A true Christmas story…
Twenty two years ago, in 1998, I was driving home from doing a Saturday morning gig in late October/early November time, for the Man City Guvnors hooligan firm in Manchester. You had to be at Heaton Park club in Manchester for half past seven in the morning. When I got there, there were over 200 lads, and some lasses, in this club on the beer, some snorting cocaine. I was working with two strippers and I went into the audience hard, like, I didn’t give them room to breathe. I had to do that or they’d have eaten me alive and spat me out, but I went on the front foot, told them I was from Middlesbrough, took the room by the scruff of the neck and I annihilated the gig. It was a fantastic gig, complete mayhem and after it, I got a standing ovation.
I was buzzing, all was right in the world.
I got in the car and I set off home. I was over two thirds of my way home, I was on the A19 and it was about three o’clock. Normally, I’d drive all the way to the parkway then home to Redcar, but for some reason, I had this like quiet voice in my head, no, it was in my heart, which I felt, if that makes sense? telling me to come off the A19 way before then, which I did, and I ended up going through a small village called Hutton Rudby.
As I drove into Hutton Rudby, through it and out the other side, on the right hand side was a church, the church of all saints, it’s about a thousand years old. When I got to it, this same quiet voice told me to stop and go into the church. So I pulled over and did so.
As I walked up to the stone porch of this 11th century building, there were these wrought iron gates closed across the entrance. I thought they would be padlocked, but they weren’t, so I walked into the vestibule. In front of me in this dark vestibule, were two thick oak doors with massive handles. I thought, “these must be locked” because in a town or city, they would be, but no, as I turned the clasp the door opened. But the strange thing was that as I pushed the door, I actually felt like someone was pulling on the other side at the same time?
I remember to this day, the feeling that I had when that happened, it was like whoa…hang on a minute what was that! As the door opened, directly behind them was another set of thick oak doors. “These must be locked” I thought, but as I turned the clasp and pushed, the door opened but this time as I pushed, I actually felt like something was dragging me in the church.
I shut the door behind me and now I was completely alone in the church. I always remember the strong smell of Lilly’s all around me, and the other things that struck me was how cold it was, but more than that, the peace. It was absolute silence.
So I was stood there on my own in this cold peace, the thoughts of the mayhem in the gig in Manchester, were now being replaced with a feeling of quiet solitude on a scale that was difficult to take in. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in an ancient church completely alone as the sun is starting to wain, I suppose it could be an intimidating experience for some. But I just felt absolutely at peace. Full of warmth and even awe and wonder. I decided to sit on the front pew and just started talking in a hushed voice. I said “I don’t know why I’m here but I believe I’ve been led here”. There was complete silence in this cold, ancient, getting darker by the minute, church. I was completely alone, but I didn’t feel alone, I felt there was something there with me. So, I asked for direction, I asked for love to be shown to my loved ones, I asked for all sorts (not material things) and then I said a prayer.
There was no blinding light, no clap of thunder, no heavenly choir, just absolute quiet and peace. It was the absolute opposite of the foul mouthed, drunken, drug fuelled anarchy of the Man City Guvnors do, as you could have got.
But…in that dark ancient church, I knew that something deeply spiritual had happened to me and I knew my life would never be the same again, I didn’t know how I knew? Or why? I just ‘knew’. I felt that what was happening wasn’t necessarily about religion, even though I was in a church.
I just felt it was, well I don’t know what I felt it was? It just, was.
I just felt different, and that’s the only way to describe it, like some cog had stopped and been reset inside of me at a different pace to what it had before and I was now operating on a different level and seeing things in a completely different way. I finished saying what I wanted to say, to whatever it was I was saying it to and then I actually said the Lord’s Prayer. I got up and walked back to the thick oak doors and I found some paper and a pen and I wrote what had happened to me and put it in the donations box with three pound coins, and then I left.
I can not describe the sense of the most honest peace that I felt, as I drove back home to Redcar.
A few months later just before Christmas, I was doing something, can’t remember what and this quiet voice came back and it told me to take my daughter Laura, who was five, back to the church with me on Christmas Eve, So I did.
On Christmas Eve, we went to the church and sat on the front pew and I asked her if she had been good for Santa, and if she was happy and I answered her questions, she always had loads of questions. Then she found some crayons and colouring in pictures and did that as I said a prayer and then together, we found a small apse in the church wall and we lit eight candles. We lit a candle for our loved ones, our pets, etc and the last one was for world peace. We then went to Stokesley and had pasties and cakes in the car and then I took her home.
Weve done that every year since then and as she has gotten older, our chats at the front of the church have become more spiritual. We talk about the highs and lows of the year, what we both want for the year to come, we both say prayers but we still light the eight candles, the final candle we light is still for world peace and we still go to Stokesley for pasties and cake and crisps and that’s how we begin Christmas.
When we drive home, we both feel that the Christmas festivities can begin, it’s our way of ushering them in and they begin with connecting with the true spirit and meaning of it.
About three years ago though, things changed. Because, when he was almost one, we took my daughters son, my grandson Lucius, to the church, what my daughter and I call ‘our special place’. That filled me with joy because I know that whatever force of light and peace touched me all those years ago, I then passed it to my daughter and it was now being passed to my grandson via my daughter. The same thing happened again just over a year ago when we took my twin granddaughters Willow and Matilda.
It goes on. It’ll be generational and it goes on.
Love man, that’s what counts at Christmas time. We have all been conned by selfish, greedy, wicked people, into believing that we have to spend thousands of pounds to be happy and to make other people happy and to feel content and at peace. Take it from me, doing that doesn’t make or spread happiness at Christmas.
All you really need, is love, peace and the price of a cheese and onion pasty. chocolate cake and a bag of crisps.
Merry Christmas everyone and I wish you all a really great 2021…