Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Holy Baptism and the Community of the Faithful, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Holy Baptism is appropriately administered within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast.

I am a progressive traditionalist. (Or perhaps it is a traditionalist progressive. Whatever.) I will not get into the details of how I base that stance, except to say that I am firmly attached to the old Anglican ideal of the three-legged stool: Scripture, tradition, and reason together giving us guidance and justification for our corporate decisions. This is especially true in matters of worship: I tend not to get attracted by the new and flashy, but I am open to innovations that support the community of the faithful I am serving.

For example: I was ordained just before the adoption of the [current] 1979 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) with its many options and alternatives. For many of my colleagues, especially the younger ones, this meant lots of experimentation and frequent changing of the service. I had been taught that the alternatives were there to enable adaptation of the rites to local circumstances, and that is what I have practiced to this day.

This is true also of my pastoral and liturgical practices regarding Holy Baptism. As noted by the rubric quoted above, I will not do private baptisms, which is how my sister and I were baptized all those years ago (on a Saturday afternoon with just my parents). The intention of the BCP is that Baptism will be administered when the entire body of the faithful can be present. Further, in order to emphasize the importance and character of Baptism, like many other pastors, I have maintained the four primary feast days of the Church Year as the proper times for Baptism: The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (early January), Easter (early spring), Pentecost (late spring/summer), and All Saints Sunday (early winter). (See page 312 of the BCP for details.)

A quick glance at the calendar exposes an interesting catch: there can be six months between Pentecost and All Saints Day. That is a long time between baptisms!

Another, more recent, change has been something that Bishop Hayashi suggested a couple of years ago. First, we are in the business of making disciples of Jesus Christ, not just Episcopalians. (Agreed.) Second, using an Early Church model (tradition) we should make baptism more, not less, accessible. (Agreed.) For me, that means that Baptism is not to be understood as the conclusion of a process, an end in itself, but should be understood as the beginning of a process, a moment of change and departure from which one moves into the future. A consequence of that shift in perspective is that, while pre-baptismal instruction of a sort remains important, it is more important for the newly baptized person to have spiritual and pastoral support in the first months following their baptism.

So, while I still want to preserve the four feast days for baptisms, I am open to doing baptisms on other Sundays for good pastoral reasons.

Which is to say, a good pastoral reason has arisen.

A person relatively new to St. Mary's Church and her father will be baptized this Sunday, August 30. The pastoral reason is that she wants to be baptized with her father, who lives in Illinois, and time and money being tight for families with college students, the request was simple: how about when the father and daughter are together when he brings her to begin school in the fall?

They have both been going through the necessary pre-Baptismal instruction with a priest in Illinois this summer. Both will continue to be active in their respective faith communities. And, the Community of Faith will be present to welcome them into Christ’s Body the Church.

Peter+

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