This week we asked our bloggers what younger pastors are thinking about and what they think the rising generation of Presbyterian leaders sees different than previous generations. Here are their answers.
This month, I’m going to baptize five boys by immersion — or, in the words of the 9-year-old, “dunk us under!” He will be the oldest candidate to receive the sacrament. The 5-year-old twins live on the property where this dunking will take place, a duck pond that’s part of a small farm—“farm-ish” as their Mama puts it. Of course, we have invited the entire congregation for this evening service, which will be followed by a potluck feast. On any given Sunday, this would number roughly 125 people and would include a dozen retired pastors, women and men from various denominations (though not a single Baptist). Still, these pastors to this pastor have all expressed their delight. They are some of my most trusted supporters. But their joyful endorsement of this special service has surprised me. One even sought me out to say, wistfully, that she would have loved to have done something like this in her career.
The parents of these five boys have a richly diverse church background: Roman Catholic, nondenominational, Methodist and Presbyterian — Presbyterian campus ministry. They would have been fine with the service in our sanctuary beside the font. Yet they have all said how grateful they are that our church is flexible.
“Flexibility” is not a word often associated with Christians in general or Presbyterians in particular. I trust my reader knows 1 Corinthians 14:40. But we have more than a few wild hairs in our tradition, even an idea of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose, an untamed force that disrupts as she surprises, nipping at our backsides! And, if we know anything about this generation in question, it’s that millennials value an authenticity to each experience, which, in a postmodern milieu, is often outside the box or, in this case, the font.
While the farm may be “-ish” let’s be clear that the sacrament will not be a lite version. If anything, it seems the flexibility on the church’s part has meant that the families have studied the tradition with more intensity. And also joy — the feeling that surprised C.S. Lewis as “a desire for something long ago or further away or still ‘about to be.’” I know I’ve been inspired by their eagerness to learn, as well as their commitment to the one holy catholic and apostolic church, their fellow members of Christ’s body who look forward to welcoming them with joy and thanksgiving.
For my part, I have been studying up on my dunking… ah… immersion technique. If you, gentle reader, have any tips, I’d welcome them in the comments below. You would think YouTube would be more helpful; yet I am distracted by the dunks gone wrong, a few of which include intrusions by fowl that are decidedly un-dove-like! I have scheduled some practice time at the local pool with the boys ahead of the sacrament. The 9-year-old candidate tells me that, even though he knows I have never done this before, he’s not worried: “God’s got this,” he smiles.
I don’t want to throw “decently and in good order” out with the baptismal water, but– surprise! – it strikes me that there may well be something joyful to being flexible.
Written in memory of George Carpenter.
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church, a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and has a certificate in narrative healthcare. His recent essays have been published online at Mockingbird and his poetry at Bearings. He and his wife, Ginny, have three children.