Exhausted primary school teacher Joanne Wykes was spending her life pushing herself to excel at work and also had tried to give everything to her previous church. But when lockdown hit, her faith took a new turn.
“I always had a feeling that there was more I should be doing but I didn’t quite feel worthy of it. I would dread the demands of parish life and I felt I just couldn’t give enough time. At my home parish in the South East I was very active, supporting the Sunday School, helping with events, Mother’s Union etc … there were so many jobs to do. Once a month I would go to a cathedral so that I could be anonymous and no one would ask me if I could pop by later in the week, help with this and that, or make the coffees.’
“I’ve been a Christian since my mid-20s, but I was alone in my faith, with very few friends and family being Christian. I envied the other people in the pews for having already arrived as I just never felt that I wasn’t there yet.
“Although I have an amazing family, close friends and a gorgeous partner I felt there was still something missing in my spiritual life. Going to church gave me a good feeling for the week and then I left, went home and that was it.
“I’m a tactile person, so when the pandemic hit, I found lockdown very difficult. I had just started attending Holy Trinity in Slad and was grateful for the members of the Church who reached out to me. Increasingly though, I found myself seeking out the virtual company of other Christians. I signed up for the Festival of Everyday Faith and it changed everything I knew about being a Christian.
“There was an exercise where we had to pick a point in our day, draw a comic strip of that moment and work out where God was. My moment was at school with my teaching assistant. I’d been doubting myself as I had just moved to a new year group in KS2 after a considerable period of teaching KS1. She took me to one side at the end of the day and showed me what the children had achieved that day. She encouraged me to be more confident and to reflect on the success we were making as a team. Looking back at that moment now drawn out in a comic strip I realised that’s where God had been in my day! God had given me my wonderful colleague to be an encouragement to me.
“When I realised this, it made me feel like I had had a big hug. I had a new understanding of God as a Father and I felt so grateful that he was there to look after me. It just felt life-changing. I realised that maybe, just maybe teaching was my calling, and God was putting me into school and it was OK to put my energies into that, it is my way of living out my discipleship every day.
“For the first time in my life, I started to feel more confident about being a practising Christian. I now lead RE in the Church of England School I work in and I know I am being a disciple by living my everyday life.”
Joanne’s new confidence in her faith is allowing the people close to her to open up about their own questions and hopes.
“Since I’ve become more confident and comfortable with my faith, friends and sometimes colleagues come to me, asking me to pray for them in the tough times. They come to me with questions about why things happen and why I believe, and that’s really lovely.
“Last week my partner, Daniel was baptised. We’ve been together for four years and he didn’t have a faith at all when we met. He started asking me for prayers, then joined in with the prayers and eventually he took the plunge and was baptised in front of close friends and our church family.
“For me, diocesan courses have honestly changed my perspective. The Loved + Liked course let me know that other people were in the pews across the diocese, feeling the same as me – not good enough or not yet enough of a Christian but I am just not there yet! They allowed me to talk openly about my faith and to question. It was a landmark course in my journey of faith.
“I now speak to God more openly – in my car on the way to work and I look out for him at the end of my day…And he sends people to me all the time. I notice it more, probably because I am looking for it now and I’m appreciating it. On the way home from work today, I saw a double rainbow and I just thanked God for it, right then and there, without worrying about which words I should use.”