A Family Christening.
When my wife and I married twenty years ago, we found ourselves with nine children. Both boys and girls in almost equal numbers. We had both been previously widowed.
It meant that over the years we have become accustomed to organising many baptisms. Fourteen grandchildren so far. Even the odd naming ceremony for the unchurched.
The last occasion was quite memorable. It may be helpful to share the experience.
As you may imagine the Church was quite full with a number of little people as well as adults. The priest was a lovely gentle Indian Franciscan. He clearly loved children and had enormous patience. His response to an apology for the amount of excited movement and exploration they got up to was: “Don’t worry. It is what children do. It means they feel at home here.”
He performed the ceremony with gentleness and patience. Isla who was the focus of the proceedings received the sacrament with surprising attention and dignity. For a two month old anyway. The white garment used was lovingly crocheted by my wife and was used by her brothers and sister before her.
A word about the godparents, Ben and Sarah. Ben has for many years struggled against alcoholism. After months at a re-hab centre in Wales, he has been clear now for well over a year. But more than that he has developed a warm and serious spirituality. He now spends a good deal of his time working with AA groups and helping others at the re-hab centre. He has always had a warm and affectionate personality and has so much to offer as he grows into early middle age. Sarah became a member of our family many years ago when, as one of my students, her mental health broke down and she came to live with us for a number of years. Although she now lives close by and independently, she still looks for my wife’s support. Sarah has an enormous capacity for empathy. She never forgets a birthday and her cards are always beautifully hand-produced. Although she may struggle a bit in no-mans land as far as religion is concerned, I find it difficult to imagine a more effective Christian.
Anyway I think we had chosen a couple of ideal godparents.
After the formal liturgy of the Baptismal rite, after the applause, Isla was presented to our extended family to greet and hold. At that point my wife addressed Isla with the family blessing that I had put together:
‘As with all our grandchildren, Isla is very fortunate in the family she has chosen to belong to. Her sister, Elspeth, and her brothers Blair and Ross, were delighted to greet her when Mum and Dad brought her home from the hospital..
There is nothing in this life so beautiful to watch as the eyes of loving parents as they gaze upon their new baby. A few days ago, I found myself watching compulsively the exchange of looks between Clare, her mum, and Isla. It was so beautiful. I realised just why the God who holds all of our lives in his gentle hands was jealous and decided to become for a while like a little baby in the arms of his so loving mother at Bethlehem.
And so Isla:
May beauty delight you and happiness uplift you,
May wonder fulfil you and love surround you.
May your step be steady and your arm be strong,
May your heart be peaceful and your word be true. May you seek to learn, may you learn to live.
May you live to love, and may you love – always.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith:
If children live with approval,
They learn to like themselves;
If children live with love around them,
They learn to give love to the world.
And so, Isla, we bless you as we welcome you into our midst.
May you enrich this world with your life.’
After this, and it was my wife’s idea, all the little ones in turn came up to receive from the godparents on behalf of Isla, the newly baptised, a large Easter Bunny chocolate bar. My wife pointed out the connection with the Easter Paschal Candle. In a way it was, I hope, for them a kind of communing in what had happened.
Celebrations in the Church Hall followed. All the food was prepared by members of our extended family. A happy time.
Baptism is the welcome we extend to the newcomer. It is a family welcome. It seems a pity that the priest cannot sometimes be a woman. I recall some years ago being present at the Christening of a baby. It was in an Anglican church. The priest was lovely. She was both a mum and a priest. The manner in which she held the little one so tenderly, was clearly indicative of that. So moving was the ceremony that his sister, herself only a child climbed onto the bench to clap her hands as the water was poured.
I understand that among the Kikuyu in East Africa, a refrain accompanies the initiation of a child into the tribe: ‘I am because we are, we are because I am.’