On Sunday I baptized two young people in my congregation — one was 13, and one was 30. Both talked — from their own developmental place — about the importance of faith and the church in their lives. The teenager talked about the church as a place where — unlike other parts of his life — he’s not bullied, but loved for who his is.
He said, “Jesus was bullied, so I think he understands how I feel, but Jesus was also surrounded by people that loved him, and that’s how church feels to me.”
The 30-year-old is someone I’ve know for much of his life. He was unsure about baptism for many years — he’s the kind of person that needed to talk it through, to think it through — he needed to be absolutely sure. He described baptism as “coming home.” It’s coming to a faith that has meaning and makes sense, and coming into a community that loves and cares for each other.
After they confessed their faith, I baptized them with water from the same river that our spiritual ancestors had baptized their own for the last 300 years, and I welcomed them officially into the body of Christ (even though we all knew they’d been part of the body for some time). I prayed that the holy spirit would be present to these two young men, just as the dove descended on Jesus at his baptism.
And just as I said “amen,” a dog appeared out of nowhere, fully immersed himself in the water beside me, emerged and shook loose his coat, baptizing me and everyone gathering around me. To me, I saw this dog not as an unexpected intruder, but as a sign of the Holy Spirit at work.
After the Holy Spirit showed up in canine form, I had this twinge of sadness that my kids haven’t yet chosen baptism. In the Mennonite tradition, baptism is about an “adult confession of faith,” and both kids are at the age where baptism would be an option for them.
I will not be that parent — especially as a pastor — that forces their child to make a confession of faith. I counsel anxious parents to let their child make their own decisions, and trust that they will follow in the way of Jesus.
But we ultimately don’t know if our kids will do that. We don’t know that they will choose Christianity. Maybe they’ll choose nothing. Maybe they will choose a brand of Christianity that we don’t like. Or maybe they will choose another religion altogether.
Someone recently reminded me that parenting is about providing our kids with roots and wings. Our roots are the Christian faith — the stories, the example of Jesus, and the values we instill. The wings are the freedom to ask the questions, to be their own person, to be fully the people they were made by God to be.
I feel pretty good about the roots, but some days, like the days I baptize teenagers that aren’t my children, I feel a little sad that my kids have the freedom to choose not to be baptized, not to follow in the way of Jesus.
This is the most challenging part of parenting, the letting go part. I can’t make my kids love Jesus as much as I do. In fact, trying to make them will have negative consequences, I’m sure. But, I have to trust that they will make good choices and surround themselves with good people, seeking God’s spirit as they go.
Whether my children choose baptism at 13 or 30 — or maybe never — I have to trust that God’s Spirit will be at work in them and on them, in whatever form the Spirit takes — a dove, a still small voice, a sigh too deep for words, or maybe a wet dog.
Amy Yoder McGloughlin is pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia. This is a sermon she gave based on Acts 4:32-35, first posted on storiesfromtheredtent.com.