Journey of Faith

St James’s congregation member Anna Lakshmi Sabapathy shares her journey of religious exploration and her move towards Christianity.

Background Shape
Church Window Mask

When Lucy asked me to write this week’s blog, a few thoughts went through my head as I read the email. Of course! How wonderful to be asked! I said yes without thinking. Then it dawned on me, I agreed to adding more to my already busy life as a HR Director for a Global VFX company,  Scriptwriter and Executive Producer, as well as volunteering at SJP, socialising and of course generally being myself in the world.

Although what I do may seem impressive, the thing that has always kept me grounded has been religion, which is where my story really begins.

My parents are devout Hindus who came to the UK in the 1960s with my eldest siblings in tow, with myself and my other three siblings being born in London in the shadow of the Telecom Tower. We were all sent to All Souls Primary School which at the time was very religious so every week my siblings and I went to the very familiar church outside the BBC’s Broadcasting House.

As you would expect, at home following Hinduism with all of its nuance and then at school following the teachings of Christianity made quite the impression on me as a young girl.  Hinduism to the western world is associated with the Hari Krishnas who you see roaming up and down Oxford St. If by chance we passed them as children with my parents we’d have to follow them for a bit whilst they chanted away playing their bells. Hari Krishnas were cool because of the Beatles but Hinduism for me was intwined with the complexities of the Indian patriarchy.

After primary school, I went onto study at The St Marylebone School which was a continuation of my Christian teachings. Here I was introduced to the Eucharist every two weeks along with it being mandatory to study Religious Studies at GCSE.  I had a close friend at the time who was a Muslim whom I spent a lot of time with. This influenced my decision of converting to Islam at the age of 18, and practising all that came with it for ten years or so. I have read the Qu’ran twice, and learnt to pray in Arabic too.  Somewhere on this journey, I felt myself starting to pull away from Islam, so for a few years, I was a religious refugee.

In 2007, when my Father died suddenly, I was hurled back into Hinduism, having to follow multiple religious practices that come with the death of a Hindu. For months there were prayers, and observations which were dependant on the lunar calendar and the requirements that were directed by our  Guru and Temple. After my Father’s cremation, we made the pilgrimage to Rameswaram in India for more prayers and then the scattering of my Father’s ashes with all of my family present. I learnt that when you saw flowers on the beach in India it is because a Guru had been presiding over the ceremony of scattering the ashes into the ocean and you were to walk around them and not pick them up.

After my return to London, with more Hindu ceremonies to attend for my Father, I found myself wanting to escape from it, so I started to attend Emmanuel Church in West Hampstead. I would sit in a pew listening and contemplating, not speaking to anyone or staying around for coffee after the service. I attended the Sunday service for about five years until I saw parents from my daughter’s school there who would invite me to coffee. The solace I had found was now being interrupted. I needed peace and quiet away from everyone and everything I knew and the heavy responsibilities of my family and work.

I decided one Sunday to walk up the hill to St-John-at-Hampstead, which is affectionately known as Hampstead Church. I knew no one and no one knew me. This allowed me to find the silence and solitude I craved. It gave me the time I needed to heal from the distress of all that was around me personally. I was alone with God, in his church, where I could be just Anna. The congregation would welcome me, but unconsciously give me space, which I appreciated. Weeks, months and years passed as I would disappear from my life and enjoy the hymns, the choir and the service.

Slowly, I grew stronger and felt more like myself, which brought me to 2018, where I met someone whom we all know and love, our Associate Rector, Ayla.  She walked on my path with me to my baptism and confirmation. I challenged and chatted to her about Jesus and Christianity, each time I questioned if it was for me, she always managed to get me to a place of understanding that as a Christian questioning is expected, if not welcomed! This was a revelation to me, as in every religion I had been a part of, everything was to be unquestionably absolute, including what was taught at school.

So in November 2018, I was baptised and confirmed. I felt different to who I was before. I have tried to name what I felt many times, and came to see, that what I was feeling was acceptance.

Since then, when I am challenged, distraught or distressed, whether that be by family, friends, work or the conflict in the world, I remember that I am a child of God and I say my favourite verse from 1 Corinthians 13:13 “and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I end with this question, when you feel challenged or distraught will you remember that you are also a child of God?