When members of the Bakewell and District Probus Club are called upon to arrange a speaker for a meeting, many of them choose to give the talk themselves and, in so doing, often decide to tell the story of their own lives and careers. In the past, such narratives have usually been delivered in a matter-of-fact way which avoids disclosing anything about their personal beliefs, especially those concerning their religious faith. However, at a recent meeting of the club, member John Hayes met this challenge head-on and described how his upbringing and experiences had influenced his attitude to religion and which changed dramatically during his lifetime.
John was born in 1940 into a loving family, but one that provided him with little intellectual stimulation until, at the age of four, he started to attend a local Sunday School (as so many children did in those days). Now involved in the life of the church, he progressed to joining the youth club and regularly (and enthusiastically) attending the church services. Then, aged sixteen, through the influence of an evangelical preacher, he became a ‘born again’ Christian and firmly believed that he had found the meaning of life. Now with a newly-found sense of purpose he started conducting church services and leading Bible study groups. From here, the next step was to train formally to be a minister and he spent six years at colleges of religion, first in Glasgow and later, in London.
It was during his time in Glasgow where, witnessing the deprivation and poverty of the people living in the Gorbals area of the city, his faith began to be undermined and he started to have doubts, when previously he had had certainties. Fighting these feelings, he continued in his ministry but, at the same time, discovered that he had a talent for personal counselling, thus shifting his role from that of a preacher to that of a listener. Finally, at the age of forty, he was confronted with the realisation that his doubts of many years past could no longer be ignored and that, in truth, he had become atheist. Thus, he had lost the very thing that for so long had given his life meaning. But, even so, his feeling was now one of relief.
This was a very personal, frank and courageous talk which was much admired by John’s audience.
Details of the Bakewell and District Probus Club, including reports of earlier meetings, can be found on its website at www.bakewell probus.org