Religion, Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church

When I was a boy I used to like stories from the Bible and  although a lot of the learning bits about going to school I found thoroughly uninteresting and a bit of a chore I did enjoy religious education and especially used to look forward to morning assembly when once a week the Minister from the Methodist Chapel nearby used to attend and tell a story or two in a children’s sermon.

Some of my school reports from this time revealed quite stunning results in religious education and at the same time as I was without fail picking up a disappointing sequence of Ds and Es for the important subjects like Arithmetic and English I was consistently being awarded As and Bs in religion.  In 1963 I scored an unbeatable 100% in the end of year exams.

Knock Shop Souvenirs

Strictly speaking we were a Church of England family but the Parish Church of St. John the Baptist in Hillmorton was in a sorry state of neglect and significant disrepair on account of the fact that the Vicar had little interest in his parish or his congregation because he preferred his drink.  People use to say that you always knew when he was coming because the beer bottles used to rattle in the whicker basket that he had attached to the handlebars of his bike.   More charitable folk said that it was communion wine.  He didn’t hold many services in the Church, well, certainly not as many as he was supposed to, and there was definitely no Sunday school.

For this reason I was sent to the Methodist Chapel where the Reverend Keene and the Sunday school teacher Christine Herrington made us feel most welcome.  I liked the Reverend Keene, he was down to earth and amusing and later he also came to secondary school to teach religious studies and take a weekly assembly there as well.

I remember that he smiled permanently and had a most pleasant disposition that was appropriate to a minister of the church.  He had one leg shorter than the other and wore a corrective shoe.  One morning in 1969 without any warning the Headmaster announced at morning assembly that following an operation he had died suddenly and I was really sad about that.

I don’t suppose so many children go to Sunday school any more but I used to really enjoy it.  The origin of the Sunday school is attributed to the philanthropist and author Hannah More who opened the first one in 1789 in Cheddar in Somerset and for the next two hundred years parents right across the country must have been grateful to her for getting the kids out of the way on a Sunday morning and giving them some peace and quiet and a chance of a lie in.

In contrast to the Hillmorton County Junior School I seemed to be learning something at Chapel and what’s more I was being really successful.  Every year we used to take an exam, well, more of a little test really, and if you passed there was a colourful certificate with a picture of Jesus and signed by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Methodist Church hierarchy.  I was awarded a first class pass three years running and even though the school headmaster had written me of as an educational no-hoper I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned because I was becoming convinced that I was going to be a vicar.

I must have inherited this from my mother…

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I had heard it said that people went into the clergy after getting a calling from God and I used to lie awake at night straining out listening for it.  It never came.  I also understood that it might alternatively come as a sign and I used to walk around looking for anything unusual but this never happened either.

One night, some time in 1966, I think God dialed a wrong number and got dad instead because overnight he suddenly got religion in a very big way and we all started going to St John the Baptist which by now had got a new vicar.  His name was Peter Bennett and he was starting to deal with the problems left behind by the previous man who had retired somewhere into an alcoholic stupor.

At twelve years old I was too old for Sunday school and went to church now instead, I was confirmed in 1967 and joined first Pathfinders and then the Christian Youth Fellowship Association or CYFA for short which was (and still is) a national Christian youth club.  The good thing about CYFA was that I got to go away to youth conferences and camps and there were lots of girls there too.  The girl in the middle was called Elizabeth and was my first girlfriend!

I auditioned for the choir but was rejected on account of being tone deaf but to compensate for this disappointment the Vicar appointed me a server which meant that I got to wear a scarlet cassock, which I thought made me look like a Cardinal and had the important job of carrying the processional cross down the aisle at the beginning of evensong and putting the candles out at the end.

None of this could last of course and with no sign of the calling (there is no such thing as a sign unless you want there to be) and with dad’s religious fervour waning, my attention began to drift off in other directions such as pop music, girls and woodpecker cider and gradually I just stopped going to Church and to CYFA, left the bell ringing group and all of my scripture exam certificates were put away in an envelope in the family memory box and simply got forgotten.

In 2012 I visited the city of Padova in Northern Italy and dropped in to the Basilica of Saint Anthony (A Basilica is technically a double Cathedral because it has two naves) and inside there was a pile of postcards in different languages with an invitation to write to the Saint with a request.  I assume this could be like writing to Jim’ll Fix It Father Christmas or to ask for a cure for a gammy leg or something but I thought that I might use the opportunity to enquire why that elusive call never came?

Once again I didn’t get a response from the Big Man!

Craggy Island Parochial House

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Related Articles:

Mary Jones’ Bible

Childhood and Religion

Picture Stories From The Bible

The Miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000

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22 responses to “Religion, Hillmorton Chapel and St John The Baptist Church

  1. I have a similar story; Methodist chapel in small Cumbrian village, Sunday school, confirmation, loss of interest, useless at school, trilogy of girls/pop music/best bitter, found Buddhism!
    Back to Blighty tomorrow, had enough, you over here now?

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  2. I always thought I was the first member of our family to go to university, but then I found out that Great Uncle George, who had been a vicar until he passed away in 1944, had attended a theological college which is now part of Manchester University. I was really inspired by that but luckily it wore off and I went on to other things. Religion was just that much stronger in those days.

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  3. My goodness. We’re all the same. I used to lie in bed at night and say to myself that if The Archangel came and appeared at the end of my bed I go off any where at all that I was asked. He wasn’t there again last night.

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  4. Living in a rural community in the Canadian prairies you were either Catholic or Protestant and if the latter, you attended the only Protestant church nearby. So the first 10 years of my life we attended a Baptist church which was all fire and brimstone and kind of scary. I did love Sunday School though and the bible stories. Then we moved and attended the United Church of Canada (the union of Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian churches), a much more modern and gentle church. I ended up teaching Sunday School there. I love the old churches in the UK.

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  5. Life is very much about the people you come across…Sunday School and I just didn’t gel…largely due to the people taking it

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  6. You did get the call but perhaps haven’t recognised it yet – to religiously bring joy, happiness and enlightenment into people’s lives through your writing.

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  7. That Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padova is a very beautiful building I think. An interesting blog post, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  8. You might still get that call Andrew!! Great post and some wonderful memories.

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  9. Bon soir, Pere Andrew! 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There was a time in my youth where I contemplated becoming an Episcopal minister, Andrew. I sang in the choir, carried the cross, served on the altar, was a junior lay leader, and was even the church janitor. Time passed, however, and any callings I had came form other directions. –Curt

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