Sunday, February 10, 2013

Adult Baptism

Today I will stand in front of my church with a woman who has decided that it's time to be baptized.  I suppose that makes me a sponsor?  I don't have a long experience with adult baptisms, but I'm happy to be part.

I first met this woman years ago when she left church early, but wanted to make sure that her offering got put into the plate.  I must have been the usher or the greeter; I assured her I'd take care of it.

We had another few encounters that were similar.  She mentioned that her sister was very sick.  I sent her a card, and one Sunday, when she could stay longer, I sent her away with a prayer shawl.

Her sister, however, was very sick, and she died.  I remember sitting with the woman after the service on one Easter morning as she wept, knowing that her sister would not be alive next Easter.  There we were, surrounded by people in their Easter finest, children excited by their Easter candy, and we wept together.  I hugged her, and I said, "Easter reminds us that death will not have the final say.  We don't know how and when, but we know that we will be reunited with those we love."

It seemed to be the right thing to say, and I'm grateful that the words came to me. I don't want to be one of those Christians who says trite, sentimental platitudes in the face of enormous loss.  I can't imagine that hearing about my loved one singing in the angel choir would comfort me.  But I've always hated what so many Christians have done to the idea of angels.  Others might find the idea of angel choirs comforting, and I should be less judgmental.  I'm working on it.

Today, several years after the death of her sister, this woman has decided that the time has come to be baptized, and she wants it to be in our church, even though she's from a different church background.  I'm happy about that, but for different reasons than some Christians might be.

I don't come out of the tradition that sings for joy with every soul saved by way of baptism.  I think that we promise a lot during that sacrament, and most people aren't aware of the covenantal nature of the rite.  I'm uneasy when we, as a church, baptize a baby whose parents don't attend.  The church community promises to help launch that child on a spiritual path.  If you're going to have your baby baptized, and we'll never see you again, how can we do that?

Some people would answer, "But now that baby gets to go to Heaven."

I don't believe that people have to be baptized as their entry pass to Heaven, so that argument doesn't matter to me.  I would respond that there's lots of time between baptism and Heaven, and we would be better served by focusing on that journey. 

But wars have been fought over these theological issues, and I'm not likely to convince those who don't believe as I do.

Besides, there's a baptism to get ready for!  I'm happy that the woman feels the time is now, and our church is the place.  I'm happy that the woman wants to join us in this way.  And I'm touched that she asked me to stand by her side.

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