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Church and youth: What I’d tell my 14-year-old self

09 February 2018

God is real, life goes fast, and hang on to that Paul Weller record: eight people send a message back in time

KT Bruce

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite, Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, poet

I know you’re feeling depressed, and lonely. You want to give up on God, and I understand that. And when you do, don’t worry. God will never give up on you, and when you finally come back to him, you’ll discover he never left.

Keep on with the guitar-playing, even though your fingers hurt. Oh, and that thing about experimenting with poetry — that’s a really good idea. Don’t show anyone yet, but your time will come.


Sarah Mullally, Bishop-elect of London

Have confidence in who you are, the skills and gifts that you have, and know that your dyslexia will not be what defines you. Have courage to walk away from the expectations that others have of you; for that is when you will discover who you really are.

The decision you are making to follow Jesus will be the best decision you have ever made. Soon there will be a time when you cannot imagine life without the knowledge of God’s love. In the decades ahead, God will become your refuge, strength, and inspiration. Hold on to your courage and your anger against injustice — and celebrate the joy that caring for others is beginning to give you.

Although you worry about those you love dying, believe that they will stay with you — in your memories, in who you are, in the faces and nature of your children. Take some more photos of the children and husband you are going to go on to have — though it may be hard for you to imagine now the joy that they will give you, your children will grow up far too quickly.

And, lastly, don’t give up playing the French horn, and don’t give away your sister’s signed Paul Weller vinyl — you’ll get decades of grief for it.


Sandra McCalla, Vicar of Heston, Hounslow.

Things are quite challenging at this time, as you are an awkward teenager who is yearning to break out of the box that you feel you have been confined to. What I want to tell you is that you can and you do . . . only it will be much, much easier with God. As you are struggling with your faith and wondering whether you really need to stay in church, I want to remind you that God has not abandoned you: he is faithful and loves you so deeply. Stick with him, and you will soar past all the obstacles that you face much sooner than you think.

God will take you to places you never thought possible for a young girl growing up in Hackney. He has plans for your life which you cannot even begin to imagine. I know that you are still upset because your dog Rex was run over by a passing car as he was running towards you. You still blame yourself for his death and frequently look at his dog collar, thinking, “What should I do with this now? It will shock you to your core when I tell you that in the future you will be wearing a dog collar! Nothing is impossible with God.


Alister McGrath, Professor of Science and Religion in the University of Oxford

CHRIS ANDREWSCHRIS ANDREWSYou’re 14, and I know things seem simple and obvious to you. You think all the big questions of life can be settled by science. You think that believing in God is outdated and irrational, and that you should believe only things that can be proved. I don’t think you are ready to hear this yet, but things just aren’t that simple.

I know you like reading Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. But you were irritated by his suggestion that philosophy tries to teach us ‘how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation’. Yet maybe one day you will see what he means.

We can’t be sure about anything — including atheism. Might atheism itself be a faith? Maybe the real question is this: which faith is most intellectually satisfying? And that thought might one day open a door to a whole new way of thinking and living.


Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, Team Rector of St Luke in the City, Liverpool, and author of The Teenage Prayer Experiment Notebook

First, let me assure you that life gets better and better. Looking back, I can see both how bullied you are, and how defensive and prickly you can be in return. Try not to worry so much about what people think about you. Be yourself, and be confident. You look at photos of yourself now and squirm, but I look back at them and think how beautiful you are.

Enjoy the time you have now to read, act, write poetry, and cycle around the countryside. I can tell you that you will end up achieving all your childhood ambitions by the time you’re my age (except the one about becoming an actress, I’m afraid).

But let me tell you the one thing that I am really embarrassed about now, and that’s how rude and dismissive I was at your age about people of faith. You know how sarcastic you are about the school Christian Union? I’m really sorry, but you’re going to have to eat your words in the future. God is real. Remember that time in the snow, when you were little, when you knelt in awe at the sheer beauty of it? That’s what faith is like, not the rather dreary list of rules you set up as a straw man to have a dig at.

I’d re-read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe if I were you. I know how annoyed you were when you discovered it was a Christian allegory, but re-read it and try to grasp the beauty of that mystery of the Old Magic, and the fleeting glimpses of Aslan, as something you’re going to have the wonder and awe of knowing for yourself — about six years from now.


Paul Kerensa, comedian and writer

STEVE FANSTONESTEVE FANSTONEHappy birthday! You’re 14. I know the birthday factor isn’t part of this exercise, but, as it happens, I’m writing this on my 39th birthday. So it figures it might be your birthday, too, just 25 years apart. They’ll be a fun 25 years, but full of not-fun bits, too.

You’ll be surprised how much of the fun and joy will take place in church, or at Christian events, or in places where people think you’re a vicar, even though you’re not one. Those things you think will never happen? They mostly will. Those things you think will definitely happen? They might not.

Roll with the punches. Keep getting up again. Run a bit. Treat yourself, but not too much — and when you work, work hard. Keep trusting. Hold on to faith, family, and friends — and don’t eat so many kebabs at uni.


Haydon Spenceley, Team Rector of Emmanuel, Northampton

It’s OK to question, to doubt, but keep trusting in God. Take your questions and doubts to him. Know that you are of great value (I wish I’d thought that at the time). Yes, sin is very important, but the grace and love of God is so much greater and more powerful and more worthy of your time and attention than worrying about everything you do that is not perfect.

At the times when you suffer and want to weep, God is weeping with you. When you rejoice, he rejoices, too. Most of all, drink every moment of life in. It passes pretty fast, and, before you know it, you’ll have grey hair and a receding hairline. So I’d dye it pretty soon if I were you, before it all starts falling out. And, lastly, you’d never believe what you’ll be doing when you’re 33.


Marcus Green, Rector of Steeple Aston

In just a few weeks, you will have an experience while praying in your room which will feel like God has just walked in. It will change your life. Keep praying; and keep listening to God. You’ve just started to learn piano. This is really important. You will own several pianos through the years; and you will play pretty much every day of your life. Worshipping Jesus through music and song will shape you and save you.

Right now, I know that you feel lonely. I know that when you get on the school bus each day and you see how they talk about one of the other boys, you are afraid in case they notice you. Spoiler — they never will. But it’s true — you are different. And I’m sorry, but the next couple of years are going to be tough. Church will help, and yet all sorts of people there will say things that make you believe you are worth less because you are gay. I wish I could wave a magic wand so you always know how valuable you are. But it will get better.

Because you pray, because you listen to God, because you find Jesus as you sing and play piano day by day, you will get through. I wish I could stop you from trusting yourself to people who think it’s OK for relationships to be secret. It’s not OK; but you will be. I wish you knew now (rather than in 30 years’ time) that when you tell your Dad who you are, he will be amazing — everything you could ask for — and I promise that very soon your life will be full of wonderful friendships that will last and last and last. Spoiler — by my stage in things, though you will live alone, you are not going to be lonely — far from it.

But would you do me a favour? Please don’t give up those piano lessons after O-levels; and tell your Gran now — right now — that you love her.

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