I wanted to think about the people who have shaped my faith and, with no better way of working out who should come first, I thought I’d start with the most senior, my grandfather, ‘Pa’.
Pa was a Methodist minister, a writer and Connexional Local Preacher’s Secretary in the Methodist Church for many years. Despite the fact that he retired from the Church the year I was born and stopped preaching before I was old enough to appreciate it, these things are important to the impact he had on me.
Firstly, Pa was a scholar – he did his PhD, in the sermons of Wycliffe(!), in his retirement whilst battling against failing eyesight. As my mother put it, for him scholarliness was next to godliness. This was important for me as it meant that right from the beginning of my understanding of God and religion, thinking was encouraged. For him, studying (in a formal academic sense) the bible and the history of the church was not an obstacle to faith, on the contrary it made it more real. He was also pretty theologically and politically radical which grounded me in these traditions before I was old enough to understand them. In fact, this probably goes some way towards explaining my inclination to be more comfortable with thinking about faith and talking about faith in a fairly objective way and less comfortable/familiar with talking about the more spiritual/’touchy-feely’ side of my faith. Conversation about God and religion made reference to “New Testament Greek” more than “personal relationship with Jesus”.
Secondly, I developed an appreciation for ‘good’ preaching. While I might never have heard Pa preach (that I can remember), I definitely heard his comments on other preachers when he came to visit us for the weekend. Being an intellectual snob, he expected intellectual rigor from the preachers who appeared before him on a Sunday morning! While I don’t think I have such high expectations of scholarship in the pulpit, I get a lot of my spiritual nourishment from sermons. They chime with that ‘thinking’ rather than ‘feeling’ understanding of God.
Thirdly, I was brought up to see politics and religion as being intimately linked. Pa was a member of the Christian Socialist Movement, was a firm socialist in the old Labour sense and a pacifist. In the last year or so of his life, at the age of 84 and completely blind, he marched against the invasion of Iraq. This echoed what I’d learnt from talking to him about being a contentious objector in World War Two – that he couldn’t reconcile war with his faith. I, like him, cannot separate my politics and my faith, I don’t know where one ends and the other begins.
Aside from his impact on my faith, I’m very proud of my Grandfather. It’s still a privilege to have people at Methodist churches across the country say “I’ve got one of his books on my shelf” and to read his obituary calling him ‘one of the foremost thinkers of his generation’ in the Methodist Church.