I am about to tell you about a neat surprise from yesterday morning at church. . . but I’m being very careful not to reveal who I am talking about- which is also why I chose the out of focus photo you see above. (I knew that my less-than- assured skill with the camera would someday come in handy. If all of my photos had turned out perfectly, I would not have been able to use any of them for this entry.)
Here’s what happened: I sang a solo for church, and as I slipped to the back of the sanctuary via the side aisle, someone flagged me down and motioned for me to step outside with them. And that’s when this person told me that their elderly mother (who I’m sure is in their late 80’s or early 90’s) was going to be baptized right after the service – and this person wondered if I would be willing to stick around and sing “Amazing Grace” as part of the baptism. I sort of gulped with surprise, but then immediately said Yes. I was pleased and honored.
This person’s mother is just about the saintliest saint you can imagine. (And I mean it. If you look up “saint” in the dictionary, this woman’s picture is there.) But if I understand correctly, she grew up in a church where baptism was by immersion, and she was terrified of water. So she was not baptized when she otherwise would have been- and she wasn’t absolutely certain that a baptism ever took place later. It maybe did, but evidently there wasn’t any official record of it. And so this woman decided that it would give her some sort of comfort and assurance if she could be baptized, once and for all.
You need to understand that in my church the vast majority of baptisms are infant baptisms – typically done when a baby is maybe four, five or six months old. (In other churches, baptism is done later in life and only happens because the person being baptized has consciously chosen to do so as a statement of their own faith. In my tradition, the baptism is not about the faith of the person being baptized, but more about God’s free grace and the parents’ pledge to raise the child in the faith.) So in more than twenty years at Holy Communion, there are only 6 or 7 occasions I can remember when someone was old enough to know that they were being baptized. It just doesn’t happen very often at all. So the thought of someone in their late 80’s stepping up to that font and being baptized took my breath away. And I’m sure it was rather staggering for Pastor Jeff as well. But just like me, he gulped and then said Yes, Absolutely.
Not surprisingly, this person was a bit self-conscious about this, so it was important to do this as discreetly as possible- which meant trying to clear the sanctuary without coming right out and saying why you needed the lingering chit-chatters to move along. But once everyone was gone, we could go ahead with what turned out to be a beautiful, simple little service. . . with Pastor Jeff (as usual) setting just the right mood for it, and me singing “Amazing Grace” as a sort of special benediction. (And believe me, I sang that whole song staring at the piano keys- Had I looked anywhere near the family gathered around the font, I would have absolutely bawled.) But the most beautiful part of it was just watching this woman stand amidst her family, awaiting what I think was some sort of tangible reminder for her that God loves her. . . has always loved her. . .. and always will love her. It was not about the water sprinkled on her head- and not even about the actual words spoken – as much as it was about that love. I have no idea how much longer this woman will be with us, but I suspect that she will be living out whatever days remain to her with a greater sense of peace – and to have played even a sliver of a role in that was truly a privilege.