Christening & Coloring Outside of the Lines

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Oh my goodness! How many weeks have we been worshipping at home now? Sixteen, can you believe it? Please, pandemic, go away. We are so tired of the virus but as Dr. Fauci reminds us, the virus is not yet tired of us. So we continue for the good of our neighbors to worship at home. Just as the early Christians did — but supported digitally! We are carrying on a very ancient tradition in a totally new way.

So thank you for taking the time to listen to my homily today.

Clergy love baptizing babies. We LOVE baptizing babies. It is our favorite thing under the sun to do. At Emmanuel over the past seven years, umpteen new little people have been welcomed into the family of God! Washed in the waters of baptism.

And since we last worshiped under Emmanuel’s roof on March 8th, there are almost another dozen babies potentially in the baptismal pipeline!

Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer begins with these familiar words: 

There is one Body and one Spirit; There is one hope in God’s call to us; One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all.

These words are ancient and deep and recognized by Anglicans all over the world. But the only thing required for a “valid” baptism in the Episcopal Church, is that when you pour the water over the baby’s head, you pour the water in the name of the Trinity. You pour the water in the name of the Holy Three. 

While the Book of Common Prayer liturgy has evolved, the Trinitarian blessing remains basically the same. 

I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Baptisms, in the Episcopal Church are generally Sunday morning affairs, but there are exceptions. And prior to the 1979 Prayer Book, they were also often a private affair. More personal and intimate with family and friends. Baptized at home or at the baptistery at the entrance to the church. 

I was baptized this way and likely were many of you. Eight days old, my mother told me, I was baptized by Father Clark at Saint Teresa of Avila’s Catholic Church in Anacostia. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could remember that day! That’s one very cool thing about adult baptisms.)

And pastorally, other adjustments may be made.

I have baptized babies at home and in hospitals and in the great outdoors. (Shrine Mont, of course, being the best possible baptismal site!) 

I even once baptized a nervous young groom on the eve of his wedding at my kitchen table! 

And do you remember? Two years ago, at Emmanuel’s first Blessing of the Bicycles, sweet little Louisa Hope Schildge was christened. Big brother Theo and big sister CeCe rode their bikes down the aisle. And we used a “mini” baptism liturgy adapted from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer! (And then afterwards, Chuck and I went into the parish hall to sprinkle water and “baptize” all of the bikes!)

Unusual circumstances may require unorthodox solutions – a little liturgical flexibility and creativity.

A bit unorthodox maybe but still totally orthodox in the eyes of the church.

So, how do you baptize babies in the world of Covid-19? 

Well, as we fast from public worship, most likely you don’t. You wait until a time when it is safe for family and friends to travel. Safe to celebrate the sacrament in the sanctuary. Safe to celebrate in the parish hall. 

Postponing in a pandemic makes absolute sense. 

But when Covid-19 is all said and done, wouldn’t it be awesome to have a reunion, a glorious celebration when we can worship as one under the same roof again! A dozen beautiful little babies “dunked” in the name of God. (A priest can dream, can’t she?)

And baptisms are done on Sunday mornings for a reason. They are public affairs because we are baptized into a community of faith.

But depending how long the threat of the virus lingers, depending how long it may be before the bishop permits public worship —  an old fashion tradition might be restored.

Private baptism. Outdoor baptisms. Christenings at home. Socially distanced, sacramental and safe.

These are the Christenings that will require some coloring outside the lines.

Last summer I had the great joy of baptizing a new little family member. I christened baby Astrid Celeste in her parents’ living room surrounded by family and friends. Family and friends who had come from a variety of Christian traditions or no tradition at all.

Baptism is about welcome and inclusion, not who is in and who is out. Jesus lays this out in the gospel of Matthew:

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

There is room for EVERYBODY at God’s table. So for my great-niece’s baptism, I crafted this little liturgy — freely and wildly based on a service from the United Church of Christ. 

In the Episcopal Church, this is not the authorized liturgy we would use on Sunday mornings.  The official service is found on page 301 in the Book of Common Prayer – and you can download it here.

This is a simple backyard version that could be used on other occasions (with the Bishop’s permission, of course!)

Remember the only requirement for a “valid” baptism is the that the blessing be made in the name of the Trinity. Christened in the name of the Holy Three.

These simpler words too might shed a little light on the deeper meaning of the more traditional liturgy we know so well. You might even consider using this as a personal litany for the renewal of your own baptismal vows.

So, freely adapted from the UCC and other resources, here is a celebration of a christening. Let’s walk through it together.

Following the tradition of Jesus who welcomed children into his arms, we welcome this little one into the world.

Fully respecting the diversity of all gathered here, we affirm the love of God made known in them and the sacredness of the covenant shared between this child, their parents, grandparents, godparents, family and friends, to support them as they grow in hope and love.

Questions of the Parents/Family
Do you desire to have this little one baptized?  We do. 

Will you encourage this little one to learn from the wisdom of the prophets; doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with their God? We will.

Will you foster in this little one both a love of God and love of neighbor, that they may seek and serve the good in all people? We will.

Will you nurture this little one’s enquiring and discerning heart through all of the seasons of their life? We will.

Will you journey with them to discover all the wonders of God’s work found in Mother Earth? We will.

A Promise of Assent
Jesus calls us to welcome children into the full life of connection and community, opening our table and hearts to those most vulnerable, offering the wisdom of the ages to all who hunger for truth.

Do you, who witness and celebrate with this little one, promise your love, support, and care? We promise our love, support and care.

Do you believe in God
the Source, the fountain of life?
I believe in God.

Do you believe in Christ
the Servant, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth?
I believe in Christ.

Do you believe in the Spirit
the Guide, the liberating wellspring of life?
I believe in the Spirit.

Prayer Over the Water & Baptism 
We thank you, God, for the gift of creation made known to us in water and word.

Before the world had shape and form, your Spirit moved over the waters. Out of the waters of the deep, you formed the firmament and brought forth the earth to sustain all life.

In the time of Moses, your people Israel passed through the Red Sea waters from slavery to freedom and crossed the flowing Jordan to enter the promised land.

You have come to us through water in the stories of Jesus who was nurtured in the water of Mary’s womb, baptized by John in the water of the Jordan, and became living water to a woman at the Samaritan well. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and sent them forth to baptize with water and spirit.

Bless by your Holy Spirit, gracious God, this water. With this living water, bless all refreshed, quenched and renewed here with the gift of new and resurrected life. Amen

By what name will this little one be called? NAME!

I baptize you little one with faith in the living God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Source, Servant and Guide.

May the Spirit be upon you,
child of God,
child of Love. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication
God of wonder, we give thanks for the open-hearted and generous spirit of all, parents, family and friends, who provide a safe harbor and a loving home where this little one may explore, learn, play and grow in to the full stature of your compassion and grace. Amen.

Celtic Blessing: May the road rise up to meet you little one. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of her hand. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Pax vobiscum, Joani

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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