After a large Sunday dinner, family and friends gathered in the living room of my grandmother’s rambling house for the event that made me a Christian. Lifting a silver bowl filled with water, the preacher said some ritual words, made some promises and then baptized me.
If the political movements of the second half of the 20th century taught us anything, it was that names matter. It matters that a mature African-American male be addressed as “Mr.” or “Sir” and not as “Boy.” It matters that a married woman be free to choose the surname by which she will be known. It matters, because names are more than labels.
I went to Lübeck, Germany, this summer to explore my recently discovered Jewish roots. My grandfather built a successful ironworks plant in Lübeck and lived there until he and my grandmother were sent to the concentration camp where he died. I wanted to visit St. Mary’s Church, where my grandparents brought my father to be baptized as a toddler.
Since ancient times, travelers have journeyed to sites of religious significance in order to deepen their faith. But I’ve never been much of a pilgrim. I was raised a Pentecostal, and in one regard our brand of faith was very modern: unlike most premodern people, we did not recognize any “sacred places.” For us, all places were alike to God because God had created them all.
The Church of England, bidding to keep pace with the changing times, has begun promoting a “2-for-1” service that allows couples to combine a marriage ceremony with the baptism of their children born out of wedlock.
Guidelines for the controversial “hatch and match” liturgy went out to the church’s 16,000 parishes this summer.
Perhaps instead of asking confirmands to confirm the vows made at their baptisms, members should confirm the vows they made to these teens at their baptisms—confirming the validity of those vows and the congregation’s love and commitment to them, no matter what the teens may believe at the moment or where life may take them. The candidates would be asked to receive the love of the congregation and a recommitment of what the congregation offered them at their baptisms. Even if the teens leave the church, as many will, those commitments would be like a light kept in the window until they are ready to return home.