‘You’ve come on Curry Wednesday!’ they tell me when I drop in to the church office for a chat. Simeon Ewing and Fiona Waite have recently joined the youth team at Hilton Church, managed by Youth Pastor Jonathan Fraser.
I’m preparing an article about their work for the church web-site, and we have a wide-ranging conversation about the children and youth activities they’re involved with in church and community. Simeon is the church’s Children’s Worker; Fiona a ‘Ministry Apprentice’ working with young people in the church and in Hilton generally three days a week, while studying at Highland Theological College the other two days.
And Curry Wednesday? Each Wednesday one of the team prepares an Indian meal which the three of them share, as a means of building their working and personal relationships.
I’m always fascinated to hear different people’s experiences of Christianity, and so I asked Fiona and Simeon what faith is like for them.
They spoke about coming to faith. For Fiona, it began when she heard ‘about the Bible in a different way that actually related to my life’ and ‘about having a relationship with God.’ For Simeon there was a particular place and time. At the age of just 4, he tells me, ‘I committed my life to Jesus.’ He’d seen his parent’s faith, and, he says ‘I knew there was some decision I had to make to start the journey myself.’
Both believe that God speaks to them. God is heard in ‘a very strong sense’ or impression that a particular course of action is right; in ‘an inner peace’ about the way ahead; in the awakening within them of words from the Bible; in the advice of others when somehow it makes a home within them; in a sense of ‘conviction’ when a wrong decision has been made.
Both believe that God is leading them through life, though they admit to taking wrong turnings along the way! This journey has both an outer dimension of work and learning and relationships, and a closely linked inner dimension of developing and maturing faith.
I think all of us as Christians reflecting on our lives will find those elements present: a coming to faith; a sense of God ‘speaking’ (however that works in our experience); and a conviction that God calls us on a journey of being and becoming.
Fiona and Simeon’s words encourage us, but we don’t need to feel we must have exactly the same beliefs or identical experiences as our fellow-Christians – although some Christians give the impression at times that their particular way of believing and experiencing is the only ‘correct’ way, the only way God accepts.
But in fact we all have different personalities, different backgrounds, different experiences of being parented, and we all belong to different traditions within the Christian church. And so our expectations of what encountering God ‘feels like’, and the words and ideas we use to describe our beliefs will be different. We are each unique, and the Father of Jesus comes to each of us in ways utterly appropriate to who we are.
Perhaps we don’t speak often enough in church about the terrain across which the journey leads many of us. We find ourselves reluctantly moving from a place of security in a particular set of long-held beliefs, to a place where we question everything we have ever believed. Eventually we arrive in a wider place, still rooted in our faith in Christ (in fact more rooted than ever), but comfortable now with unanswered questions. We look across church and world seeing no longer ‘them’ and ‘us’ but increasingly simply ‘us.’
We discover that people in faith traditions outwith Christianity have very similar experiences to ours although they do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. Are these experiences false, or is Jesus bigger than we had ever imagined, connecting deeply with people who do not yet recognise him?
Simeon and Fiona are near the start of their journeys. I am impressed by the authenticity of their faith stories, the reality of their joy. And impressed too by the love which they have for children and young people. ‘I want to tell them God loves them,’ Simeon simply.
I am convinced that love is the most important thing, and that God looks not so much at the specifics of our beliefs, but at how well we reflect the love of Jesus Christ.
We can’t go it alone on this journey, but we support one another as we travel in Love, and into Love. It’s impressive to see the bond which Jonathan and his team have. Curry Wednesday. A kind of eucharist in tikka masala, pilau rice and coffee. Thank you, Father.
(Christian Viewpoint column from the Highland News dated 17th March 2016)