He was the last person I expected to do it. In our Baptism prep sessions, he had told me about his upbringing in the Dutch Reformed Church and how his family and friends had been very protestant. The new baby they had just adopted had given this couple the desire to look again at their faith and God’s place in their own lives, and in their future family life with this new child. And they made a commitment to be part of our Chapel congregation family. We held the Baptism on a Communion Sunday and had moved the Font into the center of the area before the communion rail. This gave a good space for the family and sponsors to stand facing the congregation and allowed the congregation to witness the Baptism. After the Baptism, the family and friends again took their places in the front pews for the rest of the service.
It happened with the sharing of Communion. I moved from behind the Altar to the end of the communion rail and watched as the father of the new baby came up to the rail past the Font. He dipped his finger into the water in the Font and made the sign of the cross on his forehead. It was a deliberate, not an automatic, action. And from the look on his face, something meaningful for him. His wife shifted the baby in her arms and did the same as she passed the Font. And then others in the Baptism party followed their actions.
I watched people coming and going between serving Communion and noticed that many of my protestant congregation were doing the same thing. I was intrigued. It was the first time I had seen this Catholic custom in a protestant chapel.
During the reception after the service, I asked several people why they had crossed themselves with the Baptism water. “We saw the father and mother do it and we thought it was a nice way to remember our own baptism,” said some. “After all, you asked us to renew our Baptism vows during that part of the service,” one person said to me. The father’s response to me was that it simply seemed like the right thing to do, and it was a way of making his own commitment to God and his new son.
Since then, I have liked to take the opportunity to renew my own commitment to God with the Baptism water when the opportunity presents itself.
One other comment from that service that has stayed with me for thirty or so years; “I like the Font, the Communion Altar, and the Cross in line at the front of the Chapel, the three symbols of my faith and all that it means. Baptism is the start; Communion is the continuing and the Cross of Christ is constantly over all.”
Canon Donald J Lawton