Julie Guy-Lyon, who completed the Just Explore course and was confirmed earlier this year.
During one of my life’s many rash moments, I registered a vague interest in Just Explore, half hoping that after completing the form, no follow-up would come. Wrong! Father Patrick caught me on the hop ill-prepared for any sensible excuse to duck out.
For a confirmed sceptic like me, the prospect of whiling away the winter evenings once a week for three months reading Bible passages, or so I imagined, was enough to elicit a case of seasonal affective disorder.
Life is surprising when it teaches you how wrong you can be and, as for that Desert Island companion, well there’s a saying, never judge a book by its cover.
Today, my neglected American crime novels gather dust in the corner as thanks to Just Explore I not only read the Bible but marvel at how every modern scenario or human situation is reflected in those ancient pages of wisdom and teaching.
My first evening at Just Explore after refreshments and wonderful puddings, consisted of introductions amongst a relaxed and intimate group of lovely people. It is true to say you can find friends in surprising places. The session leaders immediately put everyone at their ease wherever they were on their spiritual journey and from the outset I was curious and even a little envious of those with faith.
My eldest son began St Alphege school six years earlier and regular church going began in earnest. I somehow felt a sense of not quite belonging and frankly, ignorance bordering in the uncomfortable. I was really hoping that Just Explore would remedy these feelings.
By my second session, I was hooked! The course content was a clever mix of thought provoking questions, practical exercises, prayer and fascinating historical fact, all dispensed with gentle humour and no hint of superiority.
Six months later our wonderful group shared the special and moving experience of confirmation at beautiful St Alphege Church, something I thought I would never have the belief or spiritual understanding to undertake. I urge you to have a rash moment!
Andy Hodge is married to Jackie. They have three children and live in Solihull. Earlier this year Andy went on the just explore course, a programme designed for adults wishing to explore their faith and Christianity in a little more detail. Just Explore is especially designed for those new or returning to the Church or for people who want to be confirmed.
“I’ve been coming to church on and off for several years, but in the last two or three years I’ve started to come more regularly. The only thing I found difficult was that, having never been a serious church goer earlier in my life, I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in church and, more importantly, hadn’t ever thought about what I did or did not believe in terms of my ‘faith’.
“The course is a way to find out about these things. It’s a bit like Ronseal really - it does exactly what it says on the tin! We simply explored everything about our Christian beliefs. We talked about what our faith meant to us, and discussed our understanding of God, the story of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church and the sacraments, the bible and lots of other stuff. Most importantly, it gave the participants an opportunity to discuss these things with each other and to better understand it. Oh, and there were great puddings before each class!
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. I spent ages grappling with things like the resurrection, because I was determined not to just go along with it if I didn’t really believe it. But in many ways, that was part of the fun and the challenge. Everything fell into place for me during that period. Toward the end of the course, a number of us decided we wanted to be confirmed and that happened a few months ago at St Alphege on Ascension Day. It was a very special occasion.
I’d encourage you to try it out. I think you might surprise yourselves: newcomers to the Church might make an amazing discovery in life; and more seasoned churchgoers might learn new things and re-energise their faith. And everyone gets to enjoy the puddings!