Brighton is often described as ‘the UK’s most godless city’. With more Brightonians than ever choosing not to commit themselves to a religion in the census, with a particular prevalence of non-religious young people, it was somewhat surprising to find out that 18-year old Leon Ronan recently converted to Christianity.
“I was always an agnostic,” said Leon, “someone who wasn’t sure if there was a God or not, and that we would never know, but I was always open to it being true. I just never did any research at all, and I spent a lot of my time on my studies or on my friends or girlfriends.”
Despite Leon’s exposure to religion from a young age, he never really contemplated it seriously until a friend invited him to Brighton’s CCK, Church of Christ the King. “I grew up in a Catholic church and I never really felt I had a connection with God, it didn’t seem there was a lot of emphasis on him where I grew up. It was more so ‘you do good things, you’ll go to heaven. You do bad things, you go to hell’ which, looking back, seemed a bit moralistic.“
Leon said that his initial fascination with the church was sudden, though he initially restrained himself from trusting in its claims fully while he learnt more about it. It was only after his best friend Arthur, who gave Leon his first Bible, tragically died of a brain tumour that he began to place his trust in the church. He followed Arthur’s recommendation to read the book of Acts, an early account of the Christian church after Jesus’ death, and got through 19 chapters by the day Arthur died.
There have been mixed reactions to Leon’s decision to commit himself fully to the church. “My family don’t have any problems with it and they’ve been to CCK a couple of times. My nan really likes it!” His family will be attending CCK’s Alpha Course, for those wanting to explore the Christian faith in a non-judgemental environment, which Leon hopes will help them understand his choice further. “My friends tend to struggle to understand my decision to become a Christian. It was because I was so different before and I just don’t find the same things excite me anymore.”
What if someone had told him five years ago that now he would be a practising Christian? “I really would’ve laughed. I expected myself to be partying somewhere at this time of age at a University far away, but I’m still situated in Brighton and I absolutely love this city!” In fact, Leon’s life has changed dramatically since his interest in the church started. “Jesus has completely transformed my life. I love going to Church so that does take up a lot of my life. I used to go out clubbing, try and get with girls and waste all of my time just chasing things which never really satisfied me, or if they did, it would only be temporary and it would never last. I think that’s why Jesus is so comforting, his love shown by what he did on the Cross lasts and it never fails or gives up. I just put complete trust in Jesus with my life and I still go out and socialise with my friends who are non-Christians, I just don’t have the same motives as I did.”
Leon actively attends church and participates in social activities with the church community, and has found that many of those attending the services are in their teens and twenties. There are also groups aimed specifically at the younger members of the church; for instance, on Thursdays he often goes to Engage, a youth group for 15-19 year olds where he plays sport and meets other young Christians. “There’s so much going on that it’s really hard to keep up!”
Prayer is important to Leon, who believes that we are all sinners, and need a connection with God. “I pray regularly, and I do this to have a relationship with Jesus as that is what is truly important to me. I don’t feel the need to put effort on my moral efforts as I know that everyone is a sinner according to the Bible. But I have faith in Jesus that he was the Son of God, sinless and pure, and that my moral efforts are nothing compared to him.” Further to this, around four months after becoming a Christian, Leon decided to be baptised. “It is a public declaration that you wish to repent of your sins and you put your faith fully in what Jesus has done and not your own moral efforts. I think it’s important because it’s a big step and it allows you to have that freedom and not keep your faith enclosed in secret.”
Leon encourages anyone who is interested in Christianity and the Church to investigate Jesus and ask questions. “I think Christianity where you throw your brain out of the window isn’t true Christianity. It’s good to ask questions and to not just believe without thinking about it.” He also suggests talking to people involved with the Church already who will be able to direct you towards resources which will give you more information.
It is clear that Christianity has already had a significant impact on Leon’s life, saying it has given him ‘a real sense of eternal love from God’, and that his religion has helped him put his life into perspective. “I already feel a sense of overwhelming love and desire. I feel I now know the reason why I am alive: to give glory to God and to preach the Gospel, living with Jesus and serving the city to the best that I can. After life, who knows. It’s unknown to me but I can only take what I’ve read from the Bible and take that as truth. I do believe that those who believe that Jesus is their saviour will spend eternity with Him. So that’s my hope, and my everything.”