Dedicating babies and what the church can be

I am missing the gene that is supposed to make me, as a woman of (rapidly waning) childbearing years baby crazy, but yesterday I hosted a baby dedication that reminded me of what church could be.

I’ve been to (and performed) baby dedications and baptisms and sometimes they are moving for the immediate family, and the church coo’s over the baby, but there was something different.

The parents are deeply connected to the world and to justice and to joy and laughter and surfing. Their baby was named Helene Sophie because both names can be pronounced easily in five languages and the names speak to power and wisdom.

She had been in the world three days and they wanted to dedicate the baby before their parents left for South America that week, so about twenty or thirty friends and family gathered at my apartment. They showed up with cheese and crackers, with tarts and a casserole and fresh fruit, even though no one told them to. (They also showed up looking offensively hip–I was hands down the frumpiest person in the room, including the slew of toddlers. When did parenting get so hip?) They exuded love even though they didn’t all know each other.

I didn’t know how religious the room was, but I talked about dedicating the baby to God and to this community to help raise her. I talked about Moses’s mother dedicating him to God long before he liberated a nation, and Samuel’s mother knowing God could do more with him than she could alone, and he went on to preach a message of justice to the kings of Israel. I acknowledged Mary dedicating her son to God, and I Said we were participating in this legacy of dedication and liberation.

We heard Tagore’s poem Baby’s Way, and the parents publicly committed to raising Helene Sophie to know love and share love and to know the stories of Jesus and the great prophets. The gathered crowd enthusiastically committed to raising her with love and to be generous and to be as powerful as her name and to support and love the parents.

And then I invited everyone to offer a blessing, a hope, a prayer for Helene Sophie. They prayed for wisdom and joy and laughter and to know she is loved and to love the water and several blessings in Spanish.

Her godmother presented her with an indigenous blanket to symbolize the love she was wrapped in, decorated with the turtle, Mother Earth.

I used holy oil to anoint her and then to anoint her parents for the task of parenting.

And the party continued as I left for a retreat.

On the car ride to the retreat, the woman riding with me asked me what was missing from church that meant I didn’t get excited about attending if I wasn’t preaching.

I used to have a long list of responses to that–what is broken about the church, what needs to be improved in terms of hospitality and focus on community and accessible liturgy that nourishes newcomers and forms them in the faith and connects them to the ancient without being alienating.

But I didn’t have that in me yesterday. What I said instead was, “I was just at a baby dedication. And it was what I’ve always dreamt church should be.” And I told her about the love and compassion and unadulterated joy among strangers. And I know this was an exceptional situation. But a room full of people were legitimately and in heartfelt fashion committing themselves to nurture and raise a child so she could be a part of building beloved community. I used the same words I use in church. And in other baby dedications, I’ve thought “sure I’ll participate in shaping this baby’s walk with Jesus…if I happen to be teaching Sunday school when s/he is old enough.” But this time I really believed that everyone almost hollering “WE DO!” really meant it, in an active participatory way.

And these days, that’s what I want church to be. I want it to mean what it proclaims–to want to be an active, participatory role in nurturing each other in faith.

I am so grateful for a glimpse of what that can look like. And I hope that I can also become it.

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