Just as this past Thursday was the 36th week anniversary of my sobriety, then today Sunday 9th December 2012 follows with the 36th week anniversary of my first walk into Church, into the Everyday Champions Church, as broken man, a lost soul, yes, but I was walking into the house of God for the first time in my life because I wanted to be there, not because I was invited, asked, requested or dragged, this time I was looking for something, I wasn’t sure what I was going to find, but I was going to take a look anyway.
It had been two whole weeks since my life had been saved, by a power I was yet to really find, but ready to embrace, I had started praying, I had stopped drinking, I had started the process of changing my life, cleaning myself up and implementing a number of small daily changes, as a means to start the rebuilding process.
I was, it was safe to say, nervous, apprehensive, I would go as far to say damn right scared, but I knew I had to go, I was driven to go, it was where I wanted to be.
Why the apprehension?
I suppose there were many reasons, firstly I’m breaking the habits of a lifetime, it’s always been a struggle to get me into a Church, I would make excuses to avoid family occasions in Church, I would use karate as an excuse, usually I can get cover for my classes, but I never really tried hard to find one, I just didn’t want to be in a Church. I was anti-religion, not so much anti faith or anti God, I just had issues with organised religion and all the that has taken place or carried out by the various religious organisations in the name of God.
On top of that I believed that all the old churches in the UK were just that, outdated, cold and out of touch. Old uncomfortable wooden pews, in a drafty old building, singing out dated hymns and generally with an old bloke quietly reading from the bible at the front, none of this was transmitting on the frequency I was ever going to receive in, so I made every excuse possible, my partner covered for me and I just turned up casually for the evening do!
The other main issue was, that despite my visit a year or so previously for my daughter’s confirmation and all the great people I met that day, these were not really my friends, these were Victoria’s friends, this had been her haven away from me over the last few years. I knew that very few people knew the true situation between myself and Victoria, our split and the fact that despite this we were still living together, but I was still apprehensive about how I would be perceived. If this was where I needed to be, where I had to be to sort myself out, then my darkest secrets would have to be told, my secret life as an alcoholic would have to be exposed, my soul laid bare.
Although my meeting two weeks previously, with our Pastor Gareth and Alex, had left me in no doubt that this was the place I wanted to be and that it wouldn’t matter what I had done, forgiveness was what they were preaching and that was really what I was after, that together with the help and support to make this none drinking thing stick.
I had texted Alex to let him know I was coming and then walked up to the door, I walked in as though I had been there before, a few hellos were aimed my way as I walked in, I think some people weren’t really sure who I was, they had maybe seen me before or they thought they knew me, but some were maybe thinking that surely he couldn’t be here, surely he would never just walk in here, on his own!
Well I had, Victoria knew I was going, I had asked her the day before if it was OK, I know I didn’t need permission, it just seemed like the right thing to do, I didn’t want to just turn up and make an already tense situation even worse. I spoke with Victoria on the way in and then found Alex, said hello and had a quick chat and catch up about how things had been since he last saw me two weeks before, when at that point I was a broken man, I had spent most of that night in tears, incoherent and desperate.
Alex was playing drums that day in the worship band, he had to go get ready so I took a seat, a seat I would take week after week, at the back, the very last seat on the row, the furthest away from the stage as I could possibly be.
I sat alone, the new guy, a lost soul in sea of happy people, as the service started and the worship band started playing I stood up with rest, put my hands in my pockets and just looked around, as everyone else sang, bounced or held up their hands, I just looked around, taking it all in, wondering what it was that I was actually looking for.
In this youthful environment for a Church I was surprised when an elderly couple came and took the seats next to me, after four worships songs and some messages there is always some connection time, time to meet and say hello to old or new friends, John introduced himself and his wife Eve, we chatted for a while, then the first of the many times I would answer the big question:
So what brings you here?
Well, I could have hidden the truth a little here, if I had wanted, but where would that get me, if I was to find what I needed here I had to be honest, the truth had to come out, it was imperative that I stop hiding behind that bottle, climb out of it, admit my weaknesses and find a solution to my issues.
This is the moment I guess I was dreading, not that I had to tell my painful secret, but the response I would get, I was expecting condemnation, to be labelled as a sinner and not worthy of a place in this Church, you hear so many stories of this happening in Churches around the world, I expected it despite all of Gareth’s assurances and I would have taken it, I deserved it, but that is not what I got, I got a calm and caring response, my past didn’t matter, my now mattered to John, just the fact I had realised my problem, took steps to deal with it and was now here at Church looking to God for help. John and Eve were so friendly I began to feel straight away that I had I found what I was looking for, that this was the right place to be.
The service this week was to be taken by Pastor Ken, Gareth’s father, he has a very calm persona, an older more fatherly style to his preaching and I was ready to listen, but another thing further fell into place when the subject of his preaching became apparent.
On the night I spent with Gareth and Alex going through my problems, Gareth purposely kept the conversation about me and not religion, he was keen to point that out from the start, that night was about me primarily. He mentioned only one passage from the bible that evening, about Jesus rising from his sleep in the bottom of the boat to calm the storm.
Mark 4:35-41, New International Version (NIV), Jesus Calms the Storm
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”
36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.
37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.
38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
So this day Pastor Ken was preaching on the very same story, at that point it was the only Bible story I could actually remember, the only one I had heard since my school days.
Ken’s principle point was the need for us to face the oncoming storms in our lives, head on, not to turn away and let the waves engulf us.
I can’t remember how many times I cried that day during the service, I seem to think it was at least three times. Why? I realised where it all had gone wrong, I had turned away, I had panicked and walked away from the storm, only to be engulfed by it, to be drowned, drowned in an alcohol storm that dragged me to the bottom, without the energy to fight my way back to the surface and dry land. It brought home what I must do, to face all the oncoming storms I would have to face in the coming months head on, not to panic like the disciples did on the boat, but to trust in Jesus and face the storm with him.
In my journal that day I wrote this about something that happened during the service:
“As we are asked to pray towards the end of the worship, I feel funny, can’t explain it really, but my heart went cold, nothing else, not sure what that’s about.”
I enjoyed the service, my tears were as a result of the realisation that I was the architect of my own pain, my failure to deal with the storms in my life, but I knew now how to approach the future, how to move forward. It wouldn’t be easy, I was still at this point feeling alone, but I was ready to face the storm.
After the service I chatted once again with John, he offered me all the support and help that I could have ever wished for, I’m so glad I met him that first week, he sat with me many times over the next few weeks, always supportive.
As I made to leave for home, I met up with James, as I posted before in Future Friends, I spoke at length with James about the storms in my life and my failure to deal with them, despite meeting just once before a true friendship was born that day, a friendship I will treasure forever.
So I walked home alone, happy, content, ready for the storms ahead.
I returned the next week, this time more people spoke with me as I walked in, maybe it was the element of surprise last week, but I was now there for the second week running or maybe even they hadn’t realised who I was last week, but nonetheless these were all friendly greetings.
Luke 14 New International Version (NIV)
10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.
11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
That second week and nearly all the weeks after that, I took the same seat as that first week, the bible passage above is the first one I actually memorized, I read this and decided I would keep taking that same seat each week, I felt humble and so decided I would keep this seat, indeed until I was asked to move to a better seat by my host, I’m in God’s house now, he will tell me when the time is right.
This second week I met with Gareth again, he walked past my seat and then stopped when he realised I was there, he was so pleased and even more so when he heard I had been there the previous week.
This week Gareth was preaching on the subject The Miracle Marathon, as my previous post, I knew then I had had my Miracle Moment and I was now ready for the Miracle Marathon, I wrote at length about this in my journal later that night.
At the end of that service, as part of Gareth’s prayer, he asks any newcomers ready to accept Jesus into their lives to raise their hand so he can pray for them, I raised my hand, I was ready, I had found what I was looking for.
So what had I found, what made this place so special?
- I Had Found A Home!
- I Had Found A Family!
- I Had Found Jesus!
- I Had Found A Foundation Stone Upon Which To Rebuild My Life.
Over these last 36 weeks, this Church, the Everyday Champions Church, has become my home and my family, I’ve attended not only our Church here in Newark, but also the other Churches at Wellingborough and Nottingham, the people there are just as friendly, just as welcoming and just as understanding as anyone I’ve met during my journey.
I’ve never met with any negativity, no condemnation of my sins, indeed after my interview at the Unleash Gettaway, where I opened up more than I had previously, I was met only with support, encouragement and praise for my courage, the courage to stand before everyone, to bare my soul, to confess and release the most painful of Hot Coals.
“Father, enter this temple
Come touch Your people
We need to be where You are
And children living as their Father
Washed in pure water
We need to be like You are”
(Enter The Temple by Leeland)
Quite simply, I could not have found a better place to be, the support and understanding has been fantastic, I’ve experienced some fantastic times with the members of all the Everyday Champions Churches, my Baptism and the Unleash Men’s Gettaway, were two of the best moments, but there have been so many great moments that I just can’t list them all here, you will just have to wait until I find the time to post a blog entry about them.
When I walked into Church on that Sunday 1st April 2012, I was carrying a world of baggage, this baggage was taken from me at the door, nobody cared about my past, the concern was my future, my wellbeing and my recovery.
This Church doesn’t just read the words of the bible, it lifts the words from the page and places them directly into your heart.
I owe everyone I’ve met through the Everyday Champions Church a world of gratitude, they have each played a part in my fantastic journey, I will be forever grateful.