Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I want to get my baby christened

That's generally the way the conversation begins in these parts.
A bit of me registers minor professional irritation...why won't people use the word baptism? do they actually expect a naming ceremony?....but I disguise that as I go into smiley vicar mode.
KF "How lovely...We need to get together to talk about this"
Parent "Can I have it on Christmas Eve/Easter Sunday/Sunday week..."
KF "Let's meet first and try and talk through what we'll be doing, what the service is about, what promises you'll be making......then we can fix a date"
Parent "But I want to get the invitations out...."

So, before we start, there's a risk that the conversation will derail.
Our expectations seem so very different.
I'm thinking longingly of on-going Christian commitment, of growing the Church, of God's saving grace in action, God's love affirmed and celebrated.
They are thinking.......well, actually, I just don't know.

Sometimes (and I ask forgiveness for it) I've been far too quick to jump to conclusions, to decide that "all" the parents want is the opportunity to celebrate their family life with a really good party thrown in...that the "church bit" is just an embarrassing preliminary that they really don't see the point of.

Oh Kathryn! REALLY...

I admit that sometimes the wider congregation of friends and family who come arrive for a baptism are not on board with the service - despite my  best efforts to make it as accessible and easy to understand as I can. 
I know that sometimes (but ONLY sometimes) the whole thing can feel like an unsuccessful exercise in crowd control.
But even then - well, who knows what is going on beneath the surface?
I remember one such that felt deeply discouraging...parents and godparents struggled to join in with their promises...children ranged far and wide expressing themselves with full confidence at the top of their voices even as I tried to draw them in and engage them fully. I was convinced that I was an extra in a rather complicated photo shoot - and my anxieties were not allayed as I listened to a couple of very young mums, teetering on high heels  and shimmering with enough bling to make the eyes water, dismiss the service thus
"Well, that was WELL EMBARRASSING wasn't it?"
"Yeah babe, but it had to be done"

It had to be done.
I've wondered so often what the motivation is...why "it had to be done" at all...
Vestigial folk religion? Social constraints? To satisfy Grandma? (but even Grandma is increasingly unlikely to be part of the church, so that bit of reasoning has had its day)
Actually, you know, I'm beginning to come round to the opinion that - shock! horror! - it might just be God at work.

You see, I'm surprised so very very often.

Surprised by the young soon-to-be godparents who come to talk about their own necessary baptisms...who struggle at first to articulate anything that I can recognise as faith language but then share some profound questions about the point of life, or explain how they have talked to God each and every day and cannot imagine how they'd get through without Him.
They won't offer me neat little sound-bytes about "repentance" but they often say "I've done some stupid things and I'd like to draw a line - and to help my godchild not to make those mistakes"

Sometimes, no such encouragements are forthcoming - and so I approach the baptism with minimal expectations. I find myself apologising in advance to God, worry that I am peddling cheap grace - and then, something happens.
You see, it's impossible to trace the cross on someone's forehead without looking them in the eye as you do so...
"Windows to the soul"?
Apparently so - and again and again at this moment I find myself taken un-awares, standing on holy ground in company that I would never have expected to meet there.

They have such care-free, care-less facades - those young men who discover that they can't be godfather to their best mate's son unless they've been baptised themselves. 
It can be really hard to persuade them to go deeper in conversation...but then, as we stand together beside the font, with the Paschal candle creating a pool of light in the shadows, something happens.
"Do you turn to Christ?" I ask
"Do you repent of your sins?" and then, with growing confidence
"Christ claims you for his own..."

And, without fail, He does.

We know, all of us in that tiny group at the back of the church, that we are not alone...that One greater than all our hopes, our dreams and our imaginings, has been invited in and has arrived and made Himself at home.

Afterwards, the newly baptized may be gruff, trying to reclaim that nonchalance that was part of the deal at the beginning - but they will say something like
"I'm glad I did that. It was special. I feel different"

And I don't know, and I can't know,  what will happen next for them...whether the promises they have made will translate into on-going active membership of the things will work out with their godchild as the years go past...
But I do know that, as I tell them
"Today God has touched you with his love and given you a place among his people.  God promises to be with you in joy and in sorrow, to be your guide in life, and to bring you safely to heaven. In baptism God invites you on a life-long journey....

And it is just that.

An invitation.
The response is not within my control but in welcoming all comers to the sacrament I do at least ensure that the invitation is issued.

So I remain unapologetic about my "baptise anyone who asks" policy - and confident that no preparation I could offer could in any way make any of us ready for that moment when the Spirit descends, as gentle as silence, and we are made new.


Wendy said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you. (I would blame the christening language on Oscar Wilde and The Importance of Being Earnest.)

UKViewer said...

I can see the value in what you do, and I believe that offering baptism to all, is something of a 'duty' because, without it, we are incomplete.

What we do with baptism is our own responsibility, but if parents and God parents take their vows seriously, perhaps we'll have more disciples being made, albeit, at Arms length.

Somehow the concept of the Holy Spirit descending on the baptized, but also on those surrounding them is symbolic of what we used to describe as "The Holy Family" when I was small, the trio of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, were held up to us as the ideal family and one that we should seek to model our lives on.

There is so much there to ponder on and no doubt tons of theology attached, but being quite a simple sort - it seems to me the essence of what baptism is about. Welcoming the new child/young person/adult into "The Holy Family" and making them part of it all.

waterbrook said...

Wonderfully expressed. Thank you.