Tuesday, May 14, 2013

against my better judgement

I was baptized by a fraud.

I was only 11, so I don't really know all the scandalous details of the pastoral ethics. There was, I think, something about claiming degrees that didn't exist, secrets coming to light and, eventually, a defrocking.

What I do remember is someone asking me if I thought I needed to be baptized again, just so, you know, we could make sure it...took.

I did not think so. Once was hard enough.

In the Church of the Brethren, we practice believer's baptism. You have to be old enough to make a conscious decision to join the church, to follow Jesus. You have to be able to, as A. Mack said, count well the cost. Babies can't. Adolescents, apparently, can. As a youth minister who spends an above-average amount of time with 12 year olds, there are plenty of days I'd argue the point. But anabaptists we are, and 12 years old it is.

The fraudulent minister didn't really do a membership class for us. Years later, I and a couple of other kids did a class after church with his successor. Memory of that experience mostly consists of the inordinate amount of beef jerky we ate during those afternoons. Beef jerky and pork rinds. But for my actual baptism, there was very little instruction in counting the cost. I wasn't exactly sure what was happening. And nobody told me that once I got up there in the baptistry, changed out of Sunday dress and into old work clothes, kneeling in the water in front of the entire congregation with this guy who was rather intimidating and weird...nobody told me that I'd have to SAY anything.

But I did. The service started and I assume he said all the prescribed things - announcing who I was and that I had made this decision to be baptized, explaining why we baptize adults and not babies, etc., etc. And then, he asked me the question: "So, Dana Beth, why do you want to get baptized?"

I froze. First of all, this was not supposed to be about me having to speak in front of all these people. There would be dunking, and there would be praying, and nowhere in there would I have to SAY things. Second of all, I honestly wasn't sure why I wanted to get baptized. No one had asked me that before. It was just time, I was the right age, and there was a baptism scheduled. I'm sure I agreed to do it - no one forced me. But no one had asked me why I wanted to do it, either. Until that moment. And I had no answer.

If memory serves me, I sat silent for long minutes. The congregation knew me, knew I didn't speak up a lot, and my impression of their waiting for my answer is one of grace and encouragement. But the minister did nothing to encourage me. He knelt, silent himself, waiting. I can remember the sensation of my brain running ahead of me, knowing the answer but unwilling to relinquish it to my lips, unwilling to give it up to the public space, unwilling to share that inner certainty for fear it might be diluted. I remember the distinct tug of war between my brain and my lips, knowing I needed to say something, unwilling to speak the truth. Weird.

Eventually, truth won out - though all I could manage was a sentence fragment:

"Because I want to be a part of the church."

This Sunday, I'll be ordained as a minister of the gospel. There is all kinds of irony in that, and all kinds of sense behind it. Ordination is a calling out of leaders for the church. It is also reminder of the call we all answer in our baptism, the call to discipleship, the call to the priesthood of all believers. One of my good friends told me that ordination felt like a second baptism for her - the same sensation, the same certainty, the same grace.

I am not certain what ordination will feel like. I imagine that argument between my own private certainties and public proclamation will go on ad infinitum. But it's been twenty years, now. At the very least, I have learned some inner negotiating skill. I have learned to pay attention to that uptick in anxiety that means I ought to say the thing I'm thinking, out loud. I have learned that this is where the Spirit often works - right here in the midst of this very argument of public versus private. And my answer is still the same. If they ask me on Sunday why it is that I want to be ordained, I'll know the answer. And I'll know how to say it.

I want to be a part of the church. It's that simple. It's that ridiculous. It doesn't matter if I have to get baptized by a fraud. I don't care if this current iteration of church is a crumbling institutional nightmare. If they make me do credentialing processes twice over, well all right, then. Because I want to be a part of the church. I did then, I do now. Against odds, against logic, against - on many days - my better judgement. What more of an answer could I want?

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