An Open Post to the Bishop

Good day, Bishop.

Thank you, so much, for a great annual conference in New England last weekend. I especially thank you for the recognition that the new local pastors received during the Ordination Service on Friday night. Having received my license in the last few months, it was nice to be recognized for that accomplishment. But more than that, it was wonderful for all of the local pastors to be recognized for the ministry that they (we) do within the Connection.

But I am writing you today as an act of confession. This year, I had decided to commute back and forth to annual conference for a number of reasons, not the least of which was my 8 month-old daughter ay home. Another reason was so that I would be able to provide pastoral leadership for our beach services on Sunday morning. They had just started up again for the summer and I felt as though the service needed the continuity, not to mention that we had added the serving of Communion to these services and I would need to be present to make that happen.

(This is where the confession comes in…)

After the 8 AM service on Old Orchard Beach, my wife and I took the baby home and had every intention of packing up the car and heading to Wenham for the final day of the annual conference. Unfortunately, through some act of divine intervention probably inspired by the unexpected beautiful weather, my vehicle missed its turn and we ‘ended up’ in Boston. So, we took advantage of this twist of fate and (sadly) skipped Conference Sunday.

But what we found was an amazing testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit in Boston. We walked around the city and eventually ended up at Boston Commons. We found three separate churches holding open air services while we were there. One of them (Park Street Church) was holding a big event called Picnic in the Park. Another, the ‘Open Air Chapel’, was serving the Eucharist to anyone that wanted to partake while providing some light music and meaningful liturgy. The third, a Spanish-speaking congregation, was holding their own private service of Communion while sitting quietly on the grass. There was such a strong presence of the Spirit in that park. God is truly moving us out of our comfort zones (our own churches) and challenging us to not “hide our lamps under a bushel”. It was a such a wonderful expression of the things that you and many others have been talking and preaching about over the past several years (and longer).

So, please forgive me for skipping the final day of conference. But also be encouraged that God is still in control of this part of the world and that the Spirit is moving more and more every day!

Baptism

As I am writing this post, I am getting ready to perform my first baptisms this coming Sunday. If everything goes well, I will be baptizing four babies and one adult as well as bringing several people into membership. It looks like it will be a pretty special day in the life of this Church and for me personally. But all of this preparation has made me contemplate the mystery of Baptism.

Article XVII of the Book of Discipline states that Baptism is “not only a sign of profession and mark of difference whereby Christians are distinguished from others that are not baptized; but it is also a sign of regeneration or the new birth.” The Book of Resolutions has a lengthy section adopted in 1996 called “By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism” that goes into great detail about the theological understanding of baptism, its necessity, and what it means to the believer and to the church.

But at its heart, Baptism is still a mystery.

We are baptized because Jesus was baptized. On that, every Christian can agree. But that is just about the only point upon which we all agree. Some denominations, such as the Baptists, only baptize adults or people of an age where they can make a conscientious decision to be Christians. Others, like the Roman Catholics, require the baptism of infants so that they may be cleansed of “original sin” and can be sanctified before mortal death. Some denominations insist that true baptism only occurs when a person is fully immersed in water. Others feel that a light sprinkling is sufficient. Some denominations require special water to be used. Still others feel that any water will suffice.

And still the mystery goes on.

John Wesley held firm to an Anglican understanding of baptism which held that “in baptism a child was cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into the covenant with God, admitted into the church, made an heir of the divine kingdom, and spiritually born anew.” At the same time, he acknowledged that baptism was “neither essential to nor sufficient for salvation” but was the “ordinary means” by which God used to give us the benefits of Christ’s workings in our lives.

I don’t know about you, but that still doesn’t really make it any easier for me to understand.

The truth is that Baptism is one of the two sacraments recognized by the United Methodist Church, the other being Holy Communion. Sacraments by definition are outward signs of an inward state and are meant to be the best way that we can openly show what is happening on a deeply spiritual level. They are, in essence, always a mystery.

I remember when I was baptized. I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect. I was called forward by my pastor and went through the ritual aspects of the baptism and eventually sat back down in my pew. And nothing at all happened. I wasn’t happier; I wasn’t more free; I wasn’t more generous, or less selfish. Life didn’t become easier or any less frustrating. I was simply a little wetter at the end than I was at the beginning.

What I later realized is that nothing is supposed to change when you are baptized. As Wesley says, baptism is “a part of the lifelong process of salvation.” It is an opportunity for the Christian community, what we call the Church, to formally recognize God’s work in your life through Christ. It is a community celebration of the cosmic kind and a point of contact between Heaven and Earth. It’s a mile marker along the highway of faith, but it is not the starting point or the end of the road.

It is a special time in the life of the believer and of the community at large. It can be a deeply spiritual moment, sometimes even more meaningful for the congregation than for the participant. It is often a time of celebration for families and renews the generational ties of a family to a particular Church or denomination. It can be all of these things, and more.

But, it’s still a mystery to me. Praise be to the God of Mystery, and for all of those who have passed this Faith on to us so that we may celebrate it’s mystery together.

Friday Night Thoughts

Friday night. The baby is asleep. Robyn is out with friends. I’ve got Bob Marley on iTunes. (“No Woman, No Cry”… my favorite Bob Marley song.) I should be tired, but I’m not. My mind is all over the place tonight. I can’t seem to get my thoughts focused enough to actually get anything done. I’ll do pretty good for a day or two, but then it all falls apart again.

Next week I’ll be driving back and forth to the New England Annual Conference for the United Methodist Church. I’ve been invited to participate in the Ordination and Commissioning Service because I got my Local Pastor’s license this year. But I don’t think that I really want to go. It is a fairly long event, and they are holding it on Friday night after dinner. I think I just want to get on the road and drive, but I’ll see. You only get your license once, but it’s not like this is ordination. It’s a big deal, but I hate taking myself too seriously. It simply doesn’t mean much of anything to anyone outside of the people who will be in that room that night. And I’m not out to impress them.

I have to really try to figure out what I need to do this summer with the older kids. Bekah and Caleb need to have a good summer, but I am working a lot this summer. Maybe I need a new job. I don’t seem to be getting ahead at all. As a matter of fact, I just keep getting further and further behind. But Bekah and Caleb don’t care about that. They just want to see their Dad, and I really want to see them, too. The more time I spend with Izzie the more I understand just how much I have missed with them. I owe them more than a few hours out of the summer, but I can’t take the time off to be the kind of Dad that I want to be.

Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep tonight.