On a pleasant summer’s day in early January, holidaymakers and locals watched a small procession make its way from the Lakes Entrance Uniting Church to the inlet lake. Once reaching the shore four people, one clothed in ministerial white, waded into the water.
Onlookers were witnessing the full immersion baptism of Peter Page by Presbytery of Gippsland minister Rev Caro Field, who was assisted in the water by two members of the church.
Ms Field said friendly car horn toots from passing motorists provided an unusual soundtrack to the baptism.
“At this time of year, Lakes Entrance is bursting at the seams with holidaymakers in the town, and members of the congregation were delighted to be able to celebrate their faith, and the goodness of God, in such a public way through this sacrament,” she said.
Lakes Entrance elder and worship team leader Bev White said it was a very memorable day.
“God is good to us and faithful, allowing us to be involved with such an amazing experience of baptism by immersion. I think it was a privilege to be involved, a witness to our community of Lakes Entrance,” she said.
“We have had infant baptisms before but not an adult baptism for many years. So this was a real joy indeed.
“Our small congregation is a faithful, spirit-led one and we felt we needed to involve all of us in Peter’s journey towards his baptism.”
To this end ramps were set on the beach so elderly members could join the rest of the congregation gathered on the shore.
Mr Page had approached the church leadership team about being baptised late last year.
“We felt so blessed and overjoyed to have Peter come to our church family and ask to be baptised into Jesus Christ,” Ms White said.
“Peter came to our small church family at a time when we had been through a most difficult period and we were on a path of ‘Renewal’ in our church community.
“We sought guidance from Caro as to how to approach things since we have been without a minister of the word permanently for several years.”
Ms Field advised the congregation to use resources from the Belonging Kit and they responded by condensing a 12-week Bible study into four Sunday services over last November to prepare Mr Page and the congregation for baptism.
“Without a minister in placement, these sorts of pastoral services can be a bit tricky, but the congregation rose to the occasion really well,” Ms Field said.
Mr Page was also full of praise for congregation’s efforts.
“It all went through very quickly,” he said.
“The lay team at the church was amazing. It is a great family the church there. We are very close and loving to each other.”
On the day of baptism a short service was first held in the church.
“The experience was amazing,” Mr Page said.
“I was overwhelmed as I got up there and told the church my testimony.
“It was a very emotional day for me and a happy day of celebration.”
Mr Page said he had grown up in “very dysfunctional family” where, at age nine, he witnessed his drunken father point a shotgun at the head of his mother and threaten to pull the trigger.
His mother responded by hitting her husband in the head with a cricket bat, forcing him to make a bloodied retreat.
As a consequence of this traumatic environment Mr Page said he became a ‘wild child’ who spurned the things he had been told in Sunday school.
After leaving home Mr Page said he became violently tempered and unable to express emotion other than anger.
“I had so much emptiness in my life,” he said.
Mr Page had surgery for a medical condition at the age of 25.
“Whilst on the operating table I could hear a voice from far, far away which said ‘stay strong, everything is going to all right’,” he said.
On regaining consciousness Mr Page was told by doctors that he had actually died for a period during the procedure and they had been close to declaring him deceased.
“That was the turning point of my life,” Mr Page said.
“This was the beginning of me realising the true love and peace of having Jesus Christ as my saviour.”
Mr Page said he felt called to the Uniting Church after he moved to Lakes Entrance from Stratford. He grew into the conviction that he needed to follow the biblical command to be baptised into Christ.
As it transpired the day of his baptism, 7 January, was also the day of Jesus’ baptism, according to the lectionary reading.
“That made it even more special,” Mr Page said.
“I lost faith and turned my back on God but God didn’t give up on me because he loved me so much. I owe him everything.”
Ms White said the baptism had been an inspiring and invigorating experience for the church as a whole.
“I think we have all grown from this experience and know God is still at work even in the small congregations bearing witness and light to others,” she said.