I needed something for Sunday school. I was having one of those weeks where I couldn’t think of anything appealing—you ever have one of those weeks? Every evening I’d head home, praying that something would spark my mind the next day; nothing came. Saturday (yes, I wrote a Sunday school lesson on a Saturday) I reread the lectionary passages, keying in on Luke’s story of Jesus’ baptism. Knowing that the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s baptism was coming up my mind wandered to that day. I remembered who was up there with us, what she wore, how pretty my wife looked. Then I remembered struggling to answer public questions asked of my wife and me—I was too emotional. Those questions—promises in fact—struck me at that moment. “Do you, the parents of Margot, promise…” asked three different times. Next, the congregation was asked, “Do you, members of the congregation, promise…” followed by the children of the church, “Do you, the children of the church, promise…” What came after the word promise was lost to memory. The fact that so many people had made promises to my child was all I needed. I knew I wasn’t the only parent who’d forgotten what those promises were. Given that so many infants are baptized I know they don’t remember who promised what to them on their special day.
Sunday morning came and I kicked off the lesson by reading the three baptismal stories from Matthew, Mark and Luke; I invited everyone to look for the ‘promises’ imbedded within the story. Distracted for the sole reason that they are youth, these stories didn’t spark much in their worlds. They heard no promises. So, I switched tactics and asked them to describe what happens at a baptism at Westminster. They shouted out where baptisms take place, who is up in the chancel, what elements are present, who speaks, what words are used and then one of the youth said, “I think we use the word promise a couple of times.” Bingo! When the story turned personal they engaged baptism in a new way.
I then passed out two post-it notes. On one I asked the youth to write what promises the church makes to them when they (or any child or adult) is baptized. Then I asked them to put those post-its on the wall before passing out another one. On the second one I asked them to write the promises they make to the church as one who is baptized into this community. A variety of sincere answers filled the sheets of paper. “I promise to create an environment of love and care for all.” “I promise to show up and be apart of the life of the church.” “The church promises to teach all those who walk through the walls about God.” The wall quickly filled with promises on pink and blue post-it notes. We decided to leave them up as reminders of the promises we’ve agreed to make to each other and to Christ’s church.
I share this story because I forget what happens during seminal moments in our worship. I forget that words have power. Unnecessary information consumes too much of our time, particularly those of us in the church. On days like last Sunday when I listened to the youth’s responses I remembered what makes the Christian community special—our promises bind us together, for better or for worse. Sometimes we need a day like last Sunday to remind us of the promises both God and we make.
What do you remember—or what have you been told—about your baptism? What does baptism look like at your church? What promises does your faith community make to those being baptized?