Last night a couple gave a Christmas party for their Sunday School class which is attended by most of the oldest members of the congregation. As I said to one of my clergy friends at lunch yesterday, it's work for me and they think they are doing a favor for me. But, I got dressed and went. And I had a good time. One man said something about baptizing a dead child and that it was against the Book of Order (if you're not a presby, that's half our constitution). I said sometimes the Book of Order is wrong. We talked a little about the perception that baptism is somehow "magic". A former Catholic mentioned that he began to question the church's teachings in the third grade when he learned that unbaptized babies went to limbo (which no longer exists). Then one man talked about his grandchildren who attend with their mother (his daughter) a more conservative Presbyterian congregation. The mother has not moved her membership, though. The oldest child (the baby had not yet been born) was to have been baptized at our church a few years back but an ice storm caused the service to be cancelled. He was worried about the children not being baptized. Without dimishing the importance of baptism, I told him that it was a sign that the child was a member of our family, the family of God's children. I then told him that the children should be baptized in the congregation they attend because the congregation makes promises to help the child grow up. He agreed. (One less worry. I said that if his daughter wanted to have the children baptized in this church, I would advise her to have them baptized in the church they attend.)
Then as I left, a woman who is "difficult" came up to me and hugged me and told me how much she loved me. This is the same woman who was peeved because I told her at a session meeting that the heat in the volunteer room was not a matter for the session.
What I learned. This is a group of people who need most to be loved. It is a dying congregation, focused on self, interested in their own comfort. I am impatient for change. We are at least tutoring in one of the poorest schools in the city. But they are hurting. There is so much pain and ill health in the congregation. I want to have small groups. I don't want to spend my time visiting shut ins. But they are hurting. I want people to come and find a home here. But the ones who are already here are hurting. (I began to do a healing and wholeness liturgy at the end of the service once a month and about a third of those in worship come forward for prayers and annointing--and this is a Presbyterian congregation.) They need most to be loved.