I was baptised into the Church of England at the age of 30, and confirmed as a member several years later. I don't see my life prior to these sacramental statements as being completely away from God - on the contrary, at some points in my life I was very faithful. But I was more often faithless, unable to hear the messages or see the signs that God kept on posting.
I grew up in a non-religious family, was not baptised and had little Christian grounding other than that provided in my non-church primary school, and the Girl Guide movement. I did at times attend Pram Service, Sunday School and Church, however, and over time came to Christ and joined a weekly youth discussion group that had two effects on me: 1) I realised my capacity for a deep faith and desire to serve God & the world, and 2) I realised that if my theological questions were going to be brushed aside and 'what the Bible says' was going to be communicated in a top-down manner without any room for manoeuvre, then Christianity and I were not going to get on.
I was God-gifted with cleverness and academic talent, so when I reached the adolescent stumbling blocks of why-are-we-here and must-we-take-the-Bible-literally, and my questions were unanswered by the church, I ended up rejecting religion as a way of life and instead, as part of my teenage rebellion, embracing an anti-religious stance. In philosophy and science I thought I had found a more correct way of perceiving the universe and its complexities; I was proud of my 'educated' view on the world. As a trained social anthropologist, I had learned that religious belief was just something people had a capacity for and did differently throughout cultures; it was something for the undeveloped world or history - it certainly wasn't a contemporary possibility.
I met like-minded people, and enjoyed a wonderful, experiential, intellectual and, to be honest, pretty hedonistic life as a teenager. Even after gaining my degree at 21 and returning home, rediscovering the man I am now convinced God personally had in mind for me and settling down in a marriage, academic, wordly and material pursuits reigned supreme in my life. I was ambitious, but struggling with direction. Counselling helped, but it could not achieve an inner peace. When researching my Masters thesis on sexuality in post-Soviet Russia, being challenged by someone online about the existence of God caused a huge, irrational episode of drunken anger that was the catalyst for my journey back to faith. (You just need faith, he said - I can't prove the existence of God to you, you can only find out that God is real, by believing.)
That episode did not spur me on immediately to believe - my conversion's not an overnight or exciting story - but some aspect of my prior questioning resurfaced from this point. By the time I was enrolled as a PhD student in a new locale, I had also gone on to meet people who had both a huge intellectual capacity and a deep and devout faith. Sadly, my most local church had a reputation for having a homophobic minister which put me off.
It wasn't until my husband and I relocated to Nottinghamshire a few years later that I tried church again. The first visit to a local church did nothing for me. But the second church I visited made me feel like I had come home. Becoming pregnant, and wondering if it was due to the will of God, and wanting to give my child the Christian education I had not, encouraged me to continue churchgoing on a semi-regular basis, especially after I had given birth to FirstSister. Even though I was not, I wanted her baptised. And by this time, I had met Katie.
Katie and her husband were not dissimilar from me. They were university educated and comfortable in an academic milieu - but they also had an amazing faith. I can't have had many chats with Katie during her time as curate at St Mary Magdalene's, but her outlook helped convert me. Instrumentally, she gave - yes, actually gave, not lent - a book that not only made me understand exactly why and how academic understanding doesn't deny faith, but whose lens on Christianity sparked the theological awakening and thirst for knowledge and study in this area. With her guidance, I became baptised, and since that point, I have received God's grace, mercy and Holy Spirit in bucketloads. My faith has grown exponentially, and I have come to recognise that motherhood is not my only calling.
There is more to it than this, of course. God put so many possibilities in my path to help me back to faith - many of them were missed. But in a nutshell, once I had given myself permission to believe, once I had an understanding that atheism is not necessarily the only option for someone who has read and digested all those alternative academic perspectives on the universe's mysteries, I could find my way back. Thankfully (and probably providentially), all my experiences prior to my return to the fold help equip me in my current ministry and make me feel humble enough to help others. I understand others' crises of faith. I understand why people do not believe. I am so thankful to have regained my faith in God and role as His servant. And, I know I'm not the only person like me that this has happened to, which gives me great hope for the future revival of faith amongst my contemporaries.