For many who grew up in the early Sixties, churchgoing was a regular activity, and our family was no exception. The council estate where I grew up was still being built and only a few denominations were represented in the places of worship springing up. So, until a suitable Methodist church was built, our spiritual needs were met in the mysteriously-named Fitzclarence Forward Movement at the top of our road. There was little forward movement in its austere expectations (alcohol and makeup were frowned upon), but the services were lively and interactive, with rousing hymns conducted by an wiry man called Mr John. There was a lot of handclapping and audience participation:
Get thee behind me Satan
Get thee away (thumb jerked back over shoulders)
I don’t want anything
To do with you today (peremptory wagging of finger)
As an overly sensitive child, my fear of the devil was not helped by the naïve illustrations of The Temptation in my Childs Garden of Jesus . God, on the other hand, I saw in my minds eye as the sailor on the front of the Players cigarette packet, waiting on the roof of the church to pick up the collection after the service.
Running over/ Running over
My cup is full and running over
Since the Lord saved me (finger pointing to the ceiling)
I’m as happy as can be (loud clapping)
My cup is full and running over.
Every year the highlight of the church calendar was the Whitsun March, when we would march around the streets of the estate, singing processional hymns. Once we had sung our hearts out to Onward Christian Soldiers, we were rewarded with the Whitsun Treat served in the church hall: sandwiches, paste and luncheon meat, followed by jelly and blancmange, and, if you were lucky, Cadbury’s chocolate fingers. This was before the throwaway society, and our mothers would sellotape our names to our plates and cutlery to be brought home.
Whitsun was also an annual opportunity to dress up. My mother would look in the draper’s for a large remnant to ‘run up’ cotton dresses for my sister and me – the choice of verb underlining the speed and resourcefulness with which this would be done. A knitted white bolero and white Clarks sandals completed our Sunday Best. It was a look carried off well by a 5 year old but a bit tough on my Sandra who was 11. The final indignity was having her hair waved with Amami Waveset and irons. No wonder she looked longsuffering in the Whitsun photo.
When I was a child my mother used to say “if there’s a light on in the church our Siân is in it ”. That is no longer true, but biblical metaphors such as feeding the five thousand, casting seed on stony ground, and Mary and Martha I still use regularly, a linguistic reminder of a Sunday school education.