This past Sunday, on All Saints, we welcomed Keith Haney as a newly baptized brother in Christ. What a joy for each of us to participate in that baptism! It made me think about my own baptism, and the saints who have shaped my life.
I was baptized in April of 1986, in Easter season, the season of resurrection. I was four months old.
My parents lived 3,000 miles from any other family members, and so the baptismal covenant was decidedly “church family” based rather than “family” based.
My parents stood up at the front of the congregation with another couple, John and Anne Bennett, my godparents. John, a pastor, presided over the service. The congregation vowed to love me as Christ’s child, to nurture me in my Christian walk, and pray for me, that I would grow as a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life. It was this community that taught me what it means to be baptized into the communion of saints—a communion that we might not always see or know, but is there with us, praying for us and cheering us on, and traveling the path that Christ has laid out before us.
Each year, my parents would light a candle for me on the anniversary of my baptism, and tell me the story, again and again, of my entrance into the church, the faith community.
We are a people of the water, and a people of the book. Hayeswater Road Methodist Church gave me a children’s Bible, inscribed with the words, “To Diane on her baptism.” This book became a touchstone for me. Even though we moved from that community back to the United States when I was 18 months old, I read that book throughout my childhood. Each time we would open the Bible, my mother would say, “This Bible is a reminder of your baptism, of your becoming part of God’s story.” The baptismal liturgy says it more formally: “Baptism is initiation into Christ’s holy church and incorporation in God’s mighty acts of salvation.”
I longed to be Miriam, who was beautiful in my Bible—watching over the Nile River, protecting her brother Moses.
As my younger brother and sister were baptized, I saw from a different vantage point what my own baptism must have been like. As a congregation member, or as a pastor, each time I participate in the baptism of a child or an adult, I remember my own.
Although we moved from that church when I was 18 months old, when I returned in college, the church welcomed me with open arms and several pots of Earl Grey tea. They excitedly showed me my name on the cradle roll, the wall of saints of everyone who had been baptized in that place.
This community had been praying for me since before my birth and are still part of that universal cloud of witnesses, despite our separation of 3,000 miles and twenty years.
After that pilgrimage to the church of my baptism, I traveled to another part of England. I met with my godfather, Rev. John Bennett, whom I had last seen a decade earlier. He had Parkinsons. His hands shook. He was no longer able to preside at the communion table—he would have dropped the communion bread and spilled the juice. He teared up when describing the loss of his motor skills. But still, he loved and prayed for me. John was part of that living cloud of witnesses, even across the miles.
This past Lent, twenty-eight years after my baptism, I shared my call story with the West Virginia Board of Ordained Ministry. I began my call story, as always, with my baptism at Hayeswater Road Methodist Church. As I was speaking, my godfather was being moved into hospice. After a decade of struggling with Parkinsons, John did not make it to Easter.
Every service of death and resurrection in the United Methodist tradition opens with these words:
“Dying, Christ destroyed our death.
Rising, Christ restored our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
As in baptism we put on Christ, so in Christ may we be clothed with glory.”
In baptism we die to our old life and are born from above—born anew.
The waters of baptism are the waters of God’s womb.
The people that we name on All Saints are ordinary people who died and rose with Christ in baptism. They were crucified with Christ, and given new life through water and the spirit.
This happened long before they crossed that Jordan River, representing the division between earthly life and heavenly life.
These saints at University United Methodist Church spoke promises over each person who was baptized here at UUMC. And they were here today, part of the great cloud of witnesses, at Keith’s baptism.
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us tell each other the stories of the saints. Which saints have pointed you to Christ? Who stood by you at baptism? What congregations have vowed to be with you on the journey? And who are you nurturing and praying for today?