Closet Christians: People are always shocked when they discover I’m a Christian

Life, Life Stories
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To be honest, it makes me cringe to say that I am Christian.

After years of believing that Christians were only the people who’d recruit people onto Jesus Army buses while wearing leather brown sandals, cladded in camouflage gear and shouting bible verses out of a tannoy alongside their own other bigoted views, often exploiting vulnerable people.

I now realise that I too have been guilty of judgement and stereotyping Christians.

Back when I was 14, I was kicked out of my Religious Education class for saying something defamatory about Mary.

After turning my nose up at religion as a once-staunch atheist for so long, I’ve now become a Christian – albeit largely in the closet.

But, regardless of the ick I get writing this, my faith actually now helps my mental health and my life in general.

I have sought solace from the Recovery Bible, Christian’s Against Poverty Fresh Start courses which are similar to a faith-based 12 step programme which Alcoholics Anonymous run and praying has helped me through dark times. But most of all, it is the community that church has gifted me.
Granted, many churches don’t get it right but when I finally landed on a women’s faith group it has been the greatest blessing.
Having a circle of people around me who love me unconditionally and without expectations, has given me so much confidence.

Prior to finding faith I felt alone and would try quick fixes to heal my mental turmoil. While faith hasn’t just “fixed me” it has allowed me to pause and reflect.

I was brought up in two beautifully diverse but ‘sinful’ homes according to the religious people I’d come across growing up.

My dad is gay and lives with his now husband, and my mum had boyfriends before marrying my other step-dad. I judged Christians because some of those I had met had criticised my family.

So much so that I went on to study Philosophy of Religion at A-level, and I nearly attended theology college because I loved debating religion as an atheist – passionate about questioning and fighting any homophobia or sexism I’d previously associated with religion.

That said, my Dad had an openly gay friend who was a vicar but I assumed this was few and far between.

My family and I have also experienced a lot of challenges in life and while I never blamed ‘anyone,’ I couldn’t understand why I – or more importantly those who’ve been dealt even worse cards than I – would have experienced these things if there was a God.

But even during some of the darkest parts in my life while I was atheist I found myself praying. I was desperately searching for something ‘other’ to exist other than this current world. I secretly wished there was a God.
I couldn’t however allow myself to believe that there was a God because I did not want to be a religious bigot.
I hadn’t realised I could still have faith, remove the shackles of religion and follow Christianity in my own way.

After fighting off any feelings of ‘having faith’ for most of my life, in my early twenties I accompanied a friend to church, interested in what drew so many people to miss Match of the Day on a Sunday Morning or even to just have a lie-in.

By this point, I knew a lot of Christians and I was open to find out more. I’d only ever attended church to attend bellydance classes, weddings or funerals, never out of choice.

I was overwhelmed however, by the music, the atmosphere and hearing scripture in a modern context about feeling lost and unfulfilled by worldly possessions [Can you remember what it was about?]which resonated with me.

My heart started ruling over my head and I began attending with her each Sunday.
I had normally spent Sundays hungover watching MOTD or at the gym, but now I was setting my alarm and actually going to church.

I didn’t know much about specific bible verses, but all of that didn’t matter anymore. I found myself surrendering to God.

I only told my mum I was going. I was too embarrassed to tell other friends and relatives as I thought they would laugh at me or start a big debate and I simply didn’t have the answers to why I was going or believed in God.

I was quiet about my new found faith, but I did begin to tell my close friends, the more I settled into it.

To my surprise, they were chilled about it and it actually sparked more open spiritually themed conversations.

It was when I fell pregnant at 23 that I really sealed my faith as I moved out of home and into a new city. I was determined to find a church to attend in West Yorkshire as the self-proclaimed church floozy.

I didn’t have anyone to go with so I had to pluck up the courage to go alone. When my baby was born, I began attending church regularly because I wanted her to be baptised.

I finally found ‘my church’ when I rocked up to a Sunday family event at a local Methodist Church still in my football kit from playing a match, with a baby in tow. I was prepared to be shunned because I certainly wasn’t in my Sunday best.

I’d been belly dancing professionally the night before and wasn’t arriving with a happy husband and child in tow. I didn’t fit any of the church stereotypes I had imagined – I’d stick out for sure.

But my kit turned out to be a huge icebreaker as I was welcomed with open arms by the volunteers who were also football fans. I knew this was the place for me.

At church I joined the women’s fellowship. Again I wrongly assumed this would just be full of cake-making chat, serious scripture and hardcore prayer. I was wrong. Over cups of tea we chatted about everything from work, to kids and mental health.

These women quickly became my sisters, they showed me unconditional love and would offer support with no agenda.

While I was still struggling to flick the bible to the right page when referring to verses, this unconditional love among people was the greatest lesson.

Despite discovering the right place for my daughter and I, and developing a new family of friends through faith, I was really secretive about it – until recently.

I was certainly not the ‘type’ that I used to think went to church and I felt a hypocrite for now ‘turning to God’ – especially after years of negatively speaking about Christianity with family and friends.

I gently started to ‘drop in’ the fact that I was going to church to which most people replied: ‘Well, if it helps you’ – most people were supportive as long as I didn’t ‘go on about it.’

One friend even joked: ‘As long as you don’t bash a bible on my head.’

I was barely comfortable with my own ‘new identity’ let alone wanting to convert everyone I met or intending to.

One former friend said that church was a cult for vulnerable people like me.
By then, I had confidence in my beliefs however and just accepted they were on a different path.
To be honest I expected far worse but they didn’t continue to make fun or shun me.

For several years, I kept my two lives very separate and my church friends stepped up to become mysecond family locally- especially after separating from my husband and father of my children in 2019 with the main loss being my children who I went from co-sleeping and breastfeeding to then co-parenting.

I really wouldn’t have got through that period of reestablishing my life without my church.

The vicar’s wife and some of the other women at church took me under their wings [How so? Did you have a meeting with her each week or go out for dinner etc?] as they had done for so many of our community who struggled with their mental health. They were non-judgmental allies in the challenging world in which I lived.
They would help with everything from taking me to the shops, helping me to clean my house while we played worship music together and even with finding work locally as a freelance journalist and wellbeing practitioner.

I replaced the lonely nights with church groups, teaching dance and going to yoga and gym classeswith my new ‘sisters.’

I even started putting up bible verses around the home, too, as I turned to God in my darkest moments.

I found myself trying to cover up some of these verses when I had people around, but soon decided this was my safe place where I could be whoever I wanted to be.
So I covered my home in positive affirmations, bible verses and motivational quotes – free for all to see and judge at their will.

These words along with a disco ball and pink pole in my lounge, certainly made it feel like home.

Even when I was out dancing professionally on a Saturday night I began to drop in that I couldn’t stay out late as I had church in the morning.

People had mixed reactions from shocked to intrigued as I certainly wasn’t ‘the type’ to be off to church.
Like me they assumed that church-goers were scone carrying, upper middle-class and conservatively dressed people.
Plus, people often sexualise bellydancing which is an art form rather than being sleazy.
They couldn’t imagine a very Yorkshire mixed race girl shimmying in bellydance costumes, would then be accepted at church the next day.
But my church friends not only embraced the real me, they celebrated it.

I remained my same quirky self but I had found a family and a place to belong at my local church.

You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian, but for me it was important to learn and get myself back on track each week. I’d never been around people who wanted to help you unconditionally. It was a tonic for my soul.

That’s the essence of what church is to me, a big perfectly imperfect loving community.

It’s why I found it extremely hard in the Pandemic like most, losing that community and connection and sometimes my faith dwindled too. I danced to worship music at home to feel connected.

I stuck up bible verses in my toilets so I could always be surrounded by God and went for walks with the Vicar’s wife when I could – watching services online, but nothing replaced that in person contact.

In the Pandemic I started sharing more about my faith because at times that was the main thing that kept me going. It helped me to establish deeper connections with others.

For me it’s about shared values with people, not whether or not they follow the same religion.

Now, my church family is an integral part of my life. Even when writing this I have visitors ‘pop in’ to my home and our church community has taught me to always have an open door and a cuppa on hand to those that need one.

I now am ready to talk openly about my faith because I think people are more receptive since the Pandemic, and I have noticed a big shift in the atheists around me too.

There’s a lot more respect now for all of us as part of the community.

It may be ‘uncool’ to be Christian but that’s OK, I definitely didn’t go to church to look good. So I am finally ready to come out as a Christian and share my journey. I want to be more open around those I work, socialise and surround myself with because nobody should feel ashamed and unable to speak about their faith. And for me it isn’t about surrounding myself with people of the same denominations, it is simply about loving one another unconditionally.
Yes I need to earn money but my main drive in work and life is now to serve.
Christianity has helped to take me outside of my own head and life and connect me with the bigger picture.

All I hope to do is grow in faith every day and be a better person – one day at a time.

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