Baptism   Leave a comment

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.The Book Of Common Prayer, page 298

My mother decided not to baptize me in my infancy, that I might someday make the choice myself. And that choice came when I was in 7th grade, when I and my fellow middle-schoolers in our Presbyterian Church in San Carlos, California were enrolled in a school-year-long Sunday School class that would lead, in spring, to confirmation and church membership, and, for those who hadn’t yet experienced it, baptism.

I was enthusiastically on board with confirmation: I wanted to be considered an adult in the life of the church, and was especially eager—I remember this very well—to vote in church meetings; participation in church governance was already a key part of Christian Life in my mind.

But the idea of baptism freaked out my 13 year-old self. My concern wasn’t anything theological; it was mere embarrassment at not having gone through it as a baby. Even when I learned that nearly half the class would also require baptism, I was no less ashamed. A particular concern was that the pastor, upon putting his font-dipped hand upon my hair, might publicly remark on how much gel was in it (I had thick red hair that required copious amounts of product to control). Fortunately, he made no such comment; but my adolescent vanity really took me out of the experience of baptism at the time.

At age 27, when I was re-confirmed in the Episcopal Church at Grace Cathedral, I witnessed my first Episcopal Baptism. What I saw so moved me that I immediately wished that I could have somehow bypassed that baptism at 13, and waited until I was an adult, that I might be baptized like this!

But over time and the witnessing of more baptisms, I realized that part of the point of the Episcopalian baptismal rite is that we each renew our baptism, and the Baptismal Covenant (which of course I hadn’t experienced in the Presbyterian Church). So every time we are part of a baptism, we are reminded, in an anamnesis, of our own. And though the moment of my actual baptism was lost on my vain youth, that teenage baptism has been given new meaning in my mind and heart by the experience of dozens of baptisms at Grace Cathedral.

Traditionally, small candles are lit from the Paschal (Easter) Candle—the Light of Christ—during the baptismal rite and given to the newly baptized persons or their families. On a baptism Sunday early in my time as an acolyte at Grace, I was asked, moments before the service began, to be the candle-lighter. It was merely a pragmatic decision: I was the tallest acolyte that day, and the Paschal Candle towers over the heads of the congregation. But I took great delight in the role, and became the de facto baptism-candle-lighter for years. What a joy it was to greet the newly baptized with a candle. When possible, I tried to light the candle at the exact moment the priest was baptizing its recipient.

And this past Sunday—All Saints’ Day—I got to be the candle-lighter again one (perhaps) last time at Grace Cathedral. Among the baptized that day was the daughter of dear friends, and it was a wonderful culmination of that ministry to hand the candle to my friend for his child.

I doubt I’ll be missed in this role: there are plenty of tall acolytes at Grace who can do the job. But I hope that my successors find as much joy in lighting those candles and presenting them as I have. 

Posted 6 November 2015 by Br. Scott Michael Pomerenk, BSG in Uncategorized

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