“I found ways to reconcile what had happened with my beliefs, but my faith was unshaken. Perhaps, no, probably, it should have been – but more of that in a moment. I continued my regular church attendance and, if anything, increased my involvement in different roles in the congregation. That was the situation when you started as Vicar here. You will remember George recommending that I would be a suitable candidate for Readership.”
She nodded, smiling, and indicated with her hand that he should go on.
“The syllabus for study and assignments was just what I felt I needed,” he began, “but the more I read, the more my doubts grew. It wasn’t simply the inconsistencies between Gospel accounts or the different agendas they represented. It wasn’t even the new light in which I saw the epistles. The insights into church history, and the long-standing regal and political interference with liturgies and canon law also troubled me. Above all I started to have doubts about who or what God is, about the doctrine of the Trinity, about what eternal life means.”
He combed his fingers through his hair as he paused to consider his words.
“The whole idea of ‘everlasting’ life now seems almost repulsive if we are to accept the normal meaning of the word ‘everlasting.’ Should we see it in the same sense as an everlasting battery – an advertiser’s hyperbole – or in the traditional sense of an infinite length of time, longer even than the foreseeable future of the universe?”
Sheila listened, leaning forward, her elbows on her knees, her hands supporting her chin.
“It isn’t even that I’ve been reading much more lately about how scientists see the creation of the Universe or universes. Science too doesn’t seem to me to offer a consistent or credible alternative to the idea of a creator God. Certainly, I can no longer believe in a personal God who knows every hair on my head, every ‘sin’ I commit. I do still accept the idea of a Creator, though, as such, it does lead to doubts about Jesus being the Son of God.”
Steve was enthused by his theme now, emboldened by the lack of interruption or argument from Sheila.
“I love the Gospels – Jesus and his teachings, but I now see him as simply an amazing teacher who, nevertheless, either misunderstood or misrepresented his nature. Despite all that, I can’t understand what it was that transformed the post- crucifixion disciples. Why would they have risked their lives for a lie? In short, I’m totally confused as to what I can believe.”
“Moving on, I can no longer believe in the idea of a judgement at the end times, and I can no longer pray in the same way. Given all that I have said, I now must face up to the implications.”
He paused; he had worried so much about what he had to say in conclusion. He just hoped that he’d said enough without going over the top.
“I can’t honestly continue in a preaching role, or as a house-group leader. I can’t continue in good conscience on the path towards Readership or the licensing ceremony. I can’t expect to continue the Readers’ course, though I shall definitely continue my studies independently. On the other hand, you, as Vicar, will need to consider how these changes should be communicated to the congregation. I should be grateful for your advice about what I should say when I am asked to explain by other church members. I really don’t want to cause doubts about their faith in their minds.”
Sheila waited to see whether he had anything more to say, but when it was clear that he’d finished, she sat up.
“Steve, I can see now how good you probably are as a teacher. You’ve expressed your position logically and clearly. You’ve thought deeply about what you had to say, and you’ve hardly hesitated throughout. But listen,” she said, “your doubts aren’t new. I’ve had similar doubts myself, but was able, eventually, to reconcile them. Maybe you will in time, maybe not. For now, though, you are right. It will be difficult for you to continue in the roles you mentioned. I shall have to think about how we can deal with that but leave it with me. We’ll need to have another chat.”
“We’ll be able to deal with internal changes to the Parochial Church Council, but would you still be willing to attend the Deanery Synod meeting next week?”
He promised that he would.
“Wonderful. We can probably get someone to replace you on that as part of the Annual General Council on the 22nd. One more thing, please. We’ve got this meeting with the Bishop in a couple of weeks about his proposed reorganisation of the parishes in this Deanery. Could you still attend that with George, please?”
“Yes. That’s in my diary and I’ll make sure to go.”
“You said that you will be having a similar conversation with George. That will save me having to explain second hand. Please don’t go worrying about other people’s reactions. For as long as you want to be, you will still be a valued member of our congregation, and I’m sure that no-one is going to think any the worse of you. I heard what you said, but can we pray together for your situation?”
Steve nodded. They kneeled.
Sheila placed a hand on his head and prayed for him.
Afterwards he thanked her for listening and her helpful comments. She wished him luck but not to worry about telling George what he had told her. She hugged him and he left, greatly relieved.
Because this, and the next couple of posts are going to be about Steve’s crisis of faith, I’m using shots of different churches that I’ve photographed over the years.
For my featured photo, I used my 26 MP Fujifilm X-T4 cropped sensor mirrorless camera with a Fujinon XF 10-24 mm f/4 lens to take the shots. The shot is of a ter’s church’s in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside.
The EXIF data for the featured photo were: the shutter speed was 1/15secs @ f/5.6 and 15.9 mm. The ISO was 200.