She arranged to see me. She sat with me in the drawing room of 80 Bealey Ave. She listened while I rehearsed my frayed certainties. Then for an hour she told me of Jesus and how much he loved me. It wasn't apologetics or doctrine. It was the deep confession of someone who knew something and whose life showed that she did. Of course I could not allow myself to believe anything so seriously uncool as Christianity but somewhere deeper than the the little sliding tile puzzle of my own logic, I knew she was telling me the truth.
So, about two months later I was in Wellington seeing her daughter. Clemency took me and my friend Alden to the church she had been attending lately and I was NOT impressed. The service was long and filled with people doing odd things. The sermon was about, and I am not making this up, how classical music was of the devil and if you listen to it you are risking hellfire. At the end of the service the pastor invited those who wanted to give their lives to Christ to come forward, and to my horror both Alden and Clemency went to the front of the church. I stood to go. I intended to leave, catch the ferry and head back home to Christchurch leaving these idiots to their own devices; but when I reached the aisle, instead of turning left for the door and home, I turned right and also went to the front. Someone led me into a back room. I prayed. And my life changed.
I am not, obviously, still part of the Assemblies of God. I moved over a period of years through various Pentecostal churches until I reached a place of equilibrium in the Anglican communion. I have undergone many, many conversions since then and now find it hard to categorise myself, but I suppose I might be called a Progressive or Evolutionary Christian. And today, I have been remembering that night, and signing that little card, which I did at about the same time of the evening on August 5 1973 as I am writing this, 40 years later. Mahatma Gandhi said Faith is not a thing to be grasped, it is a state to grow into and he is right. On that night I didn't, as I imagined at the time, pass from one state of being to another. Rather I underwent, for the first time but certainly not the last, the experience of dying to self. I knew the transitory and fallible nature of all I thought and all I experienced and recognised that I was never as I so fondly imagined, the master of my own destiny. I gave up the pretense and handed the whole sorry bundle of my own being over to whatever it was that the young man was proclaiming; or rather, over to the loving reality of whatever it was that filled Valerie Underhill. And I was met and answered and transformed.
Behind the metaphorical system of Pentecostalism is a deep and eternal truth - the same truth in fact that lies behind the metaphorical system of Progressive or Evolutionary Christianity, which is why I can see and accept the series of transitions by which I have moved from my then to my now. I'm not sure what the pastor of the AOG would have thought of me if he could have seen me this morning, sitting on my prayer stool in silence with a great black cloak wrapped around me. But I paused for a while and thought of 40 years. It's a good Biblical span. I looked around me at my study. Everything in there is less than 40 years old. A huge percentage of the things that surround me are gifts - including in a way the doctoral certificate and the deed of ordination to the episcopacy hanging on my wall. All has come to me in acts of grace and love. Everything around me has a story, and many of those stories have their genesis in those few minutes spent in the back room of the AOG. I worked into my silence deeply, warmly, profoundly grateful for the path I have walked, and for the one who has unfailingly walked it with me.