From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

A Child Is Born

One Sunday near Thanksgiving, Angus McDonnell, a member of my congregation, told me of the birth of his grandson, “little Angus Larry,” and asked me to perform the baptism. Our church board was reluctant because the child’s family lived in another state; the church takes very seriously its commitment to support one who is baptized.

But the will of Angus McDonnell prevailed and the following Sunday, little Angus Larry was baptized, with his parents, Larry and Sherry, Grandpa Angus and Grandma Minnie and many other family members present.

Our congregation has a baptism custom: The pastor asks, “Who stands with this child?” and then the whole extended family of the little one rises and remains standing for the ceremony. So with Angus Larry in my arms, I asked the question, and up stood all the relatives.

After church, everybody rushed home to turkey leftovers, and I went back into the sanctuary to turn off the lights. A middle-aged woman was sitting in the front pew. She seemed at a loss for words and was hesitant about looking at me for very long. Finally, she said her name was Mildred Cory, and she commented on how lovely the baptism had been. After another long pause, she added, “My daughter, Tina, just had a baby, and, well, the baby ought to be baptized, shouldn’t it?”

I suggested that Tina and her husband call me and we would discuss it. Mildred hesitated again, and then, catching and holding my eyes for the first time, she said, “Tina’s got no husband. She’s just 18, and she was confirmed in this church four years ago. She used to come out for the Senior High Fellowship, but then she started to see this boy who was out of school...”

Now the story tumbled out fearlessly: “. . . and then she got pregnant and decided to keep the baby and she wants to have it baptized here in her own church, but she’s nervous to come and talk to you, Reverend. She’s named the baby James—Jimmy.”

I said that I would take the request to the church board for approval.

When the matter came up at the next meeting, I explained what everybody already knew—namely, that Tina was a member of the church and an unwed mother and that I didn’t know who the father was. They all knew who the father was, of course; this is a small town.

A few questions were asked as to whether or not we could be certain that Tina would stick to the commitment she was making in having her child baptized. I remarked that she and little Jimmy were, after all, right here in town where we could give them support.

The real problem was the picture we all had in our heads: Tina, teenage spots and all, little Jimmy in her arms; the father no longer around; and Mildred Cory the only one who would stand when the question was asked. It hurt each of us to think about it. But the board approved the baptism. It was scheduled for the last Sunday in Advent.

The church was full that day, as it always is the Sunday before Christmas. Down the aisle came Tina, nervously, briskly, smiling at me only, shaking slightly, holding month-old Jimmy.

This young mother was so alone. It would be a hard life for this pair.

I read the opening part of the service and then, looking for Mildred Cory, I asked my question: “Who stands with this child?” I nodded at Mildred slightly, to coax her to her feet. She rose slowly, looking to either side, and then returned my smile.

My eyes went back to my service book. I was just about to ask Tina the parent’s questions when I became aware of movement in the pews.

Angus McDonnell had stood up, Minnie beside him. Then a couple of other elders stood. Then the sixth-grade Sunday school teacher, then a new young couple in church, and soon, before my incredulous eyes, the whole church was standing up with little Jimmy.

Tina was crying. Mildred Cory held on to the pew as though she were standing on the deck of a rocking ship, which, in a way, she was.

The Scripture reading that morning was a few verses from John:

See what love the Father has given us that we should be called children of God.... No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.... There is no fearin love, but perfect love casts out fear.

In that baptism, those old words came alive; they were clothed in flesh, and everybody felt it.

Reverend Michael Lindvall

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