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A Shout From The Attic: Falling Among Mormons

Ronnie Bray tells of youthful links with various churches, and his first enlightening encounter with Mormons.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's engrossing life story please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on his page.

Religion in one form or another was part of my early life. My christening took place at Holy Trinity Church, Huddersfield, not two hundred yards from my place of birth. Apart from playing in its graveyard and creeping in and out of its crypt, often in terror at the groans that came out of it, (which proved to be the organ fans starting up), and the occasional descent through one of its air raid shelter doors into its dark, dank belly, I never went near the place again.

I grew up attending the Brunswick Street Methodist Sunday school. Now and again, I went to one of its evening services. The chapel was an exquisite example of Methodist architecture and decoration. Beautiful timberwork atop the iron pillars supporting the balcony was reflected in the gleaming wood of the impressive pulpit - the altar of the Word. The organ was a delight, especially when it was being played. Once I crept up to it, placed some hymnbooks on one of the pedals, and slipped away. The deep resonant boom brought concerned Christians out of all corners of the building to enquire after the unexpected and apparently causeless blare. I had not at that time discovered that confession was good for the soul.

When I was thirteen or fourteen, I was awarded a book token as a prize for regular Sunday school attendance. I took it to Coates and Bairstowe's booksellers and browsed through the long shelves of religious books. My five-shilling token bought me a book demythologising and casting doubts on the miracles in the gospels. To my young mind, it was a betrayal of faith. It is still a puzzle to me how one can accept all the rationalisation that is directed at the person and work of Jesus, and still accept that he was otherwise somehow divine. How can a person deny power to God and continue to believe in him?

The functions held by the Methodists were always enjoyable affairs with plenty to eat. It was at one of these functions when I was about twelve years old that I realised that I could eat without limit. Sometimes concerts were held in the hall below the chapel. These were always well produced, and acted with enthusiasm and good humour.

When I was fourteen I sought to express my religion in a more formal way and started attending evening meetings with something approaching regularity. The minister, Reverend Johnson, and his family took a passing interest in me. One evening after service they were speaking with me in the street outside the chapel and I was presented with a hairbrush. It was some time before I realised that this was a tacit comment on my appearance, and I was too insecure to take exception to the gesture that I am sure was well meant. I took the brush home and put it with the one I already had.

Two gentlemen Sunday school teachers whom I recall more or less vividly were Mr Telfer and Mr Porrit. They both belonged to the old school and dressed accordingly. Mr Telford was in business as a tea merchant in Dundas Street. I do not know what Mr Porrit did, but he was a dear old thing. One day during class time I asked a question, the gist of which has long since eluded me, and he seemed to delay the answer. When I became persistent in my demand for an answer, his composure left him and he opened the door and requested that I leave. His angry outburst was sudden and unexpected. I felt hurt and rejected and left the building for the last time. I went for a long walk down the bottom end of town, walking along Great Northern Street where a fairground was setting up. I watched this activity for some time while contemplating my present and future relationship with God. In my hurt and anger, I consciously became an atheist.

During a visit to Blackpool with the family - Grandparents and Ma and Dad and René and Arthur, I visited the local Roman Catholic Church with the landlord and his family. I enjoyed the sense of theatre and drama. The visit rekindled some warmth towards Christianity and I contemplated attending church again. In discussing this with my mother, one of the very few discussions I can remember, she said that she didn’t mind which church I went to as long as I went somewhere. As it happened, I didn’t go anywhere.

My association with the Roman Catholics did not end there. My sister blames someone else, I forget whom, but some of us went into St Patrick’s Church in New North Road, and helped ourselves to candles. We hid them in the pixie hood of a girl who lived on Portland Street. We probably used them to make light in dark places. The morality of the venture was not discussed, but the fact that we felt it necessary to hide them speaks for itself. Morality was the sort of thing that lurked around the fringes of childhood, but did not intrude far enough to prevent much mischief. On the other hand, we had no disposition to great wickedness. Checks and balances, checks and balances.

I had left school and was still keeping company with Peter West although we no longer worked together: I was at the Co-operative Transport on Deadwaters, when Pete told me about the spiritualist church. He said that someone had told him that at these churches some very strange things happened and that we should go along just “for a laugh.” Our first visit was to Ramsden Street Spiritualist Church. It was strange; a medium told a woman that she could see a baby floating around her head. I couldn’t see any baby. After the close of that service we raced up town to another meeting held in a room above the yard behind the Huddersfield Youth Cafe. A visiting couple of speakers from Bradford were introducing themselves. She said that we were “very lucky to have us here tonight, and we usually charge.” They sat one each side of a small table facing the congregation. On the table sat a good-sized Dundee Cake to be raffled, which the husband kept attacking, picking off the almonds one at a time and devouring them. Apart from this, the meeting was unremarkable.

Huddersfield Youth Café was a cool place to be. The coffee was unpretentious, but good. The table tennis tables were always in full use, and some very good players were evident. About this time, I started doing some hurdling in a barn at Almondbury. Opposite the Parish Church, there was this old barn, and somehow I got involved in the activities there. I was being coached at hurdling, and being complimented on my position floating over the bar. I was fourteen, so it was the year before Pete and I visited the Spiritualist Church. I know because I had two milk teeth for front uppers. It is hard to forget when ones last teeth went, especially if one is a teenager.

Although teenagers had not yet been invented, certain things embarrassed youngsters then as now. Going over the hurdles, spurred to greater heights by unaccustomed praise, my mouth hit my left knee with some force. My mouth felt sore, but I took little notice. I may have muttered some self-deprecatory remarks, then went straight around to have another go. This time, I thought, and launched myself at the hurdle. My mouth hit my knee again, this time with flesh-splitting force. Blood trickled into my mouth, and the two front teeth wobbled. I felt them tenderly; they came out in my hand. I lost my last milk teeth and fourteen, and my passion for hurdling at the same time.

I attended a meeting of a spiritualist church down Kirkgate above the Army Recruiting Office. The sign on the wall read “No Prophesying,” and “Silver Collection.” The meeting was given over to psychometry, during which the medium gave information to the ladies present - I was the sole male - about their husbands by holding, feeling and smelling articles belonging to their husbands that the ladies had smuggled in.

The second week that Peter and I had visited Ramsden Street and were on our way to the church behind the cafe, I noticed that the market place was crowded. I went across to have a look and was pleased to find a couple of young American men preaching from the plinth of the market cross. Knowing about America and Americans from my interface with Hollywood, I was very curious to get closer. Crossing over the road and standing to listen to the speakers I was approached by a tall, handsome man who introduced himself as Elder Tew. I thought he meant Elder Two, and that they were all called Elder with a number added. He gave me some literature and invited me to attend their services the following Sunday.

Next Sunday I went alone - Peter would not come - to Nine Rosemary Lane below Kirgate and climbed the long flight of stone steps to an upper room. As I put my hand on the doorknob to enter the meeting room, a very curious thing happened. I experienced a blinding flash of warmth and light and heard myself say, “I am going to be one of these people.” Who or what these people were I had no idea. Composing myself, I entered the room.

I can still picture the outstretched hands of all those who were at church that sunny August day in 1950. I was made very welcome and felt right at home. What I did not know then, but was soon to realise, was that I was at home!


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