Today is a significant day. Today at 2pm at Wells Cathedral I shall be baptised and confirmed by Bishop Peter Hancock. And a great many people will be very excited. But am I one of them?
Thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve been baptised. Having grown up in a Baptist church, I decided to be baptised by full immersion at the age of 13, what’s generally called a “believer’s baptism”. It’s a public declaration of faith, voluntarily putting yourself in a vulnerable and humiliating scenario (it’s not exactly flattering to get soaked in water) to glorify Jesus and proclaim his death and resurrection. It’s a once-only event – once you’re baptised you’re baptised, there’s no need for a second baptism. And yet, here I am about to be baptised again.
The reason for this unorthodox repetition is actually quite simple. God needs me to.
Several years ago God started hinting that he might want me to look into training to be a Lay Reader in the Church of England. It took me a while to understand what a Reader actually is, and even longer to actually take the first steps, after some less subtle prodding from Him-who-knows-best. Right now I’m doing an Exploring Christianity course put on by the diocese, which is a prerequisite before I begin the actual Reader training.
Another prerequisite is that I have been confirmed, and that’s where it all gets a bit complicated. Being confirmed implies confirming the vows that were made at baptism. But because my baptism was as an adult in a different denomination, those vows weren’t made, so they can’t be confirmed. Therefore, I have to be baptised all over again, so that I can be confirmed, so that I can train as a Reader. It’s an unfortunate technicality, which means that my original believer’s baptism is not transferable.
So does that mean my second baptism and confirmation are just a formality, and don’t actually mean anything?
That’s a question I’ve been wrestling with for a while now. In a very simplified way, a Baptist dedication + baptism is roughly equivalent to an Anglican baptism + confirmation. In that sense, I’ve already publicly declared my faith and reached that ‘level’, just in a different denomination. So I guess this isn’t perhaps as significant and exciting as it might be for others. It’s a technical requirement for the ministry that God is leading me into, and doesn’t add or remove anything from my existing faith.
However, if it were just a meaningless technicality, that would undermine the whole event. The same could easily be said about Reader training, of course – it’s just a technicality to allow me to continue the ministry I’m already doing. And that’s where things begin to come a little clearer. God has clearly been leading me to become a Reader, to deliberately go through the Anglican ‘system’. The end result will be that I am officially recognisable as an Anglican. It therefore make sense for me to have been officially baptised and confirmed in the Anglican church too, to complement that complete that Anglican identity.
So it would seem that this is a big thing after all. It’s not just a formality, it’s a necessary and deliberate part of God’s plan for me. I can’t claim to understand why it’s needed yet, I’ll probably only see that with the benefit of hindsight, but I’m guessing at some point in the future there will be a need for me to be an official Anglican. That’s not to discredit or belittle my Baptist upbringing, because that is what has shaped the majority of my faith and attitude towards God. In my own eyes I shall forever be a Baplican – both Baptist and Anglican. But today I take the first step towards being publicly recognisable as an Anglican.
And yes, I am excited after all!