When I was much younger and my family was attending a different church, I remember one summer at Bible school when there was a discussion about baptism that eventually resulted in several of my friends getting baptized, and at first I thought maybe I would be too. I even went so far as to have the pastor come to my house and talk to me about it, but I never followed through with it. I don't regret that, because I know that it wasn't the right time for me to make that decision.
For a long time, I had a hard time understanding why getting dunked under water, or getting water sprinkled on your head (if you're a Methodist and get to do it the easy way!), was so important. It seemed more symbolic than anything, and I didn't understand what it really accomplished. But as I grew older and Salem started to really feel like "my church", my perspective on the subject began to change. My faith has grown and changed so much through what I've learned and how I've been welcomed there, and I began to consider the thought of baptism in a new light, because I liked the thought of being an official member of this church that embraced me so readily, and I've started to understand the importance of publicly demonstrating my faith even though I'm not always a fan of being the center of attention. Around the time that I began having these thoughts, an adult confirmation class was beginning, and I started attending with a vague thought of possibly getting baptized sometime soon.
One Tuesday evening, a pretty bad storm started just before I was about to leave for class. So bad, in fact, that I was wondering if anyone would even show up that night because of the crazy downpour and lightning that made driving conditions less than ideal. But people did show up, and we had class as usual, with occasional thunder as our background music. As class was ending, our pastor, who was teaching the class, went to look out the door and see if the rain had calmed down any. A few seconds passed, and suddenly he was calling us all to "Come look at this!", his trademark enthusiasm at full force. We did come look, and what we saw was a vivid sunset peeking out from behind the storm clouds, and being illuminated every few seconds by lightning that still remained even though the rain had stopped. I had never seen sunshine and lightning coexist like that before, it seemed to me to be a weather occurrence worthy of National Geographic. Pastor Brian's enthusiasm was contagious, not to mention the fact that I already have a habit of taking too many sunset pictures, and pretty soon our whole class was standing on the doorstep, phones pointed towards the sky. The unplanned excitement of that moment, and the natural sense of happiness it brought to me, make it one that I will remember for a very long time.
In that moment and the ones that followed, I never thought about how ridiculous I probably looked walking through wet grass to get closer and have a chance at a clearer picture, setting my Bible and papers down, and conducting an overzealous sunset photography shoot right there in the church parking lot. It doesn't sound like a big deal to say it, but I know myself, and I know that it took a lot of time and personal growth for me to have that genuine moment of giving in to my own enthusiasm without worrying about how I looked to other people. It was in that moment that I got what I wished for when I was younger and passed up a chance to get baptized. I felt God telling me that I was in the right place,a place where I found the acceptance and security that I had been craving for most of my life, and it was finally the right time for me to make that decision and take the step of publicly acknowledging my faith.
When my family first started coming to Salem, I was a very insecure teenager, and the social pressure of high school affected me even more than I probably realized at the time. Youth group became a comfort zone, and on days when I was sitting in the cafeteria eating lunch alone (that did happen a few days a week, I'm not trying to be dramatic), or sitting in class trying to ignore rude comments when I happened to know the right answer more than once in the same day, making me a "snob" or "nerd", the thought of Thursday's kitchen and the acceptance of my youth group that I knew came with it, became a sort of survival tactic. If I could just get through the week at school, I could go to church and know that I could let my guard down and be accepted and treated kindly without having to censor what I said or how I acted. And When I went off to college, cards from my youth group and church family and many long phone calls with my youth leader, who is now a close friend, helped me hold on to my faith during a time when it would have been easy to get caught up in so many other things.
For a long time, I have had the feeling that I probably should get baptized, but it was not until that moment when I was twenty years old and looking up at the sky with my pastor and some of my church family, that I finally had an encounter with God that made me experience a genuine desire to get baptized. I go to a church that truly feels like my church. It's members feel like family, and inside it's walls I feel at home. I will be baptized this Sunday, September 6, which is also sadly our pastor's last day, but I'm glad this is going to happen before he goes. Baptism, confirmation, and church membership are all complex subjects with too many variables to cover in a single blog post, (which is one reason why there will be a Part 2!), but I believe that the feeling of acceptance is a good starting point for me.