Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pagans, Ancient and Modern, the Speaking of Faith program on Mar. 30 is what I chose to listen to this morning, rather than go to church. Here's the link:

I especially liked the song "The Christians and the Pagans" from Mortal City, performed by Dar Williams. (Clicking on Particulars, I found the lyrics, and other program details.) It reminds me of some of the estrangement that has occurred in our family.

Adrian Ivakhiv describes the global homesickness that I've felt, and that I've observed in Benji, that desire to find our sense of place and belonging, to connect with the ancestors, to practice ancient traditions. Maybe that's one of the things we like about the Episcopal church - the chants, the incense, the rituals. And if Karen ever gets interested in church again, I think she will feel "at home" there. I was hoping we could baptize Pip at St. Philip's, but so far, I haven't felt led to propose that to her.

When my father became a Methodist preacher, he told his District Superintendent that he would do everything but baptize babies. To me, that is one of the most beautiful and meaningful rituals the Episcopal church celebrates. I've never been to a Methodist baptismal service for infants, but I've heard it's similar to ours.

The Baptists practice a dedication of babies on Mother's Day. It's a rather modern service that evolved from a need to formalize the gratitude and intentions of the parents. Full membership rights are not bestowed on the child until they have made a personal decision to embrace the religion of their parents. Of course, that is not what is professed when they make that terrifying walk down the aisle. Most 6 year old children who say they accept Christ as their Savior, may as well say, I don't want to be left out when the Lord's Supper is celebrated. It used to be they were afraid they would go to hell if they died before making that all-important decision. Thank goodness, preachers don't use the fear tactic much anymore.

My "profession of faith" occurred when I was 6, as I listened intently to a sermon my father preached on Rev. 3:20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." It can only be opened from the inside, he said. I walked the short distance from my spot on the front row to my father, and he asked me, "Do you love Jesus with all your heart?" I love him this much, I told him, while spreading my arms out as far as they would go. It was a gesture he and I had used to describe how much father loved daughter, and vice versa. It had not been discussed or planned, it was a very spontaneous act on my part. So the deed was done.

(There was no baptistry in our church at that time, he "borrowed" the one at East Tupelo Baptist for the baptismal services on Sunday afternoons. One of his most satisfying achievements as pastor of Plantersville Baptist Church was when he got the deacons to approve funding for the installing of the baptistry.)

In the 53 years since then, I have worked with God on learning how to love Him as much as I professed to love Him as a 6 year old. It's a progressive process, I believe, not an either/or, saved/unsaved condition we have, the "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" process, "for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure."
And it occurs over a lifetime, not in a magical instant when we say the right words. That is only the first step. We have to grow into the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, living into our Baptism, the Episcopalians call it, due to the Baptismal vows we take.

I especially like the prayer by the priest following the baptism:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water
and the Holy Spirit
you have bestowed upon these your servants
the forgiveness of sin,
and have raised them to the new life of grace.
Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.
Give them an inquiring and discerning heart,
the courage to will and to persevere,
a spirit to know and to love you,
and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.


George Kelly said...

After a discussion in Sunday School about three months ago, I was trying to remember when I joined the church; I know that Butch and I joined during a revival, but have no memory of being baptized. I wrote Butch and Lawrence Estes and determined that it was in an East Tupelo church but didn't know which one.

What year did Plantersville install a baptistery?

C. J. Garrett said...

I'm not sure what the year was, seems it was right at the end of Daddy's time there, 1967 was his last year. The mural was painted when David Hall was the pastor, around '74 or '75, I believe. I just remember that Daddy struggled with the deacons to get anything done. The first educational annex was built during his tenure, and was paid for in record time, but for some reason, they didn't want to put in a baptistry.

The original sanctuary at East Heights Baptist was still there, last time I checked. The pastor then was Ike Berryhill, an older man that befriended Daddy, and with whom he had many conversations over coffee at Gray's Cafe on East Main in Tupelo. 'Member that?