Thinking Anew – What children teach us

The ecumenical nature of baptism is reflected in an agreed certificate of baptism listing some 22 churches on these islands including the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church. The notion that a child is baptised a “Protestant” or a “Catholic” is mistaken.

The ecumenical nature of baptism is reflected in an agreed certificate of baptism listing some 22 churches on these islands including the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church. The notion that a child is baptised a “Protestant” or a “Catholic” is mistaken.

 

There is a story told of a conversation between a woman and her young daughter who were attending a church which provided paper and crayons and other resources to assist younger members of the congregation during service. The mother asked the child what she was doing, and the child said that she was drawing a picture of God. When her mother suggested that was not possible because no one knows what God looks like, the child responded: “They will when I have finished my drawing.”

Tomorrow’s gospel reminds us that Jesus saw gifts in children not always recognised by adults: “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’” On another occasion he put a child among arguing disciples: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus and the little girl with her drawing were on the same page. We sometimes tell people to grow up; Jesus tells his followers to grow down and rediscover the innocence of children.

The Sacrament of Baptism is a welcoming of a child “in my name.” The 19th-century Anglican priest FD Maurice said that in baptism God is saying “that child is mine”. Maurice is stating the Christian belief that God does something in baptism which is for life.

It is a gift full of promise to which one has a lifetime to respond.

Erasmus maintained that a response was essential: “You have been baptised, but think not that you are straightway a Christian . . . The body is anointed, yet the mind remains unanointed. But if you are buried with Christ within, and already practise walking with him in newness of life, I acknowledge you as a Christian.”

Either way a baptised person remains a child of God whether he or she recognises it or not.

Baptism is not denominational and is understood to be valid by churches irrespective of where it takes place or by whom it is performed. The Roman Catholic Catechism states: “In case of necessity, any person, even someone not baptised, can baptise, if he has the required intention. The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptises, and to apply the Trinitarian baptismal formula.”

The ecumenical nature of baptism is reflected in an agreed certificate of baptism listing some 22 churches on these islands including the Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church. The notion that a child is baptised a “Protestant” or a “Catholic” is mistaken.

Meaningful denominational identity comes with nurture and engagement.

In the Church of Ireland service of baptism, for example, parents and godparents make a commitment to help the children they present for baptism to “take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church”.

In Celebrating Resistance: The Way of the Cross in Latin America, the German theologian Dorothee Sölle describes a baptism with a difference: “In Rio a group of Christians was working with street children, of whom there are 25 million in Brazil. Every day boys in the street got together at one spot to chat, to discuss their problems and share their fears and anger with one another. The church people consisted of a Catholic priest, a Methodist, a priest of the Umbanda cult, a Presbyterian and a young Lutheran pastor. One day one of the boys said that he would like to be baptised. When asked which church or church building he wanted to be baptised in his response was not what was expected: ‘Building?’ he asked. ‘No, in our church here on the streets. I want to be baptised here among us.’”

This time a child not so concerned with what God looks like as much as what God and church meant for him.

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