“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Baptism

I rose early this morning. By 8:00 am I had exercised (20 minute upper body with weights and ab toner); written a draft of my sermon; checked email, given myself a manicure. By 9:30 I was showered and dressed in clerics and at the church doing the final set up for the baptism.

About five months ago the Deputy Fire Chief for our town called to inquire if I would baptize his niece. He and his family are Roman Catholic, but his sister married a man from England. This sister and brother live in Minnesota and had a baby in December. Being from England the father said he wanted to baptize his daughter in the Episcopal Church. The DFC wanted to know if I would baptize the baby while his sister and BIL were in town for a family gathering around the 4th of July. In fact, he wanted to know if I would I baptize the baby on Saturday, July 7?

Now. Typically in the Episcopal Church, since the prayerbook revision of 1979 we only baptize people on Sunday morning in the midst of the worship service. The baptism is embraced by scripture on one end and Eucharist on the other. The baptized person(s) is embraced by the gathered community who vow to support this person in the life and faith. It's a really lovely piece of liturgy, even though the language is already outdated.

So. My problem was not whether to baptize this baby, but how. We (ECUSA)have no other form for baptism except the Sunday morning and "Emergency" baptism which can be done by any baptized person. I wanted something that would hold a good sense of liturgy and make the ritual meaningful without all the stuff of Sunday morning. They didn't need a sermon and they didn't need the Eucharist (because, well, they were RC and couldn't receive it from me anyway...).

In the end I created a worship service that opened like a Sunday morning baptism: Presider Allelulia Christ is Risen!
People The Lord is risen indeed, Allelulia.
Presider There is one Body and one Spirit;
People There is one hope in God's call to us;
Presider One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People One God and Father of all.
Presider The Lord be with you.
People And also with you.
Presider Let us pray.

Then, instead of the Collect of the Day (Sunday) I choose a collect for baptism and then added a great prayer from the New Zealand Prayer Book that speaks of God's love for us and that we love because God loves us first. It is through Christ that we know God's love and are called to love in response. Then, I asked for the candidate for Holy Baptism to be presented. I skipped scripture because I wasn't going to preach or reflect on the Word, I focused solely on Baptism.

The family, godparents, and I met ahead of time for a rehearsal and teaching. I told them that the Episcopal Church baptizes on Sunday morning in the midst of the service, but that I was baptizing this baby in the midst of her gathered community of family and those who will be responsible for life and faith. I asked several members of the people gathered to participate: the grandmother (from England) read the Prayers for the Candidate, normally reserved for the Deacon. It was lovely to hear her read in her beautiful British accent and participate in the baptism of her grand daughter. Another family member poured the water from Ewer into the font for me to bless. The young child-godparent, cousin, held the baby while I baptized her. Someone else held the bowl of chrism while I marked her with the sign of the cross, sealing her as Christ's own forever. And another family member lit the baptismal candle off of the flame of the Paschal candle and handed it to the mother, the light of Christ given for her daughter. In other words the family took all the parts normally assigned to the deacon. (And since our Deacon is in Las Vegas this weekend for the wedding of her son, it felt like the right thing to do).

A few final prayers and then I ended with the peace of the Lord. It was a sweet service and worked very well. The baby was wonderful. The mother cried. The family was pleased, even the Mum from England (the "Deacon") was pleased. So, all around a good morning.