Renew your baptism daily

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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In 1985 I was at a crossroads in my life, significant enough that I decided to withdraw from ordained ministry. To resign from a parish church in England is a “big deal”, once appointed Vicar of a parish you have tenure for life; only the most arcane and obtuse ecclesiastical process can remove you from that parish (technically called, “a living”). I withdrew not because of a crisis of faith, but rather because of a crisis of faith in institutional religion. In the weeks that followed I considered various jobs and, eventually, accepted an appointment to teach English and Religious Knowledge in a local private school. The life of that school is altogether another story for another time.

While absent from parish life, there was one particular activity that I came to miss sorely. It was not the celebration of communion, it was not preaching, it was… baptism. I came to realize that my soul deeply missed the joy and privilege of bringing a soul to baptism – to affirm that they were children of God, and to promise them that God would walk with them in their discipleship.

Being an Anglican or Episcopal minister, it is rarely my joy to baptize adults (though I have done so) and it is rarely my joy to baptize in stream or sea (though I have done so). I truly do not want to stir a theological hornets’ nest but, for me, there is a deep joy and wonder in bringing a baby or young soul into the family of God. To behold a child, or young person, receive baptism by water, oil and candle is a powerful declaration of the love and grace of the Lord. The baby coos or cries, rests or moves, and I realize that this is all of grace… loved by the Lord simply because He chooses to love not because or merit, worth or achievement.

This past week at Zion Church, the community of faith received a new member into the household of God. It was a happy and joyous occasion as well as a serious one as parents, sponsors and church made profound vows and promises to support the newly baptized.

No matter how long ago a baptism took place; it is to be renewed daily by the power of the Holy Spirit with the desire to know Christ better and to make Him better known.

My absence from organized religion lasted for about eighteen months; it still enables me to understand deeply and honestly those who opt for “spiritual” rather than “religious”. Ultimately, in the Lord’s good timing and purposes, I returned to parish ministry but found a new home in the Episcopal Church. Not everyone has to travel 6,000 miles to find a church home but many, many are grateful for the place where they worship weekly and more, the place where they are known by name and supported in times of joy as well as sadness.

It is said (maybe apocryphally) when Luther was tempted by the Devil, he would look at the words written in chalk on his desk: “baptizatus sum” (Latin for “I am baptized”). And two other quotations from the great man ““The only way to drive away the Devil is through faith in Christ, by saying: ‘I have been baptized, I am a Christian” and ““I am a child of God, I am baptized, I believe in Jesus Christ crucified for me”.

What deep joy to affirm daily, “I am a child of God”.

Alan Neale is the Rector at Zion Episcopal Church in Washington.