When my family and I started regularly attending Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church last year, I was broken. I had finished my MTS in Biblical Studies as my husband weathered an unexpected job change. I had reached the end of my ability to endure systemic racism and misogyny, and had surrendered my ministerial credentials. I had given up the idea of planting a church, because the advice I received sounded too little about sharing God’s love, and too much like collecting a personal following. I lived in Boise, but I no longer knew why. I couldn’t stomach one more church service at which I was instructed to raise my hands, do a dance, interpret the Bible in this, the one, precisely correct way, etc.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a Christian anymore. After all, I’d attended a couple of incredible concerts in May (Violent Femmes and Florence and the Machine), and I knew that the euphoria of a great concert and the euphoria of a great worship service were disconcertingly similar.
Did God really exist? If so, why were 1/4 families in the Church struggling with domestic violence? Why were such an enormous percentage of pastors addicted to pornography and other sexual sins, and why did the “Christian” message around me seem to be all about keeping women (and men) and our sexuality in their proper place, and so little about God’s love? Why, when I told other female scholars what I wanted to research and write my doctoral thesis about, did they involuntarily gasp, school their faces into pity, and whisper, “oh… you’re going to get into trouble.”
Why, why, why?
I was over it. So over it, that I told Aaron that taking me to one. more. church. where they taught the “only” way to be Christian would be the end of my faith.
But, I’d invested the vast majority of my life in being Christian–an Uber Christian, in the face of an ever-evolving metric. I LOVED the history, the Wind of the Spirit, the practices, and the texts that rested under the trappings of American Christianity. I wanted to recite the Creeds, to pray Ancient prayers, to hear scripture read aloud, to pass the peace, to partake in Eucharist. I wanted to experience the presence of God. I needed to know that God was still there, even if I couldn’t see God’s face reflected in the public face of the “Church” anymore. I needed a space in which to be Christian, wherein I wouldn’t be required to exclude ANYONE from my love, or from the Kingdom.
So, we kept going back to the Episcopal Church, hearing the scriptures, praying the prayers, reciting the Creeds, and taking the Eucharist. Again and again, there was a tremendous amount of scripture read, and seemingly endless prayers offered. I heard the Holy Spirit referenced, and honored, in direct contrast to what I’d been taught about “Liberal” churches. My idea of what it meant to be a Christian was confronted, and found wanting. But, I kept going, because the weekly ritual provided something predictable, something older and wiser than myself, as I floundered.
And every Sunday, I’d walk past the Baptismal Font.
The Baptismal Font at St. Stephen’s is a rather plain affair.
It’s solid, and ready to withstand jostling. The bowl nested in its top is plain, white, and hand thrown. The central surface is leftover from an older font, which has been incorporated into its current, strong iteration.
I walked past it for months, never dipping my fingers into its water, never knowing quite how that whole “crossing oneself” thing worked. And for months, I thirsted. I thirsted for the presence of God. I thirsted for some small experience of the Spirit. I was raised in the Church of speaking in tongues, dancing, and being slain in the Spirit. Experience is king, and I missed it, even while I doubted my memories of it. What was real? What was manipulated?
Finally, after months of ignoring the font, I obeyed its whispered call.
“Remember your baptism.”
So, I did it. Dipping my first two fingers in the water, I brought my fingers to my forehead.
At that moment, as my wet fingers touched my forehead, in the absence of worship music, with the lighting up too high, with children misbehaving behind me, I felt it.
In that moment, I felt the love of God pierce my despairing heart like a blazing sword. The touch was overwhelming, and undeniable. I was left shaking, to stumble to my seat and stare dumbly back at the baptismal font.
“Remember your baptism.”
When the Church lets you down. When the Bible doesn’t make sense. When you experience abuse and betrayal and abandonment. When the people who do it are elevated and admired in the organizations that claim the name of Christ.
“Remember your baptism.”
Then, “Go from here in peace. Remember the poor, and be kind to one another. And the peace of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one God, and Mother of Us All, be upon you. Amen.”