About a year ago, I started going to church on Sundays.
My friends and family were totally gobsmacked.
I’d always been such a militant atheist, ever eager to argue the epistemological toss with any hapless god-botherer unlucky enough to sit near me after a few pints.
If you’d told me, back then, that less than half of the UK population now consider themselves religious, I’d have cheered.
For what it’s worth, I still firmly believe there is no god, no afterlife.
You and me baby ain’t nothing but mammals – ignorant, imperfect, insignificant.
However, something about having a son – an impetus to strive for deeper meaning, a longing for some continuity with the past – made me think harder about spirituality.
Most Sunday mornings before he came along, I was still up hellraising from the night before, guzzling spirits and talking s***e with aforesaid mates.
But since that sort of caper is frowned upon when you become a dad, my weekends changed radically, and fast.
I spent much of early fatherhood soberly pushing a buggy around London, in my own world, looking at architecture.
Far lovelier and more arresting than the priapic skyscrapers and snooty Georgian squares, there are some bloody lovely churches in London.
Churches of all types – gothic, modernist, neoclassical; from the fairytale buttresses of Southwark to the enlightenment hauteur of St Paul’s.
Chances are, you’ll pass a church on your way home.
Stop for a few minutes, take a good long look. Wander around it. See if you can sneak in. It’s big, innit. And old. Proper old.
Weddings, funerals, baptisms. World wars, collapsing dynasties, cultural revolutions. That church has seen it all.
One autumnal Sunday morning last year, I was out with my lad and on a whim ducked into St Philips, a fancy gothic-revival jobby by my old flat.
Inside, it was even more stunning, a mighty, cavernous stone grotto dripping with art and flickering in candlelight.
About three dozen friendly pairs of eyes swivelled around to watch us enter.
There was a little carpeted area off to one side with toys, where I sat quietly with my lad and listened to the service.
A twinkly middle-aged lady in a pristine robe was telling a story about sharing, which is actually really lovely when you think about it.
Then everyone started singing – a kindly stranger handed me a hymn book, open at the proper page – so I joined in.
After the service, we all had tea and biscuits and a nice chat about what was going on in the neighbourhood. All the old ladies made a fuss of my boy.
Did I consider them ignorant for believing in god? Obvs.
Was I smiling anyway? Absolutely.
The following Sunday, I did it again, at St Johns. The week after I checked out a Methodist place by the station, before swinging by St Peters for a cheeky Eucharist in the presence of the loveliest choir I every heard.
Every Sunday morning, in more than 30,000 gorgeous venues all over the country, an hour or so of ‘theatre’ is put on, for free, with the noble aim of uplifting spirits and providing gentle moral encouragement.
A good preacher – there are, to be sure, plenty of s*** ones – will weave current affairs and the life of the parish into his or her sermon, leaving you with a practical, memorable take-home lesson.
What do the Gospels have to teach us about Donald Trump, or Leviticus about climate change, or Psalm 84 about the closing of the local pub?
There’s fellowship, enlightenment, even entertainment if you’re open-minded enough to suspend disbelief for an hour or so on a Sunday morning.
My son loves the giant buildings, the smiling grandmas, the boxes of toys, and the free biscuits and juice.
I love the feeling of community, a link with older generations, and an anchor in my schedule.
Some of the songs are really lovely too.
It’s OK if you think ‘The Church’ is weird. You’re right, it is.
But churches? They deserve nothing but praise.