The days I first believed...

How one man grew into his belief

I have no memory of my baptism as an infant, when my parents and godparents renounced evil on my behalf, repented of their sins, turned to Christ and promised to foster the faith I had just received.

From the next phase, attending Catholic Mass with my mother when I was a little boy, I have three abiding memories. One is of the little illustrated book I used to read during the service, showing Jesus and John the Baptist playing together as young boys in Galilee. Another is moving seats away from the stink of dog-do on the heels of the man in front, which he kept clicking together as he knelt. The last is saying “Thank you” to the priest in response to his “The body of Christ” upon receiving my First Holy Communion. Polite, and in one sense profoundly correct – gratitude really is the appropriate heartfelt response to Christ’s sacrifice – I was supposed to say “Amen”.

As a bigger little boy, it was time for a more adult commitment to faith. I was confirmed at 10 years old. My abiding memory from this day was sticking up my hand when the bishop asked us what came down on the day of Pentecost. Out of a cathedral full of candidates, he chose me to answer and I told him it was a dove. Wrong again! It was in the right ball park, of course - the answer was tongues of fire. Both the dove and the fire are manifestations of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, apart from, yet one with the Father and the Son, Jesus.

According to Catholic doctrine, confirmation is seen to complete Baptism and mark a person as a Christian with the seal of the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of adoption that makes us cry to God as our loving Father, rather than as a distant deity.

Yet, I didn’t see the tongues of fire the disciples saw at Pentecost. I didn’t hear a rush of wind. From that point on, I remember engaging with the scriptures read from the pulpit. I remember letting the teaching affect my decisions and behaviour. Every night I prayed sorry, thank you and please. One evening, during a difficult period at school, I felt a powerful, reassuring presence of Jesus in my room as I wept and prayed. Yet still, I turned and drifted away from God throughout university.

Upon arrival at Ephesus, almost 2000 years earlier, the apostle Paul met some disciples who had accepted that Jesus Christ was God. When Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed, they said they didn't even know there was one. Remarkably, I had a similar blind spot until I eventually attended an Alpha course in 2002, and I learnt about the Holy Spirit and rediscovered my relationship with Jesus.

I have no doubt something spiritually significant did happen at my confirmation, but it wasn’t until I spent some serious time as an adult surveying my sinful life, surveying a broken world around me and surveying the cross of Christ, that I believed again and turned towards God wholeheartedly, vulnerable, repentant and genuinely grateful.

At this point, as he promised in the Old Testament book of Joel, God poured out the Holy Spirit into my heart. Again, there were neither fire nor birds, but this time, as I turned to him with the correct response, I received an overwhelming assurance of my Father’s love for me. I often think of this moment as his kiss of life to me and I haven’t been the same Christian since.

Adam is a worship leader at New River Church, Islington, a non-denominational, charismatic Christian church of about 40 people. He has a degree in physics, a PhD in neuroimaging and is a member of the electro-indie rock band Personal Space Invaders.
Photo: Will Ireland
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Rock solid-arity: how fans and bands helped save Team Rock's music magazines

“It was purely helping out friends in a time of need.”

A little over 25 years ago, a journalist friend let me in on the secret of publishing success. He cut his teeth in the Sixties as an editor in the Yippie underground press, wrote for Rolling Stone, Associated Press and the Chicago Sun-Times, then went on to teach at one of America’s most prestigious journalism schools.

The big secret, he had concluded, was community. No more, no less. Get to know your community and serve it well.

A quarter of a century on, it’s sometimes hard to remember what community looks like in newspapers and magazines. Carefully crafted pages have been obscured by a haze of clickbait, engineered to sucker everyone and anyone into donating a drive-by page view for ads. Community has given way to commodity.

But occasionally, there are glimpses of hope. Six months ago, TeamRock.com, built around a group of specialist music magazines including Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog, went into administration.

The Christmas closure came brutally quickly. The Scottish Sun reported that stunned staff in the company’s Lanarkshire headquarters were told they had been made redundant “as a joiner changed the locks on their offices”. In total, 73 staff were laid off; nearly 30 in Scotland and more than 40 in London.

At the close of 2016, the future for the Team Rock brand and its stable of magazine titles was bleaker than a Black Sabbath album. But last month, in an extraordinary reversal of fortunes, TeamRock.com was named the most influential rock music website in the world.

Bargain-basement buy back

Just a fortnight after its shock closure, the brand was bought by former owners Future Plc. In a no-brainer deal, the Bath-based publisher re-acquired the three magazines it had sold to Team Rock’s founders in 2013. It bought back assets sold for £10m at the knockdown price of £800,000 with the bonus of TeamRock.com and Team Rock Radio. The deal rescued large parts of the Team Rock operation – but its soul was saved by the rock and metal community.

Oblivious to any discussions going on to rescue the magazines, readers, music fans and bands came together in a stunning display of loyalty. Hearing that Team Rock staff wouldn’t be getting paid their Christmas wage they took to social media to pledge their support and raised almost £90,000 for redundant staff.

Ben Ward, the organiser of the crowdfunding campaign and frontman for heavy metal band Orange Goblin said he started the appeal with no thought for the business. “It was purely helping out friends in a time of need,” he explained.

He had read all three Team Rock magazines for years, socialised with their staff and promoted his own and other bands in their pages. “To think of a world without any of those magazines – it was devastating,” he said.

The response to the campaign brought him some cheer, with members of bands such as Queen, Rush and Avenged Sevenfold all posting about it on their social media pages. He added: “The whole Christmas period, my phone just wouldn't stop beeping with notifications for another donation.”

Show of solidarity

Though the fundraiser blew up all Ward's expectations, beating his initial target by more than 400 per cent, he didn't seem completely surprised by the scale of the response.

“Heavy metal and hard rock, people that are into that sort of music, we've always been sort of looked down upon. We know it's not commercially the done thing, we know it's not the norm to walk around with long hair and tattoos and dirty leather jackets. But when you see a fellow metal head in the supermarket, you always give them an approving nod. There's a kind of solidarity.”

While favourable capitalist arithmetic has kept the presses rolling – and the online servers going – for Team Rock, it was the music community – empowered by social media – who delivered the real resurrection. With a combined Facebook following of more than 3.5million and a total social media audience of almost five million, it was no surprise TeamRock.com was soon number one in its field.

“What's brilliant about this is that it's based on what music fans share with each other,” explains editor-in-chief Scott Rowley.

TeamRock.com became the most influential rock site based on social media sharing, and came fifth in the top 100 sites across all music genres. The site above it is a hip-hop title, again featured for the strength of its community, according to Rowley. “Those people really know what they're talking about, they want very specific content, and they're not getting served it elsewhere,” he said. “When they get it, they love it and they share it and talk about it and that's their world.”

Responsiblity

Following the outpouring of support for the rock magazines, Rowley now feels a heightened sense of responsibility to do “the right thing” and steer clear of cynical decisions to get clicks or put certain bands on the cover just to sell copies. He believes future success will come down to trust. “Sometimes that feels precarious, but equally I think we're in good hands,” he explains. “We're a business, we've got to make money, but we know what smells fake and where the limits are.”

Zillah Byng-Thorne, CEO of owner Future, recognises the need to balance the realities of running a listed company with the authenticity needed to maintain trust. “What Future is interested in is the passion that underpins specialist media,” she says. “I don't really mind what your passion is, what's important is that it's a passion.”

“No one is sitting around thinking, 'I wonder what bands sound like Thin Lizzy?',” says Rowley. “We're much more a part of their lifestyle, interrupting their day to tell them someone’s just released an album or announced a tour.”

“But it doesn't have to always be about fishing for clicks,” he adds. “I remember [Classic Rock online editor] Fraser Lewry saying, 'Sometimes on social we should just be being social'.”

Being social. Listening. Contributing to the conversation. Sharing the passion. That old-fashioned notion of serving the community. It seems Ward would agree, as he offers the new owners of the magazines he helped to save some advice: “Don't make the same mistakes, investing in things that weren't really necessary from the magazine’s point of view. I'm in no position to tell anyone how to run their business, but on behalf of the rock and metal community…keep it interesting, keep it relevant.”