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One Woman's Opinion

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A November Christening

by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Over the years, I have learned that telephone calls from children fall into three categories: Big Trouble, Good News, or “I just wanted to talk to you, Mom.”

Last month I had number two category. The Good News was my son, Wake, and his wife, Lori, of Ripley, West, by God! Virginia, wanted to bring home their baby, Joseph, to be christened at Christ Church.

Hurrah! Strike up the band! Oh, how Virginians love for children living in faraway places to come home with their babies to our church for some love and affection, Virginia style.

The next weeks were concerned with those pesky details that arrive with every big event like an army of flies. Who would be Godparents, when would the service take place, which members of the family should be invited, what to wear, and so forth.

The date, November 16, on the cusp of Thanksgiving, arrived quickly. Not until after a three-day rain, however, that turned the streets of Urbanna into rivulets and the leaves on our lawn into a soggy carpet that no rake could remove. But who cared? We joyfully awaited our children’s arrival, with black lab, “Shadow,” to add to our usual golden menagerie.

On Sunday morning we were scrubbed, dressed in Sunday best and headed for the old Colonial brick church we love so well, established in 1666, just off Route 33 next to Christchurch School. The rain was over, the storm clouds had gone out to sea, and the sun was as bright as butter.

We live in a beautiful world. No matter what income, age, race, religion or gender, we all share this treasure we know as home. Middlesex County, that enchanted plot of land so nicely tucked betwixt rivers and bay, is especially comely in November with its royal colors flying high from every tree.

I was struck by the history of Christ Church as we drove to our grandson’s christening as had done so many generations before me. Christ Church is so much a part of Middlesex and much of our history, dating back to the Colonial era, can be gleaned simply by reading Vestry notes that were compiled over the centuries.

I was mindful of those who came before me as I turned into the church parking lot and also of thoughts on how important churches are for the special times in our lives. How the unchurched survive these important passages in life is beyond imagination, but perhaps they have found other alternatives to the big feasts in life . . . such as weddings, christenings and funerals. Such times when family and friends come together to share the most human of all times in love, faith, hope and even grief. Such times trigger thinking far beyond the seen horizons.

I found parents and grandson in the parish hall nursery room. Joseph was being dressed like a little prince in a long white christening gown and matching bonnet that tied neatly under his chin. He seemed to be wondering why he was being dressed in such a fancy get-up. Perhaps his 10-month-old brain was not so pleased. I thought I saw a lower lip readying for a testy cry. Oh no! Surely my grandson would never give out a huge shriek during his christening in Christ Church!

But when he was carried by his mother to the baptismal font, the same font where his great grandfather George Patterson Wakefield, was himself christened for the first time in his life, at age 89, Joseph was nothing but the picture of contentment. Even as Father Paul Andersen salted him, blessed him with water, oil, and even anointed him with special chrism that had been blessed by the bishop in Richmond—not only on his forehead but the top of his head, behind his head and on the tips of his ankles, in order to have God always above, below, in front and behind him his entire life long—there was not even a suggestion of whimper.

Even when Father Paul officially welcomed him to the church and the congregation applauded their newest Christian, little Joseph did not cry. Not even when the priest swept him from his mother’s arms and paraded up and down the aisle to show him off to those assembled. But, when Father Paul carried him to the altar, and just before a bolt of lightning and a realm of angels came down to sing from on high, there was a winding up of a good yelp. Father Paul quickly returned Joseph to his mother. I have never seen a priest move so fast in my life.

Later, Father Paul explained the rites to me. “As someone recently shared with me, in an era in which everything seems to be ‘modern’ and ‘cut to the bare bones,’ it is nice to see something that is not hurried and which reminds us of the full power of the church’s symbolism throughout the centuries,” he said.

Father Paul said there was a time in the church when words (often spoken in Latin) didn’t really speak to the hearts of people, and thus symbolic gestures were used to convey the meaning and importance of the moment.  Thus the church moved beyond the “into the water; out of the water” approach to baptism. 

Salt placed on the tongue symbolizes the wisdom of Christ and the zest his presence brings to our existence. Anointing with oil underscores the healing power of God. Water represents spiritual cleansing and new birth. The anointing with chrism underscores we are “sealing in Christ,” marked as his own, and are part of a universal church. The white vestment symbolizes purity of Christian life. The candle represents the ‘light of Christ’ and the sprinkling of baptismal water on the congregation reminds those present of their own baptism.

Baby Joseph was certainly well christened by Father Paul at Christ Church last week. If anything goes wrong in his life, it cannot be said it was because God was not watching over him.

Oh, happy day! And happy Thanksgiving to all!  ©2008

posted 11.26.2008

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