Sitting in a bar, friends gathered for a few drinks and an opportunity to catch up. One couple shared with joy that they had their new born baby baptized at their local church recently. The friend gave a curious look, mixed with concern and borderline disdain: “why would you want to baptize your baby? Why would you want to do that to your child?” Caught a bit off guard, once the parent had picked up her jaw from the ground, she tried her best to explain that church was a part of her and her family’s life and that this is something that they believed was important to do.
Why baptize? Why would we ever want to do that to people? The reaction of this parent’s friend as to why someone would want to baptize their child mirrors a prevailing movement away from the church. We live in world where secularism is on the rise and more and more people select “none” for religious beliefs or affiliation on census data. It is hard to identify what is behind this reaction. Perhaps it has something to do with an increased suspicion and distrust on institutions and “the system.” More and more value is placed on self employment and the benefits and perceived freedom and flexibility that is offered from “doing it yourself.” Maybe it has nothing to do its the system but a conviction of being independent and not needing to rely on anyone or anything.
Church attendance of any kind is unusual these days. It is not what people do any more on a Sunday morning as someone once said to me. Sunday morning has become the day for soccer, extra curricular activities, shopping, staying at home, working in the garden, taking advantage of a long weekend or almost anything else that we can preoccupy our time, so long as it doesn’t involve church.
And in a way, some of this is not unwarranted. The church hasn’t always been the best part of people’s lives. Our history is full of times where we as the church have hurt others. Those scars are hard to heal and even harder to forgive.
But for those of us who do come to church despite all of this. For those of us who do find value and meaning in church, gathering as a church community and celebrating a baptism becomes that much more special and meaningful in a world such as the one we live in and one I have just described.
So given the social and political climate we find ourselves living in, what makes baptism so special? While there are many reasons why baptism is important and holds value in our lives, even with the peer pressure we may find ourselves facing, here are a few reasons that I have come up with. Perhaps you can recognize some of them as ringing true for you. Perhaps you have a few of your own that you can add to this list.
1) Belonging. In baptism we name publicly and celebrate that we have a place where we belong and can call home. We have a home and a community of people that welcome us just the way we are, faults and all. We live in a world where people thirst and yearn to be accepted and a place where they can belong. Sometimes, especially at times, when people find that they don’t belong to their own family or rejected by others, the need for belonging is that much more acute.
2) Understanding. To know that there is a place and a community that wants to get to know me and you. That we are valued for the gifts and skills that we offer one another and the world is a valuable currency.
3) We are not alone. To be able to recognize that we are not alone in this thing called life. That there are others who we can lean on for support in our hour of need and in turn we support others when they need us the most. To welcome and understand that there is more to life than we can ever know.
4) Ask questions. I don’t know about you, but I know that I always gravitate towards communities where my questions are valued and where I am not necessarily going to get “the standard answer.” Life is ambiguous. The church is a place that is at home in the ambiguity of life, where we know that there are more shades of grey than there are of black and white.
5) Make mistakes. Church is a place where we can make mistakes and not have them used against us. Life is full of trial and error. The church offers a place where we can experience life, learn from our mistakes and in turn understand what it means to forgive and be forgiven.
So why should we as the church continue to baptize? Why would we ever want to do that to people? Yes, the church has had a chequered history. But when the church is at its best, we offer a place of sanctuary where we can meet people where they are in their lives and where they can begin to know that they are loved deeply and unconditionally by God. This is what lies at the heart of baptism.
In baptism we are named and claimed by God as one of God’s own. We belong to God and therefore there is nothing that can ever separate us from the love of God. Gosh people have tried. People in ever generation have found themselves at one point or another trying to run away from God only to find that God meets them around the next corner with open arms. This is the story of the prodigal son and the story of the nature of God. Perhaps it has been your story too.