Baptism and Lay Mystique
This contemporary translation sounds like a fashion tip for all of us who are baptized: Dressing and updating ourselves in an adult faith wardrobe.
It was a Sunday morning. In our local church, we were all excited about an infant to be baptized. The parents were bringing the baby all the way from North Carolina to Shrub Oak, New York for this special occasion, since this is the church where their family members have been baptized for generations.
Every eye in the congregation was on the picture-perfect baby in a picture-perfect dress. The dress was part of the family heirloom. Four generations of babies have worn that baptismal dress. The pastor sprinkled water on the infant’s forehead and pronounced the Trinitarian blessing.
Barely the church service was over and there was quite a different picture of the baby. Now in an adjacent room, the baby was without her long baptismal dress. I saw the grandmother trying to dry the wet dress.
Yes, there was an accident!
In a few minutes the baptism dinner would start a few miles away from the church. The grandmother was trying desperately to dry the dress which she had hand-washed in the restroom of the church.
I approached the grandmother and offered to help her saying that my house was just next door to the church, and invited her to come to my house to use my dryer. She politely declined my offer but willingly gave her heirloom in my hands thanking me for offering to dry the baby’s wet baptismal dress. I ran down to the parsonage, my house next door. While the dryer was running slowly, I was thinking about the precious heritage of the baptismal dress rolling in my dryer.
Is not baptism all about being wet? Novelist Ann Lamott says that baptism is one’s “willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched.”
Being wet and drenched.
In a few minutes the baby was fitted again into her flowing baptismal dress, now dry and comfortable, for the dinner and more pictures.
The lay mystique
St. Paul says that our baptism is not just washing us up for a fresh start but dressing us in an adult wardrobe. Whether sprinkled, dipped, or dunked, in baptism all are given a new identity, all are called and ordained to various ministries according to our diverse gifts.
We must put to rest the perception that only the ordained are called to ministry. Baptism removes what I would call the lay mystique, that feeling among many laypersons that they do not have a definite calling and identity, and that only clergy are ordained for ministry. This perception at the pew keeps lay women and men from growing into their full human maturity, identity, and personhood in Jesus Christ. It limits their potential in doing their inner work and putting on an adult faith wardrobe.
In the rapid flow of change which some call “white-water times,” the church needs lay people willing to grow into adulthood and maturity remembering their baptismal calling, and living into it. As religion has been relegated to the private sphere in our secularized culture, the pastors, too, as professional workers, are relegated to this private world.
The time has come for the lay women and men to put on their adult faith wardrobe, claim their baptismal identity as children of God, reposition themselves in the culture, and live out their gospel calling in order to make a difference in their communities.
All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27, Common English Bible).
Let us lay aside every lay mystique that sets us back in our onward journey. In the language of the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, adapted for our purpose here, let us look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith wardrobe (Hebrews 12: 1).
Glory E. Dharmaraj is director of spiritual formation and mission theology for United Methodist Women.