We are Christians
We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. We are baptized into his death and resurrection. We strive to follow him in all things.
We are Catholics
Our faith and practice is grounded in the tradition of the Church–that is, what has been handed on to us– going back to Jesus and the apostles. (No, we’re not Roman Catholics, though we have much in common with our friends in that tradition.)
We are Anglicans
Our spiritual ‘DNA’ comes from the Church of England, and we are part of the family of 38 churches, all over the world, in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
We are Episcopalians
The Episcopal Church, established in 1789, is the American expression of Anglican Christianity. We are one of 110 dioceses that mutually support one another in a common doctrine, discipline, and worship.
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This is from the newsletter of St Andrew’s, Edwardsville, where the author, Fr Ralph McMichael is serving as interim rector.
The Diocese of Springfield is undergoing a transformation. It is a change that will not introduce anything new. Rather, it is the kind of change that happens when we get serious about our basic convictions and commitments. Provoked (an apt word here) and articulated by Bishop Martins, we are taking a hard look at the nature of the church, while recognizing that the culture in which we once ‘thrived’ is no longer there. Instead, we are in the midst of an ever-expanding secularity where all things Christian are ignored, caricatured, or derided. It is a mistake to long for the good old days when this was a ‘Christian’ society, and when there was a prevailing morality that we found amenable for our purposes. The fact is that we were in denial about how Christian things really were in the world and in our own lives. Anytime we look to the outside of the church for validation or elucidation we are on the path to distortion, and even to a disguised infidelity. And this brings us to asking about being a Eucharistic community.
The Bishop has begun to refer to all of the parishes and missions of this diocese as Eucharistic communities. This is how we are naming ourselves so that we can name the church and the world in ways that keep them both distinct and related. The church is a Eucharistic community and the world is not. While there are many types of communities, and while we often hear the positive call for ‘community building,’ only the church is a Eucharistic community because only the church celebrates the Eucharist. We are distinct from all other communities, or would-be communities, because we celebrate the Eucharist. This is our identity, and it is our vocation to bring the world into this community.
The Eucharistic community is a group of people who already belong to each other through “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.” Hence, they come to gather to celebrate, share, proclaim, and receive the life of this one Body of Christ. Whatever else this group does or says, thinks or experiences, plans or hopes, is to be rooted in, and accountable to, this celebration of the Eucharist. That is, whenever we ponder a possible action, consider a plan for the future, or make any decision about our common life, we are to ask ourselves one question: Does this make Eucharistic sense? Is this a Eucharistic action? Now, in order to ask this question with the authenticity it requires, and to explore an appropriate answer, we need both awareness of, and formation in, this Eucharistic community. Throughout the rest of this year, each of my articles for The Shield will reflect on one aspect of being a Eucharistic community. Of course, we do not have to go through the whole year to know who we are. We can come together and celebrate the Eucharist every Sunday.
On the weekend of February 2 (Candlemas), I presided, preached, baptized, and confirmed at the Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston … South Carolina, that is, not Illinois. Yes, that’s a little bit out of my bailiwick. But, through an instrument created by the House of Bishops for certain anomalous situations called Delegated Pastoral Oversight (DEPO), I am “Bishop Visitor” at Holy Communion, providing sacramental and pastoral care on a regular basis. (I also have another DEPO parish in the Diocese of Mississippi–Trinity, Yazoo City.) It was my great joy to baptize the two young ladies shown here (who happen to be aunt and niece–aged 13 years and four months, respectively) on that visit. We had enjoyed a solid final session of pre-baptismal catechesis with the baptizands, parents, godparents, and confirmands the day before. The liturgy at Holy Communion is gloriously rich in the old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic tradition. I felt like I was floating off the ground during the procession to the font, while we sang Veni, creator spiritus–indeed, the Holy Spirit was almost palpably present. What fun it was!
Lent is now just a little bit over the horizon, so I guess I’m in a baptismal mood. Whatever else we’ve laden onto Lent by way of personal disciplines (which often turn into endurance contests that incite pride rather than holiness), its underlying reason for being is to support the Church’s habit of making new Christians at the baptismal font on Easter (the Vigil thereof, to be specific). We walk the way of Lent in solidarity with those who will profess publicly the Lordship of Jesus the Christ, renounce everything that works against human beings (including themselves) flourishing the way God intends, and promise to serve and obey him for the rest of their lives … and beyond. Baptism is not for the faint-hearted. It’s strong medicine. It drwarfs any other commitment we will ever make.
Still, we have managed to domesticate it. We have taken something quite wild and dangerous and tidied it up, making it presentable in polite society. Several years ago I was a candidate to become rector of a particular parish. At the telephone interview stage, someone on the search committee asked me my views on “private baptisms.” Apparently it was an “issue” in the parish. Without being pugnacious, I was completely honest, and explained that baptism is by its very nature a public act in which the whole Christian community has an investment, and so a genteel event on a Saturday afternoon for the family and a few invited guests is incoherent on every level. This was evidently the “wrong” answer, as I was soon thereafter dismissed from the process. I rejoice that we have pretty much moved away from that model, and have firmly situated the sacrament of Baptism in the context not only of the Eucharist but–even more significantly perhaps–the Eucharistic community. This recovery of theology and practice is what has made possible experiences such as the one I shared in on Candlemas.
But we’re not home yet. St Paul speaks of being “buried with Christ in baptism.” Baptism is by nature a death, a drowning. We implicate ourselves with Jesus in his death so that we may be implicated with Jesus in his resurrection. This is why there is such a bond between the celebration of baptism and the celebration of Easter. Yet, in the typical baptismal font in an Episcopal church (and most other churches, for that matter), one would be hard pressed to fill it with enough water to make it a credible drowning hazard. We don’t fence off our baptismal fonts for fear that someone might accidentally fall in and drown.
One drop of water is all that’s necessary for a valid sacrament; don’t hear me wrong. But do we really want to settle for mere validity? Would we not rather have a sign that is as robust as the sacrament itself? This photo was taken in late 2010 on one of my last Sundays as rector of St Anne’s in Warsaw, Indiana. One of the discernment clues that led me to accept the call there in 2007 was the presence of an immersion font for baptism (and an accompanying healthy baptismal piety among the parishioners). When a baptism happens in that church, it’s a big deal, and there’s no doubt that something pretty darn important has happened. The size of the sign is commensurate with the size of the sacrament. Yes, it’s a great deal more trouble, and creates certain complications. But in my experience, it’s all worth the effort.
As we begin to get our footing as the people of God in a radically secularized society, I am convinced that the single most important metric of church health and missionary vitality will be the number of adult baptisms. Bringing an adult to the font will be a long and complex process, but the demands of the vows and promises of baptism will be seen in ever starker contrast with the demands of the surrounding society. The weight of making that commitment will demand an equally weighty sacramental sign. A baptismal font that holds enough water to present a plausible drowning risk will be what is called for.
There’s an astonishing amount of inertia against what I’m proposing here; I realize that. But as we get around to renovating and reconfiguring the spaces in which we worship, or–may it please God–building new ones, we will want to have this in mind.