By Ian Tosh
Moderator, First Church Somerville, UCC
General Synod Delegate
I got a text from a member of the church I attend asking what I thought about the baptism issue. Note: First Church Somerville rocks! Here is my response to her.
We are being asked as a denomination to sign onto an agreement with other churches (including the Catholic Church) saying (in short) that we will all recognize each other’s baptisms. The agreement also sets forth the words that will be used IF the baptism is to be recognized. These words are “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” You've heard these before, but perhaps not in our church, lately. In the UCC this raises some concerns because this seems like the denomination is dictating to the local church what they MUST say during a baptism. This is not the case. The denomination is entering into an ecumenical agreement (this is what denominations do), which pulls Christian churches closer together. For me two things are important about this.
- We need to judge whether it is more important that we use our own, gender neutral language, or that we participate in the phrase “That they may all be one” by using the traditional language. Sometimes being one church means we do things differently then I want to do them.
- The other signatories to this document are taking at least as much of a risk, probably more, then the UCC is. Some of the churches signing onto this agreement are now saying that they recognize a sacrament performed by a person that they would refuse to ordain. This is huge! This is a sign that other churches are showing the UCC that they like the biblical language “That they may all be one”. Perhaps we can start using the biblical language “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.
I did cast my vote (twice) to affirm this agreement. I support it not because “words don't really matter” or because we can find a loophole in our polity to release us from following this. I support it because our polity of covenant calls us to enter this agreement and live into it fully. I have always cringed when “Father” has been used to describe God in the first, but as a symbol of my participation in the global Christian Church, I look forward to a service of baptism including this language.
Ian Tosh is Moderator of the Southern New England Conference and a member of First Church in Somerville, MA.