Being a Christian in St Andrews: On discovering identity

Charis Keir talks about finding her identity and experience of finding faith in St Andrews.

Photo: Elliot Davies

From the first week of my existence  on this earth, I have been going to  church  — pretty much every Sunday  since then, that’s where you’ll find me.  So, church and church life has played  a large role in shaping me into the  person I am today.

My Dad is a pastor, and I know he  would be understanding to hear me  say that although this has been most  definitely a blessing, it has also been  somewhat of a burden. Preachers’  kids are often viewed by others as an  extension of their parents and their  ministry, and this can place a heavy  weight of expectation as to where  we place our priorities and whom, or  what, we put our faith in.  I was privileged enough to grow  up in an extremely loving home and  my parents predominantly sought to  teach me the value of being a child of  God. However, I was not completely  shielded from societal expectations of  who I should be because of what my  parents do.

As I reached my teenage years I  felt these pressures and assumptions  build up, and this led me to struggle  with my identity; both as being labelled as ‘Christian’ and more generally of what I wanted to do with my  life, and who I needed to be in order to achieve this. The expectation that I  shared the same faith as my parents  often made me feel hesitant about  raising questions or doubts whilst  in church. This led me to be a child  who grew up systematically going to  church whilst having, what I can see  now as, an extremely underdeveloped  faith.

As a late teen I struggled with  mental health issues, specifically social anxiety. Through therapy I was  able to understand how some of the  negative thoughts that troubled me  so much stemmed from these pressures that I felt growing up. Funnily  enough, it took this crisis moment for  me to begin to make sense of God and  religion, the distinction between these  two things and how I related to them.  This was really the first time that I felt  a strong personal relationship with  God and His guiding presence in my  life. And it was this guidance that led  me to this university, St Andrews.

Nevertheless, by the time I arrived  at university I was somewhat burned  out with church. I had been going my  whole life, whether I liked it or not.  But in finding a new sense of identity  in my relationship with God, I decided to join a church here.  I’d been told about a church called  Cornerstone, so I rocked up one  Sunday morning to the town hall  not knowing what to expect, but was  pleasantly surprised. Firstly, I was  shocked to see so many young people, as my experience of church thus  far in life had been lots of (lovely and  amazing) old people. But this was  completely different – a room buzzing  with chat and friendly faces.

Cornerstone has made me fall in  love with church again. The reason? I  was accepted as Charis, and nobody  met me with preconceived ideas of  who I was or what I believed, and  hence I was able to deepen my faith  and explore what my belief in God  meant for my identity. In Cornerstone  we are given the opportunity to meet  in smaller groups once a week to cook  for each other, spend time together  and talk about God. This has brought  my faith alive.  It is an environment in which questions are not only accepted, but also  encouraged. For me, there is absolutely no point in believing something if  it does not stand up to questioning!  We discuss the parts of the Bible that  we struggle to come to terms with or  accept, and approach these issues and  doubts with open hearts and open  minds.

Church shouldn’t be painted as a  group of people who are perfect. We  are all aware, and should be, of the  mistakes that churches have made  and continue to make. The truth is,  no church is perfect, but simply a  group of people in who are all flawed  and broken in our own ways. But this  makes me marvel even more at God’s  grace, for He brings together a group  of imperfect people and, as a collective, we look to Him for guidance. We  are called to mirror Him to the best of  our abilities in our attitudes towards  others.

I have found my identity here at St  Andrews. It is not in my parents, or  in the label of “the religious friend.”  My identity is in my relationship with  God. I would encourage and challenge all to go to church, to come for a  week and try it out, to challenge what  you hear if you disagree with it and to  raise questions if you have them. You  may just be surprised by what you  experience.


Photo Credits: Eliot Davis


  1. Well written & well said Charis. Glad you followed God’s lead to Cornerstone, which sounds like an authentic church, a safe haven for all us questioning, broken people. Looking forward to meeting you, either here on earth or in Heaven! Cheers & best regards to Dad, Mum & Scott, from one of their favourite sassenachs!! 😄👍🇬🇧


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