The strangest things can spark memories, can't they, and as I was making my way home from meeting a friend the other day, I realised I was passing Camden Sainsbury's and time-travelled twenty years.
It was the late nineties, and charismatic churches across the UK were in the midst of the "Toronto Blessing" phase. Meetings had become focused around large numbers of people receiving prayer, and many experiencing phenomena such as falling over, laughing or crying uncontrollably and a whole range of considerably more unusual behaviours. Some undoubtably emerged from these experiences changed for the better and with a deeper sense of the love of God; others' experiences were probably wishful thinking.
Me, I was nowhere. I'd been for prayer a hundred times and nothing had happened. I'd resigned myself to the role of moving chairs, catching people when they fell over and generally making sure everyone was safe while chaos reigned. It wasn't that I disagreed with it, but I felt left out, relegated to the role of spectator, unsure why God would treat me differently to everyone else.
So this night in Camden. Some friends were trying to plant a church there and my flatmate and I travelled down from NE London to see what was happening. It was a typical service: worship, a short sermon, a lot of prayer ministry. And as usual, for me, nothing happened. We were stacking chairs at the end when the speaker came over and asked if he could pray for me. He put his hands on my head and simply said "I bless you in the name of Jesus."
That was it. No drama. No falling over. No outward sign of anything. But somehow inside me everything changed. Something had shifted, and now I knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that God saw me, loved me and had absolutely unconditional positive opinions about me. Where I'd been struggling to find my footing, now I felt like I was standing on ground so utterly stable and solid that the universe could dissolve around it and my centre of gravity wouldn't be shifted.
And, in the twenty years following, it hasn't. Through realising I'm autistic and learning how to love my differences, through coming out as gay and losing my church community, through all the ups and downs of work and relationships and family, that sense of being securely loved, of unconditional blessing and of God's presence through everything has followed me each day.
So much so that it now seems normal, and it's only in moments like passing Camden Sainsbury's that I remember there was a time when it wasn't true, and how utterly vital it has been for my survival.