by ANTONY CLAY
IT MAY seem that the vicar of Conisbrough has already travelled a long way from his Netherlands homeland to South Yorkshire.
But Rev Martijn Mugge has made an even bigger journey – from staunch atheist to committed Christian.
He also moved from a successful business career to the clergy but does not regret the change in his life.
In fact, he said that his purpose is to bring people to faith.
The popular vicar of St Peter’s Church in Conisbrough – which stands on a site used for worship since the sixth century – said he hoped he had brought leadership to the congregation during his three years in the role.
He said: “I don’t know if I bring anything in particular to Conisbrough but every church needs a leader, someone who can provide direction and leads the way. There was a need for leadership and I do believe I bring that.
“I hope I am inspiring and teach people the good news of Jesus.”
Rev Martijn (49) was born in Roden in the north of the Netherlands to a non-religious family.
He said: “I was not born in a Christian home and my parents are not believers. I never went to church. I did not know anything about the Bible.”
But it was whilst he came to England and started working for a company in Rotherham that he met a man who had a strong faith – and this proved to be the turning point in his life.
Martijn said: “One day a relative of his passed away and he bought a Bible which he left lying around. That’s where the conversation started on the Christian faith.
“I realised there was a God out there who created us to know and love him.
“A paradigm shift took place. I realised there was more to life than living, and God brought me to the point where I said God is real and Jesus is real, and he has come to rescue us from our rebellion against him.”
Martijn was even more convinced about his faith after a Christian Union event in Sheffield, where he was impressed by the sense of unity he saw.
It was while he was a director of a company in Doncaster that he decided to make the big leap.
Martijn said: “There was a niggling feeling in my mind telling me I had to tell people about Jesus full-time.”
He took his wife Laura and three children – he now has four – to London to undertake theological training before becoming a curate in Wombwell for three years.
He applied for the role of vicar of Conisbrough – the town had not had one for two years – and got it.
Martijn said: “God was preparing me to minister here.”
Martijn is fully at home with the British way of life though he admitted there are some big differences from his homeland.
He said: “Culturally the British culture is quite different to the Dutch culture.
“There is a really strong sense of community here in Conisbrough and where I grew up in the Netherlands it was a commuter town which was new with less sense of community.
“I love it here. You can drive out from here in any direction and you get hills which you don’t get in the Netherlands.
“But there are bad areas in Conisbrough and I think that’s a challenge.”
Martijn said that he often found “broken lives” at the heart of people’s troubles and because of his non-religious background he can understand why people don’t go to church.
He said: “I can fully empathise with the person who has no belief in God or Jesus at all because I was there.
“I can understand why people see the church as a hobby for people and that it tells people what to think. But the Bible is not a do’s and don’ts book. It’s a message of hope.
“In today’s world we are into narratives. It’s a culture of stories and the best true story is the Bible story. It’s a story of going from death to life, from darkness to light, and from despair to hope.
“In this community there is still a strong heritage of religion. Many of the young families I meet come to me because their grandparents were strong churchgoers.”
But Martijn’s vocation is still something of a mystery to his parents.
He said: “It’s taken them a while to get used to it. Initially they were very worried that I had become part of a sect. Now they can see us as a family and can see that things work well and that our Christian faith lies at the heart of that.
“My parents have strong Christian values but over generations they have lost faith in God.”
Martijn said that there are many challenges in society and that the freedoms advocated in recent decades have led to problems now.
He said: “I think moral values are slowly deteriorating as we’re walking away from Jesus.”