Re-claiming the font’s power

Published August 10, 2011

The baptismal font “should stop us in our tracks and remind us of the place from where we first came.” Photo: Patrick Duggan

Jesus said to his followers, and in turn says to us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Whether this makes us uncomfortable or not, this is God’s mission statement. It is a mission in which we have been invited to go out into the world proclaiming the love of God that is found in Christ Jesus and to make new disciples who will then share with others that same transformative love.

When I first arrived at the Church of the Transfiguration, in the diocese of Toronto, one of the first things I noticed was how invisible the baptismal font was to parishioners. Hidden in a northern transept of the church, one quite literally had to go looking to find it. After further inquiry, I realized that like many churches today, the font is wheeled in and wheeled out of the way, depending on whether the Sacrament of Initiation will be performed that Sunday. 

I have always found this to be a troubling concept; the idea that the place where Christians are born anew, the place where Christ’s Body is formed and made, could possibly be dragged in and dragged away, as though its importance should only be recognized when it is in full use. 

After discussions within our parish about the hot topic of baptism before communion or communion before baptism, our congregation decided that we first needed to re-evaluate our engagement with the sacraments involved. It was obvious that with baptism only taking place on a limited number of Sundays each year, the newcomer and even some parishioners, may rarely see the font’s power, function and influence.

So, on Trinity Sunday, we made the decision to transform our space.  Rather than keeping the font hidden in a corner, we harkened back to a tradition of the past, removing an entire section of pews at the entrance of our sanctuary to create a public baptistery that no one will ever miss.

Some might ask why we would put the font “in the way.” The answer may seem simple: baptism should be in our way. It should stop us in our tracks and remind us of the place from where we first came. It should prompt us to remember the promises we made to care for the sick and the lonely and the lame. It should be in the way of the newcomer, to whom God’s voice might just speak, calling them to the waters of the font, a place where they are invited, called and ever so desired to be.

We make a huge mistake when we hide the signs and symbols that we have been given and we make a massive error when we water down who God has made us to be. For the message of the Gospel proclaims aloud that we have been made different and that we have been set apart, when we become members of the Body of Christ.

God makes us different for a reason. God makes us different so that we might stand out. Like the candle and the font and the altar of the sanctuary, we are made to be Christ’s sign and symbol for our world. 

We listen intently for the voices of leadership in our church as they discuss the important issues of initiation and communion and we walk forward invested deeply in both, the places where we are created and sustained anew.

The Reverend David I. Giffen is pastor and priest-in-charge at the Church of the Transfiguration in Toronto.


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