Perils of…a dissenting Catholic

My earliest memory of the church? Confession. I confessed through fits of sobbing and coughing and, and, and funny pauses you make when you cry so hard you can’t breathe, that, yes, I had jammed my recorder through my little brother’s teeth when he kept blowing on it loudly near my face and pissing me off, resulting in a bloodied mouth and lots of tantrums.

A de jure Catholic, christened at birth, communed at childhood, and confirmed at adolescence, I’ve had a rocky relationship with religion, in particular the Catholic church in which I was raised.

Confessing my agnostic, bordering atheistic beliefs here could get me into some trouble if my Nonna ever finds this. Or my Mum for that matter, who still endeavours to hang rosary beads around the posts of my bed (Love you Mum!).

To prepare for this week’s column, I did a little research and found this cracker of a documentary, Religulous, by comedian Bill Maher, and it summed up my thoughts exactly…

At least initially.

Re-entering the ecclesiastical world after years of abandoning my prescribed Catholic faith, I felt strangely guilty, despite my disbelief. I felt rather like Michael in REM’s classic banger, Losing my Religion, a song that has resonated with me ever since the day I first heard it.

I’m fascinated by religious students, particularly devout Christian students, a rare anomaly in 2016 Glesga. I really struggle to see how intelligent, critical thinkers and academics, reconcile their scientific studies with a genuine belief in God. As you can probably tell, I’m a great cynic in this matter, and tend to feel cheated by the often moralistic self-righteous demeanour I came to face in the Catholic church.

So I was looking for something slightly different.

Destiny Church is a worldwide phenomenon. Co-founder Andrew Owen describes the church as a ‘contemporary apostolic Christian movement that thinks like social entrepreneurs’ (and thinks like business entrepreneurs from the looks of it too, with their £1950 per annum course at sister establishment, Destiny College, in Glasgow’s Southside).

Despite these minor discrepancies, I thought I’d go along and see it for myself. Waking up with a stinking hangover I pulled myself outta my nice warm bed, and went begrudgingly along to the QMU and straight into God’s nice warm heart. Ready for my ‘prayer meeting’ I confusedly followed around the endless winding corridors of the QM to find Destiny, and stumbled upon two white English blokes in trainers and raincoats in Committee Room 2. Walking past without a moment’s hesitation, I continued on my literal journey to find the church group. And returned to the room with the two white English blokes in trainers and raincoats in Committee Room 2.

Upon entering the room, I was met with a blast of uplifting, modern Christian music. And two friendly faces. Pastor Phillip Everitt is a big step away from Irish Catholic Father Brendan that I grew up with. Not your average Father Ted type by any means, just a regular Joe, just a guy you’d walk past on the street and think akin to any other 35 year old. Schooled at the Destiny College himself, and an avid physics enthusiast, I wanted to ask him a few questions.

Where you brought up religious?

I was born into a Christian household, but then my parents got divorced. My mother did not continue into the path of God, but my father continued going to church, and so I went with him. I see it as you choose religion. You need to start a relationship with God. You have to work at a relationship, maintain it. I think a lot of people overlook this; it is a reasoned and rational choice, you’re not ‘born’ a Christian.

Why did you go?

I saw it as an insurance policy. As I’m into physics I tend to think quite logically about things. As a young boy I thought ‘52 hours a year, just one hour a week, and I get to go to heaven, I get to have a lifelong relationship with God’.

How has finding God helped you?

Well now I see it slightly differently! I began to have a relationship with God. It’s a relationship based on experience.

Unfortunately the interview was cut short. I got the feeling Pastor Phil was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the situation, maybe felt I was testing him.

I was wary going into this, that this is an often taboo and touchy subject. But considering I was the only person to show up to their morning prayer meeting at the QMU, you’d think they would want the publicity; spread the word of God and all that, to reach out and save the ‘broken’.

I’m used to feeling shame at my sporadic barely annual appearance at my hometown church, Christ the King, but there was a whole new atmosphere and method of worship here. For a start, Father Brendan certainly didn’t have the banging up-to-date Christian tunes these guys had, he was more of a The Lord is my Shepherd type. I expected to be prayed to. I expected to sit in a room full of people with their hands clasped, eyes shut, and heads down in serious, deep and personal prayer. This was different. Singing whole-heartedly to the Christian tunes, Pastor Phil felt the music. And then there was his prayer…

It was so…informal.

‘We love you God. I just love you so much Lord for all that you do for us here in the West End. I bless this venue, and this university, for the growth and belief it encourages in young people’.

I was encouraged and welcomed to join in but I politely refrained, and just watched in a concerted effort to engage with their prayer. Admittedly, going in I was quite sceptical, but I have to admit, I like the community-feel, uplifting message, and modern, equal methods Destiny Church have to offer to the 2016 Christian of today. Humans were not sinful or evil, just misled and confused. Pastor Phil did not gaze on me with a cold, hard stare of expectance, and he did not claim superiority over me. I am by no means converted, but I am certainly pleasantly surprised.

[Serena Ruberto – @shrpixie]

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