If school days are meant to be the happiest of your life then my life was going to be pretty miserable. Don't think for a minute that it was all terrible; for the most part it was just monumentally forgettable. Fortunately school was not the only thing going on in my life. My friend Paul (Rock God) was known universally as 'The Preacher's kid' on account of his father's occupation. Paul took the name to be derogatory but in actual fact it was merely observational. His father, Graham Loader was, and is, a widely respected west country evangelist, who would on occasion take the school assembly and was generally accepted to be infinitely preferable to the usual bland, platitudinous rubbish we were normally fobbed off with.
Graham Loader was at that time a leader of a little chapel set in the dark heart of the Hartcliffe housing estate and he, with others, organised for a youth organisation called the Covenanter's to use the school gym on a Friday evening. Paul dragged me a long. In a Health and Safety nightmare we cavorted on gym equipment and trampolines, played bone-jarring British Bulldog and clambered up and dangled from wall-mounted climbing bars. We were 13 and indestructible. The only condition on partaking of this Friday night mayhem was attendance at a bible study type thing on a Sunday morning at the Hartcliffe Christian Fellowship. Fair enough, there was nothing on the telly.
Through out my teenage years I became immersed in the life of that little fellowship. And while, looking back, I might now take issue with elements of the somewhat black and white theology, it in many ways shaped the person I became. I remember it with great fondness. It gave me my first taste of public speaking, it gave me responsibilities, friends, and ultimately the basis of a career.
HCF was a world away from school. Different friends and different problems. My disability was still an issue though. I had to reconcile the reality of Muscular Dystrophy with never ending tales of healing, where faith led to a physical cure and that no sickness, disability or condition was too great for God to deal with. As the muscle in my forearm weakened and the tendons tightened causing my right hand to claw, I would lie awake at night praying that my fingers would unfurl. When they didn't it was obvious I didn't believe hard enough, or pray the right way. It is to their credit that no one at the church took me aside to discuss my lack of faith, although it must have been tempting for them to speculate on the massive nature of my sin that so caused God to hold back his healing touch. They needn't have bothered. Though I tried to lead the perfect life, pure and holy, I was after all a hormonally normal teenage boy. Just sitting next to Julie Trick in an English lesson was reason enough to require hours of repentance.
The search for healing would be a recurrent theme through out my teens and early twenties and would lead to my somewhat ambiguous relationship with the Almighty. But I can tell you that the kindness, wisdom and friendship of people like Graham Loader helped make what could have been traumatic years easier in many ways. The Preacher's Kid should be proud.