Something extraordinary happened this week. Just before Christmas a conversation occurred in a Histon sheltered housing complex. Eileen, a newcomer aged 84 who had recently moved in, was trying to make some new friends. In general chat with Molly aged 93 she mentioned going to the local Baptist church and somehow the name Michael Quicke popped up. 'I know Michael Quicke', said Molly 'but I am not sure its the same one!' Later, in their communal lounge she brought along some photographs taken over twenty years ago. 'This is me being baptized in the Sea of Galilee by Michael Quicke' she announced. Eileen and one or two others agreed that it was the Michael Quicke they know (though now considerably less youthful!)
Astonished, Molly asked whether they ever saw me and where did I live? They told her that they saw me every week at church, at the cheap pub meal and at the over 60's community time! She expressed the hope that perhaps she could meet me too. Well, this week it happened. As I visited her flat and saw the photographs of her baptism powerful memories flooded back....I remembered the day vividly. I recall her and her friend Dorothy so well. Oh, all the preparation of her and three others (involving discussion with their supportive home churches) to ensure this was no cheap tourist photo-opportunity. But what a wonder on the day itself with each of them giving testimony in a little chapel beside the lake before descending into the water. And, as the photos captured, the moments of joyful baptism with all four candidates praying afterwards in the lake. I'd never seen these pictures before!
The greatest thrills in talking with Molly came from hearing her testimony since....that baptism truly marked a life-changing event in her Christian journey and that she kept in touch with the other candidates long after the pilgrimage. No one-off in exotic surroundings - it has proved to be genuinely unforgettable...as believers' baptisms should always be.
I was so surprised to be plunged into such joy. Many pastors will know this best kind of surprise - of God working on in lives that we only briefly touched. I never knew what it meant, but how grateful I am to know now. That's true encouragement.