Archive | January, 2012

Baptismal Ecumenism

31 Jan

You know the story.  There was a man named Philip who heard the voice of an angel, telling him to go south.  And on his way he encountered an Ethiopian eunuch reading the Holy Scriptures, and Philip was urged to engage him in conversation.  One thing led to another and soon they were talking about baptism.  “Look,” said the Ethiopian, “Here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  What, indeed.

Many things, these days, get in the way of such spontaneity.  Denominations have structures and rules and doctrines which all have something to say about who, when, why, where, and by whom.  The guiding principle of my own denomination is to strive to do everything decently and in order.  Order is nice, but sometimes it feels like the rules cramp our sincere desire to follow the Spirit’s call.

I was talking with a student recently and the subject of baptism came up.  I asked.  “Have you been baptized?”  No, he had not.  It was something he knew he wanted to do, something he had been thinking about, but he just hadn’t figured out the logistics of it yet.  He was new to Christianity when he came to college.  He started attending all of our campus ministry events and grew in faith.   Today he is a member of our leadership team with a passion for serving others in the name of Jesus.

It seemed obvious that Protestant Campus Ministry is the community in which he should be baptized.  But would it be possible?  Unlike some campus ministries, we do not have a building to call our own.  We go from one meeting room to another with our various activities, wherever we can find space.   We have no official membership like congregations do.  We are an ecumenical ministry and that means we are accountable to no one and to everyone, so whose rules are we to follow when it comes to something like baptism?  At this moment I felt like I was in the grayest of gray areas.

I called the chairperson of my presbytery committee on ministry.  Naturally, he consulted the rules; that’s his job.  The rules say that baptism ought to be directly connected to church membership.  Then he said, “But, I just don’t think Paul or Barnabas would have worried about this.”

At some point in his life, this young man will find a church and become an official member, but at this point in his life, PCM is his church.  And when your church doesn’t even have a space to call its own you really know that the church is just the community of people that gather together in Jesus’ name, even when they are a vagabond tribe.

Look!  Here is a believer; here is a community of faith; here is water.  What is to prevent us from baptism?  Thankfully, nothing!

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Maggie Gillespie is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and is in her fifth year as Director of Protestant Campus Ministry (PCM) at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Bloomsburg for 18 years with her husband, Kim, and their four children.  Her favorite pastimes include reading on the front porch, hanging out in the kitchen with family and friends, and screaming her head off at high school soccer games.  Maggie holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Divinity from Lancaster Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Illinois.

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