The kids were not quiet during the sermon on the second Sunday of Easter. They were downright noisy if I’m honest about it. They weren’t talking too loudly or moving chairs around in their chapel space or sending plastic bins down the stone steps like they sometimes do.
The noise wasn’t coming from any of that. It was all water.
It was the splashing and sloshing of the water.
I didn’t notice it at first, even though I sit where I can keep half an eye on what’s going on back there. I didn’t notice any of it until the sermon had ended, at the part where the preacher sits back down and the bulletin says,
the bells invite us to sit quietly for meditation.
That’s when the water got really loud. Noticeably loud; awkwardly loud to the point where you know the people in the pews wanted to turn around to see what on God’s green earth was going on in the kids’ chapel space in the back of the sanctuary but the people in the pews did not turn around.
I think it was decorum, partly. Ours is a very formal church, a very “churchy” church, if you will. And you don’t just turn around whenever you hear an unusual noise because that would be rude. Also, this congregation loves kids and feels strongly about having them present and involved in worship and if turning around to see what all the commotion was about might be interpreted as disapproval then turning around was the absolute last thing the people in the pews were going to do.
But I am not the people in the pews, at least not entirely. I am the Director of Children’s Ministry in that church. Those are my kids, so to speak. I curate that chapel space for them – I choose all the books and print liturgically-relevant coloring sheets and order those foam blocks that fall silently when you knock them over. I buy pipe cleaners in all the best colors. And I sit where I can keep half an eye on what’s going on back there so that if things begin to go pear-shaped I can step in and help the kids to get back on track.
So when I heard the sounds of water – big sounds, mind you – you bet I turned around. And when I did I saw the kids leaning over the horse trough, elbow-deep in the water, splashing it and sloshing it around for all they were worth.
I should mention that we don’t usually have a horse trough in the sanctuary at all, much less directly adjacent to the chapel in the back, which is set up entirely for kids to come and go as they please throughout the entire service. We have a very respectable baptismal font up at the front, near the chancel. It isn’t deep at all – you can hardly stick your whole hand in, much less your entire upper body, but it gets the job done.
But we bring in a horse trough for the Easter vigil because the Easter vigil isn’t about getting the job done; it’s about drama. And when we’re talking baptismal waters, a horse trough is way more dramatic than a shallow bowl.
Anyway, this year the senior pastor’s 2-year-old son was baptized at the Easter vigil, right there in that horse trough. And it seemed that neither he nor his 4-year-old sister had forgotten any of it, because a week later, not 30 seconds after their mother stepped down from the pulpit, they were elbow-deep in the waters of baptism, along with several of their friends.
It was glorious.
I know some people think kids shouldn’t be in church. They think small children can’t understand what’s going on and argue that they serve as a distraction to those who do. To some degree, they’re probably right. Those sopping wet kids couldn’t tell you a damn thing about the sermon they had just heard that day, because they probably weren’t listening. They did send a plastic bin or two down the stone steps earlier in the service which was, in fact, distracting. None of them held a hymnal the entire morning unless it was to prop up a coloring sheet and one of them handed out pipe cleaner necklaces to people on the aisle as she walked up to receive communion.
But every last person in our congregation was reminded of their baptism that Sunday, whether they wanted to be or not. They didn’t hear small drops of water sprinkling into a bowl, they heard wild and unruly sloshing; the kind that requires you to put your entire body into it.
In our church, the kids in the chapel at the back are the first ones to walk up for communion. Friends, those kids were not dry for that walk on the second Sunday of Easter. They came forward dripping wet with their hands outstretched for bread and they served as a visual reminder to everyone present that the promises of baptism are ours for the taking
anytime we want.
And isn’t that the entire point? The promises of baptism are ours for the taking whether we’re polite about it or not, whether we understand the word “decorum” or not. The promises of baptism are deep and wild and unruly. They are ours whether we were baptized in a shallow font, in a horse trough, or in the River Jordan. The promises of baptism are ours for the taking whether the water came from the Sea of Galilee or from the faucet of the bathroom in the church basement. Those promises are ours whether we’re reminded of our baptism by a pastor on a formal Sunday morning or by a spouse who flicks water across the kitchen while they do the dishes.
Those promises belong to us even when we don’t remember them at all.
But the kids remember. And they won’t be quiet about it, either.
I’m so grateful.
Andrea Roske-Metcalfe is a Minister of Word & Sacrament in the ELCA. She's the founder of the Pray-Ground movement and a Moth GrandSLAM champion, teaching workshops on the craft of storytelling for churches and other organizations in the Twin Cities and beyond. She lives with her family in south Minneapolis.
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