MY FAITH IN WORDS
When I moved, God came with me...
WHY I’VE DECIDED TO BE BAPTISED... AGAIN.
If there’s one thing I’ve been certain of my whole married life, it’s that I will never want to renew my vows. I meant them the first time I said them and, whilst I understand and respect those who do renew, I’ve never felt even the slightest inclination towards doing it myself. Luckily, my husband agrees. So why is it, that for almost as long as I’ve been a Christian, some 23 years now, I have always wanted to be re-baptised?
Like many of my generation who were born into ‘The Church of England’, my parents did a beautiful thing for me when I was born and held a traditional, Anglican baptism. God parents were chosen and prayers were said. I’m so grateful for the spiritual start they gave me and it was something that I did for my own children. By the time my first son was born, both my husband and I had come to faith and been confirmed. Our spiritual home was a 900 year-old Anglican Church, led by wonderful men and women of God who guided our early walk of faith.
I didn’t grow up in the Church, but I found and made a connection with Christ at a very early age. Jesus found me in the pages of my favourite book: ‘The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe’. At just eight or nine years old, I recognised the sacrificial love of Aslan as something deeper than I could fully understand at the time. It would be the Alpha Course, some fifteen years later that helped me join the dots and I was born again.
Growing in faith as part of a loving Anglican church family - one that accepted and encouraged me - is something for which I will always (and eternally) be thankful for. But, as the years passed, I knew that I wasn’t a great fit. At times I struggled to understand and connect with its traditions. All this time, I was drawn to the idea of full-immersion baptism, my wonderful vicar even agreed to do this for me, but it never happened for one reason or another.
Almost two decades of serving and leading later, I was burnt out, jaded and distracted by an all-consuming career in teaching. For a couple of years we wandered away from God and our spiritual ‘home’. But He didn’t wander away from us. When we moved to worship at a local free church, there He was, waiting, and it was there that I re-connected with God; finding a renewed understanding of the scripture and songs I had spent years reading and singing. Maybe now was the time to get baptised again. But before we could really put down new roots, we moved to America.
It was then that something profound and unexpected happened to our faith. It was as if God literally removed everything we had around us - jobs, home, family, friends and all the security and comfort they provided, so that we would turn our focus back to Him. And that’s what we did. Those early days of feeling lost, alone and overwhelmed created the perfect storm - and we began to rely on Him again, pray again, read the Bible again, worship again, and in turn, He revealed Himself to us in a new and spectacular way.
Baptism is a symbol of commitment and repentance. Repentance means to turn in the other direction. Our lives have certainly taken a new direction and we’re ready to make a commitment... again. It might seem unusual to want to do this after more than two decades of following Christ, but to us it makes perfect sense. We’re grabbing the baton from our parents who first ran the race for us, from those who ran those first laps with us, cheered on by a new church family and buoyed by the love and prayers of the one we left behind. When we come up out of that water, it will mark a new leg of the journey, and who knows where that might lead.
DIVING INTO THE PUDDLE
It’s been a long time since I was the new girl. As an individual, one half of a couple and as part of a family, I had a local profile.
When you live in the same village for most of your life, are part of the church, tread the boards with a local am dram group year after year and play in a covers band, your face gets known. This particularly struck me when, on my last day in Iver, I was standing in the queue at the Coop and a lovely lady behind me wished me well on our move to Chicago. I had no idea who she was. But she knew me. In one of the contexts of my life, she knew who I was.
So to be back at the beginning, a newcomer in a strange land is unfamiliar territory. For Pete and son #2, the anonimity was short-lived. They were plunged almost immediately into a new pool of people – sink or swim, and both are heroically swimming.
But with no workplace yet, my pool has to start with a puddle, and yesterday I got my feet wet for the first time at a newcomers’ lunch at Willow Creek. I wondered how a church with 3000 in its congregation could possible feel small enough to be welcoming and warm. But that’s exactly what it was. Meeting with other newcomers, hearing their stories (some very similar to our own) was such an encouragement. The Pastor joined us and his words were so perceptive: when you relocate, you leave your entire support network and you have a choice: you can either isolate and hold on until you return to the old network, or you can dive in and make a new family.
In truth, it was easy to dive in, and when I walked out of that huge mega church with a date in my diary for coffee with my first Chicago friend, I felt relieved, elated and certain that the puddle will soon be a swimming pool… then a lake… even an ocean…
Anyone moving overseas will understand just how much organisation goes into transferring a life, a career and a family to a new country. The practical tasks reach epic proportions before you leave your home country and multiply once you reach your new one. But in addition to the paperwork and packing, there are the things unsaid… the what if’s… what if something bad happens, what if my family gets ill, what if…
The reality of a huge, long distant move is that there may be people you say goodbye to for the last time. This weekend, we lost a great man, a legend – our hero, Roy Johnstone. Roy died the same week as Billy Graham. Like Billy, Roy was a great evangelist. He may not have reached an audience of millions, but those he did reach met a true man of God, and their lives were changed. Roy was fundamental in our salvation. Pete and I learned more about God in the many evenings we spent in his home, than anywhere else. With his beautiful wife Margaret, handing out Bible verses and coffee, they made an incredible team.
I hadn’t seen Roy much in recent years, but I spoke with him on the phone just a few weeks before we left the UK. He greeted me the same way he had done for more than 20 years: ‘Hello young Joe’ and I would always respond: ‘Hello young Roy’ and we’d chuckle, because of course he was always reminding us of how ancient he was! As ever, he was full of questions- always interested in my opinion. He always cut to the chase, he challenged and confronted difficult issues. I didn’t always agree with him, but even that was his way of teaching me another valuable lesson.
So learning of Roy’s passing, 3190 miles away, brought home the reality of our move. Sometimes we won’t be there, sometimes we may not get to say goodbye. In this case, we were comforted by the fact that Roy had such certainty about eternity. He was ready, with his family around him and had no fear of death.
Moving away is about more than geography. It’s about what truly binds you to people. Physically we’re not there, it’s true, but emotionally and spiritually we absolutely are. We’re bound by love, prayers and memories.
So if I had to say one last thing it would be this:
Goodbye young Roy. Thanks for the love, prayers and memories.