As a child growing up with the long running TV show Little House On the Prairie, I loved the idea that the neighbours would come together every Sunday to join in worship in their very understated church that doubled up as a school room in their small town of Walnut Grove. They would always find something to be grateful for and rejoice in. In times of hardship they would support each other, never losing their faith. The church was at the heart of the community.
For some years, I lived in a small village in Oxfordshire. The village primary school had strong links with the church that was situated adjacent to it. I would always attend the family services when my children were involved and when my eldest daughter joined the choir, I would attend most Sundays to see her sing. It plunged me very firmly into village life and of all the places that I had ever lived, that was the one that felt most like home.
Since moving to Shropshire at the turn of the millennium, my churchgoing has been limited to Christmas Carol Services. I didn't get married in church. Neither of my little ones have been christened.
I consider myself a spiritual person - not a religious one. I live my life according to Christian values but don't feel the need to talk in terms of loving God and Jesus Christ - just loving is enough for me. I have my own belief system which does not, in my eyes, contradict Christianity but allows for a far greater degree of flexibilty. I am entirely comfortable with it.
Yesterday, I went to church.
The reason behind this sudden change of heart is once again driven by one of my children.
Apparently, there is some concern that not enough young people are choosing to attend church. There was a need for another keyboard player to take some of the onus of responsibility from the elderly organist. The decision was made to try and recruit a young musician. My 15 year old daughter, Charis, was put forward as a candidate.
The vicar came to visit us and meet Charis. She was given a weighty volume of 'Mission Praise'. She started practising.
Yesterday I took my place on the pews of St Mary's church - a beautiful building constructed from Market Drayton's red sandstone and boasting glorious stained glass windows.
I watched with amazement at how my incredible daughter took it all in her stride, playing perfect accompaniments in a manner befitting a song of worship, which is quite unlike anything she has done before. Clearly, the church are delighted that their initiative has worked out so well and given them someone as accomplished, loyal, serene and mature beyond her years as my Charis. Already she is proving herself to be a tremendous asset.
Being the first Sunday in Lent, the congregation was large (not bursting at the seams like it is for the Carol Service but comfortably full). As a new face among the congregation, I was made to feel very welcome and met some truly lovely people. An overhead projector displaying song words and readings ensured that the service was accessible and singers with microphones to lead the singing and add harmonies produced a strong, rich sound compared with the embarrassing droning that can all too often be the case. Best of all was the very relaxed attitude towards my little ones. They were happy colouring quietly in the designated play corner and even happier after the service to be given biscuits and squash.
It was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday morning, allowing the atmosphere of peace to wash over me and I love the fact that my little ones have had the experience of a new environment and are learning how to deal with it in a very positive way.
I find myself now looking forward to next Sunday. Time out from my busy life in the company of friendly, welcoming people within the impressive architecture that somehow exudes a feeling of calm and awe - it can only do me good. Whenever Charis plays, there will always be a pew with my name on it.