Things to do on Sunday mornings, other than church
Today's routine of worship was distinguished for me by two things - normal traffic flow in and out of town was changed because of a 10 kilometre fun-run in aid of Kidney Research, in which thousands of people of all ages and types participated. This required closing off a broad avenue through the civic campus to set up a finishing post. Most of the run took place through Bute Park and the Castle grounds, and only the last quarter mile of road needed to be blocked. It wasn't difficult to get in and out, living as I do, just a mile from church, and there were diversions to accommodate shoppers and the few coming in for worship. Our numbers, therefore, were much the same as usual - nine at the early service and around thirty five for the 9.30 Sung Eucharist.
On unconditional baptism
At the latter we welcomed a family for the baptism of their nine year old child. They came to us, not from locally, but from the South East of England, where they had migrated from Cardiff. Mum had been baptised in St John's at roughly the same age. Ten days ago she shyly approached me in church, with her son in tow and asked if it might be possible to do the same for her son. It was almost as if she was expecting me to say no. She wasn't a regular church-goer. I spoke to the boy, asked him if he understood what his mother was asking on his behalf, and how he felt about it. His eyes were full of trust and openness. It wasn't a quiz. However much he understood at that moment, he was willing to go along with Mum's proposal. I explained a little more. His face lit up. In a later conversation, she told me how pleased he was and looking forward to the occasion. Mum and dad and the boy came with half a dozen members of family and godparents. Mum and Dad looked a bit awkward, uncertain. The lad was eager, alert and responsive, with bright eyes, quite at home for this momentous occasion in his young life.
The regular congregation members were wonderfully welcoming before and afterwards over our usual refreshments. For once, I didn't have to rush off and do a third service of the morning, so was able to enjoy a gentle engagement with visitors and regulars alike. I treasure days like this.
It would have been very complex and difficult to have insisted on 'proper' preparation and instruction before baptizing the child. I'm not sure what making people jump through hoops devised by clergy is really worth. Evidently a return to a church with which mum felt a personal link was an important and motivating factor for Mum, a way of re-connecting with her roots, following the family's displacement for work purposes 150 miles from home. She wanted to share an important faith experience with her son. She was brave enough to ask, despite whatever inner uncertainties she might have been bearing about achieving this aim.
I'm more and more prepared to trust the faith people have, and their ability to share it with those closest to them, and offer them what the church received to pass on freely, without imposing any conditions, insisting we know all there is to know about commitment and faith.
We don't. God is working everywhere in his world in ways we don't understand - even among all those who prefer a six mile Sunday jog for charity than attending Mass. But I have to admit that I don't really in my heart understand how this is a satisfactory substitute for living worship.
And I used to be a regular runner!