About Gail Baker:
I am the oldest of three girls born to Pat and Lee Baker of Columbia, S.C. My early years were spent in a sheltered cocoon of loving family relationships and our close knit Jewish community. After attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I completed a BA in Education at George Washington. In Washington, I met my future husband, Steve, who has Greek Orthodox background. After we moved to Columbia, I obtained a MA in Special Education and Steve completed his law degree. We were married in 1973 and had our son Michael in 1975.
My easy assumptions about life began to unravel when Michael, at age nine, showed signs of depression. This led to an eating disorder and problems with addiction, causing Steve and I to face years of hand wringing, unanswered questions, and guilt. Nearing forty, Michael revealed that his problems were the result of being sexually molested by a stranger when he was a child.
With the onset of his difficulties, the poison of spiritual despondency settled in my soul and took over my mind. Looking for some semblance of spiritual uplift, I spent years comparing Judaism and Christianity. In 1987, after years of intense soul searching, I embraced Christianity.
Though this turn was shocking and radical, it was the single most practical decision of my life. Bit by bit, I transformed the language of loss into the language of grace. In discerning the sacred meaning of sorrow, in its struggle and redemption, I learned that no world weariness, desolation of spirit, or grievous remorse is ever wasted in God’s economy. By delving into ultimate issues I was able to let go of pessimism and enjoy the quiet exuberance of a life lived in gratitude.
In trying to resolve suffering on a deeper level, I drew from deep wells of Jewish thought. Motivating my search is the belief common to both faiths that suffering is never the last word. Regarding this continuity, Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox Jew and New Testament scholar, wrote:
The habit of hope that the Jews have mastered throughout the centuries is profoundly reflected in New Testament theology. The resurrection shows the Jewish faculty for taking the sting out of death through unswerving faith and salvaging new rays of hopeful strength from out of the abyss of
When the collective conversation into which I was born was shattered, I was forced to let go of expectation, ego, and the conventional wisdom of a lifetime. For years, guarding my privacy, I lived with the creative tension of opposing worldviews. Being able to juxtapose each as if from a distance I gleaned insights and understandings I could not have obtained otherwise.
Not relating to the conservative mindset of groups like the Christian Coalition or Messianic Judaism, I assumed the paradoxical label, “a congregation of one.” In my search for a moderate path in theology, I’ve found that devout faith can cohere with a nuanced interpretation of the Bible.
Despite the challenges, I have successfully assimilated my background with profound Christian resolve. Looking back, I can discern the pattern of dissonance and renegotiation. Having sat with this for over thirty years, I have crafted a memoir. A Congregation of One recounts my spiritual coming of age against the backdrop of a quirky, secular family whose Jewishness is defined in opposition to bible belt culture.
In 2009, a Pew Center survey affirmed that Americans change religious affiliations early and often. Social scientists have noted that identities in a shifting world are fluid, complex, and contrasting. The way we self-identify at one point in our lives can be different from that of another-though both can be true.
My unorthodox journey should speak to all who find themselves outside traditional sectarian boundaries and who seek to integrate new spirituality into their cultural landscape.