soul, and at that moment, I felt utterly alone.
This was a significant turning point for me; I knew that I had to act. I have discovered podcasts, in particular the Bible for Normal People and Nomad. I had struggled with much of the Bible all my life, feeling the disconnect between what I read (or how I read it) and real life experience. My evangelical beginnings cast a long shadow, but now I am finding new ways to understand and engage with the Bible. And Nomad has been like Greenbelt throughout the whole year for me. It has been a joy to hear such a variety of people discussing their faith and the many ways in which they live this out in their lives and communities. I have long been drawn to contemplative prayer and the resources on Nomad support this.
My community is where I live out my faith. I continue to take an active part in our Church where, over the past two years, I have gained in confidence to speak out. I am passionate about the issue of LGBTQI equality and want to play a small part in making a change in the church. In the secular world, I work with people who have dementia, but in a service that recognises the importance of spiritual well-being.
In church services, I am the one at the back with my hands in my pockets avoiding demonstrations of emotion, but alone at home I have discovered more music that helps me connect with God and occasionally I even dance! My journey continues.
– Erica Bailey