Need for care in contact.
Priorities in Preparation.
Private Baptism Policy.
Marriage with baptism.
|There are few pastoral issues more
fraught than the situation where a member feels led to seek what is
generally called "second" baptism. We offer the
following true story as pastoral experience without theological argument!
|“I’ve been reborn again”
John Hartley recalls a member of his previous congregation.
Rose (all names are changed) had been baptised as a baby, confirmed as a teenager, a lifelong stalwart of the local church, and had raised money for the church roof for longer than I (the new vicar) had been having hot dinners. By the time I arrived she was already in her late sixties, suffered diabetes and other complaints, recently bereaved, and like many others very discouraged about the church roof. She was no longer a regular, and I remember visiting her in hospital after a bad episode with the diabetes. ‘I’m not that bad yet!’ she proclaimed to the whole ward, and maybe the shock of the vicar’s visit was a factor in her rapid recovery?
At all events, Joan was befriended by Ivy, a very lively widow from the local Pentecostal church, who had a real ministry to others in similar circumstances. Through Ivy’s care and her many ways of dropping Jesus into conversations. Joan came to a personal faith which completely transformed her life: becoming regular at church, cheerful and prayerful in her daily life, keen on reading her bible, forgiving others in her street (don’t get me on the subject of her
neighbours!), and even believing that God could reroof the church (which he did, but that’s another story). I must admit I was delighted at the change - it warms the clergy’s heart!
Rose had a strange way of speaking about her experience: she would use the words “reborn again”. Her childhood faith and her teenage confirmation were obviously real to her, and her experience in retirement was God’s fulfillment of her journey so far, not its denial.
Anyhow, one day after the morning service, she dropped the bomb. “John, I’ve decided I want to be
baptised,” she announced. I drew a deep breath and mentally rehearsed all my reasons for believing that baptism is once for all. At the same time, I could see that she would want some opportunity to nail her colours to Jesus’ mast, and I would want to support her in this. The spectre of Colin Buchanan’s ‘immersion with renewal of baptismal vows’ raised itself in my mind.
Rose, meanwhile, was explaining to me how baptism by ‘going down into the waters’ was in the bible, and it was a witness of her being reborn again - I couldn’t disagree with her here. And then the punch-line: ‘And they’re having baptisms at Ivy’s church on (whatever date it was) in the evening, so I’ve asked Pastor Nigel if he will baptise me then.’
‘Right-o, Rose,’ I made an instant decision, ‘but I’m coming to support you.’ (We had no evening service, so no conflict of time was involved.)
The Pastor agreed I could say a few words. so after Rose’s tongue-tied testimony I spoke along these lines: ‘You will know that the Church of England believes baptism is once for all, and maybe we aren’t united in doctrine tonight. You could say Rose has been a Christian for many years, and you could say she has come into a new relationship with Jesus just recently. Either way, this service is about witnessing that Rose is going on with Jesus, and I support her in saying that. And although she might not be very good with words, I want to say that I can see the difference that Jesus has made in Rose’s life, and that’s why I’m here to support her tonight.’
I had a round of applause for my short speech, and I think it helped build ecumenical bridges. My support for Rose meant there was no chance of defection or sheep-stealing from her local church. It also took the wind out of the sails of some of the local residents, unregenerate but Anglican, who felt Rose’s faith as a threat and who wanted the chance to avoid taking her seriously. Although I still think baptism is once for all, I would do the same again - far better to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.