It has been lovely over the last few months seeing new people come to join us and come to faith during this challenging year and one of those people is Denise Preston who shares a bit of her story here…
Tell me a bit about your background and what brought you to the point of wanting to believe in God?
The realisation before Christmas 2020 that there must be more to life than what I saw ahead of me. I was feeling the particular loss of my mother, who had died in 2019. Over months of lockdown the realisation of being very alone had hit me. All the purpose in my life of working for a living (but now retired) and of loving and supporting both parents, had gone. With no siblings and only relatives living a long way away, things seemed bleak. I have built up a lot of friendships over my life but they seemed even more distant when “locked down” at home after months. I kept myself very busy in lockdown working on household projects and talking with friends over the phone and social media, but still felt empty.
Prior to that throughout life I had explored different churches and beliefs – Baptists, Quakers, mainstream Church of England and even Buddhism. At one point I came to think that the best church was an empty one! I felt disillusioned. Although my parents had me Christened as a baby, they were not churchgoers themselves and discouraged me. My mother was an agnostic and my father an atheist. I attended the obligatory assembly, including prayers, every morning at school and even chose to take O Level Religious Education. None of it seemed to mean very much to me, it all seemed like just a ritual. My parents repeatedly warned me about the hypocrisy they had witnessed amongst churchgoers when they were young themselves.
How did you get the idea of turning to St Andrew’s?
When I was at my chiropractor’s for a treatment in November 2020, I was telling her how I felt. She said the practitioners who owned the clinic spoke highly of their church and so I approached one of them who was in the building. She recommended I contacted St Andrew’s.
What happened next?
Dave the vicar contacted me and called to see me outside my house, and then other members of the church, including Angela Gibson and Val Fane got in touch. I was even given a Christmas bag, including literature and things to eat. I was amazed by all of this and so grateful. I felt these people really cared.
How did you hear of the Alpha Course?
I could see that these members of St Andrew’s were trying to identify what I needed. Did I need to be supported in my bereavement? Was I searching for more in life? This is when the Alpha course was mentioned. Colin, the Alpha course leader, then also came to the front of my house and we chatted.
Had you heard of an Alpha course before?
Yes, but I had viewed it previously with suspicion, as perhaps something that was “not for me”. I wondered whether it would be over-powerful and would try and force me into believing something that I was unsure about. I had come across what appeared to be over-zealous, even if well-meaning, Christians before. However, something about the kind people from St Andrew’s persuaded me to give it a try. I contacted Dave and got the details of the course, which started in January 2021.
How have you found the Alpha course?
It has allowed me to explore my beliefs, asking all the kinds of questions that I had about Christianity. I like the way it goes right back to basics, eg Who is Jesus? How can I have faith? How does God guide us? We also had a range of literature available, so I took the opportunity to borrow books each week to explore what scholars said like C S Lewis, and what other people’s experiences were. I have attended every session and made sure I had done my preparation for each session, and was ready with any burning questions I had about the Christian faith. I was being given this opportunity and wanted to make the most of it. Some of the others attending already had a strong faith whilst others of us were still exploring. I was grateful for the learning experience from Colin and everyone who attended.
What do you think made you change your position in order to embrace Christianity?
The questions I came across and opposing sides of the argument clinched it for me, eg. either you believe or you don’t, either there is a God or there isn’t. This reasoning by Nicky Gumbel, the Alpha course producer, and C S Lewis, as well as Colin who led our Alpha course, shifted me “off the fence”. The numerous testimonies of people who are scientists then showed me that scientists and lawyers, who operate on logic are still able to believe in God. On the course I even had opportunities to try out praying aloud, which I did. I wanted it to be sincere on my part, not just blindly follow the practical guidance on what to put into prayer. The other thing that I really found helpful was watching the St Andrew’s Advent Calendar of individual experiences of people at church in coming to terms with their own particular big problems in life and how they trusted in God to help them move forwards. Other examples, also powerful, were shown in the Alpha course videos.
Where do you see yourself going once you have completed the Alpha course?
I see myself attending church regularly to worship alongside others, reading the Bible and praying.
This is a whole new way of life for me. I hope to get to know other people and make friends at the church. Val has given me a lot of time going out together for walks, which I really appreciate. I’ve found we have a lot in common already. It doesn’t take much to find connections with other people, does it? Life is about other people and our relationships with them.
Have you had the chance to participate in any of the St Andrew’s Services?
Whilst doing the Alpha course I started trying out Sunday services online, even alternating between the traditional and the contemporary services to see whether one style or the other might connect me more. Although I found that the material for both is duplicated in parts, with the same themes, I have tended to get more out of the contemporary service. This is because it has provided me with more context to the sermon.
Then, on Palm Sunday, when the church finally was allowed to reopen as lockdown restrictions have eased, I attended in person. As soon as I went into the building, I felt at home. The church itself I found has a simple beauty, with a sense of peace. I enjoyed the service and meeting some of the congregation once we were allowed to circulate a little outside. I was given a warm welcome. I returned for Easter Sunday.
What difference has becoming a Christian made to you?
At first I thought this question was one I would not be in a position to answer yet as I would need more time living life as a Christian. Watching the Alpha films and seeing mostly very dramatic changes in people who had suffered from some very serious problems like addictions, I also didn’t see how I could say anything very much about my own, different situation. However, in my penultimate session on the Alpha course (Why and how should I tell others?), the course members all said that I had expressed some very profound changes when we discussed this question.
The changes I can see are small and subtle but already are:
- I have a different perspective on my life. The changes are more internal rather than external. I feel a sense of peace and a greater sense of stability.
- I no longer fear death. When my cousin died recently, I I felt that he was now in a different place and felt comfort for him rather than emptiness. I feel comfort for myself too that there is Heaven, something amazing and something to look forward to rather than doubt or fear for an eternal emptiness beyond our current life.