Friday, October 9, 2009

"Where, Font, Art Thou?"

Sometimes I find when I visit a church, locating the baptismal font is like playing “I Spy,” or “Where’s Waldo.” Many times, of course, it’s plain to see in front of the congregation. But just as often at first glance, it seems to be missing.

When not in use, baptismal fonts used for immersion are often covered over entirely. Others are stowed away in a corner behind the piano. Some are relegated to a separate room. Seasonal decorations can also camouflage a font.

It seems to me that furtive fonts are symptomatic of the broad neglect of the Sacrament of Baptism in our churches. Being infrequently celebrated, baptism is forgotten the rest of the time.

Yet baptism is the “basic ordination” of all Christians. It proclaims the essential calling to each of us and sets us on the road to discipleship. Therefore, baptism, like preaching the Word and celebrating the Lord’s Supper, deserves to be before us each Lord’s Day—if in no other way, by the visibility of the baptismal font.

The baptismal font, to my way of thinking, should ideally be immediately inside the main entrance to the worship space, reminding people that they enter the fellowship of faith by their baptism, and they go forth to serve Christ in the world by their baptism.

Plunk in the center of the congregation, is also a good place to have the font. The congregation, then, can easily surround it to participate in a baptism, and they can’t miss it at other times.

Or, on the platform, the baptismal furniture should be compatible in size with the pulpit and table, so that it is seen as an essential piece of equipment for the church’s worship.

The font should always be filled with water so it is obvious what it is for. People can be encouraged to touch the water as they pass it, in a moment of personal recollection and reflection.

Not only should the baptismal font be obviously placed, the sacrament can be highlighted when it’s a locus for leading worship. For instance, my friend Arlo Duba advocates presiding at the font for the prayer of confession. While saying the assurance of pardon, the presider should “lift water from the font, letting it fall back visibly and audibly.”

He also suggests leading the Apostles’ Creed from the font, since it was originally a baptismal creed.

One might preside at the font for the call to worship and opening prayer, and for the charge and benediction at the sending.

Of course there are many opportunities for other worship acts to be led from the font: reaffirmation of baptism, and ordinations and installation services are explicitly based on baptism. (See Book of Occasional Services, p.1)

We neglect baptism to our peril, for we risk forgetting our summons to follow our risen Lord into the world. With reawakened consciousness of the centrality of baptism in our liturgical life, we are encouraged to follow more faithfully and really be the church.

Where’s your baptismal font? Do you lead any part of the service from the font?

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