Sunday, 13 June 2010

Beauty and the beast ... reflecting on Revelation 12 and the deeper meaning of baptism

Following the chaos that was air travel yesterday I had a great night's sleep followed this morning by a fairly unsuccessful attempt to find my way around Calvin College campus where I'm staying for the Uniting General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (soon to be called the World Communion of Reformed Churches). Having found my way at last to breakfast (late and rather lost) and got some tea I then went to church.
Here on campus there is a very lovely modern chapel built in the round which is the home to the Woodlawn congregation of the Christian Reformed Church. The music during the service was very lovely and it was interesting to sing words I didn't know to tunes I did - I think I realised that I never had sung "Torrents d'amour" in English before. The congregation were very welcoming particularly of the large group of young people from around the world who will be staffing the conference which begins tomorrow.
A father and daughter were baptised as part of the service today, both adult and infant baptism within one family. It had been the baptism of his earlier child that led the father to take this step in faith.
It was reflecting on the meaning of baptism that led the pastor to choose the text from Revelation of the slaying of the dragon of evil and the battle between the forces of good and evil. He preached well on how baptism is not a protection for our children or for ourselves, how this goes against the culture of security that reigns in society. So we contemplated St Michael slaying the dragon and thought about the temptation of safety in our lives and our churches.
Earlier in the service I had been a bit surprised to hear the pastor explaining baptism as a way of joining the institution that is the church, not as a response to Jesus' call to follow him - interesting. It was also a useful reality check for me to experience ordinary Sunday worship in the more traditional part of the Reformed family. It was a very structured service, very pedagogical and instructional but perhaps not quite liturgical enough for me ... very pastor led. I think I would have liked the adult getting baptised to say a little more about his journey with Christ himself rather than simply replying to formulaic questions.
Afterwards over coffee I had lots of interesting conversations and sensed amongst many a real openness and understanding to ecumenical and other ways of living life as a Reformed Christian, as well as a certain reticence amongst others - shouldn't the church concentrate on saving people rather than on social action?
I sense that the new Communion of Reformed Churches which will come into being here in Grand Rapids will have to work hard to try to hold together confessional and faith concerns with the deep desire for social justice. Many of the churches in the Global South do this naturally - it's part of being a Christian, as is praying and bearing witness. Somehow in parts of Global North some churches seem to have decided to say that they are either liberal or traditional and assume that those on the other side either don't pray or read the Bible or don't serve the world or speak out prophetically on social issues. Perhaps one day we will understand that the body of Christ is bigger, more diverse, more open and more challenging than any of us have dared to believe. A place of security from which we can find the courage to overcome the temptations of safety.


Mavis said...

Sounds so interesting Jane. Kerry will be there around 8 p.m. tomorrow (Monday). I do hope you two meet. But with the numbers expected I realise it may not happen. I've sent him off with your photo :-)

Jane said...

Look forward to meeting him - what fun to meet up via the blogosphere. I like that!

Mavis said...

Revised ETA 1245 am tomorrow