Confession of a 40-year-old singer

Last night I did something that I’ve never done in all my forty years on Earth. I sang in a choir.

Now I’ve sung solo, I’ve sung in school with my class and I’ve sung along with the choir at mass, but yesterday was the first time I’ve actually sung as a member of a choir.

It wasn’t a lifetime’s ambition of mine or anything like that. It just happened last Sunday at Mass, just after the priest had delivered his sermon. He told the congregation that Mary, the conductor of the choir, was looking for new singers. So at the end of the Mass, after the last hymn had been sung and the people were filing out, I approached Mary and stated my interest in joining. She told me to come to the choral practice in St Michael’s Hall on Wednesday at eight o’clock.

And the day came. (My one fear was that the practice was at 8:00am and I had slept in and missed it, but that fear was dispelled when Mary phoned me up to confirm that it was indeed Wednesday at 8:00pm.) And when I did turn up, Mary introduced me to the other choristers, Lewis, Dermot, Anne… and a few others, but those are the only names I can remember right now. She handed me some sheet music and we proceeded from there. I was surprised at how well I was able to pick up the tunes even though I had only heard them a few times before. It was quickly established that my voice was best suited to the bass/baritone parts. And the atmosphere of the place was really warm and friendly, with all of us singing in unison and then in harmony, a few bars with women only, a few bars with the men only, then all of us singing together in praise of God.

This makes a real change to what I was like twenty-five years ago. At the time my voice was breaking and I couldn’t trust myself to hold a tune. And primary school didn’t have a comparable atmosphere to St Michael’s hall that night. There were good singers among us all right, but there were other boys who plainly preferred to be anywhere else but in school and others still who couldn’t sing for nuts.

I’ve regretted for so long that I never had the patience or follow-through to learn a musical instrument, but all my life I’ve had a musical instrument which was built into me by God. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realise this, but this voice of mine really is a gift from God, so the least I can do is look after it and use it to praise Him.

The Saviour and I

I’ve been following the blogs of two other people here on WordPress, namely Evelina (alias The Vegan Cook, from New York) and Samantha (from London) who is learning to kvetch, and following their gradual conversion to Judaism. They talk about their past, their dreams, their difficulties and their ongoing fascination and acceptance of Judaism and their wish to be seen as Jews and to be accepted by the Jewish community.

So I think I should talk a little about my religion. Assuming you’ve read many of my previous entries, you’ll have gathered that I’m a Christian.

How did I come to be a Christian? You could say I was born into it, even though both my parents were atheists. My father remained atheist right up until his death and my mother is still resolutely atheist. They brought me to Belfast when I was fourteen months old in October 1972. Now it must have flown in the face of common sense to bring a baby into a war zone, which is pretty much what Belfast was at the time, but that’s for another post. It was my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who started me on the path to Christ on that autumn day of 1972 (even though I’ve no memory of it). It was clear to her that my parents had no intention of getting me baptised, so she took matters into her own hands by holding me over the kitchen sink (when my parents weren’t looking) and performing a baptism there. So, maybe the Catholic Church didn’t recognise me as a Christian but it’s very likely that God did!

It was my Granny who got me into the habit of going to Mass every Sunday. And she had a few old prayer books and missals lying around her house, including one or two in Latin (which might explain why Latin was one of my strongest subjects in secondary school).

And then there was my primary school, Holy Family, off the Limestone Road in Belfast, which I attended without interruption from 1976 to 1983. It was run on Catholic principles and which had a church right next to it. Of course I attended at least one weekday Mass with my class, and that’s in addition to the Mass I went to on Sundays with my Granny.

But for some reason which I barely understood at the time, I was not allowed to go up and receive Holy Communion. What I was able to ascertain was that I had not been baptised like all the other boys and girls at my school. I was put out. I wanted to be part of that community and I couldn’t because I had not been baptised properly, or not at all. (Remember I was nine or ten at the time.) So by coaxing my parents and with no little persusasion from Granny, and after a good talk with the parish priest, one Father Henry Carlin, it was finally arranged. On Saturday 13th March 1982 at 12:00pm I was baptised.

This period as a good, God-fearing, church-going Christian continued into my teenage years. But towards the middle to late 80’s my church-going became more and more erratic. Yes, ny school was consistent on giving me guidance through adolescence (some would call it brainwashing) but I was becoming complacent and not getting much out of my church attendance. I was just going through the motions. It didn’t help that my voice was breaking and I couldn’t trust myself to hold a tune during the hyms.

Over the next few years, I stopped going to church altogether. I began reading up on other religions, namely Buddhism, Paganism and Judaism and wondered if I had it in me to abide by any of those religions.

Not much happened during my years in London until 2009 when I found myself out of work. I decided to use my redundancy money to buy a bike and spend my time exploring. For the first month or so I was riding around the city and the suburbs, but soon I started cycling out to the Essex countryside and exploring all the little towns and villages beyond the fringes, places like Stondon Massey, Stapleford Abbots, Lambourne, places you’d omly find on an Ordnance Survey map.

In addition to these places I discovered lots of little country churches (all Church of England, of course, but that didn’t matter to me. It still doesn’t). Ocasionally one would be open and I would spend a few minutes exploring it, relaxing in it, taking in the surroundings and reading bits and pieces from any prayer books that may have been around.

This, in turn, led me to buying a Bible, the King James Version, and reading parts of it, and eventually reading whole chapters at a time. I was already a regular listener to UCB Radio and sometimes took part in their radio competitions. And ultimately, at the start of 2010, I found a Catholic church within easy reach of my place in Walthamstow (Our Lady & St George’s in Shernahll St.) and I started going to Mass there regularly.

I carry on going to Mass every Sunday at St. Patrick’s here in Downpatrick. And whereas before I was really only going to Mass because I felt I had to, now my heart is in it.