I also baptize people on Sundays or Tuesdays or any other day. I baptize people in “worship” on a Sunday morning, and outside of the context of the normal worship service. I don’t just do this in “extra ordinary circumstances” and I would even do it during the church season of Lent.
I know that in seminary the professor who teaches this kind of thing would pre-arrange to have a grave that would keep him rolling over throughout eternity over this. I know some of you pastor-types will have issues too. I know because I just baptized a one year old who had not been baptized yet because another pastor apparently said no. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about why they couldn’t do it in a Sunday morning service. The surface answer was that they had trouble finding a time to get everyone together. I accepted that.
I understand that Lutherans believe the community has a role in baptism, making promises to support these people being baptized throughout their life’s journey. I also tell people this when they ask me about having a baptism outside of the context of the church. But if they begin to look defeated and tired, I tell them this is what is preferred but there is space to talk about doing something differently.
I work in a church for half of my job, but in the other half I work outside of traditional church with a lot of people in their 20’s and 30’s who don’t go to church. The ones who don’t go to church usually have some story in their past that is about some kind of rejection from the church, and I am trying to prevent that from happening.
I also do it because of this: I believe people who read the Bible and understand it as holy were given the task of going out and baptizing. The author who wrote that Jesus said that did not say “in worship on Sunday mornings with a whole faith community gathered” and he did not say “but not in the season of Lent” (the season of Lent didn’t exist yet). The way I understand baptism, it is one way we know of God’s Grace in our lives. It is about what God does and not about what we do (and I believe that means both those being baptized, and me, and the rest of the community gathered). I don’t believe that others being present who are not family or friends hinders the Holy Spirit in any way.
Let me tell you about my Godchild, Sunday. She was baptized on a Sunday, but it was after all the “faithful people” gathered had gone home. Just the family gathered around the font. None of us went to church that morning. The pastor didn’t even say all the words that are normally in the service (no worries; I said the words later in the lake, even though I wasn’t a pastor. I marked her with the sign of the cross and told her I welcomed her into God’s family, received her a fellow member of the body of Christ. I told her she was a child of the same heavenly creator and a worker with us in the kingdom of God. I said it for all of you who consider yourselves to be part of the body of Christ who could not be present at that lake that day.)
This baptism happened outside of the context of Sunday morning worship because Sunday’s Mom and Dad didn’t go to church, and felt weird going back.
Sunday’s mom was a college friend of mine, and we had worked at a Bible camp together. Later, she got pregnant and eventually married this guy in a band, who smoked a lot of weed and had a lot of disdain for most of Christianity because of the particular brand of fundamentalism he had been surrounded by in high school. But Sunday’s mom still wanted her kids to be baptized, so this was the compromise.
Some of you might be thinking about those promises parents make during the baptism: to raise your child among God’s faithful people, to place in their hands the Holy Scripture, to bring them to God’s table, etc. You might be thinking that people like this make a sham out of baptism, because clearly they have no intention of living up to these promises, so it renders baptism totally meaningless.
Sunday was baptized 14 years ago this past month. In October she will affirm her own baptism in a confirmation service that will likely be led by her mother–Pastor Chris Manisto. Chris was ordained in July of 2008, after a wandering path that reminds me that Tolkien was right–not all who wander are lost. Sunday and her dad (now sober for more than ten years) regularly sing together in church, and her older sister spent her summer first doing a Theology and Science camp, and then a border experience with a group of young leaders in the church.
I think they are all living into their baptismal promises. More than that it seems clear that God showed up on that day, even though it wasn’t during Sunday worship. More than that, I have no doubt the Holy Spirit is able to work in all kinds of circumstances.
If you are a Lutheran, and you want a good “Lutheran” reason for baptizing whenever, I’ll say this: Luther responded to some issue in the church by saying something like, “It may be good theology, but it’s bad pastoral care. And if it is bad pastoral care, it is bad theology.”
But mostly I’ll end by saying this: I promise to do the best I can to not let the church get in the way of the Holy Spirit. In the name of God who is still creating, sustaining and redeeming, Amen.