Durham saw me falling in love with the Anglicans. At university I volunteered to help out in a church in an ex-mining village a few miles away from the monumental beauty of Durham Cathedral, where I matriculated amongst the hoards of other students and the decorated Romanesque pillars.
Armed with a deal of prejudice against the worshippers who ‘said the same thing to God every week in their services’ and therefore must be lesser believers than the Methodists who prayed in a ‘make-it-up-as-you-go’ kind of way, I found myself wooed by the poetic repetition of phrases such as ‘you alone are holy; you alone are the Lord; you alone are the most High’, and surprised myself praising God to the words of the Gloria as I made my way to and from lectures under canopies of chestnut leaves.
I went to Bearpark to support Gillian, a Deaconess at the time (now a priest) in leading the Children’s Church. The scruffy Wearsider children robed to sing in the choir, and I learned about the Eucharist, processing, albs, writing out your (10-minute) sermon word for word, and calling the vicar ‘Father’. Like the children, the albs were scruffy too – in contrast to the clean crisply ironed cassock surplice and stole worn by Michael Wilcock and David Day, the memorable figures at St Nicholas’ Church in Durham, where I would sometimes head off on a Sunday evening if I hadn’t had enough of worship that day…
David Day had an extraordinary preaching gift. He was insightful, measured in his way of speaking, but with the occasional flash of dry humour that paid you to stay awake even in the warm, dusk light of a full church.
I ought not to miss out the ministrations of the Christian Union at Durham, or the Baptist Church in Tubingen I attended on my year abroad, or the registered Baptist Church services in Moscow which held out a witness to Christ in atheist Soviet Russia. A small group of us occasionally crept in to those services after they had started to join in the plaintive singing of Russian hymns, feeling out of place and a little anxious at doing something that seemed risky. Occasionally we’d wander through Orthodox services (generally not joining the bent old ladies swathed in colourful headscarves venerating icons or lighting spindly candles in supplication).
Since then I have worshipped almost exclusively in Anglican churches. I still have a love for the Methodist Church, but haven’t worshipped regularly with my Methodist brothers and sisters since leaving home. The double dose of Anglican Sunday worship through four years of Durham life, in two very distinctive traditions, hooked me in. The richness of the words? The greater visual impact of stained glass windows, colourful fabrics, robes? The confidence of continuity? The theological breadth? I don’t know what won me over, exactly. But here I am. Having benefited hugely from its heritage.
Thank you, Lord, for all the people over all those years who were faithful to their calling, and helped me to begin to be faithful to mine.