When you put a hundred or so teenagers together for a week, anything can happen. When you put them together 24 hours a day, in study sessions, discussion groups, singing, doing sensitivity exercises, attending meetings, and sleeping on the floor of a (separate) gyms, emotions can get overloaded.
So it was, back in 1982, at what was called a Youth Forum in Montreal.
I remember that I couldn’t cope with all that togetherness. When I tried sleeping on the floor with 50 or so guys who snored, grunted, thrashed around in the night, got up to pee, sometimes got into quarrels at 2:00 a.m., I found I was getting very little sleep. My patience levels went down as my temper went up.
“Come with me,” said one young man. “I found a quieter room down the hall.”
I spent the rest of the week sleeping where I wasn’t supposed to be. Trespassing, I suppose. But I did sleep.
Because it was a church-run event, we had worship services. Not everyone attended.
Towards the end, we put on a replica of John Wesley’s Re-covenanting Service. In the style of Wesley’s time, it provided an opportunity for personal confession of our sins and shortcomings, followed by the laying on of hands for healing and absolution.
I thought it would simply expose the young people to the customs of an earlier tradition.
I was wrong. As the 30 or so young people attending came forward, knelt, and confessed, tears flowed abundantly.
To my own surprise, as I took my turn, I too found myself in tears.
On the way back to my hard wooden pew, a younger lad beckoned to me. I sat beside him.
“I want to be baptized,” he whispered.
` “You haven’t been?” In 1982, I still took baptism for granted.
“No,” he said. “I want to be baptized.”
I began explaining that he could talk to his minister when he got back home…
“No,” he said again. “I want to be baptized. Here. Now.”
As it happened, I had recently edited a 200-page doctoral thesis on baptism. I had been a member of a national committee developing an official liturgy for baptism. And the World Council of Churches had reached a historic ecumenical agreement, called Baptism Eucharist and Ministry, which recognized as valid the baptisms of any churches that accepted the Trinitarian Formula – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Beyond the rules
So I knew that baptism was supposed to happen in the context of a recognized community of faith. By an authorized and accountable priest or equivalent.
This situation didn’t meet those criteria.
But – “Here. Now,” the boy persisted. “These kids are my congregation.”
I wasn’t a priest. I didn’t have any holy water.
So I dipped my finger in the tears dripping down his cheeks. I added some tears of my own. I made the sign of the cross on his forehead. I whispered words assuring him of God’s unconditional love, and welcomed him into the worldwide communion of the Christian church.
It’s the only baptism I have ever performed. I broke all the rules. But I still consider it as real a sacrament as anything involving robed and gowned clergy.
I hope he does too.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Dawne Taylor really liked last week’s column, where I mused on the connection between being unable to hear a snowflake fall and not being able to see evidence of God. “Thank you,” she wrote, for “so eloquently speaking of that which we cannot apprehend or comprehend.”
Laurna Tallman, on the other hand, assured me that “Some human ears are sensitive enough to hear snowflakes falling. Isabel Stehli titles one of her books about autism, Sound of Falling Snow: Stories of Recovery from Autism & Related Conditions. In the Foreword Jeff Bradstreet, M.D. writes about his ability to hear snowflakes landing.Many autistic and schizophrenic people have hearing that sensitive. Many people who are not autistic or schizophrenic have hearing that sensitive. However, such hyperacusis comes with some disadvantages. For one Catholic man, it means he cannot attend regular Masses because the sound of whispered prayers is painful to his ears.”
Laurna went on to her speciality: “Often, music therapy will desensitize such hyperacusis. Often, music therapy will cure autism. As you know, I have invented a music therapy that is proving to be superior to binaural methods for treating mental illness.”
Similarly, Hanny Kooyman wrote, “A sailor out on Okanagan Lake during winter snow once told me that he could hear the snow fall on the water. It seems to be a very special sound once the flakes hit the open water.”
James Russell wondered, “Well of course, if God IS the universe, then why NOT call it God. The unbelievable part is that the universe cares about the particular destinies of its minor component parts, or (for instance) whether they wear the right hat or non-hat, mumble the right formulae, cheer for their ancestors’ team, ….”
Bob Rollwagen asked (perhaps sardonically), “Isn’t science wonderful? The scholars who contributed to the Bible walked on what they thought was a flat earth below which there was another layer they named Hell -- and you know the rest of the story.
“I remember a vision I had one day as I was fading into sleep in the dentist chair. I saw earth as a cell that was part of a living person in their own world. That must have been a space beyond our galaxy.”
And Tom Watson wrote, “An intriguing thesis: Use that which we don't, and can't, know to prove that something beyond our knowing [could] exist. Whimsically, I'm reminded of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien saying, ‘A proof is a proof. What kind of proof? A proof is a proof, and when you have a good proof, it's because it's proven.’ Or...maybe not. Take yer pick.”
Hugh Pett – who admits to having a “copy editing” mind -- found a couple of typographic errors in last week’s paraphrase of Psalm 99. My apologies. I hope you made sense of it anyway.
The lectionary calls for Psalm 91 for the first Sunday of Lent. If you don’t already know it, I recommend “On Eagles Wings,” a paraphrase by Michael Joncas, set to music. But if you can’t locate it, here’s my own paraphrase, based on the notion that March is a wet and cold month:
9 Let your faith be your umbrella;
Live your life under God's protection.
10 No rain clouds will ruin your picnic;
nor will thunderstorms drown your fondest desires.
11 The spirit of God will surround you like a shimmering bubble.
It will deflect the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;
12 It will smooth your passage over speed-bumps and potholes.
13 Neither wind nor sleet nor hail nor snow --
nor stress nor illness nor peer pressures --
shall keep you from growing closer and closer to God.
14 For God says: "Because you trusted me,
I will give you more cause to trust;
Because you knew me enough to ask for help,
I will help you.
15 When you call, I will answer you.
When you fall down, I will pick you up.
16 I will accompany you through a long life;
I will never leave you lonely and afraid."
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet