Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Church Baby

Yesterday was Z's first birthday! Nathan and I are pretty proud of ourselves for getting through the first year successfully. (I realize many of you more veteran parents are smiling indulgently at that last sentence.) We celebrated with a spaghetti and meatballs lunch, which Z ate all on his own, followed up with chocolate cake, which he also ate on his own. We've discovered Z has a terrible liking for chocolate, and makes a funny chuckling noise whenever he's allowed to eat it. We had chocolate brownies a few days earlier when we celebrated his birthday with our good friends the Fishers. We took brownies and icecream over to their place and had a little birthday party in the back yard.

Here's Z eating his icecream.

Niamh (that's pronounced Neve -- it's Irish) gave Z a little star-spangled beanie-baby. He really loved the wrapping paper, which Niamh actually made herself at school.

Aoife (pronounced Eefa) gave Z a cute little stuffed bunny, which is in the red present waiting to be unwrapped. The girls, especially Niamh, love Z to death!

After the feast!

Several other people from church remembered Z's birthday, which was really nice. One older lady from church gave him a card which I thought was wonderful, as it was addressed simply to "The Church Baby". Z is usually the only baby at church, but I think he really is the church baby in a deeper way. I've found it very interesting this year attending a church which does not have a systematic program of "family friendliness," because I've actually found it to be more "friendly" to Z than some churches who make that their slogan. This friendliness to Z consists mostly in simply including him in the regular life of worship. There is a nursery (for which I am very grateful!), but the children come back to the service for the eucharist, which is received every Sunday. During the Eucharist (the entire liturgy), Z is included as a member of the church, one who has been baptized into the body of Christ. For example, when we pass the peace, nearly everyone who speaks with Nathan and I also gives Z's hand a little shake and tells him, most sincerely, "Peace be with you." When it is time for the supper itself, we take Z up to receive the bread and wine, and although he's not old enough to eat or drink yet, the priest always gives him a blessing, including him in the grace of the meal. It's a wonderful practice, and draws children, including infants, into the life of the church in a way that I believe is indicated in their baptism. "Family friendly" churches tend to hustle the children away to do their own thing, and allow the parents to concentrate on the service, and I definitely think this has its place and can be very appropriate. However, I have never approved of excluding baptized children from the Lord's Supper, whether it's an accidental exclusion (they're in the nursery when everyone is receiving the Supper) or an intentional exclusion (they're too young to understand so they shouldn't be allowed to participate. Good grief! I'm too young to understand!) So I believe that Z really is "the church baby," or, perhaps a better way to put it, the church's baby.

I am thankful for this since it is validation of our prayers at his baptism -- that he would belong to Christ and his body, the Church. Too often it seems infant baptism becomes a "family" event, rather than a church event. Infant baptism is not the family (i.e., parents, grandparents, etc) claiming their child for God; it is God claiming that child for himself, his kingdom and the Church. If anything, it is an event which marginalizes the family in the life of the child, for he too will be called to "leave houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields" for the sake of Christ (Matt. 19:29).

Several years ago I read Hudson Taylor's autobiography (which, by the way, is wonderful). As Taylor is getting ready to set sail for China, his mother comes on board the ship to say goodbye to him, probably forever. She tells Taylor that she and her husband had prayed, from the day that he was born, that he would be a missionary for the Lord. Even at his very birth, she prayed, essentially, that God would take him away from her in his service. That's someone who knows what it means to baptize a baby.

Nathan and I are trying to learn that same lesson, and at Z's baptism we had this song played, because it has that same theme. This child belongs to God, to do with as he will. All we can do is trust the holy God.

"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death" (Heb. 11:17-19).


Anonymous said...

We certainly miss "our" church baby and wish him a happy birthday! It seems like just yesterday I was holding him at our church picnic before you guys left. I was also reminded of the song that was played for his baptism as 2 weeks ago we went through the story of Abraham again. We miss you both as well! Do you know yet when you are coming back to SF?
Christina W.

Flame Lilly said...

Happy Birthday Z! Looks like he had a wonderful day- chocolate & all! I loved your post too -it was beautiful!

Steven said...

All good theology, Christina. Strange to think that in the land of the Covenanters, you would be finding the deeper meaning of the covenant within what sounds like an Anglican liturgy, and the life the grows out of that in the congregation.

I'm glad to hear that you have found good people to worship and work among in your life there.

Uncle Steve

Ron&Kathy said...

I love "the Church Baby", the phrase, the incident that coined it, this entire post and, of course, ...the baby.

Meliss said...

Thank for sharing your thoughts on the Lord's Supper and baptism. I have been thinking the same thing about communion for a while now, but sometimes it is hard to buck "this is how we've always done it."