Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Baptism of Caroline Grace- December 28, 2008

At long last- the baptism post. I hope it was worth the wait, Marecha. I encourage any of the many loved ones present to add memories to the comments or to e-mail me memories that I can add! Memories fade so quickly... and five months have passed!

She was just 23 days old. Younger and tinier than the six week old we saw this morning who looked impossibly small. It was the Sunday after Christmas and all four grandparents and one uncle flew in from far away to meet this precious addition to the family for the very first time. Aunt Katherine was, of course, already here, though was then preparing to depart within days. It was a bittersweet time, hellos and goodbyes and hormones, oh my!

Mommy and daddy stumbled into affiliating with two congregations upon arriving in our new home city, two congregations that meet in the same building one after the other, every Sunday morning. It was important to us to have both congregations involved in some way, but it was hard to imagine how exactly that would happen. We asked for representation from congregation number two- the pastor and an elder- we didn't want to disrupt their Sunday School time by asking for more than that. But the Sunday before the baptism, in his charge at the end of the service, the pastor of congregation number two indicated that everyone who was in the building at the time of the baptism would come in, after the sermon in congregation number 1, for the baptism of Caroline Grace. I was moved to tears when I heard him extend this invitation.

It was important to us, also, to have connections to other congregations, other parts of Christ's body that had meant a great deal to us, in the ceremony. With the permission of the pastor of congregation number 1, we invited my best friend from college, now known as Auntie Mieke, to actually perform the baptism. Mieke and I were ordained together as elders on the same day at Westminister Presbyterian Church in Wooster, Ohio- the congregation under which I was under care through the ordination process and in whose presence and space I was ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament many years later. Mieke bore the presence of that very important congregation. The pastor of cong. 1 assumed one of our fathers would be invited to perform the baptism, but... we wanted them to be grandfathers, and how would we choose between them anyhow, and we pray they were comfortable with this decision. They seemed to be. The presence of both sets of grandparents carried the presence of so many of our formative congregations with them.

And imagine our delight when a couple from the congregation Kevin and I most recently served in Lowville just happened to be in town to see loved ones for the holiday and were able to stretch out their visit to be present for Caroline's baptism! It wouldn't have felt right for the First Presbyterian Church of Lowville to NOT be represented at that moment. I get teary now thinking about what their presence meant.

It was a small congregation, it was the Sunday after Christmas afterall, but... much like my ordination, for which an incredibly small congregation was present, the representative nature of those present was deeply moving. And this became even more true as the service unfolded, but I get ahead of myself.

I baked up a storm in the days preceding the baptism, all sorts of naturally sweetened goodies for a reception to follow in the church basement.

And mom brought with her the outfit I had worn on my trip home from the hospital and the baptismal gown that had been crocheted for me by my grandmother's (caroline's) best friend Auntie Bernice, in the wide hem of this lovely and delicate gown, in Auntie Bernice's shaky needlepoint script my name, birth date, and baptism date are stitched. Bernice indicated that her hope was that many babies would wear this gown until the hem was all filled with names and dates. And in the 32 years since I first wore it, over a dozen babies have followed in my stead, and my mom has taken over the task of adding names and dates to the hem. I had last seen the gown at my ordination when my mom, charged with presenting me with my robe and dressing me for ministry, pulled out the baptismal gown and spoke of dressing me for ministry when I was but a few months old. How powerful to unfold that gown and prepare to dress Caroline in it all these years later.

The preparations before the service were chaotic. It seemed all the clergy involved were speaking different languages. And I seem to recall dealing with some physical discomforts that kept removing me from the midst of the awkwardness. Mieke was doing a beautiful job mediating and I trusted her to that task. We decided that the elder from cong. 1 and Kev would head out when it was time for the baptism to bring in the folks from cong. 2. I don't remember a lot about the sermon that day, the pastor of cong. 1 preached. I do remember him suggesting the strong possibility that Caroline could end up a pastor. Meh. Maybe. In any case, I have no doubt I dressed her for ministry whether ordination is ever on the table for her. After that sermon there was a bit of a long pause as we waited for folks to come in from cong. 2, but... their arrival was by far one of the most moving parts of the day for me. They streamed in, nearly doubling the size of the congregation, a nearly entirely African American group of people, of all ages and filled up the more sparsely populated side of the sanctuary. And they all looked SO EAGER to be there. And... I just can't find words for what their presence meant.

The day was all about presence.

Eventually we gathered by the font- four pastors (though I was just mom then!), two elders, a deacon (just dad then!), and sweet Caroline Grace, dressed for ministry. The liturgy was shared by all those assembled. Most memorable... the tears of the elder from cong. 1, whom is unfortunately not visible in the pictures above. Mieke's gentle touch as she poured the water over her sweet head. Did she cry? I don't think so. Maybe just a bit, but she settled. And was totally fine as Mieke walked her about the sanctuary and spoke spontaneously and beautifully about all those to whom she belongs and begged her forgiveness for all the mistakes that these many Christians who love her would make. And entrusted the teaching of us to her. Mieke nailed it. She drew together all that presence with her words. And... I remember most of all... the way that the pastor of cong. 2, did the laying on of hands. I encouraged him to be spontaneous if he so desired. And he so desired. He lifted her high and prayed to the only one more powerful than her as he blessed her. And all those circled around lifted up too. It sucked the breath right out of me.

So, we are baptized in the Spirit, yes? Well, I think that's what the presence was all about. I believe it is the Spirit that binds us to Christians far and near, similar and dissimilar. It is the Spirit that enlivens congregations and pulls them together. It is the Spirit that binds congregations one to another. The Spirit of Christ in whom there is no male or female, no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free. That Spirit was present at the baptism of Caroline Grace. No question.

Aunt Katherine and Mommy sang a duet with Daddy's accompaniment. It was Holy Innocents Day and we sang a setting of the refrain of Lully, Lullay- that haunting remembrance of the babies who lost their lives upon the birth of Christ. And that too seemed fitting... remembering the fragility of human life in this dangerous world... all the more reason to entrust our lives to God and God's community.

And shortly thereafter we relaxed in the basement and took picture after picture, and ate cookie after cookie, twas a good day, the Lord's day, the day on which Caroline was welcomed into the body of Christ to whom she belongs... in life and in death. Alleluia!

And then home to rest... A representative shot in the arms of Abuelita.

Thanks be to God! And thanks be to all the loved ones for the sacrifices made to be present that day. Your presence was precious.


daisy said...

well remembered, beautifuuly written.. I had tears as I read it. When was the moment when my cell phone went off and I had left my purse in the front row. It was Potts caling from St Paul's wanting to know how to reach someone at the home amember of the church, Joe, lived in. Ahh, I 'm not there!

Wendy said...

oh sarah-where do i start? i'm sure that's how you felt when trying to write about such a moving and meaningful day! SO beautifully written! amazing the presence in your new town- which just goes to show you what a presence you three are there! i wish i could have been there! didn't realize caroline was baptized on gracie's birthday-these cousins are connected in a lot of ways!

as far as gracie's baptism day-how very meaningful that my godparents could be there and you, by proxy!
had to chuckle as i re-read my post and realized how nervous i was with the wine, and then thought of YOU who you can stand and preach so eloquently to hundreds!

part of me feels bad that grace didn't have the day all to herself, and the boys their respective days as well, but the practical side of myself told me, "when would we have an opportunity for such a special 3 banner celebration like this again?"

anyway, this post was so worth the wait-just beautiful. also glad caroline is still enjoying her jumper. we got gracie's jumper back from a friend and she has been enjoying it, though not jumping much just yet. funny how she is just not a mover (except on the changing table!) like the boys were-wonder if it is a temperment thing? i'm trying not to worry, but it's what i do best....;)
love to you three!

Magdalene6127 said...

what a beautiful account of a beautiful day! I teared up when I read what you and your sister sang.

LittleMary said...

oh so sweet. sitting here crying remembering the day. what a gift to be asked, to be caroline grace's auntie, to be present, to be included. love you.