A late arrival to the Church of England

by
13 April 2018

Ian Marchant celebrates making up for lost time

Godong/Alamy

An image suggesting the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

An image suggesting the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

I WAS christened on 13 July 1958 by the Revd W. R. Horth, at St Mary the Virgin, Shalford, in Surrey. I know, because I have my baptismal certificate propped up in front of me. It tells me that my godparents were my Uncle Frank and my Auntie Eileen.

Both are long dead, or I would be on to them, complaining about the clear notice to sponsors at the bottom of the certificate: “Ye are to take care that this child be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed to him so soon as he can say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments in the vulgar tongue. . .” I cannot remember that either of them ever mentioned confirmation, although my Uncle Frank, in particular, was fluent in the vulgar tongue.

The aunt who was, for practical purposes, my actual godmother was my Auntie Joyce, who gave me a King James Bible, dated Christmas 1965. A year later, her mother — my maternal grandmother — gave me the New Testament from the New English Bible, dated Christmas 1966. I understood that this was somehow to do with the fact that my grandmother went to chapel, while my aunt went to church. I went with them in turns to both, but I preferred church.

I was, for two years, a choirboy in cassock and ruff, until my parents divorced in 1968. In the separation, church got lost. We moved away from the village, and my mum and my step-father — like Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair — didn’t do God. I still sometimes went to church with Auntie Joyce, and helped her with the cleaning, too, but that was it. The “normal” age of confirmation passed by, and nobody noticed.

 

IN 1976, I went as an undergraduate to St David’s University College, Lampeter, where a few of my pals were ordinands. Sometimes, I would go to chapel with them, especially if they had a gig, like leading their first evening prayer. In return, they would come to see my gigs as the singer in the first punk band in mid-Wales.

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I have continued to go to church — sometimes — ever since. And, sometimes, when I went, I received communion, feeling that this was a good thing to do, despite the shameful laxity and worldliness of my Uncle Frank and my Auntie Eileen.

When I moved to Presteigne, a C of E parish dropped over the border into Wales, I admitted to Steve, the Vicar, that I had not been confirmed, but that I would like to be. He is a patient man. Twelve years later, we’re almost there.

I pray the Lord’s Prayer every time I make a cup of tea, because I leave my bag in the mug for a Paternoster-while. I know what the Ten Commandments are, and what my score is. And I can say the Creed, because I have inherited my Auntie Joyce’s Book of Common Prayer. Catholick with a “k”. The communion of saints. The third day he rose again from the dead. That stuff. I can say that, and know that it is my faith. The Bishop is booked, and I’m practising kneeling down and getting up without groaning.

 

I HAVE not been on a journey. I bunked off Alpha after the first week. It feels like I’m doing some­thing “normal” — just a bit late. I am a 60-year-old married man, a grandfather, a homeowner, a voter, a ratepayer. I teach, I write books, and I sometimes make programmes for BBC Radio.

It would have seemed strange, 50 years ago, if I was not also a communicant member of my local church. Now, so far as pretty much all of my friends are concerned, my forthcoming confirmation is the strangest thing imaginable.

One of my close pals — a hippie gentleman — said, “I’m really worried about you, man. Are you sure you’re not getting sucked into a cult?”

“I don’t think the C of E is a cult, as such,” I replied.

 

QUITE a few friends — half a dozen or so — have asked me if I am being ordained; and one has taken to calling me “archdeacon”. In the pub, when I first admitted what I was up to, I was advised not to wear Brylcreem, as it might get on the Bishop’s hands: good advice, no doubt, 60-odd years ago, when my friend was confirmed.

A quick straw poll in the saloon bar revealed what very expensive, properly constituted polls also reveal: pretty much everyone over 50 had been confirmed. Nobody under 30 knew what it meant.

This morning, crunching through ankle-deep snow to church, there are six weeks to go, and all I know is what it means to me. I cannot stop smiling. This is the best start to the week. I say aloud, “Thank you for waiting.”

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