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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.

They Will Know…By Our Love

We just wrapped up a highly contentious election season here in the United States.  Mud – and other sorts of muck – was flung freely between all of the political parties and their supporters.  It wasn’t pretty.  I suppose that much of that behavior was to be expected in the secular arena (which is a sad commentary on our culture); but, it was (and still is) particularly disconcerting to witness that behavior being demonstrated by Christians – clergy and parishioners alike.

I get it.  We are passionate people.  Our faith does not require that we give up having an opinion (or two or three) about things going on in the political realm.  In fact, our faith often informs our politics.  But I struggle to remember that part of our faith that encourages us to throw insults at others.  I have not been able to identify that part of our faith that teaches us to mock people for having opinions and beliefs that are different from our own.  Unfortunately, during this past election season – and even in this post-election season – there’s been a lot of “love the ones who vote the same way as you” and not a lot of “love the ones who vote for other people”.

One of my favorite hymns is “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love”.  In it, we sing of how we will walk with each other, and we will work with each other.  Most importantly, perhaps, is the bold declaration in the first verse that “we are one in the Spirit” and “we are one in the Lord”.  Indeed, as members of the Body of Christ (the Church), we are made one in Christ Jesus.  And, as members of the one Body of Christ, we are called to love – to love God, and to love our neighbors.

In John 13:34-35, Jesus gives us the foundation for the well-known hymn.  He says to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  It is by our showing love for one another that everyone will be able to tell that we are Christ-followers.  It isn’t because of the crosses we wear around our necks.  It isn’t because of the bumper stickers we have on our cars.  It isn’t even because people see us walking into a church building from time to time.  Plain and simple – from Jesus’ own lips – it is by our love that people will know that we are Christians.

Hurtful words and actions do not answer God’s call for us to love one another.  They don’t bring about the Kingdom.  They don’t let people see clearly that we are Christ-followers.  In this post-election season – as some cheer for those who have won, and others grieve for those who have lost – I am left wondering: when does love win?  When will we challenge ourselves to love the ones who don’t agree with us just as much as we love the ones who do?  When will we dare to walk with each other, hand in hand?  When will we put our differences aside and work with each other, side by side? 

Ultimately, the answer to these questions is up to us.  Like it or not, we aren’t always going to agree on how things should be done.  We aren’t likely to agree on who should (or shouldn’t) get the credit for things that happen in the world.  And God knows that we aren’t all going to agree on which people to vote for or which news channels to watch.  But I pray that maybe — just maybe — we who call ourselves Christian might agree on the importance of showing respect to one another — even when (and maybe, most importantly) we disagree so passionately about other things.  If we can refrain from the temptations of finger-pointing and name-calling, then maybe love can finally win.  Maybe then, we can all live out the words of the hymn, and “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

The Rev. Amy Loving serves as the pastor of the Seneca Presbyterian Church and Bellona Memorial Presbyterian Church in New York State, as well as the creator of The Worship Closet.  She enjoys reading, karaoke, and has never met a sharp cheddar that she didn’t like.

photo credit: Vox Efx via photopin cc