So many testimonies I’ve heard start with, “I was brought up in a Christian home.” Is that a help or a hindrance? For me, it was definitely a disadvantage. My parents were both Christians, met through a church youth organization, married in church, and attended an Anglican church in South London. However, soon after I was born, my father received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and spoke in tongues. In the 1950s such experiences were frowned upon in the Church of England, so my father and mother found a Pentecostal church to go to in Catford, South London.
Even as a tiny child, I had to go with them, twice every Sunday. As soon as the sermon started, I was allowed to do coloring, kneeling on the floor, using the chair as my table. The seat had a pattern of round holes in it, very useful for sticking pencils through! Rather than understanding what was going on in the meeting, I just absorbed it, as children do. On arriving at church, a “very old” man called Mr Christmas gave out the hymnbooks and shook hands. Although he didn’t have a beard, I was convinced that he really was Father Christmas (Santa Claus).
My mother had had a traumatic experience in her teens, which has affected her mentally ever since. This contributed to a nervous breakdown when we moved to a new house when I was a baby. My father, on a new spiritual plane since his Holy Spirit experience, felt that an evil presence lurked in the house, and he and his friend decided to exorcise it. So one day, they prayed for the evil to be gone, so my mother would feel OK about living in the house.
I don’t know what happened that day, as I was just a baby, but I was told later that the tabby cat we had at the time, Whiskers, went crazy (like the pigs in Mark chapter 5), dashing round the house and foaming at the mouth. The cat was still with us as I got older and I remember that it constantly dribbled saliva. Whether the exorcism worked or not (or was really necessary in the first place) I don’t know, but we moved from that house soon after.
When I say that I felt growing up in a Christian home was a disadvantage, I mean that my experience of adult Christians (i.e. my parents) was not a helpful one. My parents argued constantly, at least my mother did, although my father just wanted a quiet life. Mum would pick a quarrel with him over the least little thing, usually at meal times when my brothers and I were at the table with them. I dreaded mealtimes, and even now I don’t really appreciate food, I just eat to live.
When my father was not at home, my mother used to “discipline” us in the most appalling way. I can’t begin to describe the beatings she gave us and the begging for mercy she always required of us. Have you ever seen the film “Carrie”? The mother in that film behaved spookily similarly to mine, so it’s not that far-fetched. It was no use appealing to my father, he just wanted to be a good dad at weekends and holidays, and stay out of any unpleasantness. Even today he is unwilling to talk about it, saying “I had to put up with her too, you know”.
So perhaps you get some understanding of why my family’s example of Christian living didn’t exactly inspire me to become a Christian. When I was thirteen, I fought against going to church, and finally they allowed me to stay at home and do my schoolwork instead.
So, that put me off Christianity for ever! Or did it? My grandmother was praying for me daily, and God had already put his “Sold” ticket on me!
Links to Gwen’s testimony: