Testimony: James Kirkwood

28 July 2020


I have been so encouraged reading the testimonies on CMUK that I wanted to share my own. At the start I say I’m a sinner but have found the blessed truth in the Catholic Church and her teachings. I believe she alone has the timeless truths handed down through the ages, first with St Peter and the church fathers and then by continuing tradition.

So how did I get here?

I was born in Croydon (often the butt of my jokes) and into a middle class family with Dad working in the City and Mum at home. While Dad’s parents where pretty posh from my perspective (country house, cut lawns, cucumber, Daily Telegraph delivered daily, house cleaned by Mrs Jones ) my grandmother was a wonderful lady who took a real interest in me. She wasn’t the cold fish my father described although he had been sent to boarding school at the age of 8.

My mother's parents were the opposite. ‘Paps’ my grandfather would go down the local tip, scavenging for bargains to then resell. He was into everything and had a wide range of interests e.g. CB radios with a 100 ft mast in his garden/yard to the annoyance of neighbours, Jack Russells, cameras. He was a tough Cornish man and would regale me with tales of my wild uncle Douglas.

My Nan was Greek and was a kindly and complex character who was often whispering things to me in a language I couldn’t understand, pressing sweets or coins into my hand then screaming at Paps. Let's say, it was somewhat volatile. She was Greek Orthodox and the house was full of icons. My mother inherited this volatility plus a love of wheeling and dealing (antiques).

My father was toiling away in London so I didn’t see him much, but I remember being a bit afraid of him as a kid. He doted on my mother. When I was around 7, he became an evangelical Christian. My father doesn’t do things by halves so, suddenly, the house was full of Christian music and bibles and his already stretched schedule (in terms of spending time with the family) became even more stretched, as he was attending various prayer meetings morning and night. He felt remote.

At around this time I had my very own specific and real spiritual encounter at my Greek gran’s house. I saw an ethereal lamb standing by my bed which freaked me out at the time but would resonate years later.

I got my O levels, A levels and went to uni but I always wanted to work in London. I inherited my mother's and grandfather's love of wheeling and dealing and found myself, in the mid 90’s, working for a recruitment agency just as financial recruitment was about to explode. Matters Christian were not top of my agenda; making money was. And I did, but I was always very driven and not happy or content. I was restless. I set up my own agency in 2005 and things seemed to be going well according to what I thought was important. But they weren’t really.

I got married in 2006 and had a pretty self indulgent few years with my wife. We had some challenges conceiving, but in 2014 my son, Jonny arrived. Anyone who has a child knows that the first 1-2 years is a massive adjustment (if it’s your first). My marriage was ok, I thought, simply because things were going well materially. I have subsequently learned that one doesn’t equal the other. In 2016 the world caved in.

My wife announced coolly and with utter seriousness that she was leaving me. This came as a bolt from the blue.

A number of things happened in short order but which ultimately led to me ‘coming home’. First, over lunch (in quite a nice restaurant) my wife announced coolly and with utter seriousness that she was leaving me. This came as a bolt from the blue, something that had never previously been discussed and came as massive shock. Second was that, during that lunch, I had consumed too much wine (as usual, I was a heavy drinker then) and I responded to this news by shouting abusively, first at a waiter then at a member of the public, and then got into a tussle with someone else outside the restaurant. The police were called and for the first time in my life I had my collar felt.

I was sentenced to community service for my actions. Three days after this lunch my wife left the family home with my son, and so began three years of very unpleasant and extremely costly divorce proceedings. Truthfully I never wanted to divorce but at no stage was she ever open to reconciliation and mediation, so she divorced me.

Far worse for me, however, was that contact with my son stopped.

I went from starting each day playing with him to hardly seeing him. That destroyed me. I’d love to say I immediately got down on my knees and sought the Lord following this sudden change in circumstances. The truth is I hit the bottle and started womanising. Yet remarkably God's hand was on me.

During my community service and time on probation I met some wonderfully colourful characters, what you might describe as lovable rogues. There was a lot of laughter and warmth, which was handy, as it pretty cold litter picking in the Welsh valleys in the middle of winter.

It occurred to me that we are all lovable despite our mistakes because we are all God's handiwork. And often different circumstances cause people to act in certain ways. Of course we are all responsible for our actions and yet if you haven’t walked exactly in someone’s shoes we really shouldn’t judge.

It’s odd that, to be honest, I’ve never found that level of warmth and laughter (and camaraderie mentioned recently in another testimony) in church. On the van that picked us up to do our litter picking we were all equal, all guilty , not judging each other or thinking of oneself as better than the other. It seems Ephesians 2.9 is easier to read than to practice. I think of this myself. If a dishevelled desperate person rocked up to church now on a Sunday how would I respond? If I found out that they were a sinner and had committed certain sins that I found distasteful would I condemn them? If it ruffled my ‘middle class’ sensibilities and it looked as they might not fit into the parish ‘club’ would I object ? Would Jesus?

I should mention that after my father became an evangelical Protestant with a passion, our family then spent the next few years visiting various ‘churches’, each with its own independent and individual take on the ‘truth’ as regards what God really wanted us to believe and think. At various points this included Sunday mornings which resembled rock concerts, seances, funerals and the like. Unless you’ve ever been a Protestant you might not know that each denomination exists because at some point there has been a split or breakaway, where the new leaders of the new denomination have had a ‘new’ revelation that they alone can interpret the Bible and it’s meaning - and that they alone have the truth in terms of how a church should be structured, who should lead it and what it should teach.

I was searching for truth, I always have been, and the Catholic Church intrigued me. But, to a chap raised evangelical, the Catholics had always been portrayed as heretics!

Clearly this results in treating the Bible and it’s interpretation as a free-for-all so you get thousands of different views. I always tended towards the ones with the prettiest girls. Then, around 2017, a good friend of mine made the shock decision to cease being a reformed evangelical (I think he used to have a poster of Ian Paisley somewhere) and that, as a result of his PhD in theology and of reading the church fathers, he was seriously considering becoming a Catholic.

In particular, it was what Catholicism taught about the Eucharist and the Real Presence attracted him. This got me interested. Frankly I was ripe. I was in the midst of a personal crisis, I was searching for truth, I always have been, and the Catholic Church always intrigued me. But, to a chap raised evangelical, the Catholics had always been portrayed as heretics and reading Catholic books felt that I had reached for the top shelf and needed a brown paper bag to hide them in! I was put onto Scott Hahn initially, then watched EWTN and, bit by bit, the faith started to make sense intellectually.

Then I attended Mass. Everything changed. The beauty and splendour and richness and fullness of the church interior hit me. Here was a celebration of life completed with incense and music. It felt sacred and a place where one might expect to find God. This in stark contrast to the purposefully drab interior of most evangelical meeting places.

As Mass continued and reached its high point, the priest referenced ‘the Lamb’ over and over. This hit me like a thunderbolt and I was immediately reminded of the childhood encounter I'd had 40 odd years before. I knew then with conviction that this was the real deal that I had been searching for all my life.

My studies continued and the more I read the more I was confirmed in the truth. Becoming a Catholic was no easy task , not least because the first priest I told seemed rather disconcerted, so I found an RCIA by myself. Still I was received into the church at Easter 2019.

Life in one sense hasn’t got easier since my conversion but now, armed with the truth, a family both invisible and visible I have a very different outlook. I recognise suffering as a means to my sanctification, that although circumstances might not change or improve I can with the help of the Holy Spirit die to my passions ( those wrong reactions) and become the king I am called to be, king of myself, self mastery which I believe is my primary calling before I have a right to judge others. And all for the glory of God.

I still don’t see my son as much as I think is necessary and through that I’ve learned of the amazing love the Heavenly Father showed me by letting His own son face the injustice of this world and it’s systems for my sake. In the face of that injustice Jesus didn’t threaten or intimate, neither did he seek to overthrow the political or judicial system. When it comes to the way separated fathers are treated in the family court I’m tempted to do both but I’m still learning.

One comment on “Testimony: James Kirkwood”

  1. Very interesting testimonial, I to went on a search for truth back in 1992. Pentecostal, and Mormonism. Eventually I found the real truth in Catholicism and was accepted into the Church on pentecost Sunday 1994.
    I have had my ups and downs since then. But I truly love my Faith and the Catholic Church.
    I am so pleased for you, God certainly led you into his church.
    God bless


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