Recently I have been pondering how I should approach these various ceremonies and considering whether I should be available to ‘one and all’ in the community or simply to people with whom we already have a significant relationship.
Up to now I have generally maintained a pretty open and flexible approach being willing to try and accommodate what people are seeking with what I hope to convey and I have generally tried to provide for anyone who has been interested. Its meant I have done a few baby blessings and an occasional wedding.
It was only as I was conducting a wedding a few weeks back that I had a sense of dis-ease about my approach to these events. I was doing it for a retic customer, someone I hardly knew, but who was a decent bloke. As I was fixing his retic he discovered I was a celebrant and offered me the ‘job’. I said ‘yes’ not really giving it much thought. We had met once before the wedding and I was simply the person with the legal right to pronounce them man and wife.
It felt a bit cold and hollow from my perspective and it has made me think twice about conducting these types of events with people I don’t know. Turning up to ‘officiate’ is very different from marrying people you are connected with.
Last night I had a call about ‘doing a christening’ and that sense of dis-ease flared up again. As I spoke with the person I found myself not sitting well with the idea, partly because of lack of relationship and partly because I felt myself slipping into that role of being the religious celebrant.
As we talked I explained that in Baptist churches we don’t christen but we do ‘dedications’, where we thank God for the child and the parents dedicate themselves to raising the child in the ways of Christ and to being part of a community that will support on them on that journey. This seemed to be ok with the person but I am not sure they grasped the implications.
As I spoke with the person last night on the phone I sensed someone who wanted an official religious person to perform a ceremony for them, because they had it done to them as a kid and it ‘would be nice’ for her daughter. It would also add weight to their private school application.
I see that we can look at this from two perspectives – the first is that it is an opportunity to help someone along on their spiritual journey and possibly to find faith. I have always held this perspective high. However the other way of looking at it is that someone simply wants to use the religious institution to perform a ceremony which has little real significance other than to be a family tradition and a rite of passage. I have no interest in being an offical holy man for people who have no real desire for faith.
I attended a sham of a christening when we first came here and watched two people make vows they knew they would never keep, we knew they would never keep and the minister knew they would never keep. It was a very disturbing service to be part of.
So last night on the phone I found myself asking a fair few penetrating questions to try and assess where this person was at and the responses really weren’t satisfying. I decided to be very blunt about the importance of raising a child for a Christlike life and the necessity of being engaged in a faith community for that to occur.
At first I was getting fairly simple ‘no worries’ type responses as if we were simply going thru some formalities, but as we went along and I expressed that I would want to meet with the parents to discuss their faith journey and the process from here in terms of helping the child on the faith journey I noticed the interest tempering.
So today I find myself ambivalent about this situation.
I have left the woman to consider whether she wants to take the next step of me meeting with her and her husband to discuss what is involved and what my expectations would be or if she wants to talk to another church.
My sense is that if nothing else my questions will have given her plenty to ponder and if we do end up meeting it will be interesting to see if they want to be part of a Christian community and to be helped in the process of raising a godly child.
I’d be interested to hear how others process this stuff.