I could not have asked for a more perfect day upon which to be baptised. Pentecost dawned clear, warm and bright, and we were all up early this morning to greet the day. I couldn’t quite manage to drink my customary second cup of coffee for the nervous butterflies in my tummy which were somersaulting in queasy yet excited anticipation.
I’d carefully selected what I would wear the night before, and I had packed a bag with towel and a change of clothes plus a plastic bag to put my wet things in. The T-shirt I put on was brand-new – a simple, plain white T-shirt made from Fairtrade cotton. Given St.Mary’s recent Fairtrade accreditation, it seemed appropriate. I teamed this with white denim shorts, over which I wore a long white cotton skirt.
It was a little after 10am when we set off for church. Freda was as happy and bubbly as ever, though I think she knew something different was going on today, as her father – my partner David – had never accompanied us to church before – and nor had Liz.
Carol, the bishop’s wife, met us outside the church gate and asked how I was feeling, laughing reassuringly when I replied that I was nervous; and once inside both Jackie and David Baker were there as well. Freda’s confusion when we didn’t go to our customary pew but instead went up to the front pew on the left was very apparent, and she clung very tight to her dad!
Simon was very welcoming and reassuring, and we quietly went over what would happen; he had provided extra towels as well, in case needed. Then it was back to the pew to sit and wait in nervous anticipation; this was eased a little by the arrival of friends – first Francis, then Tony. Elizabeth came over to whisper a few encouraging words, and then Simon was at the front in white robe and red stole, and it had started. Opening prayers, a first hymn, Steph stepping up to say a bit about Christian Aid week – and then Simon was beckoning me forward; this was it!
He beckoned the others up to stand with Jackie and David around the pool, and at some point – I didn’t see when – our friend Sam was there, holding Freda whilst Freda’s dad readied the camera. And suddenly all my nerves were gone; instead I felt calm, relaxed and yet focused. As Simon asked if I wished to be baptised, would I submit to Christ, accept Jesus as my saviour, my responses came steady and clear, my voice projecting easily. And then came the moment I think I had been most nervous about – my testimony.
I’d had some rough idea of how I would do this, but right up until the moment I stepped up to the lectern I didn’t know exactly what to say. And then I looked over the sea of faces, and the words just came. I cannot remember the exact words now, but I told a story of a long journey and an uphill struggle along a rough, rocky road. And sometimes I got sidetracked and took the wrong path; but each time I would find myself going in circles until I ended up back at the beginning again. I told of how it seemed in some ways, I have spent my whole life getting to this point – but baptism for me was not to be the end of my journey, but a gateway. I looked out at the sea of faces, many of them familiar to me now, and told them that though I know the road ahead will not always be easy, I am not afraid; because I will not be walking it alone – they, too, are walking the same path, all on their own journey of faith; and we do not make that journey alone, because God is with us every step of the way.
And as I stepped down from the lectern and walked back to stand beside Simon, I felt complete calm and peace inside. Any doubts I had had up to that point that I was doing the right thing were gone; this felt completely, utterly right.
Then came the sign of the cross; first Simon traced it on my forehead with water, then Jackie, then her husband David – and to my surprise and joy, Sam. Then it was time; Simon stepped into the pool first, and I slipped off the skirt and stepped in after him. I sat down in the clear, warm water, and I smiled at the children who had come to sit around the pool to get a close view.
Then Simon lowered me down into the water; three times the water closed over my head, and then I sat up and it was done. I was baptised. And I couldn’t stop smiling!
Simon and I nipped off to dry off and get changed, and as I made my way back to the front pew again, friendly faces on all sides were smiling at me, calling out congratulations and blessings. And then I sat down next to Sam, and David passed Freda over to me as the rest of the service continued. At the end, Simon called me back up to the front and gave me a lit candle; and then it was all over. David Baker gave me a parcel and card from himself, Jackie and their son Jonathon, Elizabeth came over to give me a hug – as did Carol, who had to leave to go to the Pentecostal prayer day being held in Millwall. Tony also had to take his leave, but I’m very glad he had been able to make it – as had Richard, whom I had until now only known via LiveJournal. It was lovely to be able to put a face to the presence I’d known online, and I’m very glad that he, too, was there to share in this wonderful day.
And indeed, the entire day was marvellous! I spent the rest of the day feeling as though I were walking on air. I have been told that apparently I looked radiant, which is a pretty good way to describe how I felt – and indeed, still feel as I write this!
This is not the end of my journey. But it is an important gateway; today I died to my old life as a pagan, and was reborn again in Christ. Hallelujia!