The reason I stick with the local church doesn’t really relate to the actual performance of worship or the preacher – these elements are rarely consistent. But what I value most are those high liturgical moments. Now, in a Northern Ireland Presbyterian setting those ‘high’ moments are still pretty low. As a rule we are reticent about our symbolic actions, we’re not really sure what they’re for or how to behave.
But about once a month on average, the whole congregation stands, about 250 of us, and we focus on one or two wee babies who are being presented for baptism. Their parents may be utter strangers to me, I may never even have seen them before, but their baby is a gift of grace to me.
Having elicited often reluctant responses from the parents (and often it’s the fathers who stare at the ground and shuffle uncomfortably) the minister turns to the congregation and he reminds us, ‘we also make promises..’
It gets me every time. We promise ‘to order our life and witness’ in the church in such a way as to provide a nurturing environment in which this child can grow and find the life of faith for her or himself. This promise places me under the discipline of the church in such a way as to ensure that nothing in my behaviour should disrupt this community in its God-given task of nourishing faith in the young.
This regulates me; reminds me again that I am not a free agent. Sets me and my behaviour in a community context. This high liturgical moment, however awkwardly we practice it, is a forming moment for me. Every time.