(by Tracey Austwick and Peter Howe)
As long as I’ve (Tracey Austwick) been going to Tathra Uniting Church, Peter Howe has been an active, Spirit-filled and faithful Christian. Growing up in the Tathra Uniting Church, I remember Peter as a loving husband and father, a gifted musician, a deep thinker. I remember the time he spent with a group of us teenagers to share what Jesus meant to him and a particular song he loved and taught us: “I’ve got something that the world can’t give and the world can’t take it away; I’ve got something that the world can’t give and it keeps me night and day. I’ve got something worth talking about, it makes me sing and it makes me shout. I’ve got something that the world can’t give and the world can’t take it away. Jesus is alive! Jesus is alive! He’s got the power that sets me free. Jesus is alive!” I remember Pete’s testimony shared at a Bega youth group coffee night, and how, not long after that, I committed my life to follow Jesus. Pete’s life has been lived in a way that has had a gentle but profound impact on me and many others who have been blessed by Pete’s wise presence in our lives and in God’s world.
So why am I telling you this? Often we say the nicest things about people when they die, when they can no longer benefit from our affirmation of their faith and the way we see them changing the world. And Pete, at the age of 76, is by public declaration dying to sin on 18 December 2021. Just to be clear, Pete is getting baptised in the Bega River, at Mogareeka Inlet. Pete has been a Christian since he was 33, but unlike many people in the Uniting Church who were baptised as a child, Pete has never been baptised. Pete’s saved and making incredible contributions to God’s Kingdom. He’s not missing out on living an abundant life. Pete is just ready now to publicly pledge allegiance to Jesus through this Sacrament. This is Pete’s God-appointed time to respond to God’s call to him to be baptised.
How do I know it’s God’s appointed time? God brought me to a place of doing the Uniting Mission and Education’s Sacrament’s course in October 2021, learning about the two Sacraments the Uniting Church practices: Holy Communion and Baptism. At this two-day course, the Rev Dr Ockert Meyer provided amazing teaching on worship, liturgies, pastoral considerations and what we Christians are doing as we share in the Sacraments. The course was pure pleasure, although I was a little daunted by the practical elements the course required: subsequent assessment tasks. These assessment tasks including leading a communion service and a baptism under observation from an accredited presider (qualified officiator) of the Sacraments. How was this going to be possible, particularly for the baptism, among the small, faithful remnant of the Tathra Uniting Church? God knew. God planned and provided the most wonderful way. I will be baptising Pete. What a privilege to baptise a man I consider a spiritual father, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, who will share in the joy and celebration of Pete following in Jesus’ footsteps when he was baptised in the Jordan river around two thousand years ago.
But what does Pete have to say about all this? What does being baptised now mean to Peter? Here’s what he has to say:
“It’s a joy to be baptised by Tracey; a joy to know that she already knows more than I do about the sacraments. Tracey grew up in our church. She and her family have always been a blessing for us. I was never baptised. The idea didn’t occur to me until Tracey mentioned it.
When I became a Christian forty odd years ago I was so excited I had to tell all my friends. One of them said, “Calm down Pete, it’s just your latest thing; it will pass. You’ll move on to something else.” I laughed. How could I move on from something as real to me as breathing?
But in a way I have moved on over these years as a Christian. Every time I let go of something that I thought I had to have, or be, or believe, I discovered new territory of the Spirit around me and inside me. It’s never ending. My understanding widens and deepens as I open up to what God is giving me now. It’s always been too beautiful and too powerful to be contained.
Some people want a label
That spells out who they are
They lay it on the table
They drive it like a car
A label’s a container
Like a small room or a box
You sit inside the label
And carefully guard the locks
I have a wider definition
Bigger than Evangelical
There’s room in my position
I’m an Ecumenical
That said, I’m very comfortable in saying I belong in the Uniting Church. Why? The word “Uniting” has a movement to it. The ministry of Jesus is a story of movement, of change, a journey into something larger than anyone could imagine.
Ever since our old church became two branches of the vine in 2018, my spiritual understanding has been released to grow and flourish. I’m thankful to Presbytery for the spiritual direction of Ross Kingham, the intelligent support of Andrew Smith (especially in his Fresh Expressions leadership) and the fascinatingly honest Bible teaching of Elizabeth Raine and John Squires.
Though I’ve been a devoted Christian for all these years I feel as if I’m ready to begin a new journey. It’s time to repent and let go of anything that blocks me from loving God, people and Creation. I’m ready to be cleansed; to open up to more of the love that surrounds me. It’s an absolute joy to be baptised in the Uniting Church of Australia.“
For the final 2021 edition of the Canberra Region Presbytery newsletter, I’ll send in some baptism photos so you can also share in Tathra Uniting’s celebration of the new life God calls us all to and our church’s expression of our faith and gratitude to our great God.