Monday, December 29, 2008
Remembering My Baptism
I don't remember my first baptism. I was about five months old (January 1959) and it is likely that it was a simple affair in St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Elyria, Ohio. I've reconstructed the scene in my own mind many times over the years:
I was the first grandchild on both sides. My mother's mother was very ill and Mom's dad, Grandpa Charlie, took care of her. My father's parents were staunch members of St. Andrew's. My godparents are George and Linda Dellinger, family friends. With my parents and Fr. Russell Hargate, the ten of us participated in a quiet, simple ceremony in the Nave, using the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
I do remember my 'second' baptism. I was an adult (19 years old) and had a religious experience in college. I felt compelled to be baptised again, partly due to the theology of the Church I was attending at the time. It taught full-immersion adult believer's baptism. The pastor was Moses Vegh, a charismatic Hungaro-Canadian who served as pastor of what was then the largest Protestant Church in Findlay, Ohio, where I lived.
"If you don't remember your first baptism," Moses Vegh told me, "it probably didn't mean anything to you." So I suited up in the white robe provided me by the Church and went into the tank. Moses didn't actually put me under, an anonymous elder of the congregation did. Coming out of the water, I was anointed with oil after which I was expected to speak in tongues (which I didn't).
I'm 50 years past my first baptism and 30 years past my second one. I've come to the conclusion now that I don't understand either one.
Baptism isn't something to be done for a level of understanding. Baptism is an action of the Church to imprint on us the image of Christ. Understanding has very little to do with it: Faith has everything to do with it.
When I was an infant, the faith of my parents, grandparents, and godparents was that I would be "received into Christ's Church and made a living member of the same."
When I was a young adult, it was an act of my own personal faith, the fruit of a re-discovery and religious epiphany in my college years.
Now as a pastor I perform the rite of baptism with the faith that God knows the one being baptized far better than I do, and far better than they know themselves. I've adopted the phraseology of the Orthodox Church in the ritual because it better expresses this point of view: "You are baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Not an action of the pastor, not an action of the water, but rather an action of faith. "You are baptised..."
It has nothing to do with me as the baptizer or the person in the water. It has everything to do with God and what He does through the miracle in the water. It is God Who draws the soul to baptism, God Who makes the waters holy, God who does the baptizing and I am His unworthy servant.
As we approach Theophany and the commemoration of Christ's baptism (Jan. 6), I remember my own experience of Baptism and I pray that your baptism may be fresh again to you and that you will again see the image of Christ that you bear in your own soul.
(Pictured above is Seven Pillars, the site of many of our Peoria Church baptisms.)