My time spent in a church has been few and far between.
Apart from christenings, a few weddings and funerals, and maybe the odd school trip I've rarely stepped inside a church. I can't recall going to a service ever in my life.
My Dad's side of the family is probably where my religious roots come from, my Nana following The Church of England and being a dedicated visitor over the years. There isn't any real religious views on my Mum's side and I guess this is essentially how I was brought up without any views.
Believer or not, I did once pray to God. Under the covers of my duvet when I was about 13/14 I asked him if he could "save my Mum and make her better, don't let her die". It was probably unjust to ask him such a favour considering I'd never spoken to him before. But it was at least worth a try, I had heard a lot about what he was capable of doing. It was after this that little belief turned to no belief at all.
Fast forward ten years. Almost two weeks ago now my girlfriend Imogen asked me if I wanted to go to church with her. Imogen and her family are part of the Catholic Church and over the years I've known them I've learnt it is something they hold close in their hearts. Since being up in London, Ims had been telling me about a special place she had found that she thought I would like. I of course agreed to come along and after hearing her thoughts was excited to find out what it was all about.
This experience was about to change my views for life.
On a sunny but chilly sunday afternoon, we headed down to South Kensington in the heart of the Royal Borough. First thing I noticed was houses the size of small Dorset streets, amazing architecture and a place in London you could truly feel safe. In the shadow of the Victoria and Albert Museum was the Holy Trinity Brompton. I had been prior briefed of what to expect, but it still took me back somewhat.
We were greeted by two or three people, who looked my age, outside with very friendly voices "Welcome to church". From the outside this looked like any other church but on the inside, wow, this church had been transformed into an amazing modern day equivalent with more technology than my living room. There was an amazing feel of warmth, the church had a stage at the front with a band setup ready to play, with nice lighting rigs. Images of the band were spread all round the church by wide screen televisions and massive projector systems making sure that everyone at the back of the upper concourse could see. On the ground floor there were no seats, just mats on the floor and I was surrounded by people my age and predominantly younger. It was quite dark with LED light changers used for mood lighting, purples, blues and reds.
Almost instantly the band started up, we both agreed they were like a version of "The Script". They played out anthems, rather than hymns, which had there religious origins. We then had different addresses and prayers led by a member of the church/band. The special guest was Bishop Albert Vun who brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to a young crowd, he gave some insightful stories with powerful messages. After some more songs and an address from the founder and vicar Nicky Gumbel, it was all over as quickly as it began.
I took a lot from the whole experience, firstly that however hard I tried in my head to not sing or join in, I wanted to. It brought you in, it made me feel welcome.
Secondly and most importantly it taught me something that I'd forgotten. These days life seems to be about hierarchy, who's better than who, who's more successful, feelings Iv'e been guilty of having myself. Everybody in that church was equal, there was no preference, no one had special treatment because of who they were, and it was uplifting. This brought a parallel sense over the whole floor and allowed strangers to chat like best friends. It was incredible for me to witness something completely out of my norm, and it shocked me to see that there are people in our world like this in times when it can be so easily forgotten that people like this exist. Despite missing the North London derby I came out feeling really good!
It really did inspire me and it only took an hour. I truly wish I had done it years ago. To listen to the stories and their morals and relate them to my life and share them with others was very engaging. It by no means turned me into a "believer" overnight, but it has opened up a thought train I didn't realise I had.
From someone who would never think of entering the building, I now know I am welcome to return at any time.