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The author with a fellow Moms Demand Action member at the annual Virginia Interfaith Lobby Day for Gun Violence Prevention

Striving for Justice and Peace Among All People: Advocacy, Activism, and the Baptismal Covenant

During Baptisms, Easter and other special occasions in The Episcopal Church, churchgoers are asked eight questions known as The Baptismal Covenant. It begins as a statement of faith laid out in straightforward question and answer style with questions aren’t all that questionable.

Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Then the covenant transitions into questions about how we will live out our faith.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, their fellowship, communion and prayers?
Will you resist evil and return to God when you sin?
Will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?

And to these three questions we respond heartily, “I will, with God’s help.”

But then there are the last two questions, which have always been far more radical to me than the six preceding them.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Again, we respond, “I will, with God’s help,” but I’ve always wondered what crosses through folks’ minds as they respond.

These fundamental promises define who we are as Episcopalians. The way in which we live and move and have our being as Christians is deeply embedded in these baptismal promises. We know that seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving for peace and justice among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being are things we should be doing as followers of Jesus Christ, but, truthfully, I found living out these promises incredibly challenging while working as a parish priest. Read more

Newness of Life: How I Gave Up the Waders and Learned to Love the Water

Easter morning. The sanctuary is full. The trumpet fanfare happens right on cue and the lilies – in addition to making my nose itch – are beautiful. Streamers hang from the ceiling and flowers have taken the place of the black sash on the cross. The congregation is preparing for communion as the newly baptized slip back into their seats, self-consciously aware of their wet hair.

I am standing in the hallway behind the sanctuary, fully clothed and completely wet. The waders have failed me again.

I should explain, especially for you sprinklers and baptizers of infants. In my tradition, we practice believer’s baptism by full immersion, which means, in lay terms, that we dunk older kids and adults all the way under the water. Often, this happens in the middle of Sunday worship when the presiding minister needs to conduct the baptism and then continue the rest of the service.

So, somewhere along the way, we started wearing waders. Picture giant rubber fishing boots, with suspenders, and a drawstring at the chest. They look every bit as ridiculous as they sound. But once you put the white robe over top and step into the baptistery, the congregation can’t tell what you’re wearing. In theory, they enable one to quickly move from leading worship, to the baptistery, and back again, without the hassle of getting wet and changing clothes.

Not so for me.

The waders at my church, which have been hanging in the back closet since, oh, 1962, are several sizes too big for me, built for a much taller and bigger person – a man, no doubt.  My stocking feet slide around in the rubber boots as I trudge up the steps to the baptistery. An older male pastor tells me he usually just steps into his, leaving his shoes on and everything; these waders were definitely not made for women’s heels. Read more

Ask a YCW: Baptism Edition

Dear Askie,

Six months ago, my wife and I were blessed with our first child, a beautiful baby boy. We want to have our son baptized at our church, but our pastor is making things difficult. She keeps saying that the baptism needs to be on Sunday morning during the regular service, but that doesn’t really work well with our family. We wanted to have the baptism on a Saturday afternoon, so that we could have just family and a few invited friends there, and take them all to a celebratory dinner afterwards. Our pastor says she won’t do a private baptism, only one during Sunday church. How do I explain to her that it would be so much nicer and more intimate for our family to have a private ceremony? We’ve offered to let her pick the time on Saturday, and we’re more than happy to pay any costs, but she still won’t agree. How do I get her to stop being so unreasonable?

Sincerely,
Frustrated Dad

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The Family of Faith

imageMy son is starting Sunday School. Or, rather, my SON is starting SUNDAY SCHOOL!!!! Somehow, my infant child has transformed himself into a fast talking, faster-running 4-year-old. He is all legs and arms and questions now. He’ll creep into our bed around six o’clock in the morning and whisper, “So, Jesus is in my belly?” I blink awake, half dreaming, and try to answer his questions as best I can.

You would think that I, ordained a decade, would feel competent to answer his theological questions. After all, for the first eight years of my ministry, I specialized in children’s ministry. There was nothing I liked better than leading Children’s Worship and talking with small children about God.

And yet, somehow, as I tell my 4-year-old about Jesus’ death and resurrection, as I assure him he does not need to fear death, as I try to explain how Jesus is still alive even though we cannot see him, I find myself craning my neck to see if there is anyone in the room who might tackle these questions with more grace and wisdom than I can.

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The Advent Yoke

origin_11311678723This is the hardest time of the year for me to be a pastor. It’s a disheartening time. We have this incredible gem of truth in the coming of Christ while the rest of the world is spinning in the empty promises of Santa Claus. Culture, economics, and politics all rely on the materialism of the season. We’ve literally bought into it. We spend weeks – months – planning, buying, and baking for Christmas. What for? I shepherd a congregation where the worship attendance for Christmas Eve is lower than the average Sunday worship. That tells me that people don’t care to spend an hour to quiet themselves and revere the truth of the season. In times like this, I need to hold on to the promises of Christ.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30

These words from Jesus give me hope in trivial times. They remind me of the depth and wholeness of our faith. They reveal to me the claim that God has on us. They remind me of why I do what I do.

Advent is a beginning of life with God which, honestly, can be scary. One Advent, I witnessed a baptism of a baby boy where the mother of the child began crying, then sobbing, so uncontrollably it was difficult for the pastor to get through the service.

I was moved by her deep emotion that played out in our liturgy. I was also a bit puzzled. I approached the mother after the service while she looked down with shame. In a hug, I congratulated her, but she quickly apologized for her emotional outburst. I said to her that she had nothing to apologize about because I truly believe that tears are one of the most powerful ways that God gives us peace. If you can’t cry in church, where on earth can you cry?

“But,” I said to her, “I do have a question for you. If your tears could speak, what would they say?” She looked at me with big eyes and said, “Baptism is a mixed bag. It’s such a joyous occasion because this child will learn the wonder of belonging to God and God’s family. But,” she said to me, and her eyes welling up with tears again, her throat choking, “baptism means this child is no longer mine. I will love him and care for him in the way God calls me to do. He is such a blessing to me. I want him to live faithfully, but look at what happened to Jesus when he lived faithfully. He encountered bullies and the most broken people in his world, he was tested and tried and betrayed. He loved so hard. He died on the cross because he lived faithfully. And Momma Mary stood back and watched. Mary had to watch everything her blessed son went through – I am not strong enough. I am glad he’s now in God’s hands, but I am terrified of what that means for him.”

This encounter changed me. It changed my faith. It changed the way I live in Christian community. This mother gets it. She knows that life in faith is difficult. Why would she go through the pain and hardship that following Christ entails?

Because life happens regardless of who we are and whose we are. This Advent, I walk alongside people who have recently learned of scary diagnoses. I watch my community rally around a teenage girl who is dying from an aggressive form of cancer. I drive through neighborhoods that are in burning heaps of bonfires because they have been swept away to piles of rubble by an F4 tornado. I grieve sudden deaths. I learn of broken relationships. I find people struggling with such heavy hearts that they don’t know how to function in a healthy way when everything around them tells them to “suck it up” and deal. This is when I feel that mother’s hug squeeze me even harder. We live this way because it matters. The kingdom of God is near.

No one ever promised life would be easy. Far from it. Life is hard, scary, even dangerous. Jesus promises he will do whatever it takes to lighten the load. Jesus give us hope and peace to make it through. We wait for Christ at Advent, we celebrate God-with-us at Christmas. We mistakenly wrap everything up, put it away, and feel empty because Christmas is over. But it’s not. Advent reminds us that Christ is with us always. If we didn’t have that, what would we have?

Nothing. No gift-wrapped presents, fresh-baked cookies, or indulgent family meals can replace the coming of Christ in our lives. When I go to that dark place in my soul, I feel the squeeze of the mother’s hug from that Advent in years past. Jesus came to walk with us through the joy and the pain. He came to show us how to do it. Rest, ease of burdens, lightness of heart. He came to give us all that we will ever need: compassion as balm for our indifferent souls.

This season begins a journey that does not end when we put away the Christmas trees. It ends with the Pentecostal flaming tongues. There is no Christmas let-down when the season ends with an empty tomb and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether we are hurting or whether we are so burned out that we don’t care, Christ is there. We are promised the Holy Spirit will do its work.

God promises I will carry on. When I am disheartened, when I wonder if what I do matters, I find someone to hug. And I imagine a post-baptismal hug that brings me home.

Dribble and Dunk: A Practical Guide to Baptismal Logistics

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There’s no way around it: ministry is a career and calling that involves a strange assortment of skills, not the least of which is the logistics of baptism.

Whether your tradition baptizes infants, young children, teens, or adults; whether you sprinkle, pour, or immerse; the practical implications are mind boggling. Even if you had a seminary worship professor who insisted on a full “wet-run” in class, there’s something helpful in this wealth of advice gathered from a group of young clergywomen.

You’ll need water. More than one pastor has whipped the lid off a small font mid-worship to discover that no one bothered to fill it. And it may be easier to tell if a large baptistry is filled, but don’t take anything for granted. Make it a pre-worship habit to check your font. If you pour water into a font from a pitcher as part of the liturgy, practice beforehand, so that you know how much water your font can take. Experiment with water temperature: warm water will be less of a shock to a baby, but how warm the water should be when you put it in the font or pitcher will depend on how long the water will be sitting in the font.

Babies can smell fear. Be confident. You may find a fussy baby trick that works for you: one woman’s mentor taught her to cradle the baby and slip his close arm between your arm and your torso. She swears this makes the baby curious about where his arm went and distracts from any fussiness. Another woman baptizes babies belly down, so the baby can see the water and her reflection. She also recommends bouncing the baby to the rhythm of “Buffalo Soldier.” Don’t be ashamed if a really fussy baby needs to stay with a parent, godparent, or sponsor while you baptize. (Just remember to stand alongside whomever is holding the baby, rather than across the font: cross-font baptism frequently result in a baby craning his neck to look at the pastor, which can result in the poor thing getting a flood of water back into his nose.) And affirm for parents that infant baptism is always a bit chaotic, appropriately so, since the theology of those who practice it reminds us that some of us come to God not so much by our own choice, but perhaps kicking and screaming.

Be ready for the unexpected. Even if you’re an experienced baby-snuggler, fancy baptismal gowns can be voluminous and slippery. And, just as babies can smell fear, they can also smell breast milk. If you happen to be lactating, don’t be taken aback if a baby shows some interest. Whatever happens, as one woman was told, “if someone gets wet and no one gets dropped” the baptism has been a success.

Take younger children into account as well. Older siblings of a baby to be baptized can be given a task (helping with a children’s message; pouring water into the font; reading part of the liturgy); this is also a great opportunity to talk to them about baptism, and doing so before the day of the baptism can make the difference between nervous and confident children.The same goes for older children who are being baptized. Find language that will work for them.

Think through how you’ll hold or memorize or have your liturgy held: Your hands will be full.

Immersion baptisms have a whole different set of logistics. The pastor, too, will be wet. Beyond a robe and even waders, one woman give this gender-specific advice “Wear your hair completely up that day to make sure nothing dips into the water. Even if your chest will not reach the water, depending on depth I wear a padded white bra, a sports bra, a tank top, a T-shirt and the robe over that. No matter how warm the water may plan to be, the VERY LAST thing I want a newly baptized person to see upon rising out of the water is my overly zealous chest.”

If you’ve not had practice immersing, the collective wisdom is to try it. One seminary professor of larger stature insisted that his students immerse him, so that they would always be confident baptizing someone much taller than themselves. Pastors in traditions that practice infant baptism may be most accustomed to springing water on infants and small children, but often have the liturgical option, for adult baptisms, of immersion. If you’re about to do an immersion baptism for the first time, find a colleague with more practice to teach you how.

Women who are experienced at immersion baptisms remind us to get our feet set in a good stance, or use a “side-lunge”, and to use the water’s buoyancy to help bring the person back up.

One woman once witnessed a baptism where someone hit their head on the edge of the baptistry and advises carefully considering the size of your baptistry. Considering asking a taller person to kneel and have their head dunked forward rather than back.

There’s also a trick several women discussed: using a white cloth (plain white handkerchiefs work well) to hold over someone’s mouth and nose as they go under and come back up. This can eliminate the need for nose-plugging.

You are, of course, going to have baptism mishaps. We all have stories. But no matter what happens, baptizing is one of the great joys, privileges, and mysteries of your calling.

Fulfilling the Baptismal Promises

Before I was ordained, I spent time as a seminarian intern and youth minister in a total of seven congregations.  The jobs of baptismal preparation and of talking to parents about how to raise Christian children, often fell to me.  In order to have something to put in people’s hands, that would sum up the most important aspects of what it means to make and fulfill the baptismal promises, I wrote up a short list, with explanations.

I wish I could say that as a result of receiving this, every family I ever prepared for baptism became regular, committed church members! Unfortunately, it’s not that easy – and, of course, nothing substitutes for a good, in-person pastoral relationship.  But I still believe that the list offered here covers the basics.  Quotations and page number references are from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

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When we bring our children to baptism, we vow to “be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life.” (BCP 302)  This is a tall order, especially in a materialistic, violent, sex-obsessed society like ours.  Here are a few ways to go about it.

  • Become regular members of the church.  The church is uniquely suited to be the “village” that it takes to raise a child.  Its members vow during the baptismal service to do “all in their power to support” the candidates in their life in Christ.  Fellow church members can do anything from sitting with a squirming child during the service so parents can have a little peace, to being Sunday School and youth group leaders, to becoming special friends and mentors to children as they grow.  If nothing else, they show children that their parents are not alone in trying to live as Christians.

 

  • Begin some kind of ritual at home.  You don’t have to rearrange your entire home life, but deciding to take one or more nights a week to have a family dinner, light candles, and pray together can make a peaceful center to a hectic family life.  The family that prays together, stays together.  Prayers don’t have to be long, and you don’t have to make them up; there are many beautiful prayers in the Prayer Book (814-841).  Read and discuss Scripture together, or tell each other what you are thankful for and what you wish for.  Observe the church year with an Advent wreath, Lenten disciplines or offerings, and Easter eggs.  Light your child’s baptismal candle on the anniversary of their baptism.

 

  • Set an example – consciously.  When you do volunteer work, give money to charity, treat an annoying relative with compassion, refuse to buy the products of companies that abuse human rights or the environment, or make another decision motivated by morality or faith, your children will notice.  You can explain to them what you’re doing, and why, without bragging:  “I’m doing this because this is what Christians do.”

 

  • Answer questions honestly.  Parents can get very nervous when their children ask questions about God, but children don’t need definitive answers as much as they need to know that it’s OK to ask the questions.  You don’t have to know all the answers; God is beyond the knowledge of adults and children alike.  Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” and continue the conversation.  You and your child can wonder about God and explore questions of faith together.  If you’re faced with a real stumper, you can always encourage your child to ask the priest!

 

  • Turn off the TV, and keep screen time to a minimum.  The scientific evidence is mounting that TV is simply bad for children in any but the most minimal amounts; and are the values of TV programs, and particularly commercials, really the ones we want our children to be absorbing?  TV wants to make us into pure consumers; is that what God wants?

 

  • Get outside with your kids.  Modern children are frequently cut off from the glory of God’s creation.  Take a walk in the woods every so often to reconnect with nature and get some exercise.  A sense of wonder may be the most valuable thing parents can transmit to their kids.

 

  • Lastly, and possibly most importantly, read to your children and provide them with quality children’s literature.  There is no substitute for stories and the life of the imagination for a child’s developing mind.  Children need to be able to encounter on their own terms (not in a preprogrammed “entertainment” format) stories that are subtle and challenging enough to become part of their ongoing imaginative life.  Start with Grimm’s Fairy Tales and anything by Tomie DePaola, and from age 4 or 5 onward, give them C. S. Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Winnie the Pooh, E. Nesbit, Lloyd Alexander, The Wind in the Willows, Brian Jacques, Madeleine L’Engle, Susan Cooper, Joan Aiken, Arthur Ransome, The Phantom Tollbooth, Watership Down, J. R. R. Tolkien, Ursula LeGuin, and whatever else seems good at the public library.  (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games won’t hurt them, but won’t do much all by themselves, either.)  The three Christian virtues are faith, hope and charity:  to believe in the invisible, to go forward when all seems lost, and to love the unlovable.  A child nurtured on good kids’ books will know these three virtues intuitively, in his or her bones.  Nothing on TV comes close.

The prayer over the newly baptized (BCP 308) asks God to “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.”  Children nourished by caring parents and godparents who set an example; take their faith questions seriously; and provide simple home rituals, the love of a church community, judicious screentime restrictions, exposure to God’s creation, and plenty of good books, will have all of these things.

Changing Communities

bath timeEvery time I bathe my one-year-old son, I think of baptism. Baptism leads my mind to community. Each time the water runs down his hair, I’m reminded of my changing community. 

When I was finishing Seminary, we had to write a 30 Page “CREDO” statement of our beliefs as a culmination to our years of studying and working.  Though I had dreaded writing it because 30 pages seemed so long (though it really wasn’t since I regularly wrote 20 page papers), I found it was actually difficult to write because it was too short.  How can one person possibly sum up everything she believes in only 30 pages (and not one more!)?  I focused on community created in Christ and spent 30 pages talking about how important I felt community is in the life of the believer and the Church, how the Sacraments bring us together as community, and so on. I had always been a person that had a church community, youth group, small group Bible study, and so on that I belonged to.  I only knew how to believe as one who is a part of a faith community.  My faith and belief have always been so strongly tied to my community that they are hard for me to separate in my mind.

One of the first things I started thinking about when I found out I was pregnant in 2011 was the community of faith that my child would be raised in.  My denomination practices infant baptism, and I believe that a large part of baptism is about the parents and community committing to raise the child in the faith and child being introduced and formally included into the life of the church.  Baptism calls the child into a life of faith and gives him his vocation as a follower of Christ.  It is an important Sacrament. When would we have him baptized?  How were we going to get all of our family (in two different states) in the same place at the same time to allow them to participate in this special event in my son’s life and also the life of the Church?

Then I left the ministry.  I announced I was pregnant one Sunday.  The following Sunday it was announced my call was coming to an end in the congregation.  I was four months pregnant when I left the church.  We visited churches in the area for a while, and tried visiting after he was born too, but found it challenging given napping, routines, and an uneasiness with unknown childcare workers in unknown congregations’ nurseries. 

I struggled with this sudden lack of community.  This was the first time in my life I could recall not having a community surrounding me, especially at this special and sacred time in our family’s life.  I spent many hours contemplating what to do about his baptism.  Where should we have it done?  When would make sense?  What community would we join in order to surround him with his Christian community?  Who were we asking to help us raise him in the faith and nurture his calling from Christ through baptism?

As my son’s first year came and went, his baptism did not happen.  Many hours of contemplation later, my husband and I have decided to have him baptized in the church I served in as a Seminary Intern.  It is the place we both feel at home, and we return there two or three times a year when we are in town (It’s 500 miles and 3 states away).  When we walk in the doors, we know we are home and we are loved.  It is a very special community and we treasure our time with them!  We’ve spoken with the Pastor, who is also my mentor, and she has agreed to it.  Now we just need to find a time that works for the church, our families, and our travel schedule. He’s already one now, so my sense of urgency is less.  He will not sleep peacefully through it and will instead wiggle, squirm, and make noise, and it will be ok.  It will happen when it happens, and we will all celebrate.  It will be good.

At his first birthday party this past November, we all gathered around to sing “Happy Birthday” and have him blow out the candle on his cake.  It was in that moment, as I looked around at all the friends and family who had gathered to celebrate his birthday, that I realized something.  THIS is our community.  These are the people we love and who love us.  They are here to celebrate our son and his first year with us.  THIS IS OUR Community.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends from playgroup, neighbors, friends from middle school through college. It was beautiful chaos as the kids played and ate. We are truly blessed to have so many wonderful people in our lives.  This community had been there all along. I was just so focused on one particular community that was missing in our lives that I completely missed the greater community that we belong to.  

We still don’t have a local church family.  I don’t know when we will find the one that we fit into and will be the local community that helps us raise him in the faith.  We have a lot of church baggage that needs to be emptied before this process will likely happen.  Until then, we will keep singing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves The Little Children” before naps and bed.  We will keep reading to him the stories of our faith.  We will keep teaching him about how he is called to live a life of faith in this world.  And I will keep remembering his baptism yet-to-be each time I give him a bath.  The water running down his hair and over his face will continually remind me that we are loved.  He is loved.  We have a community that surrounds us and loves us.    And I look forward to the day that we can formalize his baptism.  Until then, lather, rinse, repeat. 

Celebrating The Longest Relationship

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.

Celebrating the Longest Relationship PhotoThis 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

 

Minister: 

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?

 

Holly: 

I will

 

Minister:

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

whose brothers

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?

 

Holly: 

I will

 

Minister:

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?

 

Holly:

I will

Newness of Life 
Or: How I Gave up the Waders and Learned to Love the Water

Easter morning. The sanctuary is full. The trumpet fanfare happens right on cue and the lilies – in addition to making my nose itch – are beautiful. Streamers hang from the ceiling and flowers have taken the place of the black sash on the cross. The congregation is preparing for communion as the newly baptized slip back into their seats, self-consciously aware of their wet hair.

I am standing in the hallway behind the sanctuary, fully clothed and completely wet. The waders have failed me again.

I should explain, especially for you sprinklers and baptizers of infants. In my tradition, we practice believer’s baptism by full immersion, which means, in lay terms, that we dunk older kids and adults all the way under the water. Often, this happens in the middle of Sunday worship when the presiding minister needs to conduct the baptism and then continue the rest of the service.

So, somewhere along the way, we started wearing waders. Picture giant rubber fishing boots, with suspenders, and a drawstring at the chest. They look every bit as ridiculous as they sound. But once you put the white robe over top and step into the baptistery, the congregation can’t tell what you’re wearing. In theory, they enable one to quickly move from leading worship, to the baptistery, and back again, without the hassle of getting wet and changing clothes.

Not so for me.

The waders at my church, which have been hanging in the back closet since, oh, 1962, are several sizes too big for me, built for a much taller and bigger person – a man, no doubt.  My stocking feet slide around in the rubber boots as I trudge up the steps to the baptistery. An older male pastor tells me he usually just steps into his, leaving his shoes on and everything; these waders were definitely not made for women’s heels.

(The waders are only one of the tools of the trade through which I feel the weight of years of male pastors bearing down on me. Another big one is my lapel mike: I finally started wearing my robe at our informal service because there was nowhere to clip the battery pack when I wore a dress, and I refused to rig it up with duct tape, reality-TV style.)

So the waders don’t work for me. The water is too deep, or the drawstring isn’t tight enough, or they just plain don’t fit. When I lean over with the young woman being baptized, my arm braced on her back to help her back up, the water rushes right over those suspenders and down into the toes of those too-big boots, soaking my top, my skirt, and well, everything else.

And now I need to be back in the sanctuary in a matter of minutes to sing the closing hymn and offer the benediction. I strip off my damp pantyhose and put my robe back on, over my wet clothes. When I sit down, I can feel the dampness of my skirt soaking through the lining and into the outer fabric my robe. I think a few words that are not particularly appropriate for a clergy person on Easter morning.

“Can you tell I’m all wet?” I whisper to our worship team leader, who has been helping mop up drips on the floor. She stands behind me and tilts her head. I walk a few steps and turn, as if I’m modeling a new dress. “No, I think it’s okay,” she says, and I’m pretty sure she’s lying. “Can you just hold your hymnal behind you?”

I can’t quite see how that will be less conspicuous than a damp spot on the back of my robe, but I nod, because it’s time to go. I make it through the last hymn and muster up some enthusiasm for a few last alleluias, praying that the choir, standing behind me, is thinking more about the resurrection than my derriere.

As I process out in front of one of our (male) elders, and then stand strategically with my back to the wall and greet the Easter crowd, I decide, for good, that I’m done with the waders.

Baptism is ineffable, mysterious. A sacrament, a means of grace, a holy moment, an entry into the body of Christ, the family of God. It’s hard to describe what happens there, so it’s no surprise that when I talk to kids about baptism, they are mostly interested in the water. It’s symbolic, I tell them, it represents dying and rising with Christ. Yes, they say, but will the water be cold? They want to know how the water gets in there (a faithful deacon), and how deep it will be (just deep enough) and whether they’ll have time to blow dry their hair afterwards (no).

We need water to live, to drink, cook, clean. The waters of baptism reminds us of the first breath of creation, when the wind from God swept over the face of the deep. The water reminds us of John standing in the Jordan, of Jesus rising from the waters with the dove descending overhead.

Of course, the over-sized bathtub at the front of our sanctuary is a far cry from the waters of the Jordan River. Some traditions make a point of going outside, to a lake, a river, the ocean, to do their dunking. I happen to like standing in the water in the middle of the congregation, in that space where the community gathers for worship and is sent out to work in the world, with the church family looking on and offering up their love and prayers.

Most people only step into those waters once in a lifetime. It occurs to me, in my wet clothes on Easter morning, that it is a gift, an honor, to accompany people in that moment. In a way, the waders set up a barrier between me and the water, implying that I can slip in and out, unaffected by this holy moment, unmoved by the Spirit that hovers over those waters, untouched by the challenge of the congregation to the newly baptized: Walk in the newness of life. When they come up out of the water, a little bit awed and just slightly out of breath, maybe I ought to be breathless, too. Maybe I ought to be wet.

A few weeks after Easter, I step into the baptistery again, barefoot this time, with a change of clothes waiting for me in the hall. I reach out to take the hand of a fourth-grader who has decided that she’s ready to enter, fully and completely, the body of Christ. She steps down, and the water embraces both of us. It is pure grace.

Lee Hull Moses was baptized in Tipton, Indiana, and sat with wet hair in the midst of a congregation she loved. Now, she gets wet at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), in Greensboro, North Carolina. She is the co-author of a book on parenting and theology which will be published by the Alban Institute later this year. 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/pyth0ns/4571657460/”>Mark J P</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photo pin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>