This last week I heard a story that took place over thirty years ago which I felt was important to share. An individual was preparing to be baptized and was highly concerned about having to be submerged fully underwater. Her baptismal day came and she stepped into the water with the minister. The minister raised his hand and said, "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit." She was slowly brought down into the water however her face did not go under. This was something that had been planned because the candidate was uncomfortable with being dunked.
A week or so after the baptism, a few of the members went to the District President, who was in charge of a large area of churches, with their concerns. "She wasn't fully submerged underwater which means she was not really baptized", the members argued. The President told them she was baptized despite fully going under the water. However they pleaded with the President that she needed to be baptized again to ensure she was going to heaven. The President looked at them and said, "I can guarantee she is going to heaven." The group looked surprised and said, "How is that?" Answering the question the President said, "Well she will be walking around without a face but most of her will be there." The members immediately said, "That's Ridiculous!" The President looked at them and said, "So is this conversation."
Now that may not be the best way to handle people however it got the point across. Don't get me wrong here, rules, policies, and traditions have an important place in church practice however when they infringe on the personal livelihood of an individual than they need to be reexamined to see if they still fit this time and place. Many people have been hurt by past church policies, driving them away. Let's briefly explore the aspects of this today.
The story reminds me of the Simpson's episode where Ned Flanders wants to baptize Homer and Marge's children, though the children do not want to.
Traditional practices are fantastic ways to meet God and where many have met God through generations. They set the stage for God to meet us where we are. However the true impact of traditions are the personal relationship they have with the person and the community. The way it connects the person to God and those around them in their lives. When we became more interested in specific rules in place instead of how it personally impacts the person than we have missed the point.
Churches are usually very slow movers. This frustrates those on the edge of normal church practice. They love the community formed but cannot stand the slowness of the church to sustain practices that are inclusive of all people. This has driven people away because they cannot continue to comply with such traditions that do not match their true beliefs. However on the other end, changes have been difficult for others to accept because of practices or beliefs they continue to hold onto. Those in the first category hope for the day when change happens but struggle daily with the internal conflict of attending somewhere that doesn't match their beliefs. And those in the second category also struggle with the newness of finding God in a different and uncomfortable way. Change for all people is hard and gives us even more of a reason to dialogue and work together to form community. Through dialogue we find God in ways we may have never anticipated. The conversations about our personal beliefs is what forms community because we begin to understand who we feel God is in this world. I hope all of you can find a spiritual home where these conversations take place.
How many times have we been like Sheldon Cooper having to sit in the same place on the couch but in relation to church practices? Jesus was brought many people to heal or touch showing an extreme flexibility to the moment. So lets not get so caught up in how it has to be and ask the question can it still work this way? Let's hold to the practices that are meaningful to us but also be open to knowing God can meet us in other ways.
What traditions or practices have been powerful for you?
When have you been flexible in the way you worship?
How has change in practices, policies, or traditions impacted you?
Has your church changed too fast or too slow for you?
Thank you to all those reading along! Please contact us if you have something specific you would like us to write about. This week share a tradition or practice that has been impactful in your life with someone else.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.