In my ministry, people often asked if they will need to get baptized again to become a member of St. Mary’s. If you have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then the answer is no. We don’t baptize people into the Episcopal Church; we baptize them into the body of Christ - the body of Christ that spans people, denominations, and countries around the globe. We don’t think we’re the only ones going to heaven.
I was baptized when I was five years old. As I stood at the front of Trinity Episcopal Church in Minnetonka, Minnesota, I distinctly remember my little kindergarten mind thinking, “Something big is happening to me right now.” Years later, I confirmed my baptismal vows. I didn’t know at the time how important those vows would become to me as I grew in my faith. There is more to them but I’m most thoughtful right now about the vows to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” and “respect the dignity of every human being.”
After a quick search of baptism liturgies for the other mainline traditions, none of them include the vows above. This speaks volumes about the way the Episcopal Church sees baptism – not as only something to be received but as a commitment to a way of life and not just study, prayer, and resisting evil but seeing Christ in every person. That is a high bar. Additionally, we promise to strive for justice which means we work to dismantle the structures that cause suffering - no small thing.
Another question I get is about “the rules.” This question makes me squirm a little bit because I usually feel my answer is inadequate. Growing up in the Episcopal tradition was never about following rules to express your faith. I was taught to try to emulate Jesus and get as close to God as I could and listen for the Spirit’s direction. We believe we are saved by grace and that everything necessary for salvation is contained in the Bible. Any “rules” we have are about how to live our common life as Christians and not as criteria for inclusion, forgiveness, or worthiness.
This does not mean that we have no expectations. Baptism in the Episcopal Church is not a quick admission pass to heaven. As the baptized, we receive new life in Christ and that new life should look different. So maybe a better question to ask is: What is it going to cost me? This question should probably scare us to death. Standing up for the scorned got Jesus killed. If you live in the United States, you likely will not have to die to love like Jesus but it will cost you something. These costs are likely related to comfort, status, wealth, or power. What are you willing to lose to love like Jesus?
Our Baptismal Covenant, among other things, very clearly charges us to live rebellious lives. I say rebellious because when you fully live into this Covenant, it will cause conflict. These vows are not about maintaining the status quo.
What sort of rebellion could we lead with two million Episcopalians in the United States striving for justice, seeing Christ in every person, and protecting the dignity of all humans? Let’s wade into the waters of baptism and make some waves.
For more inspiration, here is a link to one my favorite African spirituals, Wade in the Water. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiqQKZZo-Uc