We apologize for the technical glitch this morning that resulted in requests for Annual Event Ride Shares being mailed out instead of the usual blog post from the Advocate. Technology is wonderful and complex sometimes! We hope to see many of you in Galveston next week. In the meantime, here is our scheduled article about baptism and young adults from Rachel Parsons-Wells:
One of the most enjoyable things about working as a college chaplain is engaging with students across denominational and faith lines. While there are many students who are firmly lodged within one denomination, especially PC(USA), most students have complex and evolving relationships with church and faith. Each week, I host an open forum discussion group called Fishbowl. Sometimes we have guest conversationalists or particular topics, but more often than not we invite questions from the group gathered that week. We have talked about heaven and hell, school policies, angels, the rise of anti-Semitism, and parking on campus. No one has brought up baptism. So when I began asking questions about baptism for this blog post, I was surprised to find that many students have strong feelings about and experiences with baptism.
One young woman was baptized as an infant in one denomination, then re-baptized alongside her grandmother during high school in a Baptist church. When I asked her if she thought about her baptism and if it held meaning for her current life, she said, “Absolutely! I think about it all the time.” Another young man who was baptized as an adolescent said he remembered the words of the preacher right before he was dunked under “to follow Jesus as your Lord.” He said he thinks about that choice and that moment when he makes decisions about how he lives his life, and how he shows up for people. The agency of choosing to walk this life of faith was a comforting way to affirm the power they have as they walk in the world.
Though I was initially surprised at the intensity of importance that baptism had for those who chose it, it makes sense. We all need to have those concrete markers of faith that ground us to profound experiences of God. As I look around my office, I see many markers of my journey of faith: A book about liberation theology, a small mirror with a frame that reads “You are a miracle,” a poinsettia Christmas ornament, and a candle I made with NNPCW. So much of our life of faith is abstract, and intangible. Creating opportunities to see, hear and feel the presence of God is part of our work in ministry.
A few years ago, I held a prayer service for a student who died. The death was a shock for many of his friends and our community as a whole. During the service, I had individuals come up and choose a rock out of the water to remember that, “in life and in death we belong to God.” That rock became for many gathered one of those cherished moments of faith.
While exploring the theological implications of infant baptism, believer’s baptism, and even the mercy waters of re-baptism, it is important for us to help bring the life of faith into concrete experiences, moments that we can hold onto during difficult days. Each year I work with our Celtic Cross students to play a workshop experience for local youth groups. One year they choose to conclude the service with a Remembrance of Baptism. I watched as the students waved blue banners over the heads of the youth. As they reached up to touch the rippling waters, the liturgy read:
And Moses led God’s people through the waters of the Red Sea from slavery to the Promised Land. God speaks. . to mothers and captives, to leaders, to teenagers.
And in the waters, we are set free to live into God’s promised hope.
When we gather at the font, we encounter God’s promises. God speaks.
And God says to us . . . God says to me, “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased.”
The Rev. Rachel Parsons-Wells is the Director of Religious Life and Service at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC, where she resides with her husband, Jacob Parsons-Wells, and sons Dylan and Brandon. Previously, she served the Presbyterian Church (USA) in many capacities, including launching a new worshiping community, for young adults in Louisville, KY. A Blue Hose from the start, Rachel earned her B.A. in Psychology from Presbyterian College before obtaining her Masters of Divinity from Columbia Seminary. In her spare time, she enjoys adventures with her dudes, naps, and parenting memes.