My Journey toward Christ
I have always believed in God, but the thought of going to church was uncomfortable for me until now. Growing up, church was not part of my life. I learned about the Christian religion through basic bible stories during Easter and Christmas holidays. I was a believer despite my limited exposure to the bible.
My family moved to Ft. Smith, AR, from Memphis, TN, when I was 10 years old. The culture of the two cities was remarkably different. My discontent with the move made it difficult to fit in to my new community. Adjusting to the Ft. Smith way of life was equally challenging. One of the first questions that peers usually asked me was, “What church do you go to?” Nobody in Memphis had ever inquired about my church life. My answer, “We don’t go to church”, often alienated me from others. Several peers in elementary school told me that I would “go to hell” if I was not “saved”. I did not understand what they meant. Those experiences made church seem like a scary place in my mind. The questions and perceived judgments became few and far between during my teenage years.
I sporadically attended various churches with friends as I grew older. The services were always unfamiliar, yet sometimes the sermons spoke to me. I attended midnight mass twice. The first time was awkward. It was my first experience with communion. Everyone passed around a loaf of bread to break off individual pieces as they drank out of the same cup. The person sitting next to me was ill, so all I could think about was germs and how many people would get sick after sharing the same bread and cup. I missed the importance of that meal.
The second service I experienced was about a month after my grandfather passed away in 2008. I went to St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Jonesboro with my future in-laws. The suggestion of attending midnight mass with them was comforting during my time of grief. The reverend spoke about the significance of fathers and grandfathers. As I listened to the sermon, I knew I was meant to be there at that moment. I skipped communion during the service, but had a better understanding of what taking communion meant to the congregation.
In the fall of 2011, my husband, Tim Maddox, and his firm, deMx Architecture took on a new project. He began designing a columbarium for the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. He spoke fondly about the project on occasion. One evening in January 2012, Tim told me about a series of lectures about death and dying that had been planned due to the new columbarium for the church. One of my favorite former professors from the School of Social Work at the University of Arkansas, Dr. John King, was the lecturer. I could not miss the opportunity to be taught about that aspect of life by Dr. King, so Tim and I planned to attend the series.
Through conversation about the upcoming lectures, I learned that my friend and supervisor, Erin Rongers, was a member of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Small world! It was nice to know someone from the congregation before my initial visit. She shared positive experiences about belonging to the church. I met many members of the congregation during the lecture series, including Linda and Stan Salmonson. They would later become a significant part of my baptismal journey. Everyone was kind and encouraged Tim and me to attend their worship services.
We thought it would be good to learn more about the church, the congregation, and the Lutheran denomination so Tim and I set up a lunch meeting with Pastor Clint. He described the traditions of the church, worship services, and bible studies among many other topics. I hesitantly shared my religious history with Pastor Clint. He said that numerous new visitors to the church had similar experiences. Many had limited religious backgrounds or were coming from different denominations for a variety of reasons.
My spiritual journey toward baptism began in spring of 2012. After attending several of the contemporary worship services, I decided that this was the church for me. Pastor Clint preached inspiring sermons that always spoke to me. I quickly felt a sense of belonging and acceptance from the congregation. This was something that I had not felt at any of the other churches I had visited in the past.
I decided to participate in the Wednesday lunch time bible study and met a very special group of people. The timing and topic was perfect. It seemed like a sign that I needed to be a part of this congregation. Bible study focused on an introduction to the bible, taking participants through the entire bible using The Greatest Story participant book as a guide. I was intimidated at first due to my lack of knowledge of the bible. Everyone openly shared their feelings and opinions about the text. We seemed to be learning new things together at times. I was ready to take communion following many weeks of worship services and bible studies.
Tim and I officially joined the church on July, 15, 2012. The welcoming rite was touching. Throughout the weeks following our membership, the theme of baptism came up on occasion. Baptism was not something that I had even considered until a conversation with Pastor Clint. It was a revelation to understand that there were other adults new to religion and interested in baptism. The decision to be baptized was not a difficult one. I was already on the path toward a better relationship with Christ and baptism was the next sensible step.
A new group named “Our Lives This Text” was formed in order to help candidates through the progression of baptism and affirmation of baptism. I was going to be baptized and Tim decided to affirm his baptism during an Easter Vigil ceremony. Support from the “Our Lives This Text” group was extraordinary. Group leaders and sponsors dedicated so much of their time and passion to the candidates. Linda and Stan became sponsors for Tim and me. Every week, the group seemed to grow. New candidates joined the journey and new sponsors committed to them. We shared a meal and discussed the weekly gospel in small groups. Our Sunday evening gatherings were enlightening and motivating. I enjoyed the growth of new friendships. The Easter Vigil sounded beautiful as described by Pastor Clint. I felt proud to be part of it. All candidates were gifted with the Lutheran Study Bible and the Evangelical Lutheran Worship hymnal to assist in their journey. I will always cherish and utilize these gifts of knowledge.
I became extremely nervous during the morning of the Easter Vigil. Tim and I arrived at the church around 6:10PM and waited for more people to turn up for the 6:30PM start time. We waited in the car for a few minutes before walking into the church. We found the commencement bonfire on the opposite side of our entrance. A large group gathered and as the ceremony began, individuals lit candles from a paschal candle ignited by the bonfire before the procession into the sanctuary. Scriptures to honor and remember our Lord were read. The baptismal ceremony began with babies and children. Three adults were blessed with baptism. My name was called and I moved toward the baptismal font. As I leaned down, the aroma of the Easter bouquet surrounding the font was welcoming. I was consumed with happiness and faith as the baptismal blessing was given by Pastor Clint while water flowed over my head.
On Easter day, my new friend, Cindy Johnson, stated, “God places people in our lives for a reason”. I absolutely believe this is true. I am so thankful for all of my new friends and Pastor Clint. I have so much to learn and am confident that I will have the support that I need to continue my spiritual journey as a newly baptized Christian. I hope to be able to support others as well. Thanks be to God!