Letter to parishioners, 7 January 2022

Friday, 7 January 2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday the Church recalls the Baptism of Christ, that moment when we recall the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry; a moment when we should pause and reflect upon our own call to serve God. 

The Church of England has, for a very long time, adopted one of two attitudes to the subject of ministry. Either everything is left for the ‘vicar’ to do, or the ‘vicar’ is ignored and self-appointed laity cajole others into doing things ‘their way’. Of course, neither of these routes leads to the fostering of the Kingdom in this world; both approaches work against successful mission and ministry because they are rooted in inertia or the need to be ‘in charge’, neither of which reflect the unity and peace that Christ wants between all believers.

The Greek word which is translated as ‘church’ in the New Testament is ekklesia. A literal translation of this word is a ‘called-out assembly’. Throughout history other derivations and meanings have been explored by theologians and sociologists alike, but it is this original sense of the Church being a ‘called-out assembly’ that we should hold in our hearts as we reflect upon Christ’s baptism … and our own.

In the service of Holy Baptism it is essential that godparents or sponsors should be baptized. The reason for this is that they should be members of the ‘called-out assembly’ into which they are leading another person. Those godparents and sponsors should be ready to share the joy of their own baptism as they hold the hand and support others who are just embarking upon their journey of faith. The service of Holy Baptism emphasizes the ‘assembled’ nature of being a Christian. Those who are inactive and leave it all to others, and those who try to dominate others are seriously missing the point!

In the service of Holy Baptism three symbols are used. These signs of initiation link every new member of the Church directly to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The sign of the cross is made on the forehead of every candidate for baptism. This sign reminds us of and links us to the sacrifice of love made by Christ when he was crucified to bring redemption into the life of humanity. Baptism involves the use of water. Human beings cannot live without water; water is a symbol of life. Water is also used to cleanse. In the use of water we are having our sinful selves washed away as we begin a new life as disciples of Christ. At the end of the service each candidate receives a lighted candle. Traditionally that candle is lit from the Paschal Candle, the candle which is lit for the first time at Easter, marking the moment when the Church celebrates the moment of Christ’s resurrection and victory over death.

All who are baptized have experienced this ritual of initiation as they have been welcomed into the life of the Church. The big question for us today is: what difference does our baptism make in the way we live out our daily lives? How seriously do we take our membership of that ‘called-out assembly’ we call the Church? Are we one of those who are happy to sit back and leave mission and ministry to the clergy alone, or are we one of those who feel that we ‘know best’ and can simply ignore everyone else – just so we can get things done our way? I hope and pray that, as we recall the Baptism of Christ, we might find the humility of him who came to save us. I hope and pray that we might learn to love and serve in community. I hope and pray that their might be an end to both the inertia and the domineering which hinder rather than progress the mission and ministry of Christ’s Church on earth. I hope and pray that we might all recognize and fulfil our role as members of the community that is ‘called-out’ from the secular as we honour and serve the sacred – together!

With every blessing to you all,

Revd Stephen