Meet Melanie Wiley
01 July 2015
I first encountered The Salvation Army through the toddler group at Clapton Corps (church) in Hackney, east London. I was then a mother of a toddler and a newborn baby. I had just moved into a nice house, had a caring husband, a career and nice friends.
On the surface it seemed I had everything, but actually I was finding motherhood stressful and lonely. I was very disillusioned with my career and I realised I would never find total fulfillment through a job. For 10 years previously I had been a Buddhist, but that had not lived up to my expectations, leaving me feeling despondent and reluctant to embark on another faith.
Added to this, I was fearful for the world which seemed to be suffering and on the road to destruction through human selfishness. Politics did not seem to provide answers although the media and society seemed to be consumed by ever changing policies of blame. This left me feeling unhappy, depressed and without hope. In the evenings I had begun to rely on a couple of glasses of wine as a treat for surviving the world and to ease feelings of stress and growing despair of my life.
At the toddler group I began to chat to the volunteers about The Salvation Army and their faith in Jesus, and this stirred my seeking spirit. But what really did it for me were the actions of the corps officers. At Clapton Corps whoever walked through the doors – whoever they were, whatever their life circumstances – they were welcomed, given time and acceptance.
This amazed me. How did they do it? What powered them?
I had listened to political, social and academic theories and policies for years but it never really seemed to fundamentally change people’s lives. I had worked for charities over the years and I understood how – despite having the best intentions and being caring – it was hard not to become disillusioned, burnt out and even resentful of the people you were there to serve.
I knew it wasn't job description, politics or an academic theory that enabled my corps officers Ruth and Karl to be so capable, generous, kind and loving. My seeking grew and I became more and more interested in what it was that enabled Ruth and Karl to consistently offer love and acceptance without viewing people as a problem.
I met with Ruth a few times and asked questions. I also started attending the corps on a Sunday morning, telling my husband and friends I was attending the toddler group.
At first I thought they were completely crazy and I sat at the back with my children. I was full of doubts – but I kept coming back. One morning, having given everything else a try, I called Ruth to tell her I was coming to see her to give her Jesus a go. We prayed in the hall, sitting on little chairs as it was set up for toddler group!
That day I gave my life to Jesus.
I realised Ruth and Karl were powered by Jesus and I needed to put what I thought was rational, intelligent thinking aside and take a step of faith. I loved the worship and fellowship and to be part of the outward-looking community that is at the heart of the Salvation Army corps in Clapton.
I gradually started sitting further towards the front of the church, got involved with Sunday school and became an adherent. Meanwhile, my drinking was getting worse and worse. Before the children were born, I had attended an abstinence-based programme and had gained a year of sobriety. But living on self will I had refused to accept God, which is a requirement of this spiritually based programme – or at least a God of your own understanding.
After growing in faith and getting honest with Ruth about my drinking she advised me to get help. I went back to the same abstinence-based programme, but this time I had God. His grace did for me what I could not do for myself. After a year’s sobriety I became a soldier.
This was a turning point in my life. As I relied on God, he freely filled me with his grace. I felt transformed from the inside out. Through his love, self-seeking, anxiety and fear dissipated – and hope, joy and gratitude replaced them. Jesus in his grace saved me.
I am happy to tell you I am now four years and two months sober.
This article was included in issue two of Boundless Today. Click to read all issues of Boundless Today.