Meet The Rev. Shawn Carty, rector at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Hailey, Idaho. Besides serving as guest blogger, Fr. Shawn is also preparing to represent the Diocese as a deputy to General Convention.
I answer the phone and the reason for the call becomes clear: “Well, the grandparents are going to be in town next weekend and it would be convenient if we could get the baptism done.”
As a parish priest, I could easily get worked up about the thought that Holy Baptism is supposed to be convenient (it’s not) but the word that really bothers me is “done.” I find it often comes up when people inquire about Baptism. It is as though the Sacrament is something on a checklist. “Are we on the waiting list for a good preschool?” Check. “Vaccination for measles, mumps, and rubella?” Check. “Baptism?” Let’s get it done.
And while most of us do not stay awake at night fretting about medieval fires of hell as described by Dante, I have encountered a few parents who view Baptism as ecclesiastical fire insurance. It is not a pretty sight.
God knows that parents do not need one more thing to worry about. In fact, they can use all the help in the world, so I try to put their minds at ease and talk instead about God’s love and the value of a supportive Christian community, which inevitably leads to talking about the beauty of Holy Baptism. And I like to use words that come straight from the rubrics of the Prayer Book: Full and indissoluble.
On the Sundays we celebrate Holy Baptism in our parish, I make sure these remarkable words from our Prayer Book (p. 298) are printed at the top of the service leaflet: Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.
Full and indissoluble. Complete and unbreakable. Sufficient and permanent.
Holy Baptism is not about checking off an item on a list of requirements. And it is not about getting something “done.” Instead, it is about an ongoing relationship with the Creator of the universe, the One who, in Jesus and in the Holy Spirit, has redeemed the world and is setting things right. It is about a life-giving relationship. This is why, when I refer to my own baptism, I do not say “I was baptized,” but rather, “I am baptized.”
In The Episcopal Church, we still have some work to do, I think, in acknowledging that Holy Baptism is full initiation. We cling to Confirmation (often called a “rite seeking a theology”) as a requirement for certain positions of leadership, an indication that we think Baptism is not quite sufficient. “Yes, you are baptized, but…” When it comes to Baptism, there are no “buts.” It’s full and indissoluble, no exceptions. I once heard someone say that Baptism is one of the very few things we do in the Church that can be called infallible. Yes, indeed.
Recently, on the Day of Pentecost, I had the privilege of presiding at the baptism of a six month old girl. After I poured water on her head, she instinctively reached down to touch the water in the font. She knew she belonged. Later in the service, when we celebrated Holy Communion, I gave her a small piece of bread and then dipped my finger in the wine and placed a small drop on her lip. In that moment, I knew that the newest full member of the household of God, Christ’s Body the Church, was at home. And her journey was far from being done. In fact, it is just beginning.