Over the last few weeks, I had the great privilege of co-teaching a short course on Sacraments, aimed at candidates for ministry and potential lay presiders in rural communities. Alongside Rev. Bronwyn Murphy, I got to talk about the Uniting Church’s theology of sacraments, and then train these potential presiders in the actual acts of Baptism and Communion.
The thing that struck me the most, as I listened to this diverse cohort of students, was how diverse our views are around what Baptism and Communion actually are. For example: is baptism our ticket to heaven? Does baptism grant us salvation? What does it mean for baptism to be a requirement for entry into some Christian schools? Should we be re-baptising infants when they (hopefully) come into their own faith? Should we not be allowing children to receive Communion if they do not understand what it means? Should we deny people living “sinful lives” the gift of Communion? Is Communion only for Christians?
My ministry at West Epping is centred around ministry with young families. I have a deep passion and excitement for the spirituality and faith of children – who I can safely say are often more able to comprehend the sacred and holy than many adults, due to their sense of curiosity and imagination. We see this almost every week in our Intergen Talks and JAM. It is with this lens that I approach the age-old conundrum: should we be baptising infants? And if so, what meaning does it hold?
This is what I taught to the students last week: baptism (infant or believer) is about naming an individual as a beloved child of God. To be clear: baptism is not the act that makes someone a beloved child of God; it simply acknowledges before a gathered community that that is what that person already is. At my baptism when I was about one month old, I, Radhika Sukumar, was re-recognised as Radhika Sukumar, beloved child of God.
As part of our formal liturgy, the parents of infant candidates are asked to repent of their sins and turn to Christ. In other traditions, the candidate or their parents are asked to turn from Satan, his demons, and all evil – cheerful stuff! But even that says something wonderful. Baptism is a public renunciation of all the evil competing voices that try to tell someone who or what they are. Competing voices might try to call me fat, ugly, nerdy, strange, unworthy. In baptism, I am given the name “beloved”. Competing voices might beckon me to be renamed thin, pretty, rich, popular. In baptism, my name “beloved” is all I need.
As infants grow, they will wrestle with their sense of identity, yearning for someone or something to tell them who they are. This is where the gathered community comes into play. It is the solemn task of the community of faith to remind our children, consistently and lovingly, that they are beloved children of God, and that they are to renounce anything that tells them otherwise. In the Uniting Church, we believe that the church becomes the godparents of baptised children.
Whether you remember your baptism or not, may you be reminded that your name is Beloved, and that name is enough for you. And if you haven’t been baptised or would like to explore confirmation of your baptism, maybe now is the time to talk about it with John or I.