I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and the denomination itself was a huge part of my identity. You see, I was always told that my mom and dad had struggled with infertility for nine years of marriage, and were super-thankful that an unprepared teenage mom was taken in by The Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio, and was placing me for adoption. After a lot of counseling and assistance from their pastor, my parents made the road trip from Houston when I was ten days old, and I spent the next thirty-nine years faithfully attending the nearest UMC. (Well, I took a few Sundays off in college, but found my way back!)
The ritual of baptism in our church was a very formal affair. On the raised steps in the front of the church was a carved wooden pedestal that held a golden bowl with a lid. Inside was the water that was placed on the head of the person being baptized. During my pre-teen years, my friends and I would be overcome with mischievousness and sneak into the sanctuary and lift the lid and stick our grubby fingers in the holy, special water. In the case of my own baptism, I was an infant, and I was dressed in a beautiful silk gown with satin ribbons. The rose that was on the altar that day is still pressed inside my baby book. As the pastor performed the ritual, a very specific script was read from the hymnal, with the congregation participating by chorally reading the bold script. Baptizing, marrying, counseling, visiting the sick and dying in the hospital, comforting the grieving and helping them bury their dead: this was the work of the seminary-trained and ordained.
Sidenote: This was not John Wesley’s original vision for the Methodist church. He believed in empowerment of the laypeople. We all just got lazy and self-conscious and started letting the pastor be the one to do the heavy lifting.
In 2000, our family left the UMC to help expand Grace Church with its founder, Don Carter. We had a lot of energy and passion for the work to be done: starting the worship team, reaching out to guests, dreaming about how we would do church differently….and then one day, someone called with a crisis. This crisis was way out of my comfort zone. We were being called to come sit with someone in a dark spot. Awkwardness and feelings of unpreparedness shed pretty quickly as we sat together in vulnerable prayer and tears. Through the next nineteen years, we’ve built up our muscles as we’ve baptized, married, buried, celebrated, and grieved with others. As a woman, it was fairly easy for me to sit aside and let Alex grow in his skills while I encouraged and supported as needed. But is that really what Jesus is saying in Matthew 28?
As I pondered the scriptures we’re studying this week, and the preliminary discussions on the teaching document, I was convicted a bit and thought, “Shouldn’t I be comfortable baptizing someone, too?” Now, I realize there are a lot of church folks who believe some of the jobs discussed above are clearly men’s work, but I’m on a journey here, and I’m just being transparent about what the Spirit is impressing on me these days! My philosophy of education and learning, as well as the experience of 57 years of life have led me to believe that we can learn hard things. We can build up skills and muscles to do all sorts of things that are outside our comfort zone, Enneagram type, or perceived capabilities: we can learn to better shoot a basketball, look someone in the eye even if we’re timid, and I am convinced, the more trips I’ve made around the sun, that we can build up spiritual wisdom and skills, also. After speaking in parables and confounding the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus is concise and clear in His directions in Matthew 28:19-20: It’s our mission, should we choose to accept it.
Teresa Cornett's favorite question from others is "what do you think about ... ?!” so she loves to write when she gets a chance to mouth off.