‘You’re going to Confirmation Class? But weren’t you baptized as an adult?’ a delighted, but justly confused, friend asked me recently.
Like a lot of things in life, we laugh because it’s funny, and we laugh because it’s true.
– Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) in The Untouchables, 1987
Yes, I was baptized when I was 28, so I’d been legally entitled to drink and vote for a full decade. But I was so young in my faith journey that the term ‘adult’ didn’t really apply.
As I mentioned in my Just Add Water post last year, I started going to church in January of 1999, and really, only because I lost an argument with my wife (thank God she’s so persuasive) – and I was baptized in September of that same year. That seems like a pretty quick transformation from scoffer to card-carrying member – and it was.
A number of threads in my life came together to make this rope – and I’m not sure that any of them would have gotten me to the font without the others, so it’s almost like Someone planned it that way.
Let me count the ways:
- As I mentioned in Hindsight Series, Part 1: Booze, God was helping me (much more than I realized at the time) through some fairly sobering stuff during those nine months, and that definitely accelerated my baptism journey.
- But really, the genesis of the idea of being baptized that year came from a significantly less significant dynamic. You see, in those days, we attended a very traditional Anglican church that took a number of the ‘rules’ of Anglicanism quite seriously. Every single Sunday, just before the ushers would begin ushing the congregation forward for the Eucharist, the priest would stand at the front and declare, ‘Please remember that all who are baptized are welcome to receive Communion.’
Well, I wasn’t baptized, so I was welcome to stay in my seat and enjoy the hymns. And watch the rest of the congregation go forward and receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
Since there’s nothing particularly tasty (from an earthly perspective) about the wafers and wine served at the Lord’s Table, and since I was only at church for my wife and daughter anyway (or so I thought), there was no reason for me to have a problem with the arrangement.
I’d sit there and feel excluded, while a bunch of people no less misfitty than me were fully able to participate:
- ‘That guy’s no better than me, he smokes like a chimney,’ I’d mutter under my breath.
- ‘That woman’s hardly ever here – why does she get to go up and I don’t?’ I’d wonder.
- ‘That guy drinks like a fish and swears like a trucker; he’s just like me.’
- ‘She only put a toonie in the collection plate, and she works in the oilsands!’
And it ate at me.
Not that I had a problem with any of these folks being able to fully participate in the service; I simply didn’t think it was right that I couldn’t, and they could.
After a while, it occurred to me in precisely these terms: if I’m coming to all of the meetings anyway, I might as well join the club. There’s very little difference between that attitude and George Costanza’s motivation for converting to Latvian Orthodoxy (in The Conversion, Season 5 of Seinfeld): “Why not? What do I care?”
… But viva la difference!
(See what I mean about not really being an adult?)
With that dubiously planted seed starting to germinate, I began paying closer attention to the text of the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, just to make sure I understood what I was excluded from. After a while, I realized that there wasn’t much there that I didn’t believe, and I started pondering those bits that did rub me the wrong way a little more. I got the sense that, brick by brick, God was dismantling the walls in my heart (although I wouldn’t have phrased it that way at the time), and I decided to step over the rubble that remained and take the plunge – or in my case, the sprinkle.
On one hand, part of me wishes I’d held off on baptism for several more years. After all, the church I attend these days (Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Calgary) has a tank, where adults and teens can be dunked if they choose. I know God can and does work the same miracle through a few drops on your forehead. But the symbolism of having my whole self immersed in holy water, and then brought back out in one fell swoop would be pretty awesome. (I’d pity poor Pastor Stephen, though. He’s accustomed to dunking 98-pound teenagers, not professional wrestler-sized behemoths; I could end up underwater for a while and he could need a hernia operation, if things had worked out different…)
But on the other hand, if I’d postponed baptism until I felt ‘ready,’ perhaps my enthusiasm for the faith would have petered out before it really got going. Maybe my early public declaration that ‘I’m in the club’ held me accountable and allowed that fragile seed to begin to take root – and paved the way for me to become the floundering, fickle, yet well-intentioned disciple I try to be today!
(As an aside, while I’m grateful that the No Baptism-No Communion policy helped nudge me off the fence, I prefer my current church’s practice of making no declarations whatsoever on this point: Let the people who want Communion come. God will work the miracle of the Eucharist that He chooses to work in the way He wants to work it, for whom he wants to work it, regardless. If, for some, the elements are truly the Body and Blood of Christ, and for others, they’re just wafers and wine, what’s the harm? That may not be how the church sees it, but that’s my take on things.)
- If there was any doubt in my mind about being baptized in light of the first two reasons I just cited, this one locked the decision in: I only had one chance to get baptized on the same day as my first child – the immensely important little goofball who brought Karen and me from couplehood to familyhood. And even in Hindsight, I wouldn’t trade that opportunity for a dozen immersion baptisms.
They say history repeats itself … but then again, they’ve said that before. – witticist A. Whitney Brown on a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update, sometime in the late 1980s
This Sunday, we get to do it again – Katie and I are both scheduled to be confirmed by Bishop Gary Woolsey. At one point, she protested mildly about the idea of having to share the spotlight with her dad again, but I think in the years to come, she’ll be glad we marked both of these milestones together.
At least I hope so.
Peace be with you.
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