My friend Sue lives 16 miles away, so we split the difference, got on our bikes and met in the small town halfway between us.
After some confusion (I always forget my phone) we met in a cafe attached to a community church, which was preparing for a baptism this Sunday.
I was invited to the service. The activities and customs of the human family can be a source of interest and inspiration, so that’s where I’ve just been.
Talk about warmth and energy.
All generations were there, in the modern purpose-built church, a large room complete with hatch with sliding covers leading to a kitchen, for refreshments afterwards.
There was singing of hymns that had words of simplicity and immediacy, displayed on a screen above our heads, to tunes that anyone could sing along to. There were comfortable conference-centre style chairs. There was a keyboard, guitar and tambourine. One of my godmothers was a lifelong member of the Salvation Army in East London, so I like a good tambourine.
Three members of congregation were presenting themselves for adult baptism.
The font is right next to the main entrance - take a wrong turn and you’re swimming for it.
There was a short testimony from each candidate in turn, then down the steps in tee shirt and shorts. Carpets were padded with towels to cope with the dripping afterwards. Complete sincerity and engagement was evident among the whole congregation, but in an informal, almost casual way. They were sitting or standing, taking photographs.
Then: ‘hold your nose, put your hand across shoulder’ and it’s backwards under the water for an instant before a smiling re-emergence. A
pposite Bible verses were spoken. For the pregnant candidate, fruitfulness was referred to and joking remarks were made about possible buoyancy issues.
It was a happy occasion, and despite the solemnity of the rite, lighthearted, and afterwards, like affectionate family members, people were embracing.
There had been mostly singing, with hands raised for emphasis or in agreement. Some other congregations may enjoy the sober reassurance of the structures and rhythms of a liturgy developed over centuries, but this congregation was feeling the love in an overt and unabashed way. The whole church was filled with it - total immersion even before the watery bit. I don’t want to become a Christian or to join their church but the experience can teach us all something.
Thank you Tony (on guitar) for inviting me.
Thank you everyone for receiving me with friendliness.
Your font is self-evidently in the wrong place but your hearts are in exactly the right place.