(Allan Bowers is the author of several inspirational books, including his autobiography, Life from a New Angle)
In the hymn by William Cowper, it is said that God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. It seemed providential that I went to Bournemouth to be with my godmother, and I am sure that this move, was a turning point in my life.
Southbourne Methodist Church was nearby and I was introduced to a warm fellowship where there was a strong Bible class and a lot of young people of my own age group.
In the spring of 1941 I saw a large number of young men being drilled by a Flight Sergeant. I knew that soon I would receive my call-up papers.
I began my life in the Royal Air Force at Cardington and, after initial training, was posted to Battersea Park Polytechnic to train as a wireless operator.
I was billeted with an elderly Welsh couple who looked after me with great care and treated me like a son. I began to think even more deeply about God’s providence. I couldn’t get out of my mind the thought that there was divine purpose at work in the world and that I and every other human being was part of that purpose, so I felt safe and secure.
I believed I had the Fatherly care of God. While at Battersea I decided I didn’t wish to become a wireless operator because that would inevitably involve going on bombing raids.
I couldn’t bring myself to be involved in air raids that were aimed at destruction so I transferred to the medical branch and was sent on an anatomy and physiology course at Sidmouth, Devon.
Before leaving Battersea I went to see my minister to enquire about training as a Local Preacher in the Methodist Church. He gave me what in Methodism is called “a note to preach”.
When I arrived at Sidmouth I attended the Sidmouth Methodist Church and one Sunday I was invited to conduct a morning service.
I made a note in my diary, Sunday 29th November 1942, and I preached on the text from Hebrews 13, verse 8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever”.
On Sunday evenings a group of young men serving in the Royal Air Force were invited to a fellowship meeting in a room over the bakery that was opposite the church. I shall always remember those evenings when we read the Bible together, after which we had freshly baked rolls with butter, and strawberry jam, a rare treat in those austere days.
When I finished the course at Sidmouth I was posted to Royal Air Force hospital at St Athens, for practical training in the wards and in the operating theatre.
Upon completing my course I was posted to a unit of the Air Ministry in London, to spend the remainder of my years in the Royal Air Force engaged in medical statistics.
On Sundays, when I was off duty, I went to Westminster Central Hall to hear the Reverend Dr Edwin Sangster preach to a vast congregation.
I so loved his preaching that I went to the Central Hall at every opportunity and it was under Dr Sangster’s ministry that I learned some important things in the art of preaching. I read his books, and one which influenced me was, The Path to Perfection in which he made a valuable contribution to the idea of holiness for which he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of London University.
I mention this dedicated man of God because it was this kind of preaching that I needed at that time. In his presence and by his preaching I felt the spirit of Christ reaching out to me.
He enabled me to get closer to the fuller intensity, drama, and daily practice of the presence of Christ, which was far from easy in the early days of the war days serving in the Royal Air Force.
As I look back on my five and a half years’ service I know that I was pulled in two ways, one towards what might be called the primacy of pleasure, the other the primacy of character.
The pleasure principle expressed itself in the catch-phrases of the day: “Have a good time”, and “I couldn’t care less”.
In a mixed camp where young men and women were working together the temptation for sexual relationships was very strong.
Widespread drinking or “pub crawling” as it was called, frequently took place on pay days, and though since I never felt the temptation to join in those outings I never knew what it was like to be drunk.
The primacy of character was a strong pull and I knew that I owed so much to my parents for the upbringing they had given me and also to the church to which I belonged.
My first concern with questions about the Christian faith and theology in actual life came with my contact with the men in the barrack room.
For the first time in my life I was faced with a double crisis: the crisis of relevance and the crisis of identity. I asked myself time and time again two questions: “How could Jesus Christ who lived two thousand years ago be relevant to my situation?”, and, the greater of the two questions: “Who am I?”
My service number was 1451813 and I wore a tag around my neck for identity purposes, but deep down I knew that I was more than a number and somehow I knew that it was only a religious outlook that would help me deal with the question of my true identity.
Christianity first lodged in my mind when, in the barrack room, I made friends with a convinced atheist. Talking with him had the effect of making me examine carefully the reasons I had for believing in God.
I could literally say, “Thank God for the atheist”, for had he not been there, I would probably not have questioned my faith and it was this questioning that made me search for a meaning and to find understanding through faith.
Christianity came seeping through me and I knew that Christ’s powerful presence was something I was beginning to feel more than ever. I thought even more seriously about the challenge of Christ in the gospels and the cost of discipleship.
I thought of Jesus as a man who belonged intensely to this world, which he came to redeem; a man who was part of life, knowing its joys and sorrows, but who rose above life’s demands, displaying a peace and poise beyond understanding.
I discovered him to be unique because, although he completely identified with life, he was sharply different from it. He held thoughts so different from others; he brought down to earth the rules by which we may all live together in peace and harmony.
I had been received into the membership of the Methodist Church at the age of fourteen, but there hadn’t been a radical change in my life. Membership, or confirmation as it is now called, left little change in my way of thinking and acting.
I continued going to church because it was the wish of my parents, but it was more out of habit than a deep desire.
I encountered Christ towards the end of March 1942 when, alone in the Medical Statistical Office where I worked, I felt a sense of the presence of Christ as never before. Could it be called a direct sense of communion with the Divine brought about by prayer?
I believe it was just this, but it was real and from that day onward life was different. I made an entry in my diary at the time; the date was 23rd March, 1942. It read, “I gave my life to Christ”.
I had already started training as a Local Preacher in the Methodist Church, and my studies took up most of my off-duty time. I recall the first sermon I preached in a small Methodist church in East London. There were six people in the congregation. The text was: “Come unto me all you are heavy laden and I will give you rest”.
After completing my training as a Local Preacher and being commissioned to preach while still in the RAF, I felt that God was calling me to become a minister of the Methodist Church. I was twenty-two.
I had little knowledge of the Bible and I knew that there would be a long period of study if I were to pass the entrance examinations for the ministry.
Christianity has rightly been described as “the religion of the cross”. Jesus spoke about taking up the cross daily. It was at the cross where I first started my study of the Gospels and that took me to the centre of Christ’s suffering.
And whatever small sacrifice I made, whatever denial of self in those long weary days of the war, it was taking a continual look at the “crucified one” that enabled me to prepare for the examinations and, before the war ended, to be accepted as a candidate for the ministry of the Methodist Church.
A candidate for the Methodist Ministry at the end of the war was unable to proceed to theological college for training because the colleges hadn’t reopened, and so I was appointed by the Methodist Conference to go to Matlock in Derbyshire as a pre-collegiate probationer.
I was given an early release from the RAF and, in September 1946, took a train to Matlock. I was wearing my “demob suit” and had with me two sermons, but I was sure that God was with me on this new part of my journey of faith.
I sat next to a middle-aged man and discovered that he was a Local Preacher in the Matlock Trinity Circuit to which I had been appointed.
When I arrived a’ Matlock station he gave me directions to get to the Superintendent’s manse. I shall not forget George Poyser.
He not only taught me to drive a car but, more importantly, he taught me that in loving Jesus: everything else would fall into place.
How true that was!
With many peaceful blessings