If you've been around here this summer you'll know that I've been pretty busy with baptisms down in the valley, with barely a Sunday in June, July,August or September without at least 2, and often some on Saturday too. I've agonised at times, because it felt rather as if God's hospitality might be being abused.Party after party arrives, to fill the church with the joyful hubub of a family reunion,complete with rampaging todders, bling-wearing god mums and armies of tattood guys, looking deeply uncomfortable in suits.I talk as best I can about the beginning of a life-long journey, about God's unconditional love and our need to respond. I tell them that they are to feel at home in their Father's house,I administer the sacrament, am thanked warmly for a "lovely service" and sometimes told "You made us feel so welcome" and 99 times out of 100 that's it.
Over the next few weeks we may meet in the Co-op, or crossing the park and exchange friendly greetings. I say hopefully "Maybe see you at Messy Church" and they agree that they might try it one day, but we both know that it's very unlikely.
I've wondered and worried and thought and (more productively) prayed. I've listened to colleagues who have more robust demands, and I can see their point, but when it comes down to it, I've had no sense that God wants me to change my practice. At valley church particularly it's all about welcome. We are often chaotic - that's what happens if you're the sort of church that includes learning impaired adults as acolytes and trainee guide-dogs among the choristers, and has a vicar who is last-minute to her core. Sometimes it can be disappointing for one who loves beautiful liturgy (even, or particularly, when she knows that she herself is part of the problem) - but I'm pretty certain that most people who come through the door feel loved, wanted, WELCOME. And we're that way because God is a "come as you are" God, who accepts us first and transforms us afterwards.
So it would seem alien to me to turn away anyone that purported to seek a relationship with God through the Church, - even if I never get to see that relationship develop...
But this past Sunday, the official relationship never got off the ground at all.
I first met the family back in August. Little X was approaching her first birthday . She had, apparently, had serious health problems just after birth and her mum had spoken of her need to engage with God as a thank you for the gift of her daughter...I battled the post-Stroud-half-marathon traffic down from church on the hill, reopened chuch in the valley, turned on lights, lit candles, checked water temperature of font and waited...and waited...and waited some more. Roads were still blocked or busy, so it wasn't til twenty minutes after the time we'd agreed that I phoned the mum
"I thought we were due to be baptising X today"
"Oh...yeah...Didn't I tell you? We moved house last week and...oh well...I thought I'd told you..."
KF (brightly) "Goodness - you'll have alot on your plate with a move and a toddler. Why don't you get in touch later, when things have calmed down..."
"OK. I could do.."
I stood in the empty church and tried to analyse my feelings.
I was very very tired (it takes a while to regain a whole missing night), and the morning hadn't been fantastic - so on one level, it was simply a relief to be able to stop, to take off the kit and the public face and to sit in a weary heap in the Lady Chapel before driving home...But on another and deeper level I was so very disappointed.
Not that I don't understand all too well how easy it is for things to get forgotten amid the chaos of life with a toddler in a small flat, leaving aside the complexities of a house move.Life is a struggle for many of the families I meet, and my priorities and theirs are never likely to match exactly - but all the same, I felt somehow hurt for God, and almost guilty that I'd opened the way for this. Hospitality not just abused, but spurned...
But then I looked at the altar, where only a couple of hours ago Christ's body had been broken and shared once again, and remembered that the God who gives himself to us like that is no stranger to abuse or rejection - and keeps on loving, no matter what.
So, no change in baptism policy then...Everyone welcome.