My family was involved with the United Reform church, as it became, when the Congregationals joined forces with the Methodists. When we were children, church attendance was not an option. Our family filled two pews and half the choir stalls, and woe betide any unknowing visitor who sat in either of the Humphries pews. The enticement that lured my brothers and me to sing in the choir was the visit to the fish and chip shop on the way home from choir practice. Every Friday we would have our tea as usual and look meaningfully at Grandad, who always coughed up for chips. I think mostly we’d eaten them all by the time we got home, because that smell was irresistible, and the vinegar soon seeped through the newspaper and made a little hole just big enough to get one chip out. Then another.
On Sundays we had a strict routine. When we were young we were allowed to jump into our parent’s bed for orange squash and a story. Both parents had a real talent for making up stories. Mum serialised stories at bath time each evening, and on Sunday morning Dad kept us entertained with exciting tales of jungles he had visited only in his imagination.
Sunday breakfast was always fresh grapefruit, followed by a slice of home-cooked ham and as much toast and home-made marmalade as you could eat, all washed down by percolated coffee. As we got older, we were expected at the table at nine o’ clock, no matter what time we had got to bed the night before. Anyone arriving late received the frosty glare. As soon as meal was cleared away, there was a flurry of activity to prepare the vegetables for the traditional roast lunch, which went into the oven before we left for church at ten forty-five.
Bridport Congregational Church was noted for its beautiful organ, which was played with gusto by the two talented musicians who took alternate weeks. When the church was built, attendance must have been much greater, as there was additional seating in an upstairs gallery. During the church service, children were allowed to leave before the sermon, and we trouped en masse into the ‘schoolrooms’ for Sunday school.
After an enormous roast lunch, there was afternoon Sunday School, taken by my mother and Auntie Edna. I played the piano appallingly badly for the little ones and I think back with some embarrassment about how I lied to my friends regarding my Sunday afternoon activities. It was so not cool to be going to Sunday School for the second time in one day, although everybody probably knew where I was, anyway.
Growing up in a church-going family, a necessary part of our journey into adulthood was attendance at Confirmation classes. It wasn’t actually called ‘Confirmation’ in the Congregational Church, but basically it was the same thing, except I didn’t get to have a new white dress.
The classes were held in the manse and were a far cry from the lively discussions my own children had prior to their being welcomed into the family of the Church.
We were a small group, probably no more than six teenagers, sitting in the straight-backed character-forming chairs, trying not to giggle, attempting to understand the depth of spirituality, striving to give the right answers but basically just waiting for the tea and biscuits to be brought in. I speak for myself, of course.
Although I believed in God, the essence of Christianity had somehow eluded me at that time. Possibly my adolescent focus was on other more mundane issues, as I had just discovered that if you wanted to have a boyfriend it was necessary to shave your legs.