Monday, January 17, 2011

The impact of evangelical conversions

What most people overlook when they talk about religious conversion is its far reaching impact in personal and social terms. This point is frequently made by David Martin, one of Britain’s best known sociologists, when he says that he owes his entire academic career to the evangelical conversion of his alcoholic grandfather. Without that event the family would have remained in dire poverty with no educational or other opportunities, But, because an evangelist, Gypsy Smith, entered his grandfather’s life the fate of the entire family was dramatically changed with the result that a family at the bottom of the social ladder rose dramatically and David became a respected professor.

Something similar happened to me. As apprentices one of the first things we learnt was that if the fitter we were working with told us to “go and check that other job,” then we had to clear off for a couple of hours. What was actually happening was that he was about to enter into a tryst with the woman in whose house we were installing an appliance. Although this did not happen every day it did occur on a fairly regular basis.

Locating a gas leak - I'm standing.

After my evangelical conversion I expressed my disapproval of these adulterous liaisons. Consequently, I was suddenly promoted to a senior apprentice. This meant that I no longer assisted a qualified fitter. Instead I was sent out on my own jobs as though I was  fully qualified. This happened when the fitter I was assigned to told our foreman that my work was “just as good” as his own and that he had taught me all that he could. Therefore, I was ready to work by myself. In fact, I was probably ready for the transition which came a few months ahead of schedule. What it did, however, was boost my reputation with the management. Of course, all the folk I worked with knew the real reason – my religion was getting in the way of normal life.

A few months after my conversion another event occurred that was to have an equally long term impact on my life. Billy Graham came to England for the Greater Manchester Crusade. Knowing that my colleagues were thorough going heathens I did all I could to lure them to one of Graham’s meeting to no avail. As part of this campaign I placed stickers on my motor bike advertising the event.

 The sticker that I stuck onto my motor bike's gas tank
It set me on a journey of discovery in some most unexpected ways

Almost a year later I received notice that one of the main managers at the Stockport Gas Board, where I worked, wanted to see me. When I went to his office he questioned me about the Billy Graham stickers on my motor bike the previous year. Although I was surprised that he remembered the Crusade I admitted that it was true. He then asked me if I attended Church and I told him that I was a Christian.

After receiving what was obviously a satisfactory reply he asked me if I would like to go to Berlin, Germany, on an apprentice exchange. The reason I had been selected was that the event was being organized by the Industrial Chaplaincies in Manchester and Berlin and, as he put it, “At least you believe something even it if is an American import. So I might as well send you as one of those buggers who never goes near a church …”

More to follow …

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