14 October 2012

the public vow

This morning, like most Sunday mornings, we found some matching shoes, and even a few collar-shirts (as Collins calls them) for the menfolk, and we traipsed to church.

But, rather than heading ten miles west, we headed ten miles east to a different church of a different denomination. 

We explained to the little people that the church service was going to look different, and we found our roped-off pew next to the font.
We tried to quickly instruct Ada Bee how to follow a service that relies on a prayer book, rather than an extensive bulletin.  We did not attempt this with Eas.
We reminded children how to receive communion through a common cup.
We had an organ rather than a piano. 

We sang unfamiliar service music. 

After church, we were introduced around and said our names forty eight times.  Everyone called me Ann.  We hugged and shook hands and took pictures.
We were there for a baptism. 

We have some dear friends.  Their first three kids are round about our kids' ages.  And this year, they were blessed with a fourth baby - a third son.  This morning, his parents took baptismal vows on his behalf.  They invited us to come and witness and celebrate with them, and we heartily accepted the honor.

Why fool with it?  He'd be baptized whether we were there or not, right?  It's not as though efficacy depends upon audience.

One fairly apparent reason is that when our dear people rejoice, we rejoice with them, and when they grieve, we grieve with them.  It is Christian fellowship combined with a Southern hospitality sense of obligation.  And maybe a bit of old Jewish community responsibility thrown in?  Perhaps just humanity.  Weddings, funerals, birthdays, baptisms, graduations -  we go and we hug and we are photographed.  It's what we do

But, there is a more important reason, even, than loving on our people. 
This family - I teach two of their children.  We occasionally get to keep the whole lot of them during a doctor's appointment or a date night or some such.  My children are their friends.  They are my children's friends.  We are members of each other's villages.  We are around. 

 Going about it alone doesn't work.  A crew is required.  It's why the Forster children have godparents.  But, ideally, each child has a slew of godparents, right?  Folks dedicated to helping the parents of the child do well.  A people purposed to love the child above and beyond general Christian love for the world.  Grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends. 

We use a phrase around here that my friend Calen taught me -  "Snatch them up by their baptism."

And, I want folks who actually weren't there for my children's baptisms to feel free and able to do this.  To call my children - and Paul and me in our raising of them - to our best selves.  However, being there for a public vow is valuable - else we wouldn't make it public.

So, this morning, the Forster family had the privilege of standing a few feet from our friends and their brood as they promised, once again, to do their best to live the good life for their son.  And, when sweet little Benjamin hits his brother or throws his food or disrespects his mother, Paul and I will feel quite obligated to snatch him up by his Baptism.  We were there.  We prayed over him.  We had cake and champagne afterwards.  We are part of the crew.  We watched him smile as the water was sprinkled on his head.  As a very real result, we are unlikely to forget him in our prayers.

We attend a church where baptisms are not infrequent.  Sometimes, it's easy to forget why the public nature - and attendance at them - is so valuable.  But when one traipses east instead of west, organ instead of piano, prayer book instead of bulletin, well, then, we remember. 

From the French Reformed Baptism Liturgy, for Benjamin:

Do not fear, says the Lord, for I have redeemed you, I called you by your name, you are mine. When the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, says the Lord, my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed. Little child, for you Jesus- Christ came into the world, labored and suffered; for you, he went through the agony of Gethsemane and the darkness of Calvary; for you, he cried: « It is finished! »; for you, he died and for you he triumphed over death; yes, for you, little child, the declaration holds true, We love God, because he first loved us. Amen!

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