My baptism in July 2014 was the outcome of both personal experience and a deliberate search for truth.
In my second year of University, I moved off-campus and left a supportive faith community in order to focus on my studies in relative isolation. I set unrealistic academic and personal standards for myself and sunk into a depression when I fell short. It was with growing pessimism and diminishing expectations that I began to explore atheism. The idea that life emerged randomly from a chaotic universe, had no objective purpose and limited potential validated my negative self image, while destabilizing many of my core beliefs.
I fell in and out of relationships over the following years, experiencing and causing emotional pain to a degree that forced me to reckon with the path I was on. Feeling adrift and rudderless, I reflected on who my role models had been and the years of my life where I felt most purposeful, anchored and secure. Looking back in time I found guidance in the words, actions and testimony of others: the integrity of my parents and their marriage, sermons that cast light on a personal struggle, encouraging words or advice from believers, the testimony of C.S. Lewis in Surprised By Joy. I thought about the beliefs that led me to depend on relationships for personal security rather than God, and decided to attend church again.
FreeChurch introduced me to a welcoming group of people with diverse denominational backgrounds and unique personal histories. The experience revitalized Christianity for me, and initiated a time of personal renewal and healing. I hoped that my baptism in July 2014 would be a symbol of deepening commitment to Jesus Christ in the presence of this community. Having recently overcome disbelief, I was afraid some would perceive my unsteadiness. There is a verse in the bible where Jesus explains what it means to be “born again”: “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God”. I remembered the imagery of this verse prior to being submerged. Being born again of the spirit is most challenging aspect of committing to the faith. For me, baptism was not an instant transformation, but the beginning of the continual process of inviting the Word of God into my life, letting it challenge aspects of my nature and behavior.
Christianity contains a set of premises with vast implications for personal conduct and the treatment of others. The most common metaphor for it is a journey with individual challenges along the way, but also companions to draw strength from. I was blessed to meet my fiancé, Erica, at FreeChurch, whose faith and personal integrity inspire me continually. Life is a mix of blessings and hardships, but some blessings overwhelm anything that preceded them.
Baptism represented the grace of new beginnings and a point in the continuum of a faith journey. I am grateful to everyone who accompanied me so far, and to Erica, and others who will walk beside me for a lifetime.
John O’Reilly is one of our Deacons at the Kensington Expression. He is an Urban Planner working for the City of Toronto