Over the trajectory of our lives, what are the longest and most enduring relationships we are likely to experience? With our parents? Our partner? Our children? For those of us who are not ‘only’ children, the longest relationships we are likely to hold are those with our sisters and brothers. Siblings are perhaps the most significant repositories of our life stories outside of ourselves and those other intimate and key relationships we create and nurture for ourselves. Who else has memory of early years, growing up, young adulthood, who observes our forming loving partnerships with another, who might be appointed a guardian of our own children should the unthinkable occur and who holding all this story will accompany a person into old age? While some friendships do endure for life, many arise either for a reason or for a season. While some families do become estranged, it is unusual for a person to lose contact entirely with their sisters and brothers.
Both realising this reality and arising from a pastoral wish to involve all members of a family, it has long been a regular practice of mine to offer the option of a promise or set of promises for older siblings to make when a baby is brought to church and welcomed into the Christian community at baptism or dedication. It has never felt pastorally comfortable (to me) when older brothers and sisters are left on the sidelines of the church’s liturgy, with more emphasis on the role of godparents than on the longest relationship the baby is likely to experience and enjoy.
This particular set of affirmations was prepared for a nine year old girl, Holly, to make at the baptism of Daisy, her younger sister. It accompanies A Service for Infant Baptism written by Alan Paterson and published by The United Reformed Church, Additional Material, ‘Worship: from The United Reformed Church’ (London: The United Reformed Church, 2004).
Affirmations for an older sister
We read in the Bible of sisters and brothers
some who were together friends of Jesus,
the fishermen James and John
Mary, Martha and Lazarus,
whose home he visited.
We hear of others,
Moses, Miriam and Aaron
who journeyed together
even though they
did not know exactly
where they were going.
Holly, will you try
to always be a friend and helper to Daisy?
We heard too in the Bible
about some sisters and brothers
who did not get on so well together;
of Jacob who took
what belonged to his brother Esau,
and of Joseph of the amazing coat
sold him to a foreign land.
Holly, when Daisy annoys you
or when you don’t agree
on what is right,
will you try to be patient and understanding?
We celebrate the stories of the times
sisters and brothers helped each other
to know Jesus for themselves.
The Gospel writers remembered
how Andrew introduced
his brother Simon to Jesus
and how brothers James and John
followed Jesus’ call together.
Holly, will you try to follow the example of Jesus’ friends
and will you share with Daisy
everything that you have learned here at chapel
about how Jesus invites all of us to follow him
and will you look forward to a time
when you and Daisy can learn about
God, family and community together?