Born in 1942, brought up in a good, Christian family in Weston-super-Mare. We went to church three times on a Sunday – morning and evening services and Sunday School in the afternoon for the children. I am the eldest of four, but also the shiest and least confident in public. So painfully shy that my parents worried about me enough to take me to a psychologist! I was pretty good at school, always coming in the top ten in the top stream, but absolutely hopeless in any social gathering. Even fearful of going into new places! But I did once amaze myself by going to the front at a Billy Graham meeting and soon afterwards I got baptized, aged 15, in my home church.
As a vulnerable 17 year old, I went to university at Aberystwyth and joined the Christian Union. I had a vague notion of what I believed and what Christianity was all about, and I enjoyed the company of these people. I was invited to what in those days was called a ‘pre-terminal retreat’, a few days away at Bryn-y-Groes in Bala, before the beginning of the spring term. The speaker was (Rev. J) Elwyn Davies, the local ‘travelling secretary’ of the IVF. I listened and listened as I had never listened before. One evening he took as his theme If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). I followed what he was saying because of the background knowledge I already had: sins, unrighteousness, confession, forgiveness, cleansing, faithful; but I realized that I could not understand how justice came into this. What had justice to do with the message?
He explained how an exchange takes place as a person believes. Jesus was perfect, sinless; I was imperfect, sinful. But Jesus takes the penalty of my sin upon Himself and dies in my place, whereas I take upon myself His perfection and am allowed to escape that death because He has died it in my place. And God is just and will not demand that penalty from me because it has already been paid by Jesus. So that is what it is all about! He actually dies in my place, paying the penalty for sin on my behalf, so that I don’t have to. I had never understood this before. I listened as I had never listened before! It all made sense now – so that is why Jesus had to die … and that is why God is just.
At the end of the meeting I stood up – I had been sitting on the floor like a typical student – and I just felt a burden fall off my shoulders. I even remember twitching my shoulders, so real was the sensation. I still remember it vividly to this day (more than 50 years later!). My mind and heart were overwhelmed at what I had learnt, and I went upstairs just to be quiet and let it sink in. I was disturbed by other people coming in and chatting, but the CU president then came in and chided us for chatting about trivial things after such a meeting as we had just had. I was deeply grateful to him, for it meant that I could continue in my deep contemplation of what I had just heard and understood. (Many years later, I described it as looking through a car windscreen just after the intermittent wiper had cleared it; I could see quite a lot, but it was not really clear, but then like the wiper clearing away the rain from the windscreen, now I saw and understood with a clarity I could not have previously imagined.)
Did I tell anyone about it? No way; that dreadful shyness prevented me from ‘owning up’ when we had the opportunity of sharing what we had learnt in that retreat. The CU president looked directly at me, expecting me to say something, but I just couldn’t bring myself to speak up. That has been an enduring weakness with me.
I did well enough at university, which included a year in Germany which helped me a lot socially, and then I completed a year’s teacher training. It was hard work preparing to teach in a class; I had always to over-prepare, just in case I didn’t have enough material to get me through the lesson. I went on to do a postgraduate Diploma in Linguistic Science in Cardiff, got a couple of temporary jobs in UWIST library and their language laboratory and then managed to get job as an assistant lecturer. Over-preparation was again the name of the game! But so was secret prayer. I could never give a lecture without a secret prayer in my room beforehand, pleading with God to help me. 41 years later, when I retired as a Senior Lecturer, I still couldn’t speak up in public without a secret prayer for help! (… and I still can’t!)