Part Quatre: Back-Row Baptists
In Scarborough, I moved into a four-bedroom house with three other American girls who were studying abroad for the semester. Cory and Jessie were drama students from Ohio and all that implies. Sara was a gentle blonde from Maine studying marine biology. She and I became fast friends.
Sara taught me how to bake vegan cakes, and I read aloud to her from Anne of Green Gables. In the evenings, we went for long walks along the cliffs and sat for hours watching the waves of the North Sea crashing against them.
She often asked me about God, and I told her about Derek and Africa and getting to England, finally, after all the pain of the previous three years. I told her, too, how I had started to understand that I couldn’t really know romantic love in all its depth and breadth and height, until I experienced the fullness of the love of God. She listened, and nodded, and told me that she didn’t understand how God could allow so much pain in the world.
I told her I didn’t understand, either.
True to my original intentions, I began looking for a church. My first Sunday in Scarborough, I visited a church just around the corner from our house. It was an old, traditional building, and that reflected what lay within: the people were lovely, but I was the only one under the age of sixty. I decided to keep looking.
Later that week, I was in the corner shop down my street – buying a chocolate bar, no doubt – when I saw a headline on the front page of the Scarborough Evening News:
Eight Youths Baptised in Sea.
The accompanying photo was of a man in his mid-20s standing in the waves, surrounded by eight teenagers. The story read that eight members of the youth group at Ebenezer Baptist Church had been baptised by their youth minister the previous Sunday in the ocean.
Well, I thought, if there are teenagers at that church, maybe there are people my age too.
The following Sunday, with my visitor’s map of Scarborough in hand, I set off in search of Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was further away than I had imagined, and when I arrived in front of the imposing brick building, worship songs were already wafting into the street outside. Flustered and a bit sweaty from my 45-minute walk, I tripped up the front stairs and through the double doors.
The church was full and, mildly panicked, I scanned the back pews for a place to sit. As I stepped forward, a tall, dark boy with kind eyes spotted me and slid out of his pew, gesturing me in beside him. I smiled, and whispered thank you, and sat down, breathless, beside one mister