Last Wednesday night, February 9, I was proud to stand with other members of First Christian Church in support of 10 Christians who were baptized into Zion United Church of Christ, our neighboring congregation. It was a wonderful and memorable night for many reasons; here are some of them:
1. Ten baptisms! Nine professions of faith and one recommitment of faith! How often does that happen at any church in St. Joseph, much less at one of our downtown churches?
2. I’m not sure how often it happens, but I have to think it is rare for a single baptism service to take place at two different churches. Most of the people baptized last week chose to be baptized by means of sprinkling water from a font, which is typical of most, but not all, baptisms in the UCC. Yet, three out of the ten came from traditions where people are baptized by immersion (being dunked under water), so the folks at Zion asked if they could use our baptistry. We, of course, were glad to share our facility. So, after the first seven people were baptized in Zion’s sanctuary, we processed out of that church, up Faraon Street, into Chilton Chapel at FCC and baptized three more. (The United Church of Christ does not insist upon one mode of baptism, but people are usually sprinkled; just as our denomination, The Disciples of Christ also does not insist upon one mode of baptism but we usually immerse people.)
3. It was obviously an ecumenical service. Although the ten people baptized became members of Zion, both I and the board members of FCC who were present celebrated as well. We recognized that these brothers and sisters in Christ were welcomed into the universal church that transcends denominational boundaries. Furthermore, representatives from our two denominations were present to join in the celebration. (It is worth noting that the two denominations represented, The United Church of Christ and The Disciples of Christ, are in a covenant relationship and share a common history. The two bodies share a mission board and recognize each other’s clergy—for example, I hold standing as a minister in both denominations and have served churches in both. The UCC and the DOC are leaders in the ecumenical movement.)
4. The baptisms were motivation to do some long-needed work on Chilton Chapel. Rick Ezzell, Nick Harding, Boyd Alldredge and other church members worked hard to repaint and plaster the baptistry and the chapel walls, repair drafty windows and move all of the chapel furniture so the carpets could be cleaned. The room was beautiful for the special occasion.
5. Last, but certainly not least, the night was memorable, because of how these ten baptisms came about. Over a year ago, Marvin Baker and Paul Trittin began renting Zion’s parsonage. They are a gay couple and both of them have ministry experience in the denominations they grew up in. They very quickly joined Zion and began helping fix up the church building. One day, they were working on the church steps and two women walked by. They began talking and one of the women mentioned that she doubted she would be welcome in the church, because she is a lesbian. The two men laughed and shared they were gay and church members. The young woman asked if they had a Bible study, and Paul responded, “If you want to study the Bible, name the time and I’ll be there.” A Wednesday night Bible study began.
Most of the people who ended up attending (as many as 21 have come) were either gay and lesbian or heterosexual friends of gay and lesbian people, so they called the group St. Joseph Gay Christian Fellowship. Very soon, God began to work, and people began making faith commitments, and then they wanted to be baptized. All ten of the people baptized shared never having felt welcome in a church before, and all of them live within a half mile of Zion and First Christian. It was nice to tell the new Zion church members that they were unconditionally welcome at First Christian too.
Grace and Peace,