Whilst playing with my pals one of them suddenly stops, eyeballs me hard and scolds me,
“You shouldn’t be at our school – you should be at the one Cat’licks go to!”
I’m stunned into silence.
I can’t recall my response other than distress.
Upon reflection it’s possible I denied the accusation outright. I’d like to have responded, “So what? It’s where my parents want me to be!”
Such a riposte, however, would have plugged straight into something worse – parental conflict!
It mid-1950s and the reality of the Protestant vs. Roman Catholic divide hit hard. My friend’s tone clearly implied a stigma to being in the wrong Christian denomination.
Equally hard was my parents’ disagreement over my own schooling. My dear, devout mother wanted to follow their church’s rule that Catholics send children – even of mixed marriages – to a Catholic school. But father wanted me to have the better education provided by the more reputable of two local, state schools – the RC one had a very low pass rate for the 11+ selection exams for grammar school. When dad was a boy his mother took him daily to 8am Mass. Later life taught him the value of a sound education – and my much older cousins in mother’s family were already at college or university. So, a week or so before my fifth birthday mum walked me the half-mile to Alexandra Park Primary School in Edgeley, Stockport.
Thus, I was brought up in the Roman church yet attended non-secular state schools with their Anglican ethos. Back in the 1950s this was a sensitive issue. In those days a lot more people attended church of one sort or another than today. Religious beliefs are a minor concern today, although attendance at faith schools is now prized purely for educational achievement. Sadly, most of today’s populace are religiously illiterate.
Therefore, I didn’t receive the ‘mandatory’ Catholic education. Religious knowledge, as little as I gained, came through state school and Sunday church. As far as from the latter was concerned, it wasn’t much because services were conducted in a dead, foreign language – Latin!
Kindly bear with me in relating how my situation affected my teenage and adult life’s journey into eventual freedom:
At the time of the confrontation I’d been happily playing on bikes with two boys outside one’s house. We three Johns aged 10-11 years had been classmates through primary school, yet I always felt an outsider in my living over 1/2 mile from school. Most of our school lived a lot closer and so, when old enough to go to their homes on my own, I was pleased to be with seeing more of these friends.
But the real issue of this confrontation was in making me fear the prospect of losing the friendship I’d grown up with! Somehow details of my family’s church must have slipped out whilst chatting, or had I been seen going there? ‘Top of the class’ John seemed to see it as a stigma! The reality behind a difference of opinion at home hit me hard – it was a reality in the outside world too!
My earliest adventures in coming home alone from school were in walking the longer route via the local library on the far-side of school. And it was a place to explore and dig around in.
It came as a special favour when I was allowed to cycle to friends’ about half a mile away. Soon I began to relish the independence of exploring the rabbit warren of suburban side streets on my bike – plus learning how to read maps. Later, I’d take my bike and explore for miles around, far away from the main thoroughfares – I avoided those because an older boy had been killed there and I’d seen another have an accident in front of me (he survived).
The only classmates from my local streets were girls. We lived nearer to another school attended by most other ‘baby boomers’ on our patch. But its pass rate for the secondary level of Grammar School was much lower than ours. This meant the boys I’d grown up with on ‘my block’ didn’t have quite the same schooling. So I was piggy-in-the-middle between two peer groups and didn’t feel fully accepted by either.
At school I was one of four boys named John. Such a bore. I decided to start using my first name from the start of the next school year. So on the first day in the new class, a week or so before my 8th birthday, our new teacher went around the class asking our names. At my turn I replied, “Richard”. Everyone was shocked. Some called out, “No, he’s John!”.
Miss Jackson was kind enough to ask me about this and found my reason sensible and said she respected my wishes and favoured the name. From that time on I’ve always been known as ‘Richard’. At home, however, mother and her family refused to make any change because they’d always called me ‘John’. Maybe it was because it means ‘beloved of God’. Also, being her first-born boy she’d hoped I’d become a priest – arghh, perish the thought! Nevertheless, that’s come true in a way because all believers in Jesus are priests (1 Peter 2).
So thank you Lord for the two who brought me into the world and loved me greatly.
CHURCHES IN CONFLICT
At church, children were not sent out of the Mass into Sunday school but were expected to sit quietly through 45 minutes of Latin liturgy and unintelligible sermon.
It was hard for youngsters but my mother had a small book with Latin on one page and English on the opposite – a Missal. As soon as I could read she’d urge me to look and follow – but being artistic I took far more notice of the small pictures displaying the Gospel theme of each Mass. As Gospel and Epistle readings were in English I caught snippets, and recall thinking it must have been wonderful to see everything Jesus said and did – I would have liked to have been there and met him.
Now my school and home friends attended, or were familiar with, churches. I asked to go to theirs as it was only along the road from our house. “No, ‘cos they’re Congoes,” was mum’s retort and she’d stress, “We go to the church Christ himself founded!”.
‘Congoes?’, I thought that was in Africa so maybe it was a church for pygmies! But in thoe 1950s we had few Africans in our northern town although our doctor was a West Indian. [‘Congo’ was her term for Congregationalist.]
A year or so later I got through to Grammar School, where Catholics and Jews could opt-out of the Anglican-style morning assembly. But I didn’t opt out and attempted to convey the impression I was non-Catholic.
Unlike today, cooperation between churches was a rarity fifty years ago. Hypocritical conflict between denominations drove me towards ‘New Age’ ideals. It bothered me that if all churchgoers believe in the same Jesus Christ then why were they bitterly opposed and not friends? Jesus commanded believers to love one another.
Also, they weren’t working miracles similar to those of Jesus, as he said they would. So, churches had failed on both counts to live up to Jesus’ commands. Although I was only a boy, it was obvious they’d badly missed the mark. Also, I suspected they’d lost a lot of what Jesus had taught. How could what priests and preachers say and do be true?
Consequently, I started searching elsewhere for the truth > > (next).
[Bible quotations are by courtesy of BibleGateway.com]
[INFO: original installments (2013)
- No 7 and my journey into freedom
- “You shouldn’t be at our school!”
- Searching for truth leads me into captivity
- The last day of my life came ‘like a thief in the night’
- Rescued from Satan by The Lord of Hosts
- The real Truth delivers me from captivity
- Confirmations of the reality of my visionary encounter.