I can still remember the enormous sense of pride I felt at being awarded the Scripture Exam First Prize (with honours).
Of course, my success was more down to having a decent memory rather than any great love of Bible stories – not that it mattered.
I look back on the decade or so I attended Sunday school classes at Wesley Hall Methodist Church with great fondness.
I recall marching around the streets of Sneyd Green once a month bashing the hell out of my side drum and hoping none of my much cooler mates noticed me wearing the blue uniform of the 14th (North Staffs) branch of the Boys’ Brigade.
I remember sunny fêtes, the crowning of the church queen (yours truly was a page boy) and the annual concert where I was mesmerised by the rickety old wooden stage – which doubtless still has my chewing gum stuck to the underside of a plank in the top right hand corner. Happy days.
I haven’t attended church regularly since I was a teenager. But that’s OK, according to the Bishop of Lichfield, who rode to the rescue of my soul this week.
The Right Reverend Jonathan Gledhill says people like me, who attend church only occasionally, are not hypocrites. He is referring to the 38 million people who go each year to a C of E funeral service and the millions more who attend weddings and baptisms.
The Bishop’s pastoral letter is refreshing in its honesty and shows a willingness to tackle those who sneer at organised religion and take cheap shots at the wayward flock.
He knows full well that most people only attend church when they have an occasion to mark. And for many, this is more a case of duty and tradition than any great need for spiritual fulfilment.
Basically, for many, the church service is the dull bit before they slacken their ties at the wake, christening party or wedding reception. It’s sad, but true.
There are notable exceptions, but for years many churches have presided over dwindling attendances and the majority of worshippers have been older people who are seeking companionship or perhaps hedging their bets before the great hereafter.
Some churches have resorted to playing cat and mouse with potential recruits who have to attend a certain number of services and prove they live within the locality before they are allowed to book a wedding or christening service at their preferred house of God. This is their rather unsubtle way of encouraging our continuing attendance.
It doesn’t work, of course. Once the aforementioned do is out of the way, you don’t see most couples or their offspring for dust.
The simple truth is they have better, or, what they perceive to be, more important things to do on a Sunday. Like going to Ladsandads football matches, trolling around garden centres or dragging the kids to B&Q.
Having said all this, I’m in firm agreement with much of what the Bishop has to say.
The church, or should I say the Christian Church in this country, has become a soft target for social commentators, which is a crying shame.
The fact is, churches are nowhere near as popular as they once were as people now enjoy far more freedoms and choice than they did even 50 years ago.
However, churches are just as relevant and important today, arguably more so, in fact, to a society battling against declining moral standards and in desperate need of some spiritual healing.
And we should never underestimate their value as a focal point for much of what is wholesome and good in our lives.
Whether we visit churches for parent and toddler groups or tea dances, use them to host functions or simply for the necessary bits before cracking open the bubbly and toasting our newlyweds or wetting the baby’s head, they are an essential part of the glue which binds our communities together.
And we would be much the poorer without them.
To me, religion is, and should be, a deeply personal thing. I believe in God and I value the religious education I received which supplemented what my parents and school teachers taught me.
I enjoy attending church for special occasions involving family and friends. I don’t find it dull in the least – in fact, it is by far the best bit of the day for me.
I cherish the Christmas services, the uplifting carols and the messages the church puts out during the season of goodwill.
But by the same token, and it may be a cop-out in some people’s eyes, I feel no need to meet up with other Christians once a week to praise God and sing turgid hymns, or their happy-clappy modern counterparts.
I pray each night, and that’s enough for me to feel in touch with God.