My Faith Story by Virenee Chatmon

Written by Vi on the occasion of her election to serve as a Deacon beginning in August 2012

I am a teacher.  I know things about teaching and learning.  But truthfully, I am a slow learner when it comes to personal and spiritual matters.

I attended a small Baptist church in Reidsville, NC.  There, I accepted Christ at the age of 9 under the fear of eternal fire.

I’ve always loved the water, but my baptism in a muddy pond with fish biting at my legs made me uneasy.   Having heard so often, and loudly, that Jesus would wash my sins as white as snow, one can imagine my dismay and confusion as I emerged from the water, in a robe newly stained as red as the iron-rich Carolina clay.

It was quite an auspicious beginning, and a foreshadowing to my rocky, spiritual drama.

I did the traditional Baptist things—unfortunately, most of what I got from that were a list of things not cool with Jesus, and a “to do list” of things to make Jesus satisfied with me.  The “to do list” included, basically, doing “church stuff”.

So I did a lot of church stuff, including serving as a youth minister during my college summers, and later as Missionary Journeyman to Taiwan for two years.  I also later enrolled in seminary and joined Highland.   But being in those places at those times didn’t help me discover who I was as a whole and spiritual being—let alone anybody else.  I just didn’t get it.

Providentially, I quit seminary and church altogether.  Then, a spontaneous conversation sparked a pivotal life change for me.

This chance conversation led to my employment as a teacher in a correctional facility.   What an act of grace that was for me.  Over those years, I focused less on church things, and more on God things.  My values, beliefs and being became more focused, and I relied less on my previous fear-based definition of being Christian.

It occurred to me that being a Christian was less a weekly perpetuation of traditional churchiness, and more doing something for those who struggle.  It was less about fear, and more about the work of grace.  This period of time was my real “conversion”.

It sounds so simple, now.  I guess I had Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.

Then in the late 80’s I found a church that actually did the work of grace, doing and being justice in the community beyond their walls.  I went there 17 years seeing God work in meaningful ways.

Then something happened, and I realized that while this church was good “out there”, they treated many inside their walls, especially children, terribly.

So I left, lost and truly sad again for a few years.  It was the worst place I’d ever been.  My mother died, crisis after crisis mounted and I fell in pretty deep.

But God had given me a resilient heart.  And as I climbed out of that darkness, it was Highland that held the lantern, and I found hope for community, friendship, and my faith.

I have had many losses in the 7 or 8 years that I have been back, including the death of my dad, sister, and favorite aunt, and the end of a long relationship.  But returning was different this time because here were people who cared for me and who walked through it with me.

This church has loved a love so transforming that Christ truly became real for me through your actions, words, and liturgy.  You’ve shown me what being Christ-like looks like.  I could have easily slipped away like the little lost sheep.  But you led me back into the fold, and today I stand as one who will be a shepherd, knowing that each person, like me, is valued, useful and loved.

Being asked to serve as a deacon is a humbling experience, and saying yes was difficult for me.  As Wanda Nakdimen will tell you, I took my time in answering.  In fact, I took longer in answering to this commitment than I did in responding to a recent proposal for marriage.   But that’s another story.  So I take this very seriously.

Highland, you have been a good teacher.  And although I have learned slowly, your lesson of the work of grace has made a profound impact on my life. Maybe, finally, most of my faith “drama” has come to an end.