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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 22

28 August, 2016

The second in a series of musings: "Sacrament & Mission." These are designed to initiate dialogue, so please feel free to give me feedback.

Article XXV from the Book of Common Prayer states that sacraments are: "effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him." The sixteenth-century English theologian Richard Hooker similarly defines sacraments as: "signs and tokens of some general promised grace, which always really descendeth from God unto the soul that duly recieveth them" (Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, IV, 1.4; 1594; ed. John Keble 1876).

Reflecting on last week's musings, a parishioner wrote: "Missionally, the Church can have such a persistent tendency to focus so much on its teaching, that it forgets the meaning. The Church can tend to forget Christ. Forget that the rejected stone is the corner stone. What is the meaning behind the sacrament .... Get the meaning behind the sacrament, and then the voice will follow. Ritually, nothing need change. It's how it's conducted, moved with that matters. Because once rightly understood, the sacraments can then be communicated in love, not in dominance or with power agendas that can leave lifelong scars."

The Anglican Articles of Faith prioritise Baptism as the first of two "Sacraments of the Gospel" that are "ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel." Our Lord's words from the close of Matthew's gospel provide a scriptural mandate for this primary Dominical sacrament: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28: 19). Baptism has long been the missional cutting edge of our Catholic faith, reflected even in the church architecture. The font is traditionally placed near the west door; a constant reminder, especially as we leave church, of the Great Commission. And the stoup, filled with baptismal water, enables you to make the sign of the cross — and so make physical contact with this truth — each time you enter or leave the church.

Fr Ron Browning, in his book Taking the Plunge: Seeking Accompanying Baptising (Melbourne: Spectrum, 2008), writes about "growing baptismal consciousness" which he describes as: "growing a keen awareness to engage searchers or inquirers and ourselves with a rhythm of making connections between persons, God, the Church and the world with the outcomes of faith, ministry and enriched community" (p. 142). If we forget the meaning of the sacrament, baptism of nominal families can be 'fly by night' events, seen by regular parishioners as annoying interruptions to the weekly routine. Fr Ron tells the story of one of his colleagues seeking to grow baptismal consciousness: "In his parish he performs infant baptism simply on the basis of a request from parents and at the same time invites them to dinner to be held a week after. Baptism is normally celebrated in the main Sunday service. Some parishioners are also invited to dinner" (p. 147). I wonder, what could we do at St Peter's to grow our baptismal consciousness?

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster



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