Looking To The Skies For Faith

Have you ever looked up at the sky?

It seems a strange question but it’s one that I’ve had good cause to ponder in my time. 

I’ve spent a large portion of my time working in the realm of car parking, airport parking to be precise. My days were spent meeting excited and anxious holiday makers who had booked parking in Liverpool Airport, and it was my job to transfer them to a shuttle and then park their car in the multi-storey. I know that many people spend their working days inside office buildings or warehouses, toiling under fluorescent strip lighting, but I felt that job had particularly depressive connotations. Every day I would be a small feature in another person’s day, a little cog in the machine that would take them from their humdrum lives to a far flung destination.

Although I met different people and drove different cars every day every day, my days felt monotonous and routine. I spent three years with the smell of damp concrete and petrol in my nose, making hundreds of little journeys in hundreds of different vehicles. I travelled hundreds of miles, but I barely moved at all. The winter days were arguably the most difficult to deal with. On those cold early morning starts I would shuffle into work during the dead of night and by the time that I was ready to leave the multi-storey the sun had already dipped below the horizon once more. My days were perpetual nights and the car park was such a familiar sight to me that I even visited it during my dreams.

When such a large portion of your life is spent in one grey dark space, you find that the parts are enriched in so many other ways. Those days were difficult, but they made me appreciate the bright blue of the sky and the regular church meetings all the more. A simple trip to the supermarket, although lit by strip lighting, became an odyssey of colour and smells. Trips to the seaside were almost religious in their awe-inspiring sensory overloading nature. Looking up to the sky, I’d be transported far from my life and felt the true all-encompassing love of God. Those days were not so bad when I look back at them now.

After three years serving the airport car park in Liverpool, I was offered a job in Portsmouth managing a car park of my own. The change was a big one, but one that I was all too happy to embrace. I sold up my home, packed up my belongings and made the move, but not before I was given a letter of recommendation from my church pastor in Liverpool. He’d found a new congregation for me to join and the letter was to be my ticket to a safe spiritual passage, although I never had the chance to use it.

The car park that I was now in charge of was open-air. This hadn’t been mentioned in the job description  and I remember smiling when I pulled up on my first day. Now, every day was spent underneath the fantastic blue sky and my connection to God was closer than it had ever been before. The world had become my church.

Taking the Plunge: Re-Visiting Portsmouth Cathedral

Pool covers bring a worshipper home to Portsmouth.

As Nelson Mandelda once said:

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

My job takes me all over the country, but in all my years as a delivery man for a swimming pool supplier I’d never had to return to Portsmouth. My relationship with this place was not what you’d describe as ‘chequered’, but I’d nonetheless made a silent pledge with myself to not return, that was until it popped up on my delivery schedule. The kinds of memories that I have of Portsmouth are the kind of primal recollections that linger in the head free of definition or any kind of context. They were embedded so early in my life that they have become almost unattainable in their vagueness.

Do you remember the first time you entered a church or a cathedral? Do you remember the first time you were held by your grandmother? Can you recall the first time you encountered the soothing scent of lavender?

It was a delivery of swimming pool covers that took me back to the city of Portsmouth, a place that I’d never planned on returning to.

The name didn’t register in my mind when I saw it appear on my docket for the day. The name after all, so utterly utilitarian in its plain-faced description, doesn’t conjure up any kind of fanciful English ideals. Just like its name, the city itself had left no lasting impression on my mind. No street names triggered any memories as I trundled through Portsmouth’s streets with my payload and before I knew it I’d delivered the swimming pool covers with time to spare.

Having no other jobs to complete that day and with a wilful intent to uncover the source of my frustratingly nagging memories, I dove into my phone to look for what had stopped me returning to this otherwise featureless place. When scanning through a list of attractions an interior photo of a church caught my eye; plain white, blindingly bright and pure, it stopped me in my tracks. I set my navigation and made a beeline for Portsmouth Cathedral.

The smell of lavender was the first thing that I noticed. How had I forgotten? Soothing and clearing my mind, I walked slowly towards the building’s entrance. Churches, cathedrals, chapels: these are all things that I tend to ignore when driving around the country. Like coffee shops and supermarkets my brain had long ago told me to not pay attention to their details. This felt like the first time that I was looking at a Cathedral since, well, since the first time I looked at a Cathedral.

I was a child again. Four years old and tiny, I now remembered looking up at the building staggered by its immensity and yet comforted by the embrace of my Grandmother. Lavender.

She had worn lavender perfume that day and although I had not returned there with her again, it was a memory that I am glad I reclaimed for myself.

Summer Events in Portsmouth Churches

Looking for a Christian event to head to this summer?

With so many active churches in Portsmouth, there’s always something to do here!

Messy Church @ Church of the Resurrection, Drayton

Every 3rd Saturday of the month 2pm-4pm (excluding August)

Like many other churches around the city, Church of the Restoration holds a regular ‘Messy Church’ day to provide a welcome couple of hours reprieve for parents who are looking to sit back and let their kids keep themselves entertained. Unlike the overly serious Sunday Schools of yore, Messy Church days loosely focus around a religious theme of some sort. Mums and Dads are welcomed into the church with Tea or Coffee whilst the kids get stuck in with crafting activities and games. Simple prayers and a celebration of the children’s work is followed by a meal and drinks.

Chalk Pits & Cream Tea @ St. Mary’s Church, Buriton

Sunday 12th August 2018

Scene Christian Social are a completely non-profit group of Christians who hold a number of events throughout the year. Less a society and more a wide social group of friends, Scene Christian Social offers Christian singles or couples the opportunity to meet like minded people and make new friends whilst taking part in a wide variety of interesting activities. This month they will be meeting for a walk through Buriton’s Chalk Pits Nature Reserve which will be followed by a Cream Tea at St. Mary’s Church.

Night of Prayer @ The Redeemed Christian Church of God Discipleship Centre

Every Friday night at 9pm

With over 3 million members worldwide, The Redeemed Church of God is a fast growing denomination that is unscrupulous in its open, welcoming nature. Presided over by the venerable Odunayo A. Fatunwase, their regular Night of Prayer is a perfect opportunity for newcomers to take part in some reflection, as well as more vocal prayers. Each session is well attended by a good number of people so you’re bound to make a few friends whilst you’re there.

The Four BBQ @ Harbour

Sunday 19th August 2018

Fashionable, young and modern are not often words that hear associated with a church, but Harbour Church in Portsmouth has done just that. Vicar Alex Wood is in charge here and he’s done a great job in setting up a church that has proved to be immensely popular with young people and students. Their Instagram-ready appeal is just the surface level of why they’re so popular, it’s the meaningful events, like their annual BBQ, which makes this such a special community to be a part of.



Taking Time Out

When you run your own business it can be difficult to take time out.

There was a time in my life when I was glued to my desk.

Stuck in a cubicle for years, I’d grown accustomed to the life of a 9-6 desk jockey; yet to discover my true purpose in life. From the moment I sat down at my desk until I was free to leave, I’d find myself constantly day dreaming about what else I could do with my life and what I could change so that I could lift myself out of the mire of mediocrity that I’d found myself in.

Thankfully the answer came to me sooner than I expected. After lugging my lazy self to work and back with the weight of the world on my showers, I (quite literally) bumped into a man on the street who would change my life forever. Half in a daze whilst walking down the street one day on the way back home, I collided with a man wearing a bright green polo shirt. I apologised immediately and thought the matter done with until I realised that the man had begun following me into my block of flats.

“Do you know Ethel? I’m here to clean her oven.”

I looked at him blankly, attempting to guess whether this balding man in his 40s with a middling paunch posed a threat to the octogenarian who lived next door to me. His happy smile and seeming eagerness at 6pm to clean some one else’s oven had put me on guard. Who on Earth is ever this eager to work so late in the day?!

As we both began the long slog up the stairs (the elevator had broken down years ago and never been fixed) I asked him about his oven cleaning business. By the time we reached Ethel’s door I was curious about how the process worked, so I had a snoop whilst Greg (against all odds, this man’s name was Greg) went about cleaning Ethel’s oven.

I watched in wonder as Greg went about dismantling Ethel’s oven, amiably chatting the whole time. Here was a man who had his hands caked in the grime and filth of what looked like a thousand fry-ups and he was smiling. That night I furiously Googled the company he’d received his training from and started my own journey to become a self-employed oven cleaner.

Flash forward two years and I find myself travelling all across the county cleaning ovens.

As much as I’m happier taking charge of my day-to-day activities, I’ve found that my schedule is getting increasingly packed. It wasn’t until I visited The Society of the Sisters of Bethany that I was able to understand the extent to which I’d forgotten the wonders of simple quiet worship. Just like any other people these Sisters needed their oven cleaned, which I was all too glad to do.

Entering their home I was instantly aware of the peace that reigned there. Seven women lived together but there was no trace of any of them. As I finished my work, a sister came out and touched me lightly on the hand, she asked me if I’d enjoyed the peace to which I answered that I had – she invited me to stay longer and I couldn’t say no! I booked a week out of my calendar and spent the next 7 days in quiet contemplation.

I returned to work rejuvenated once more and a million miles away from my office cubicle.

Church Communities That Give Back

Looking for a congregation to join in Portsmouth?

These churches in Portsmouth are doing their bit for the community.

St. Luke and St. Peter, Southsea

The Church of St. Luke and St. Peter is a vibrant one offering a safe, welcoming space to those with or without faith. Since early 2018 the building has been going through a series of redevelopments in order to bring the structure up to date for a new age of worshippers. The congregation is currently focused on raising money that should transform the shape of the building and how it’s used by the community. A bright entrance is being planned to welcome newcomers in addition to a new cafe and co-working space that should serve to make the church a more popular venue for local people in the neighbourhood.

St. John’s Cathedral

Built in 1882, St. John’s has been the home for an ever growing number of Catholics in and around Portsmouth ever since, although at one point it seemed like there would’t even be a chapel! Before 1791 English Catholics had not been allowed to have chapels within towns or cities, but that soon changed with the Second Catholic Relief Act of 1791. Reverend John Cahill was the first appointed Catholic priest in Porstmouth who opened a chapel in a private home. It wasn’t until 1882 that the Cathedral as we know it today was dedicated, since then the building has been adapted and renovated several times.

St. Jude, Southsea

Around 300 people of different ages and races congregate at St. Jude’s to celebrate and praise God. Made up of a dedicated team of individuals, St. Jude has a strong interpersonal structure that has made it an integral part of the community. A number of informal groups meet here each week spanning a wide range of ages. Young families can bring the kids along to children’s groups suitable from the youngest of toddlers to teenagers, there are also meetings for students, men women and older people. Check out their website for more details on these groups.

St. Simon, Southsea

Located just a few minutes from the seafront, St. Simon’s is an Anglican church that prides itself on its thrilling services and engaging talks. Bob Mason is the man in charge here and he’s supported by a team of passionate Anglicans who come from all over England. St. Simon is notable for taking part in a number of forward thinking schemes such as the Open Church project which aimed to give those affected by homelessness a place to stay over night, as well as a hot meal throughout February. After the success of this project they will be repeating and extending Open Church in early 2019.

Stumbling From Business into Religion

Is it possible to be blindsided by God?

I believe so. 

My life had been chaotic for a number of years before I realised there was another way out, but it took a chance encounter with a man from Portsmouth for this to happen.

Birmingham in the mid-90s was not an attractive place, stuck in a concrete clad limbo this grey metropolis was not a pretty sight on  the sunniest of days. I’d spent nearly my entire life in the city and yet I’d never developed much affinity with the place. My parents had come from outside the city for work, they had only stayed because they were worried that they would not be able to find jobs elsewhere. For the entirety of my childhood I was reminded about the sacrifice that my parents had to make in order for me to eat and have an education, but when I left home at the age of 18 I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.

After spending years saving I bought my first piece of property back in 1982. Properties in the city centre were cheap at this time and soon one property became many. Before I knew it I had become the proud owner of a veritable property empire, those years were rewarding but also challenging as I was soon to discover that keeping so many balls in the air was certainly no easy task! As busy as I was, it didn’t stop me from buying more property. Within the year I’d doubled by portfolio and had found myself well and truly out of my depth.

By the mid-00s my business had stepped up a notch even further. The investments I’d made in city centre property in the 80s had paid off and now the city was making a turn around the buildings I’d bought were very much in demand. Dozens of start-ups chasing the ever elusive tech bubble were looking for events for networking in Birmingham and I was the man who held the keys to it. It was this turn in my fortunes that led to me meeting Jeffrey Towne, a business owner and Baptist from Portsmouth who was interested in investing in the city.

Jeffrey was primarily in Birmingham to attend the Christian Conference, an annual meeting of Christians from all doctrines and denominations, but he also had an eye for a deal and had spotted a ‘To Let’ sign on one of my buildings. After taking his call I met him in the centre to show him around the building, a 3-storey Victorian building that had the makings of a good-sized office. Jeffrey didn’t come across ‘religious’ in any way, it had been so long since I’d talked to anyone of faith that I’d built up an impression in my mind of the overzealous door knocker and had not realised that there were like minded businessmen who also held a faith.

Jeffrey didn’t buy any property in the end, but he did tempt me into going to the Conference with him. It was at that conference that I met my future wife and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve since been baptised and now live in Portsmouth where I still meet up with Jeffrey for the occasional chat. 

Baptist Churches in Portsmouth

A strong Baptist community exists to this day in the city

New to the city and looking for a Baptist church to join?

Take a look at these vibrant, open communities that ready to welcome you to your new family…

Cosham Baptist Church

Simon is the Minister here at Cosham Baptist Church, an inclusive institution with a robust schedule of events for all ages. With the help of his wife Vanessa, Simon gets involved with all aspects of Church life including scheduling the roster of events. Their morning service is on every Sunday at 10:15, a Seniors Service (followed by tea) starts at 3pm on the third Sunday of each month and there are regular evening sessions held to focus on missions around the world.

North End Baptist Church

The congregation at the North End Baptist Church see each and every sermon as a journey. Together as one, the people at this church move forward in their embrace of God whilst making this journey the centre of their being. Modelling their faith in three directions, the people at North End look upwards to their God, outward to their neighbours and inward to themselves. Through worship, work within the community and deep reflection they aim to become better Christians.

Salem Strict and Particular Baptist Church

Don’t let the name deceive you, the folks at Salem are far from a severe bunch. Henry Sant has served as the Pastor here since 1996, following in a long line of Baptist pastors that goes back to 1814. The original Chapel was built a year after the formation of the church but was destroyed 100 years later during World War I. It wasn’t until 1959 that a new chapel was built which stands to this very day. Although their home and pastor has changed over the years their message remains the same: “For promoting the Christian religion as it is professed by Protestant Dissenters of the Denomination of Particular Baptists.”

City Life Church

The church family at City Life Church (formally Tangier Road Baptist Church) goes back an astonishing 375 years. Starting in 1640, a small group of believers would gather in a cottage in Old Portsmouth. Since then their numbers have grown immensely. Today City Life is one of the largest church communities in the city who share in God’s word and celebrate their relationship with Jesus together. People of all ages and backgrounds come to their services on Sunday at 10:30am, with evening services starting at 6pm.