My older sisters ended up getting us all kicked out of Sunday school. I’m not sure why, and I was definitely too young to remember it happening, but my parents tell me this was one of the reasons they didn’t bother with church anymore. We didn’t seem all that interested.
I wouldn’t return to church again until my teenage years when I picked up a bass guitar and joined a band. It turned out they practiced in a church, and one of their parents was the vicar. They’d snagged me. I turned up most Sundays, not entirely interested in the content of each service but happy to be in the company of friends. Coming together as a community around the communion table resonated with me and nurtured a sense of inclusion. Here I was being welcomed to partake in something that was clearly so special to everyone involved.
Later at university I ended up following a series of rather unfortunate events; being terrified by preachers who had this incredible gift of condemning everyone other than themselves, being silenced in a Bible study because it wasn’t a place for questions, and being completely ignored while my partner, Holly, was quizzed on the perils of dating someone they saw as a non-believer. The more I became involved in the Church, the quicker I realised that it isn’t always the welcoming place we hope it to be. Where I’d previously felt included, I now felt pushed to the fringes as a young adult finding my own voice, and apparently asking all the wrong questions.
After a night out with friends I ended up in the back of a police van, and the next day I was off to a Christian conference with Holly’s family. Nothing serious had happened, but it wasn’t the best start to the week ahead. Thankfully, I was believed when I used car sickness as an excuse for my rather pasty complexion. Little did I know then, but I was about to discover Pentecostalism in full force. The main conference tent was filled with people speaking in strange languages, others occasionally dropping to the floor and not one person whose energy levels hadn’t been turned up to 11. I was truly bewildered, out of my depth, and vowed to myself not to let go of my seat for the duration of the week.
Despite this promise to myself, I ended up responding to an alter call and was baptised when returning to university. We were still in the same church where the merits of my relationship had been questioned – they were happy about the baptism.
Suddenly I was included again and began playing in the worship group. However, university is a great place to learn critical thinking and many of my political and social views soon came into conflict with my local church’s teaching. Thankfully, getting married involved a house move during which we took the opportunity to look for a different church.
We found ourselves in a worshiping community filled with people who had found themselves on the fringes elsewhere for various reasons. It was a mixed bag of life experiences and theological thinking. It took me a while to feel comfortable because I’d retained a rather strict conservative evangelical theology and almost instinctively felt suspicious of different approaches to faith. I’m glad we were in this new place, however, because the proverbial shit would soon hit the fan.
After the birth of our first child my wife experienced postpartum psychosis.* It was truly awful, and I dread to think what the reaction of our previous church would have been. Thankfully, our current church community gave us the distance we needed while a few close friends offered their support. In the pit of this trauma my whole world felt as though it had caved in and God had performed the greatest of all vanishing acts. If I could have looked into the neat and tidy boxes into which I had placed God I would have discovered that they were empty. Everything was in flux, and to make things more complicated I was in the process of being accepted to train for ordained ministry.
Despite everything, I was given the support and encouragement to continue onto training. Relocating to theology college offered some physical distance from what was still a painful experience, but time proved to be a great healer and hindsight a real blessing. I was able to see how the powerful and victorious image of God I had learned to grasp hold of found no place in my vulnerability.
I had to read Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God when applying for ministerial training and I found myself challenged by a different image of God, one which finds God becoming vulnerable in the midst of suffering. Slowly I began to make sense of faith again, and studying theology only helped to broaden my view of Christianity, learning to appreciate differences I had previously distrusted.
My faith is no longer neatly packaged, and I believe I’m all the better for it. I’ve also taken solace in the belief that God’s greatest strength is empathy. This has given me a lot of breathing space and enabled me to involve myself in work with people from other faith traditions in whom I occasionally see Christ most clearly (but don’t tell my younger self this).
Discovering Nomad Podcast, and The Beloved Listener Lounge, has introduced me to valuable companionship and has provided a constant reminder that deconstruction can be an enriching and shared experience.
– Liam Dacre-Davis
*I won’t go into detail as this is mostly Holly’s story to tell, but search for the charity Action for Postpartum Psychosis if you feel you need to know a little more.