Testimony by Graham Fowler

Written by Graham Fowler | January 2022

I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘Epiphany’ and how it relates to your own faith journey? I have never experienced an epiphany, a blinding light on the road to Damascus moment, my faith journey has been more a long and steep climb, retracing my steps on occasions, whilst continuing slowly to go forward. There have been occasions when I have departed from the path entirely to attend to other matters that seemed more pressing, but something always drew me back. Whilst my parents were Christians, they were not regular churchgoers in my early childhood. Like most of my generation I was introduced to Jesus by way of attendance at Sunday School, lessons in Religious Instruction (as it was known then) and daily school assemblies, which always included a form of Christian worship. Since then, many Christians and Christian writers have influenced or shaped my faith but as with the 3 witnesses of the resurrection, the foremost are all women.

One was my Great Aunt Norah, who contracted rheumatic fever in her mid 20s and spent the rest of her life confined to a wheelchair.  A gentle woman in the true sense of the word, she would never go out without wearing her white gloves and threw my Mother into an absolute frenzy of cleaning and preparation, whenever she was due to stay.  Away went the day-to-day crockery and cutlery and out came the best linen, china, napkins, and silver.  It was like a royal visit, even though I’m sure it was not what my aunt expected – she just wanting to enjoy the company of family.  It was obvious to me from her demeaner, the way in which she responded to church services on the wireless and her withdrawal in the evenings for prayer, that her faith was a great comfort to her.  She was active in the Chapel of the rather grand Care Home in which she lived and following her death, I came across a notebook of her favourite bible verses, which she had lovingly illustrated with water colours. She always kept by the side of her bed a pen and ink drawing, which you may be familiar with, the “Study of the Hands of an Apostle” by the German painter and theorist Albrecht Durer, a copy of which  I have, in memory of her, as the lock screen on my iPhone. 

For me knowing that Jesus is with me and cares for me has been a great strength

Another was my paternal grandmother, or Nannie as I called her.   A regular at the tin tabernacle where my father and grandfather were choirboys, she would sing hymns as she undertook her domestic chores.  A particular favourite being “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear!”  The second line of which, “It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds, and drives away his fear” must have been a great comfort to her as her Parkinson’s disease progressed.  By my early teens she was bedridden and could only speak in a whisper and with the sparkle of her eyes.  Shortly before she died, she let it be known she would like me and my brother to be confirmed and because of her wish, I got to know the Revd. Victor Jaggin who, as an Army Chaplain, had been taken prisoner by the Japanese and put to work on the Burma Railway.  So perhaps 3 women and one very special man but that’s another story!

And finally, Jean Read.  A quiet woman who was a Deaconess at the church I started to attend more regularly in my late 20s, encouraged to do so by my parents’ commitment, my father being Churchwarden and Server there. The church was and still is Anglo-Catholic and I imagine it was not easy for a woman to be in such a prominent position at a time when the ordination of women into the church was such a heated issue.  Her sermons touched me and opened the scriptures for me in a way I had not known before and somehow, without my really noticing, she got me more involved by encouraging me to read, then to toll the bell and to be elected as a sidesman.

If there is a common characteristic of these witnesses to Jesus, it is that none blamed God for their condition or the challenges they faced in life.  On the contrary they turned to him for strength and the love he provides. For me knowing that Jesus is with me and cares for me has been a great strength in those times when the experiences of life have made it difficult to cope and I have felt overwhelmed.  But as importantly his teachings and message, concerning the bringing about of the Kingdom of God have given me a vision and ethical code to strive for.  I do so in the knowledge that when, as is often the case, I fall short, he doesn’t give up on me as a lost cause.  That I can turn to him, acknowledge I have let him down and undertake to try and do better, secure in knowing, his love is such, that I will be forgiven.