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Showing posts with label Dave Ellis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dave Ellis. Show all posts

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: guest article by Dave Ellis (Part 2 of 2)

Walk into the Light (continued from Part 1)

So we have walked along the route of my journey seeing my early years growing up in my family and within the Christadelphians, and finding myself asking questions of the brand of Christian living I had seen and experienced within the community, and reaching the point where I started to meet people who would have a marked influence on my life.

One such person was Neil Genders from the Kings Heath ecclesia in Birmingham. Neil organised annual week-long retreats in mid Wales, along with weekend events at his house in Kings Heath, Birmingham. Simply being invited made me feel wanted and accepted, which was a massive boost to me at the time.

This period of time marked a stage in my life where a number of events and friendships began to happen either at the same time, or overlapped with each other, and with hindsight it is clear that they were all part of the process of me moving towards leaving the Christadelphians. Although I can look back to my early years in Sunday school and see God beginning to move in my life, it was this particular period of time where my journey began to pick up pace, and events began to take on a greater significance.

I am going to jump back in time for a moment now to add another ingredient to the mix. In the early to mid-1970s my family began to run a charity holiday and club scheme for children in social services care, initially to provide a week’s holiday for children who wouldn’t normally get one. But very quickly we developed this into having a youth club for them every Wednesday evening as well. We ran this charity scheme for 10 years with hardly any help from the ecclesia apart from free use of the hall. We were actually really grateful to a number of friends and relatives who came to help out over that period of time, and that did include a small number of the young people from the ecclesia.

Although we started by giving a holiday to 20 children, the scheme quickly grew such that we ended up giving a holiday to more than 40 over a two-week period by the end. We were transporting something in the region of 50 to 60 children to and from the hall every Wednesday by this time. Remember, the CYC was struggling because the way it was run made it unattractive to people from outside the Christadelphian community, yet here we were having regular contact with a huge number of these very same young people! In addition, when we took the children on their camping holiday at a campsite in Whatstandwell in Derbyshire, we had contact with the majority of the people on the campsite, many of whom arranging their holidays to coincide with when we would be there. As well as contact during the daytime events, the focal point would be gathering in the marquee for singing songs, having a Bible talk for the children followed by cocoa and bed! We found that large numbers of people on the campsite would come and join us every night, so we would often give the gospel instead of a Bible talk simply because we had access to so many non-Christians! We had actually got something with enormous evangelistic potential.

Unfortunately the ecclesia made two decisions which brought this whole scheme to a very sad end. Firstly they decided to invest in new chairs for the main hall, which created a problem because the new chairs were not suitable for the Wednesday night club. No matter, we were able to store the old chairs away on top of one of the toilet blocks, but it meant getting them out and putting them away every Wednesday, on top of transporting all these children to and from the building. Never mind, we carried on regardless. Because of the number of children, we were using both the anteroom and the main hall, but this came to an end when the ecclesia decided to lay a carpet in the main hall. And rather than use an industrial or public use type of carpet, they laid an ordinary domestic carpet. So to stop it wearing out we were no longer allowed to take the children into the main hall for some of their activities. So the entire evening was now constrained to housing 50 to 60 children in a room that was only between 12 and 15 feet square - effectively bringing the whole scheme to an end. For years afterwards whenever any of these children saw us, they would come running across streets, even in the city centre, to say hello to us. We still have contact with some of them even now, some 35 years later! Yet this fantastic ministry was brought to an end for the sake of the cost of a few yards of the right carpet!

Towards the end of this era we started to get help from some friends who had come to Nottingham University. Once the evening’s activities were over, they would come back to our house to chill over coffee and music. This developed into a prayer time because we felt it was a better use of time, and what amazed me was that suddenly I was amongst another group of people who accepted me for who I was, and who took notice and valued what I had to say. This was a revelation to me, as you might imagine! We eventually started to meet on a Thursday evening as a bone fide house group. An offshoot was that we formed a Christian rock band in order primarily to minister to Christadelphian youth groups. We started making contact with other Christians, and also found ourselves playing at Methodist, Baptist and Anglican youth groups as well. This was the period of time when I began to notice the Christians belonging to denominations outside of Christadelphia were living lives more like the Christianity I saw described in the Bible.

It was also during this period of time that I came into contact with Neil Genders, as I have already mentioned. He seemed to have the knack of being able to make contact with people who were on the fringe of things and make them feel welcome and part of something. I was invited on a week’s retreat at Ty Carreg, an Outward Bound/conference facility near Brecon in mid Wales. There were about 20 others there for the week, and I knew virtually none of them at that time. Even so, I was made most welcome, and was accepted for who I was, which was once again very significant for me. Being accepted is important for most people, but it was probably the first time I had ever known it. Being amongst a group of people who were “open to God” (a phrase Neil used frequently about events which he organised) was an eye-opener for me because I was able to experience being part of a group that was interacting with God in a very real, immediate way.

That I had experienced an encounter with God only really became apparent on the Sunday after the retreat. I was due to speak at the Mansfield ecclesia, and although the Christadelphian movement is a lay ministry where “the brethren” are all expected to take part in speaking duties, calling or gifting in preaching or teaching was not an issue. It was more an expected duty. Lack of confidence meant that I would write out any exhortation or study longhand and then read it to the congregation, whilst trying to gain a modicum of eye contact with them.

I had prepared the sermon for Mansfield, but lost it during the week’s retreat. When I arrived at the entertaining brother’s house (entertaining is CD speak for host, not someone who would do a dance or tell jokes on my arrival) I asked for a concordance, quickly writing 6 headings, and found a Bible reference for each title, then rushed off to the meeting, where I spoke for just over 30 minutes just from those hastily assembled notes. I had never done that before, and was fearful of “drying up” because I didn’t have the message written out in full. The exhortation just flowed out, and I have never had to go back to “full script” type speaking. This was really exciting, because I went instantly from being unable to speak without a script to being able to speak from just a few notes. This wasn’t a natural ability, or a learned skill, it was a gift from God.

The fact that I had noticed that the Christianity I saw described in the Bible was lived out better by people outside of the Christadelphian community became an increasing issue with me, and I kept questioning why this was so. I began to look into it, reading books and commentaries widely, both from within and from outside the Christadelphians, but found that although the writers undoubtedly tried to give an independent and balanced view, their denominational background tended to shine through.

I reached a point where I went in prayer to God, and simply asked Him to speak to me as I read His word. I put down all the books and commentaries, and began reading. I was recommended by a number of people to read the gospel of John - it is a regular recommendation, even though a number of Christadelphians have described the gospel of John as “a difficult book”. I have since found out why, although I did not know at the time. It was probably the last gospel to be written, perhaps around 70-80 A.D., and may have been written to correct the false teachings by a man called Cerinthus. He taught that Jesus was not God, but just a man, which lines up with Christadelphian teaching, of course. However, he was coming at it from a different direction, that of Gnosticism. As such, the gospel of John is not only about what Jesus did and said, but about who He is. We are, of course getting into the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, although I did not know this at the time. In actual fact, the main topic of the day wasn’t to do with the Trinity, it was the issue of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, probably because mainstream Christianity was in the middle of charismatic renewal. But as I have said, I did not leave the Christadelphians for doctrinal reasons.

As I read the gospel I found myself having a completely new experience of reading the Bible. It was as though I was sitting in my grandparent’s house, which was a small terraced house, with a front room accessed directly from the street, a short corridor to the sitting room, then on to the kitchen. Reading John’s Gospel was as if there was an extremely bright light in the front room which was coming through the little corridor and lighting up the sitting room. I finished the gospel of John very quickly, as you might imagine, and moved on to a number of other books, both Old and New Testament, before eventually beginning to embrace books and commentaries once more.

What this period of reading and praying did was give validity to these other people who were demonstrating the Christian life whilst holding different beliefs or doctrines to the Christadelphians. But all this did was raise a new question, which was whether or not I should remain with the Christadelphians despite the problems with how they lived out their faith, or should I leave and begin fellowshipping with people from other denominations?

Moving back to the children’s charity which our family ran, as we embarked on the last ever week of camping holiday for them, I had been invited to go on the Anglesey Camp as a leader with the CYC from Rugby, which was held immediately after. I only knew one person from Rugby, which was Adrian Thomas. He had come to Derby to study at the university, and he wasn’t on the camp, so once again I was in unchartered territory. I was a bit wary, because I knew that bringing the charity to a finish at the end of the camp would be traumatic, but arrived at Anglesey in due course, emotions relatively intact! The week went well, and while I was there I got into a relationship with Esther Pearce, a lovely, innocent young girl from Rugby. She was about 5 years younger than me, which wasn’t a problem for me, but it was quite a large age difference for her as an 18 year old. She was also taller than me (an important issue in Christadelphia at the time). So it wasn’t a just case of physical attraction, simply that we got on well together.

By this time I was speaking in tongues and experiencing prophecy. That in itself is quite a story, but that will have to be for another time. But here’s the puzzle – here was I fellowshipping with non-Christadelphians, speaking in tongues and experiencing prophecy, yet going out with someone from an influential family within the Christadelphians. What is going on, Lord? Where is all this leading? I took it that God wanted me to stay within the Christadelphians and do His work there. Why else would I have been introduced to a family with such a good reputation within the Christadelphians, specifically in the Midlands area where I lived?

After about three weeks or so I invited Esther up to Derby to meet my family, and to show her some of the beauty of the Derbyshire countryside. At the end of the Sunday morning meeting I introduced her to my grandmother, whose opening comment was “Hello Esther. Do we hear the sound of wedding bells?” Spot the awkward moment! That is not the first question you ask a young eighteen year old, especially with me being her first ever boyfriend! Esther appeared to take things in her stride, but the damage was done and she brought the relationship to an end a few weeks later. It is always painful when a relationship comes to an end, especially when it is because of something outside of your own control, but it was especially confusing for me given the issues I was grappling with.

Despite the heartache I continued with things I was involved in, including the Tuesday night Bible class. I began to notice that as we read the Bible passage to introduce the subject for the evening, a number of words, phrases or points (usually three) would stand out to me, and that they would often be relevant for the discussion time at the main talk. This actually began to happen just after my encounter at the Ty Carreg retreat with Neil Genders, but was becoming more and more regular.  As with my time at Sunday School all those years ago, the Bible talk was still effectively a history lesson with a moral or a point to it. Yet the issues which appeared to me during the introductory reading were about the here and now, and were often challenging. And although some of the brothers and sisters enjoyed the discussion which would follow, it transpires that a number of others were getting upset. Eventually my brother had a quiet word with me suggesting that I toned down the challenges I was bringing.

This heightened the tensions of whether or not I should remain with the Christadelphians. I have become increasingly aware of the involvement of God in my life, not just for my blessing but because of work He wanted me to do, as He does with all of us. With what happened at Ty Careg I had become much more capable at public speaking, and while this seemed to yield a great deal of fruit at the Bible class, for example, I was now finding myself being restricted and constrained. I respected the requests of the ecclesia which came through my brother to quieten my discussion points down, but was also beginning to find that when God laid something on my heart, I had to respond and speak it out. But if I kept quiet, the issue would burn within me, which is what happened here.

So after a few weeks I began raising the issues that arose out of the readings at the Bible class. And once more, I began asking the questions. The fact that my relationship with God had grown so much over the last few months meant that I wanted to continue this growth, but felt that it would be somewhat restrained within the Christadelphians. Yet if that is where God wanted me to work, I would be happy to do so. However, I knew that I would grow and develop far quicker outside of the Christadelphians without those constraints.

While all this was going on, and completely out of the blue I got a phone call from Esther Pierce in the November of that year, wanting to start our relationship again. I was delighted, but asked her if she was sure this was what she wanted, as an “on-off” relationship would not be good for either of us. I sent her a Christmas card and gift, but never actually heard back from her again. Then in the spring, the Rugby CYC held a youth day which we were invited to, so I took our own young people there. Knowing that the situation with Esther would be an interesting one, I laid a fleece before the Lord. I asked God “If Esther comes over and greets me early in the day, I will take this as a sign that You want me to remain with the Christadelphians. But if this doesn’t happen until near the end, or even not at all, I will take that as a sign of the opposite”. Laying a fleece is seen as controversial by many, especially within the Christadelphians, but when God is intimately involved in our lives, I believe it is a valid conversation to have with Him. Needless to say, as we arrived at Rugby, Esther was nowhere to be seen, and I ended up going and finding her at the end of the day to have a pleasant enough, but brief conversation with her. To me, the sign was clear enough, so now it was just a matter of timing.

I once again said to God that I would be happy to remain and work within the Christadelphian community if that was His wish, but asked Him to give me three Scriptures to confirm when I should leave. I received two Scriptures almost immediately. I had been invited to a fraternal gathering at the Birmingham Soho ecclesia by Nick and Helen Andrews, who were good friends. Unfortunately, the speaker for the day had got his dates mixed up, and wasn’t there when the gathering started. While we waited for him to travel down we started to look at the daily readings, and as we did, two verses stood out to me during this morning period. I have no recollection of what the verses were, as it was over 30 years ago! This will no doubt fuel accusations of the dubious nature of asking God for Scriptures to confirm something.

However, unknown to me some friends of mine had just decided to start praying and fasting for me to be set free from the Christadelphians, and their decision was on the same day as I received those first two verses. I heard nothing more from the Lord right through the summer time, finally receiving the third verse in the middle of October, which was exactly the time that my friends stopped praying and fasting for me! This I found very interesting, because it was just after my two friends had gone to Canada to a Bible college for a year, with it being by no means certain that they would return to Derby. The timing ruled out any chance that I was leaving the Christadelphians to follow my friends to their church, because they were no longer there!

So it was time, and I handed in my resignation letter. I was summoned to the AB’s meeting to discuss the letter, and it was quite a tense affair. The only people who had resigned from the ecclesia had joined them because they had moved to Derby – I was the first ever “home-grown” brother to leave. The issue of the fleece was raised, but my explanation seemed to be accepted. Not so with asking God for the three scriptures. This was totally alien to them. One brother looked like he was about to explode, and another shouted at me that he could simply open the Bible at random and “come up with appropriate verses”. He promptly turned up a list of genealogies to prove his point. At which point he sat down rather quietly!

And so I was out! I was invited to numerous social events, such as Boxing Day and Good Friday walks, for example – all attempts to bring me back into the fold. But although I did respond to a couple of the invites, they were awkward affairs. There were two factors, firstly that I was the first one “of their own” to leave, and secondly, everybody else who had left the ecclesia had allegedly drifted away to unbelief, while I was even stronger in my faith. My mum also commented that I wasn’t “the nice lad I used to be when I was a Christadelphian”. What it boils down to is that I was no longer able to be pushed around as people saw fit. Suddenly I had my own opinions and was making my own decisions and was able to express them. It is amazing what a bit of confidence can do! I have also been to weddings and funerals along the way – even being asked to give the eulogy at my father’s funeral! That was strange, given that non-Christadelphians are not allowed to take part in official duties.

I am still going on strongly with God, who is continuing to change me and get rid of the debris from the past. I have changed even more than during the period of time I have covered in this piece, so the crayfish example I used at the beginning is still directly relevant. However the change from what I used to be back then is absolutely colossal as God has been involved in different circumstances and situations. A major factor has been Veronica, my wife, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging and is an absolute gift from God.

What I can say to finish this article is that if you who have given up your faith in God because of what you experienced in Christadelphia, Please Think Again. Don’t give up on God because of what man has done to you. Call out to God, and ask Him to show you who He really is.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Journeys from Christadelphia to orthodoxy: Guest article by Dave Ellis (Part 1 of 2)

Walk into the Light

This is the story of my life growing up in and eventually leaving the Christadelphians. The title is from an Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) album, describing the short journey from the doorway onto the stage, and is appropriate in a number of ways, as you may see as you read through the article. The journey is quite long, and there is a lot of detail, so I have done it in two parts. Here is the first:

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I spent six years working in the Planning and Project Management Office for British Telecom in Nottingham. I had already left the Christadelphians by then, but had one of those “significant moments” which stand out and remain in the memory from that point onwards. My colleagues and I kept tropical fish in a tank in the office, and one day introduced a crayfish into the tank which made quite a contrast to its normal inhabitants. A couple of months later we arrived for work one morning to find the crayfish absolutely stationary in the middle of the tank. We immediately thought the worst and decided that we had wasted our money! Then one of us saw some movement behind some ornamental rocks in the tank and began to realise what had actually happened. This became a steep learning curve about tropical lifeforms!

A crayfish isn’t a vertebrate, it has an exoskeleton, pretty much like a suit of armour. This outer layer of protection doesn’t grow, but unfortunately the rest of the crayfish inside does! Eventually something has to give, and quite amazingly the crayfish manages to pull itself out of its suit of armour and grows a new one. It is quite an incredible achievement, because crayfish have a large number of joints in their legs and in their body, so it has to pull its body out of the exoskeleton, squeezing its flesh through all the narrowed pinch points at the joint of each limb. I still haven’t found the actual exit point which the crayfish used to actually get out of its old suit of clothes, and I’ve no idea how it didn’t leave any bits behind! But all of us in the office were astounded at what it had managed to do, with comments like “How did it get out of that?”

At that precise point the thought came into my head “How did you get out of that?” I am sure that this was a prompt from God because my mind immediately went to what I used to be like only a few years ago. A second thought came; “If you were to meet the old Dave Ellis, would you recognise him?” This is one of those “Eureka!” moments because I realised just how big a change there had been in such a relatively short space of time. So this is the story of my journey, of my life growing up in the Christadelphian community, of how I became the way I used to be, of how God has changed me into how I am now, and of how leaving the Christadelphians was a major part of that process.

Unlike many people who have left the Christadelphians, I didn’t leave because of doctrinal reasons, even though the issue of the day was the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, brought to prominence by the Charismatic Renewal in mainstream Christianity. Having said that, I didn’t have any major doctrinal differences at the time, as you might have imagined I would have. Neither did I leave because my faith drifted away, as is the case with so many others who have left. Instead, because of what I had experienced of Christian living within the Christadelphian community, I began to ask questions of the movement, because what I saw and experienced didn’t line up with what I read in the Bible. The contrast became even more marked as I began to meet Christians from other denominations. After all, the Christadelphians supposedly had “the truth”, and we were always being reminded that other denominations were in error. So why did I see more Biblical Christianity in how these people lived than what I saw being demonstrated by the “sole custodians of the truth”?

I was born into a 3rd-generation Christadelphian family with an older sister and a younger brother, and grew up only ever knowing life within the Christadelphian community at the Derby (Bass Street) ecclesia. In family life, both my sister and brother were quite strong personalities, and as is often the case in these situations, I tended to keep my head down as there was no room for a third strong personality in the mix.

The nature of my early childhood is marked by my first ever words, which weren’t “Mummy” or “Daddy” or something similar that you would normally expect. My first words were “Oooohhh Day Day!”, which was baby-talk for “Oh David”. It turned out to be the phrase my mum and dad would choose if something had gone wrong, implicating that I was involved in the going wrong of whatever had gone wrong! It also suggests that the phrase was used on a very regular basis.

The reality is that I grew up knowing little else other than criticism. It didn’t seem to matter what I did, or whose instructions I followed, the result was always the same, that I was wrong, or that I had done it wrong. Certain nicknames seem to hurtle my way on a regular basis, such as “You haven’t got much hayzem jayzem”, “Hello, gormless”, “You are like a fart in a cullinder” and “You are like a man I’m aunt to”. I still haven’t figured out what that last one means! It might not surprise you to know that I grew up with very little confidence, self-esteem or self-worth. This is very often the case with a person lacking in confidence, as is being socially very awkward and clumsy. I would often walk into things and trip over them, being nicknamed “Bumble Foot” as a result, which only made things worse.

For most of my life I held my parents responsible for the situation. It was only after my mum had passed away, and while my dad was in his last years, that I found out that they had both gone through far worse than I had ever experienced, even though I am still having to walk clear of the scars that still remain. They had been through much, much worse than me, and in many ways my scars were simply the outworking of their own, much deeper scars. I pray that I have not scarred my own children because of what I and my parents went through. Sadly, I remember going to see my dad while he was in his last few days, and after waiting for nearly an hour while another visitor was with him, I finally went into his room, but he was too tired to see me. This is perfectly understandable, but it meant that the last conversation I had with my dad was being told to go away and come back some other time. Sadly it typified family life, as my parents seemed to have plenty of time for everybody else, my brother and sister and their families included.

This is the baggage I took with me as I launched myself into social interaction with Christadelphians as a child, and it led to the inevitable results. In many ways, my family experience was mirrored in the Christadelphian community. So all the being sidelined, left out of things and being belittled and ridiculed were there just like being at home. So, for example, when it came to the Sunday School play I only ever got bit parts, often hidden away offstage, while my peers got all the plum roles. Even when there weren’t any parts to play on stage, instead of operating the lighting or PA system (such as it existed in those days), or even MC’ing the event, I would be hidden away out of sight. The only time that changed was when I was given the part of Abraham to play, but that didn’t give me any help with self-confidence. Let me tell you why - I had bought one of those silicon head masks, the sort that go over the whole head and come complete with hair and everything. They are quite realistic, apart from the fact that because they are covering your own head including the hair, they make your head look abnormally big. So there was I, in my early 20s, onstage with a whole load of 6 to 8-year-old children. You could say that that is an excellent depiction of Father Abraham, apart from the fact that he had this huge head and everyone in the audience was giggling and laughing.

Even from an early age I kept getting into trouble at Sunday School, but not because of bad behaviour. You know when you read the Bible, a word or passage can stand out to you and to me this was quite normal when doing my readings. I took it to be God speaking to me, because that’s what the Bible says He does. However, I was forever being told off for “reading between the lines”, and told to “stick to the basics”. It meant that Bible stories were merely accounts of historic events, with each one having a point or lesson to be learned, rather like the “moral of the story” you get from fairy stories and children’s fables. The notion that God couldn’t make a Bible story directly relevant to the here and now either never occurred to my Sunday School teachers, or wasn’t allowed to occur. This same attitude continued on into discussion time at the Bible class when I was old enough to go there. Looking back, getting told off for things which God was clearly showing me was confirmation of God’s intimate involvement in my life, rather than Him being just somebody we read about in a book.
I could give a whole catalogue of events throughout my time with the Christadelphians, but “if every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written”! (John chapter 21 verse 25). This quote is John explaining why he wrote the Gospel record, and I am “re-appropriating these words! In the light of this, I will just give a few examples.

The ecclesia had a very strong Youth Circle, such that it drew people in from a number of surrounding towns and cities, some travelling up to 30 miles to attend (not great distances in terms of Australia or the USA, but quite a long journey for good old Blighty). However, we were approaching one of those demographic phenomena that occur in closed communities, in that we were running out of young people to bring into the CYC, while existing members were growing out of it, going off to university or getting married. So numbers were falling, and the current leaders felt it was time to hand over the reins. The Arranging Brethren tended to oversee the group with rather a heavy hand, so bringing young people in from outside wasn’t successful at all, because we knew that our mates would simply find it all too dull and boring.

The changeover was actually going to be very straight forward, it seemed, as the existing CYC secretary was going to be replace by his younger brother. However, the younger brother wanted a vote rather than a straight handover, and asked someone to put their name forwards so that we could go through the motions of having a ballot. I was talked into giving my name, and actually produced the ballot sheets, but was told in a phone call the following Wednesday that the secretary in waiting had decided to pull out, leaving me high and dry holding the hot potato of a dying youth circle! I should have immediately withdrawn my name, as it is blatantly obvious that I had been set up, but my lack of self-confidence meant that I meekly accepted the inevitable.

I set about the new task with gusto, organising the programme for the next 6 months. I was asked by the youth group to do a series exploring well known phrases and sayings which the world uses, and putting them into their Biblical perspective. Good idea, I thought, so the opening phrase was going to be “What on earth are you doing, for heaven’s sake?” The Arranging Brethren criticised it as being “too worldly” (that was the whole point, of course), and insisted the title be “What are you doing on earth?” ………. ………. Spot the lame duck title! As a result I ditched that series, and just did the daily readings on the dates which had consequently become free.

We did go out and about quite a lot as a youth group, and I would go to great lengths to make sure that everyone had got transport to whatever event it was, and that no one was left out. As a result I got to memorise the phone numbers of everyone involved in the CYC. One of the things we did as a group was to form an orchestra - we actually called ourselves the Derby CYC Orchestra. In reality it was more of an oompah band, because it was just a random selection of people with an odd assortment of musical instruments! We would travel around to various CYC’s and sometimes to Fraternal Gatherings. We played three or four times at the Swanwick Youth Gathering, although the final time there my brother was prohibited from playing his drum kit. The reason given was that the drums would create a rhythm which might make our young people clap during the singing, and people who clapped would become charismatics! ……. I kid you not!

Another thing that we would do together was that we would go round to each other’s houses on Sundays after the evening lecture for “coffee and chill”. One night we were short of transport, and I was asked if I minded staying behind at the ecclesial hall, and wait for someone to come back and pick me up as I wasn’t able to drive in those days. I agreed because it meant that no one would be left out. All the CYC set off, and one by one all the adults went as well, with nobody offering to drop me off on their way, so I was left alone in the porch outside the locked front door. I waited for 30 or 40 minutes, but no one returned. My parents were taking my grandparents home and would be busy for another 30 minutes or so, leaving me no option but to set off on the long trudge home, in the pouring rain, without a coat and with no money for bus fares. So much for making sure that no one was left out! “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love, one for another”. Yeah, right!

The CYC would have a long weekend’s camping holiday every Bank Holiday, and one August we went off to our regular camp site in Wetton Mill, in Derbyshire. The theme of the weekend was “The Lamb of God”, with the focal point being a spit-roast lamb barbecue on the Saturday evening. We actually went to the local farmer/butcher to watch the lamb being slaughtered and partly being prepared for our barbecue. The barbecue had been highlighted and promoted for weeks before the actual event, and everybody was looking forward to it. As well as the 35 or so of us on camp, there would be a number of others coming up to visit us that evening because of all the publicity, and it was only about 25 miles or so from Derby.

A friend of mine had a Saturday job and was going to be picked up from the railway station by a couple on their way up to the camp, only they decided to set off an hour earlier, so they couldn’t pick Andy up. On arrival, they were asked “What about Andy?”, because they hadn’t told anybody of their decision to travel earlier. Everyone’s eyes turned to me. I was a keen biker in those days, and had a Triumph Trident T160V, which was quite a quick bike in its day, so I was most likely to bring Andy up to the camp the quickest. I set off on the quest, and after taking him to his  home to wash and change, we arrived back at about 7.30pm – only an hour after festivities were supposed to start. However, when we got back to this well promoted event with the promise of superb, succulent lamb roast, we found that they had started without us and scoffed the lot. Not a scrap of meat was to be seen. We were given a sandwich each, consisting of a slice of bread folded over, with a piece of lettuce, two slices of cucumber and a slice of tomato. And that was it. Talk about left out of things! If it wasn’t for the very strong attention of a couple of people, I would have just climbed back on my bike and gone home, and perhaps I should have done.

Back at the ecclesia, one Sunday evening the Recording Brother sat down next to me before the meeting started and began to complain about the number of times he had to do an exhortation or lecture at short notice because the visiting speaker had cancelled the appointment. This baffled me as I had been baptised for three years or so at that point and had never been asked to speak on a Sunday. I did speak at other ecclesias once or twice a month, and was invited to speak at the Bible Class and at the Mutual Improvement Class during the week. However, this was because speaking dates at these midweek classes were almost exclusively filled from within the ecclesia, whereas Sunday appointments drew on visiting speakers from all over the country. I did get to do one exhortation, and that was on an August Bank Holiday Sunday, effectively because nobody else was available, or more likely didn’t want to do it because it was holiday time. I even had to travel back to Derby from my holiday at the CYC camp on the Sunday morning to do it! (Note that this wasn’t the weekend of the notorious disappearing lamb roast!)

During that conversation with the Recording Brother, I asked him why a number of speakers I had heard at Youth Days or Fraternal Gatherings never seemed to come and speak at Derby. The answer that I was given was that they had “unusual views”, which puzzled me, so I “pondered these things in my heart”, as I had quite enjoyed listening to them and found what they had to say was very uplifting and had “life”. I started to organise youth days and managed to smuggle Nic Willis and Phil Hawkins in on that basis! They were well received at the Youth Days, but a friend of theirs from Birmingham, Neil Genders was eventually to have a marked influence on my life, even though I never managed to sneak him in to Derby!

(to be continued - check back in a few days for Part 2!)