Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Remembering Our Baptismal Vows

Our pastor started her sermon last Sunday with the observation that her son seemed to be AWOL. She is raising him alone with the help of her sister who lives with them. Most Sundays her sister is the one who wakes Austen up and gets him motivated to dress, eat and walk the short distance to church. But on Mother’s Day, Rev Sister was out of town. And you know how teenage boys are. “Happy Mother’s Day, Anne!,” somebody called out. Happy Mothers Day, indeed. Everybody knows how fifteen year old boys are. Not quite a man, not a child, either. They are starved for adequate sleep and utterly incorrigible.

I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Stephen Cottingham, one of our college kids, quietly slipped out of the sanctuary. And I knew what would happen. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We had a baptism Sunday. A baptism on Mothers Day. How cool is that? Everybody loves a baptism. In the Presbyterian church we like to do it to babies. We’ll take them up to the chancel when they’re about a month or two old. We like infant baptism because it shows that no one can do this on their own. Humans are never the ones to begin a relationship with God. Everything starts with God and baptism is merely a sign of something God has already done.

Presbyterians have been on a kick lately to "Remember your Baptism." But how are you supposed to do this if it happened when you were a baby? I decided it was my job to remember it for them. The congregation takes a vow, too, just like the parents do in a baptism. I promise to love the child (the easy part) and teach him Sunday School, Confirmation Class and Vacation Bible School. Definitely the hard part.

After the baptism the preacher walks around the congregation for a bit with the baby, introducing the newest member to his or her new godparents. It’s a child’s entrance into the family of faith. Around the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Garland we take this event seriously.

I love sitting next to children at baptisms, and Sunday I had my eight year old granddaughter with me. I told Sarah that this baby would be her responsibility. There would be some things she could teach this baby that I couldn’t. It would be up to her to help him when he felt left out or scared. She would have to stop little Jack when she saw him doing something dangerous like running in the hall. Children seldom see ways they can contribute to the life of a congregation. But bossing around a toddler is right up their alley. Years later, down the road, there will be things Sarah can say to this new person that he could never hear from an old fossil like me; but would be able to take it from somebody just a few years older.

Anne was almost finished with the baptism and was walking the baby around the sanctuary when the woman sitting next to me nudged me in the ribs, “Looks like Austen finally showed up.” I didn’t need to look for Austen. I looked for Stephen and there he was back in his regular seat listening intently like he had never been gone. I smiled when I pictured it in my mind; something like a loud banging on the back door followed by “Yo, dude! Get your butt out of bed!”

Steven wasn’t in the sanctuary the day Austen was baptized. But anytime we witness a baptism we vow to do the same to any child we encounter. We promise to love them and teach them. “Yo, dude! Get your butt outta bed and get to church!” is a lesson Austen will probably never forget. And only Stephen could have taught him that.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yep, it brought tears of appreciation and an awareness of something good in our presence when I saw Stephen slipping away and back again.

One thing you couldn't see from your pew was that most of the kids from Extended Session, (the kids who are old enough to walk bravely to the front for Children's Time and then head to the Education Hall for an extended session on the lesson) had returned with Jack's older sisters Sarah and Ruth for the baptism. They remained in the narthex and looked in on tiptoe to try to see over heads at what was happening.

I don't know that anyone had ever thought to bring the kids back before, but there was Tommy McFarland fulfilling her vow to help raise the children and encouraging them to witness the Baptismal vow and to love Jack.

BTW - Someday you'll have to sing with the choir just to enjoy the view!! :-)

nancy

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah -- bring the kids back -- or put the baptism right after the "Time with Children." That's what we did in one church I served so the children always served as "sponsors" for that child. They even got their own question as part of the liturgy. And the "Time with Children" was always the same for baptisms -- a reminder that their job was to pay attention and remember so that when that child asked in later years, "Was I baptized?" they could say, "Yes! And I was there! And here's what I remember from that day . . ."

We did a service of baptismal renewal last year. We have a large custom made bowl on a stand for a baptismal font. I moved it into the center aisle, placed iradescent glass stones in the bowl and filled it with water. During the service, the congregation was invited to come to the bowl, to remember their own baptism and the difference it made (or might make) in their lives and to reach into the water and remove a stone as a reminder. After the service, one of our middle schoolers was all excited to tell me that now we have our own "Pensive," as in Dumbledoor's 'Pensive' in the Harry Potter stories. When I looked confused, she explained that Dumbledoor's Pensive contained his memories. Our font was now full of ALL the memories of baptism of ALL the members of the congregation!

Sometimes our kids really DO get it.

Linda Mc