So. [Deep breath. Let it out.] Where do I begin?
My family is Presbyterian. Presbyterians often baptize their children as infants, with a baptism being part of the “entry into the community” kind of deal. However, I learned this past weekend that they also do this for a far more important reason. Because they are SMART. Because newborns may squirm, but they are not yet capable of being a$$holes on the scale that actual children can achieve. Yes, I just said a$$holes in an essay about baptism. But stop interrupting me. I’m trying to tell you a story.
So, my family rolls in. This is already usually kind of an event at church, since Asher is three and we often have some kind of catastrophe just based on that. But we usually drop Noah in the nursery first, because Noah is one. One year old is the official age of running away. He will dart down the aisles, head up to say hi to the choir…basically do anything but sit in the pews. But this Sunday, he is getting baptized, so with us he comes.
Selah is wearing a nice dress. And a hat. To a “sprinkling” baptism. But, you know, she likes it. The great thing about Noah is that he wears whatever I want him to wear. In this case, he is wearing cute little overalls. Asher–well, Asher looks like he’s going to go work out after the service. Sweat pants from Thrift Town and a secondhand, semimatching orange T-shirt. He ruined Easter when we made him wear a nice shirt, so I figure he can wear whatever the frick he wants.
First part of the perfect storm: the pastor does not baptize the kids from above as we walk in, in an efficient drive-thru baptism, which I think would have worked much better.
We make what amounts to a chaotic roar in the pews, because Noah has a plastic bucket of blocks that rattle, and Asher is driving cars around, and Selah is doing her best to destroy as many pew envelopes as possible in a short period of time. Plus, the kids’ cousins are there, and that always excites them a little more.
Second part of the perfect storm: Heritage Sunday being the same day as Heretic Sunday (read: Meehan Baptism Day). Heritage Sunday is when the pastor announces the names of people who have belonged to the church for many years. I usually love Heritage Sunday. Not today, however. Selah starts rooting around for envelopes in nearby pews. Asher’s cars crash a little more frantically. My sister offers to walk Noah up and down the aisle so I can sit down. Then we sing some songs and stuff. To my credit, I do not bellow, “Get to the watering of the children!”
Here’s where it all becomes a bit of a blur. They call up the baptismal candidates, or whatever you call them.
We get to the front. Noah tries to go up to say hi to the choir. We get him back. He does not want to be gotten back, so he whines through the entire rest of the sacrament. He does not want his father to hold him. He does not want me to hold him. He wants down. “Uppies? Uppies!” he says, pitiably.
Asher starts zipping around in an attempt to systematically touch every blessed object on the platform. The flower stands. The communion table. Apparently I miss the point when he tries to climb up on the table with the baptismal font on it, but his father fills me in later. I alternate between trying to tune in to what is happening in the actual service and trying to gesture Asher forward. He returns to us.
I have the sickening realization that our baptism is going to happen after two other baptisms. Noah whines some more and struggles to get out of my arms. His father takes him. I pick up Asher, who is trying to bolt.
Realizing We Have to Hold Them for at Least Three More Minutes
He weighs a lot. I put him down.
The other children, a well-behaved newborn and toddler, are baptized, and a dove descends from the heavens upon them as their parents smile smugly.
Noah Whining and Asher Crawling Away
This is when we realize that Asher has crawled away. His father and I turn and simultaneously realize that Asher is licking the communion table. It has nice, knobby carvings on the legs, and his mouth is on them. We fetch him back.
This dampens his mood a bit. Then, the baptism of the children begins. They go in birth order.
So, the thing about Selah is that I need her. She is a generally well-behaved, oldest girl child. She helps keep the boys alive. She whines, but she listens.
But when Pastor Keith shows her the several hundred smiling faces in the pews, she panics.
Selah Tries to Hide from the Crowd
- Terrified Selah
I finally convince her to walk around, like the pastor wants her to, but she hides behind me the whole time. This is OK, I tell myself. Pastor Keith baptizes her, and she is kind of rude and complainy about it. She doesn’t like when water gets on her dress.
Selah Doesn’t Like Getting Wet
Of course, the real problem with her panic is that it is catching. Asher, who was already not a willing participant, decides he wants no part of this.
Convincing Asher to Come Out and Join the Church
I don’t know what the order of events is here, because I’m losing my mind, but somehow we pick Asher up, and he freaks out and starts trying to kick Pastor Keith away. The man who is kind to him week in and week out, who he knows well–he tries to kick and hit him. I start to have my doubts about the fate of Asher’s everlasting soul. To give Keith some credit, he manages to carry on and baptize Asher, basically without comment about the Worst Behavior in the History of All Baptisms.
Keeping Panicking Asher from Hitting Our Pastor (and Friend!)
After being baptized, Asher runs/is sent outside, and he throws some clods of dirt while my mom clucks soothingly. Then he tells her he feels better.
Noah’s baptism is practically run of the mill after that. Though he often wants to be picked up by just about any friend, strangers, bearded men in vans, etc., he refuses to let Keith hold him–because he wants nobody to hold him. He wants to go say hi to the choir. When Keith baptizes him, he splashes his hands into the water.
Somehow we get out of there. Pastor Keith, bless his heart, says something to the effect of that you can tell how comfortable the kids are, since they are at church so often. Did I mention that my husband is the youth pastor and I’m a deacon? I tell Keith on the way out that I am never coming to church again.
Afterward, people come up and make statements like, “It’s the personalities that give this church color.” Nobody tells me how beautiful it was. My mom admits that she isn’t surprised it was so nuts, because she expected it to go down exactly like that.
My dad does take Noah over to the fountains to let him baptize himself the way he wanted to. And I feel an extreme sense of gratitude for our congregation’s sense of humor. And nobody says anything about the youth pastor not being able to discipline his own children. At least, not to us.
Noah Baptizes Himself
You know, as this story has increased in popularity, I’d like to just give a shout-out to my church, Carmichael Presbyterian Church, which has managed to be the most welcoming place I have ever, ever been.