Child of God
Thursday night was a particularly
busy night in my first parish in Portsmouth. It was baptism
booking night. Proud but nervous parents would arrive to make
arrangements for the baptism of their child. Numbers were
so great that on one Whit Sunday afternoon I found myself
confronted by 19 bundles of joy - well actually 18 bundles
of joy and Norman.
For these children it was their
first major public engagement and their parents were determined
to make sure that everything went to plan. New dresses were
bought, family shawls were passed on and fingers were kept
firmly crossed that the baby would sleep throughout the whole
Norman had other ideas. He was not
a baby. He was a bouncing four year old. His Godmother who
was also his Grandmother brought him to the font. "Name
this child", I said. "Norman" she replied.
Not wanting to hold a four year old for any length of time,
I had put a chair by the side of the font. In a very fatherly
way I turned to Norman and said, "Come on Norman jump
up on this chair". Without even raising his head to look
Norman replied in a clear, determined
voice, "Shant". Keeping my smile - as a vicar you
must never lose your smile, other wise they think what a nasty
vicar, no wonder no one goes to church - I got hold of Norman
and suggested that he might bend his head over the font and
everything would be alright. Co-operation was out of the question
as far as Norman was concerned. No sooner had I stood him
on the chair than he put his hands over his head. It was impossible
to get water near or by him without drowning him.
At this moment the mother appeared
at the font as reinforcements. I could see what was going
through her head. The cake had been made, the sandwiches were
under a damp cloth and the kettle was on a low gas. She was
going to have Norman "done" if it killed her. But
still Norman held out. In sheer exasperation she turned to
Norman and said, "Ill get your father to you". I
looked down the aisle and saw this bruiser of a man making
straight for the font. Not wanting punch-ups on a Whit Sunday
afternoon, I said in my best T.V. comperes voice, "Can
you come back next week". Norman was removed from the
font, peace was restored and the service of Holy Baptism continued.
A child is a child of God
Not all baptisms need be so fraught.
Most are wonderful occasions, which bring joy to parents,
grandparents, Godparents and family friends. Although I believe
that a child is a child of God whether it is baptised or not,
baptism is a public acknowledgement of the fact that this
child does not just belong to his or her earthly family but
is also an integral and important part of God's creation.
It hopefully sets standards for a child that will sustain
him or her throughout the rest of their life. It acknowledges
that the child is part of a wider community from whom, in
the future, it will draw strength and support.
For heavens sake dont think that
if a child dies before it is baptised it will be damned or
if it cries when it is baptised the devil has left it. But
by having your child baptised you show that you want to care
for the whole person. You would never starve it physically.
So why dont you feed it spiritually? Baptism is part of that
spiritual diet which is necessary if a child is going to grow
into a full and secure human being.
Obviously there will be some people
for whom such commitment is not acceptable. Most churches
now have a service of blessing for the child and this is well
worth considering. It is another way of acknowledging the
spiritual dimension of a childs life. Whatever you decide,
hopefully your child will never suffer from spiritual starvation.
Next time we meet I shall give you
some hints on choosing Godparents. It is quite a task.
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