When I arrived at the University of Nottingham Open Day I had no doubt that this was where I would end up in two summers time. I just knew that this was the place where ‘the universe’ wanted me to be. I didn’t bother looking round anywhere else or even researching my chosen course. Looking back I am amazed at how oblivious I was to the way God was working and the places He led me to. At the time I just thanked fate.
It is said that when a fresher arrives at University in September they will change so much in their first few months that they by the time they finish first year they will hardly recognise the person they once were. I knew this and I couldn’t wait.
I’d grown up in an inter-church family with a Catholic father and a Protestant mother. When I was two I was baptised by full immersion by a Catholic priest and an Anglican Vicar. I’d gone to a Catholic primary school and a CofE secondary school. I loved community life and was a bridge between the two sects- something I was very proud of. My faith was innocent and strong. By the time I started university, after a series of painful events and two years at a non-religious sixth form in the rough end of Coventry, I no longer wanted anything to do with church. As far as I was concerned both ‘sides’ had let me down and I’d been hurt. Uni was my fresh start. I would reinvent myself and I vowed to protect myself by avoiding ‘all that churchy stuff.’
I celebrated my newfound ‘freedom’ by skipping mass on the first Sunday. I lay in bed watching the empty minutes pass by. It felt wrong. Coming to university I really struggled. I was expecting to be freed from the ghosts by arriving in a new place. Yet the pain of the past felt closer to me than ever. The fear, the what if’s, the uncertainty. The anxiety was getting bad again and I knew I was on the brink of something. My soul was starving and after a while I realised that I couldn’t keep ignoring God. In my desperation I made a compromise. I would go to mass in the morning and the protestant service in the evening. I’d go to CU and Cathsoc events but only if they were educational or beneficial to my faith. I would however avoid all socials and stubbornly refused to get involved in the church communities. I had decided to begin again, learning about God but standing on the fringes of the Church where I could easily slip away unnoticed.
After a few weeks of avoiding Cathsoc socials I finally turned up at their talk called ‘King of my heart.’ They explained that there was only room for one person/ thing to sit on the throne of our hearts and that when we sin we are taking Jesus off His throne and becoming slaves to sin. That night I sat by the lake and thought about all that I had heard. I looked at my own heart, at its brokenness and saw the anger, abuse and bitterness that was comfortably sitting on the throne. There was definitely no room for Jesus on there. Overtime Christ gradually called me to open up to him, to go to confession and to put him first. But something was still missing.
It took an old family tradition of celebrating All Saints to persuade my stubborn heart to go to a Cathsoc social. It turns out it was exactly where God wanted me to be. I was welcomed into the community like an old friend as people invited me into their conversations, games and groups. That night somewhere between apple bobbing and a piñata The Holy Spirit filled me. It was like a fuse blowing out as the anxiety and pain which had been consuming me left and was replaced by The Spirit. I felt as if I’d come home and been healed.
Suddenly I couldn’t get enough of Cathsoc and community. A curious fire burnt within me as I turned up to every event, retreat and mass. Christ’s people helped me to get to know Him better and grow deeply in faith. I learnt to see God working in my peers and began to let him work in me.
By Christmas I hardly recognised the person that I’d become and when the Cathsoc asked if I would join exec as Social Secretary I squashed the doubts and jumped at the chance. Suddenly I was no longer being invited into the community but was now inviting others. I’d made a group of steadfast friends who cared about me and my faith as they walked with me on my journey. I recognised that God had brought me here and used the Cathsoc as a vessel to reach me in my brokenness and bring me home to him.
Just when I thought that my journey back to God and the Church was over the Holy Spirit told me it was time to get confirmed. They didn’t do this during mass or adoration but instead spoke to me in a busy library during exam season. I’d spent a long time hopping between the different denominations and had always said that I wouldn’t pick a side. As usual though God knows best and He’s got a sense of humour. One study break I was sat in the library cafe with some friends when Catholicism came up and I explained that I was half Catholic and announced that I would never be confirmed. At the time I didn’t realise the importance of the sacrament and felt as if I didn’t need it. Less than a minute later as we returned to our desks I felt something stir in my heart and ask me “Why would you want to be half of something when you can be whole in something beautiful.” Then I felt a surge of the Holy Spirit and knew that I had to be confirmed. I rushed out of the library and fell to my knees. I had been so filled with God’s love and blessing that I had no doubt that it was the right thing to do.
Again my Cathsoc were invaluable along the journey to confirmation. Between them they answered endless questions, guiding me when I was confused or frustrated and didn’t hesitate to dive in and struggle with me. By June my Cathsoc were rejoicing with me as I gave myself fully to God and to the Church and became sealed with the gifts of The Spirit.
‘Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured every part rejoices with it.’
I think that this verse sums up everything I have said. Community is beautiful. We are called to be one with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That doesn’t mean that it will be perfect and sometimes we will fall out or suffer within our communities but it’s worth it. We are blessed to be able to walk with each other on our journeys to sainthood and help each other along the way.