Bo, Baptism, and the Beloved Community

by Rev. Ross M. Reddick, Sycamore Presbyterian

A few months ago, the Membership Committee at Sycamore Presbyterian was overjoyed. The stars had aligned, COVID was on a downswing, and we had a handful of people wanting to join the church. In fact, there was enough to warrant a traditional membership class, something that hadn’t happened since before the pandemic.

Among those prospective members, were Abby and Clark, proud parents of two young boys Bo (4) and Henry (10 months). During the course of the membership class, we learned that they also wanted to have both the boys baptized too! More to celebrate.

I looked at my calendar, they looked at theirs, and the only day that really worked was the same day we’d already planned for Confirmation Sunday. At first, I was concerned. No matter what anyone tells you, Pastors who preach weekly are keenly aware of the duration of worship services. As one pastoral mentor used to tell me, “Ross, I’ve found that five minutes over can be forgiven, but 10 minutes over and people stop dropping hymn books on the floor.”

But then, I got to thinking more clearly, and theologically. I’d been given a real gift. In our reformed understanding, there’s a direct linkage between the promises made at Baptism and the milestone that is Confirmation. Between those two events, what happens is “beloved community.” The entire church promises to rally their lives and energy around these young people.  They promise to teach them the stories of Jesus. They promise to help their parents through joys and challenges that arise. They promise to help chaperone mission trips, and help with Sunday night youth group, and Vacation Bible School. Over time, as infants grow into toddlers, as toddlers grow into grade-schoolers, and on and on, Christian formation is happening. A way of life is being taught and modeled by faithful, loving adults. 

As the day got closer, I got more and more excited. I’d have a providential opportunity to emphasize the vital connection between Baptism and Confirmation, because we’d have both happening in the same service. But, there was another opportunity present, too.

Bo—the four-year-old who would be baptized with his younger brother—is a little person. I reached out to Abby and Clark, and I asked them to help me understand more.  I learned a great deal from them; they were kind enough to provide a list of articles and resources. The truth is, I’ve never had a real chance to get to know someone like Bo, who has achondroplasia (the most common form of dwarfism). I was reminded about “person-first language.”  Instead of saying “the little person, Bo,” you might say, “Bo, who is a little person.”

The other language discipline they helped me learn is about the word “normal.” When you say the word “normal,” the unspoken antonym is “abnormal,” which had a pejorative weight to it.  So, when speaking of Bo’s relative height, it is much kinder to use the word “average.”  Bo is a person whose height is below average.  All of this, is language and lessons that comes directly from the dwarfism community.

Now let me ask you, the reader, if it wasn’t for the Church, this beloved community, do you think I would have ever sat down for a few hours to read about achondroplasia, or level up in terms of my own understanding of dwarfism.  Probably not. But because we’re in the business of building authentic, loving community, we share life together with more people than just our immediate families and friends. Because of church, I got to meet someone awesome like Bo, and learn more about who he is.  This was a blessing for me, a chance to grow in my pastoral understanding, but also a chance to help the congregation learn more. We’ve now added a book or two about dwarfism to our church library. Part of my sermon that day, included teaching about the lessons that Abby and Clark helped me learn.

When we baptized Bo and Henry, God added to the beloved community. When it’s all said and done, every single one of us should be impacted by every single baptism that takes place, because baptism means that your family of faith has new members. Could you imagine getting a new sibling, and not making a huge deal about that? 

May God continue to grow the beloved community within and beyond the churches who are the Presbytery of Cincinnati.

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