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Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Baptismal Love Letter: Taylor Grace

“Hear the parable of the sower . . .” Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 13, 2008 – Pentecost IX
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton, rector and pastor

Dear Taylor,

What a delight to have your baptism today! You hold the distinction of being the 1001 person on record to be baptized at St. Paul’s Church. That is significant on several levels, none the least of which is that this is your ‘family church.’

Your mother and your mother’s parents have a long history of membership in this church, back when it was affectionately known as “The little white church,”

Indeed, your mother was baptized here on June 13, 1974 and, while you are #1001, she holds the distinction of being #582 in the parish register of baptisms.

So, even though you don’t live close enough to this church at this time to be a member of this church, we’re still baptizing you here today.

This church has been important to your mother’s family for several generations. I hope, one day, it will be important to you.

The gospel lesson about the parable of the seed is a most appropriate one for me to explain the relationship a family can have with a church which, over the years and succeeding generations, can come to have deep meaning beyond mere nostalgia and romanticism.

Taylor, I want you to know that when your mother was still pregnant with you, she called me about your baptism. Soon after she explained the reason for her call, she began to talk about her time as a child here at St. Paul’s.

She had very fond memories of Christmas Pageants and learning what it takes to serve as an acolyte and carrying the torch candles just so.

She remembered running through the Parish Hall and having one of the parents scoop her up and sternly asking her to walk . . .walk . . .walk so she didn’t fall and hurt herself (somethings never change).

She remembered learning about her faith in Confirmation Class and then the day the bishop came to the church for the Sacramental Rite of Confirmation.

At first, you could hear in her voice that she wanted to convince me that she was a bona fide member of St. Paul’s so wouldn’t deny her the opportunity to have you baptized here.

And, yes, you could also hear her wax nostalgic for the good old days here at St. Paul’s. The more she spoke, however, the more you could hear in her voice that she knew this was the right thing to do.

That it was, in fact, important to baptize you here – for you, for her, for your father and brother, for your grandmother and the rest of your family. Slowly, she came to realize that St. Paul’s was her spiritual home.

We often talk about “roots” – putting down roots somewhere to make a home, or having roots firmly planted in a place far from where we actually live that will always be home. I have a “church home” at St. John the Evangelist in Boston where worked for two and a half years, as well as The Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland, Maine, where I was received into the Episcopal Church and which sponsored me for ordination.

Churches are like that. They are the place where the seeds of faith, the words of Holy Scripture and our call to community in Christ are scattered. The community that is here, Taylor, and how we live the way of Christ as we know it in Holy Scripture are part of the roots that are invisible in your soul.

These seeds were planted in your soul before you were even born, because a seed had already been planted in your mother’s soul and her mother’s soul before her. Those seeds grew and put down roots and they have borne much great fruit.

The seeds are not planted in soil but in the human soul. They are nourished by the waters of Baptism and fed by the sacrament of Eucharist. They are sustained by the experience of re-living and re-enacting the story of Christ – of his birth during the Christmas Pageant, his life and death during Holy Week and walking the Stations of the Cross, and his resurrection in the glorious celebration of Easter Day.

These are the things that bind you here, Taylor, you and your brother and your family. The seeds of Scripture and Christian community that your parents and godparents are responsible for tending over the years – to make certain that you learn about the stories of who God is and why Jesus was sent to live among us, and how the Holy Spirit works in our lives now, and constantly reveals God’s presence in us and in the world in the future.

Dawn and Robert are not just here for the one-day honor of being your godparent. They are here today to make a lifetime commitment of tending the seeds: the Word of God implanted you as a new member of the Community of Christ.

They are responsible for nourishing the roots of your faith, so that you make grow, as the prayer in our Baptismal liturgy petitions, into” the full stature of Christ”.

The work of watering and tending your faith will be taken on by your parents and Godparents and your community of faith until you come to the day of your Confirmation, the day when you take these vows and promises as your own responsibility, and you take your own unique place in Christian community.

That place may be here, eventually, but it will probably be in another church, in another place, with another Christian community. Not to worry. We don’t just say, “We believe in one Lord, one hope, one faith, one baptism.” We really mean it. Your membership is not only here, but wherever you go.

Indeed, your membership in the community of saints is not just about here and now, but also in the great by and by – with all your relatives who loved this church and now rest eternally with Jesus. That’s part of the mystery of planting the seeds of faith deep in the good soil of your human soul.

Just know, Taylor, that no matter where you go, no matter where you happen to find yourself, no matter where you’ve been or who you think you’ve become, this place will always be your spiritual home.

Home has been described as the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. And, rest assured, we always will.



Fran said...

I so love that you do this and that you post these letters here.

What a gift to Taylor and to us all.

God bless you Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Fran. I have come to really love the opportunity to write these Baptismal Love Letters. They really make me think about different aspects of the great gift of the sacrament of baptism through the lens of the gospel message.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

These are always so marvelous...and each time they make me remember my own Baptismal Covenant...wants me to say boldly, "I will, with God's help!"