It’s a choice I make every day. Sometimes the choice is more pronounced, like when I fill out my credentials application and ponder the questions that I have answered affirmatively for the past 13 years. At other times it is more subtle. I’ll have a conversation with a spiritually curious person or a Christian from another part of the body and the topic of their experience with Pentecostalism comes up. I have been asked point blank in the past week, “so why do you choose to be Pentecostal?” It was a short conversation that necessitated a succinct answer. Today I have the gift of time, and I think you are interested to know why, so here is my story.
I was baptized as an infant in the Anglican church in Stephenville. I was obviously too young to remember. Actually, my first memories of church were being brought to Sunday School at Zion Pentecostal by my mom at around age 5. It was about that time that mom made a (re)commitment to Christ. Her story is her own to tell, but she became a Christian in the Nazarene church as a teen, left church for a while, and came back when it became time (as culture dictated in the ‘80s) to give her own kids the moral foundation that church provided. My grandmothers are both practicing Pentecostals. None of the men in my extended family were (save my grandfather Nippard towards the end of his life – an amazing story in itself).
My dad (again with respect to his own right to his story) lives a lot like Jesus but doesn’t love organized religion. He always encouraged my siblings and I to attend church with mom. It was a very interesting moment at age 10(ish) when he had to ground my brother and I for skipping morning church to trade hockey cards. The irony was not lost on us that he was home to do the grounding . As such, faith was neither mandatory nor discouraged in our home. We didn’t go to the Pentecostal school with the rest of our churchmates. We practiced cultural Sabbath – sort of – until we didn’t. You would find the Bible and Scientific American on opposite ends of my parents’ nightstands.
At 12 I attended a Christian camp weekend with my youth group (camp Ashanti), and tangibly experienced the presence of God for the first time. This changed everything for me – God was no longer an abstraction to decipher, but a person who loved and even liked me. I began to enjoy church, feel a calling to leadership, and was drawn to Christians of all persuasions. So much so that I happily attended the Anglican church with my best friend, the Salvation Army with my band associates, and the Catholic church when a group of charismatic Catholics invited me to be a part of their youth group. In all of these, I experienced a different dimension of Christianity. In all of them, a larger family and purpose and God’s presence by His Spirit.
In the year 2000, I was an Engineering student at Memorial University when I attended a new event called YC at the Mount Pearl Glacier. On Saturday night, quite unexpectedly though obviously with my active participation, I began to speak in other tongues. The call to ministry resurged forcefully, and I began investigating different paths to ministry. Now I had to ask myself an unanticipated question: what will I be? A pastor, priest, captain? There were things I loved about each faith tradition that was a part of my formation, but my preference was clear.
It was not that I had a full grasp of all of our constitution and doctrine or was in love with every experience of Pentecostalism up to this point. For a pertinent example, I had to learn in Bible College, after experiencing Spirit baptism, what I believed about Spirit baptism. I had to learn in my first ministry placement (with loads of grace from my first congregation) that PAONL Pentecostalism has very different expressions and expectations from location to location. No, the reason that I am Pentecostal is not that the experience has been easy or even natural.
I am Pentecostal because I have been invited by the Spirit into a Pentecostal community to be a part of the Pentecostal story. When learning my own history (so to speak), I could imagine myself as a part of a movement like Azusa street, where God’s Spirit was breaking through economic, demographic, gender, racial and denominational barriers, doing a new (old) thing, calling together a people to help renew the body and announce the kingdom in the “last days.” While respecting and enjoying the diverse expressions of the faith in other denominations, I have always felt most at home where the central conviction is that God is moving by his Spirit in the closing days of this age. I want to approach every new season (even hard ones) with that expectation.
And so, as I sit again this year with my credential card in front of me, I am amazed again that God and the Pentecostal community have invited me to be a part of this movement. At 37, I have been alive long enough now to be far less certain of nonessentials than I was in Bible College. I know that I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m even more appreciative of the theological perspectives and practices of my brothers and sisters of different generations and other expressions of the faith. I trust God to sort the small things out when we see Him, and won’t be surprised if my beliefs require a greater degree of sorting. I am also far more grateful for the opportunity to covenant together with this community and to submit to the peculiar but beautiful rule of life that makes me a Pentecostal.