I grew up in the Anglican church. I feel like now I’m moving in more charismatic circles, that people expect me to criticise this denomination, the churches that nurtured me as I grew in my faith. There seems to be plenty of people in my new church that have had bad experiences of Anglican churches and seem all to willing to share them. But that is not my story.
I am fiercely proud of all the churches I have been a part of, they are all wonderful in their own way. The church I grew up in was a great, bible believing, spirit filled Anglican church. It is full of people who embody what it means to be a Christian, people who invested so much in me. They gave me the biblical grounding I needed, they awakened my love for leading worship and working with children. I was equipped with the skills that have enabled me to hold onto my faith through all the storms that were to come. Who knows where I would be without them. I am not remotely ashamed of growing up in the Anglican church.
Yet this year God has called me to a new church, a church of a more charismatic denomination. I did not expect my background to be a problem. After all there is only one church and that’s God’s church, right? But it turns out I was wrong.
You see Anglicans do things slightly differently to some other churches. There the tradition is to baptise infants in what is called christening, it’s a service where the parents and God parents promise to bring the child up as a Christian and teach them about God. Then as a teenager or adult if that person wants to make a decision to be a Christian for themselves, they go through something called ‘Confirmation’, where you declare your faith in front of the church and friends and family. Before confirmation you take a course making sure you understand what it is you’re committing to, and that this is your own decision. I was confirmed when I was about fourteen years old. For me it was the chance to take that step of showing the world that my faith was the most important thing to me, that I was ready to follow Jesus whatever the cost. That was my declaration of faith. It has always felt like enough.
Back in July I found myself in a Introduction tea with other newcomers to my new church. We were all asked to go around the circle and share our experiences of adult baptism. After I, and thankfully another guy, had gone on to share that we hadn’t been baptised as adults, the church’s stance was laid out clearly. For them Confirmation wasn’t enough, every believer should be baptised as adults.
What followed were a few months of feeling very out of place in this new church. I was nervous of praying out loud in case people were judging me. I felt awkward in worship because I wasn’t as expressive as the next person. I was worried about revealing my background to people for fear of what they would say. But then I got past it. I decided that if God wanted me to get baptised then he would let me know, I wasn’t going to be pressured into it by anyone else. I thought it was just between me and God.
But then I found out today that I’m not allowed to sing on the worship team until I’ve been baptised. It felt like a punch to the stomach. I have sung on worship teams for 10 years, in my last church I led the worship team. I love worship and the feeling of being part of a team, to lead people closer to God. I believe that worship is one of the gifts I’ve been given. I was excited about getting stuck in and being on a team again. Last Sunday we had our ‘worship connect group’, where I got to rehearse with a band again. I loved it, and felt a real sense of this being where I was supposed to be.
To find out today that the door is currently closed to me, has given me a lot of feelings, not all of them gracious. I understand that no one at the church is meaning to hurt me, I appreciate that they believe that it would be wrong to let someone onto the team who isn’t baptised. There is no malice in it. It’s a difference in belief, a different interpretation of the bible.
Yet it’s amazing how many emotions this has stirred up. Perhaps because this is the first real time that I have felt someone look at my journey of faith and say it’s not good enough, or not the ‘right’ way. I feel like I have been designated as a second class Christian. I feel I am being judged, and not just for something I did or said, but for my faith, or lack of the right expression of it, which is at the very core of who I am. It feels like someone is looking at my life and saying ‘you are not a good enough Christian to lead worship’. I feel like I have been taken at face value, being judged to not tick the right boxes, and rejected.
The question that is jarring with me right now, is ‘Why does anyone else get to judge what my faith is like?’ They haven’t been there through the years before and after my confirmation, where I clung to my faith through Chronic Fatigue, Anorexia and Depression. Years where I learnt to trust in God’s character and goodness, despite my circumstances not always reflecting it. They weren’t there all the times I hit rock bottom and had to rely on God to pull me up. They haven’t seen that those experiences have given me deep roots. They weren’t there in the mountains of Norway where I lost a friend, and learnt that whilst the situation was heart breaking, my faith had become strong enough to not be broken by it. They don’t know me well enough to judge me. And after all, isn’t my faith between me and God? Isn’t it up to him to judge?
I am not opposed to baptism. It’s just for me, I’ve already declared my faith publicly. I cannot recreate my confirmation, there were family members there who are no longer with us. It has always felt like enough, and until I came to this church I never imagined it to be otherwise. Even now I’m not sure how much of this is coming from God and how much from people. If God wants me to be baptised then I will do it, I’m open to what he wants for me. But I am uncomfortable with all this pressure coming from people. I want to make a free choice but I feel so weighed down by everyone’s expectations and judgements.
My faith has never been about what other people think of me. But today I find myself torn. I want to fit in, I want to belong, I want to be part of a team again. I just want to feel part of the church family and be able to use my gifts. Suddenly more parties have joined this discussion, which should have just been between myself and God. And somehow I’ve got to get past the judgement and the hurt to find what God is saying on the issue. I am too tired to have this discussion right now, but I think I’m going to have to.
I believe my God is in complete control of my life and my circumstances up to this point. I believe He has been with me on every stage of my journey so far. I believe I am His daughter who He loves, free from condemnation and judgement. I believe I am forgiven and in the process of being restored to who He created me to be. I believe He will turn my tears into laughter, my ashes into beauty. I believe He is faithful and trustworthy and has good plans for me. I trust in Him alone.
I can see now, that to many, this still won’t be enough. But there’s only one voice I really care about. So I will try and put aside the hurt and the frustration, and seek the voice of Him who knows me far better than anyone else. I believe together we will find a way through.