As I was preparing to go to the Credo conference, the Continuing education event I was just at, I looked over the participants and realized that the only person I knew was someone who I friended on Facebook, but never met. This caused a little anxiety, especially since the focus on this conference was to explore our personal health and pastoral ministry.
Having taken the red-eye, I arrived well before anyone else so I took a nap. A few hours later I woke to make my way to the welcome reception. From across the room a somewhat familiar woman came towards me, “Bryan, Bryan Franzen.” It was a pastor who interned at the church where I grew up. While she had not worked with me, she worked with the Sr. High and was a favorite of both my oldest Brother and Mother. Actually, I often remember my mother talking about her in glowing ways.
As great as it was to see this pastor, I thought about how odd it was to have someone who knew me when I was 11 or 12. Of all the people in the world, what does it mean to have this person come back into my life? Strangely, that was not the last of those coincidences, as time progressed trough the week, I found out that one of the leaders was ordained in the church that my family attended until I was 6 and very likely was present at my baptism.
This realization made me think of the phrase “Remember your Baptism” from healing services, ordinations, commissioning, and so on. To me, that phrase has always seemed quite esoteric in my spiritual practice. Outside of reading my baptismal certificate and hearing stories of the day, I do not know much about my baptism first hand, I was an infant.
In some traditions, baptism is done at an age where the child or adult can make a personal commitment to Christ. Called Believers Baptism, for obvious reasons, the focus of that baptism is a personal transition moving from sinner to saved.
In our tradition, Baptism is recognition of the work that God has already done in us. This means that when we are baptized, the community is recognizing the acts that God is already doing within us. This welcoming mark of the grace sets us apart to live in faithfulness and community. Interestingly, in the baptismal service the congregation also takes on a crucial role; they covenant to raise the child (or adult), teaching them the mysteries of the faith.
The image of Baptism that comes to me is the Cloud of Witnesses found in Hebrews. That the Cloud of witnesses, the community, commissions us and reminds us of what is important and what is not, all while helping us find faithfulness to embark on a journey that will ultimately bring us to Christ.
Remembering my baptism is not about remembering the act, rather, it is to remind me that God did not put me in this world alone. God placed me in a home, called me into a community and gave me folks along the way to walk with me, guide me, and witness to me the presence and power of God. Even as a pastor, I forget that sometimes. Listening to the stories of the other clergy and witnessing to one-another our struggles and triumphs, showed me that God walks with all of us and when we break from our burdens, we can run this race stronger and quicker.
I guess what those two pastors symbolized to me was all the people that helped to shape and mold me. They reminded me that I have a whole group of witnesses who are around me, and I am not alone. It also reminded me that I am in community, and that I am in that Cloud for others, and I have the responsibility to care and teach. That “Both-And” participation is central to how we operate as a church and how we live out our baptism.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen