Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Hastily Arranged Baptism

As many of you know, in addition to serving at Canon for Congregational Development at the Cathedral, I have a kind of parallel life as a seminarian at The School for Ministry where I will be entering my third and final year this fall. (Want to join me and other members of the Cathedral for classes this fall? They are open to anyone who would like to audit a class. Register here) And as part of my studies, I am once again doing a summer “field study” which is a kind of internship for seminarians so that they can gain some ‘real world’ experience to augment their formation in the classroom. My field study this summer is with The Pastoral Counseling Center of San Diego – a wonderful ministry based right here at St. Paul’s Cathedral. And once again, I will be writing a series of blogs detailing some of my experiences as I did last year during my field study at Episcopal Community Services. Unlike last year however, because of the sensitive and confidential nature of my work at the Pastoral Counseling Center, I cannot write about any of my experiences per se, but I will share some of my learnings along the way as I prepare to say goodbye to St. Paul’s. Brook McGillis, the Director of the Center, has put together a wonderful curriculum that I am studying alongside my practical work that is rich with interesting insight about how we as a Christian community might care for one another. In addition to that work, I have been auditing the excellent Stephen Ministry training that Ellen Meier, Brian Mullin, Dean Penny and Rev. Maryanne Lacey have been offering throughout the summer. (You can learn more about Stephen Ministry here .)

In addition to the confidentiality issues, this is also a difficult assignment since I will be leaving the Cathedral before it is over (July 26th will be my last Sunday). I wrote a little about that last month, but really, I just scratched the surface of the emotions of such a proposition. You can read the letter here, but the long and short goes like this: Earlier this year I had another field study, this time at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway .  When I began my work up there, which was supposed to consist of attending services, getting to know the people and then helping to organize their outreach (all in a mere four hours a week!), they were in the midst of a calling process for an assistant rector. About of month into my time there, I was asked if I would be interested in putting my hat into the ring. Interestingly, and I think importantly, the idea had already occurred to me as well. I too was beginning to feel that the Spirit was doing something with my time in that community; something that wasn’t content to be finished in just a couple of months. With the support of the Bishop and Dean Penny, and my husband Joe’s blessing, I put together a profile (not unlike the profile we did for the Cathedral but for a clergy person) and resume as well as some sample sermons. Following a Skype interview with the committee, I was informed that I was one the finalists and following a second round of interviews, I was informed that the committee and vestry had voted to extend me an offer.

In the meanwhile I was engaged in my own discernment process around leaving the only spiritual home I have ever known. I did a Listening Hearts session, met with colleagues and close friends, prayed…and then prayed some more. In the end, while a difficult decision, and definitely a bit out of the box in that I am essentially doing this a year early, I said yes. The opportunity for formation in a new context, one that is very different from the Cathedral will be a good challenge for me and my development as a priest. It will also be a good opportunity for St. Paul’s as Dean Penny will be free to reshape our staffing needs in response to the new mix of skills and gifts that has been assembled, and the emerging vision for the Cathedral’s future.

I have spent the last month since the announcement meeting with many of you, having lunch, dinners, drinks and coffees. We have spent time reminiscing about stories I had forgotten about -- and a few that I had remembered very differently! :) In thinking about the last 9 years here at the Cathedral, it’s truly amazing to imagine how much has changed; how much the church has changed, how much the world has changed -- and how much I have changed. I arrived as an attorney having never been baptized, and leave a candidate for holy orders – now if that is not a small miracle, I don’t know what is!

One of my favorite stories happened at our confirmation rehearsal – back to where it all began really. I will never forget Rev. Lee Teed – with whom we had just spent the last 10 weeks or so learning what it means to be an Episcopalian – walking us through the confirmation bulletin to make sure we all knew what to do and where to stand and so on. Then we got to the section in the bulletin that said “reaffirmation of your baptismal covenant.” Uh oh, I thought. I’ve never been baptized. I bet this is a problem, I thought. I remember sheepishly asking her, “um…excuse me, Lee…um….do you need to be baptized in order to be confirmed?” Of course that I had to ask that tells you something about how close I had been paying attention through the last 10 weeks, but there it was. Lee gave me one of her trademark looks that said a thousands words, but when she spoke, her words could not have been more gracious. She instantly decided that she would baptize me at a noon mass on the next Saturday. I’ll never forget calling my dad a couple of days later and somewhat offhandedly mentioning that I was going to be baptized the next day. There was a pause on the phone for a moment and then he said, “I’d like to be there. Why don’t I catch a plane tomorrow morning?” His response took me back. I really wasn’t expecting that. He had never taken me to church or even gone himself as far as I could remember. His wife was an avid church goer and he had so far resisted her invitations to join her. So this really took me by surprise!

Richard Bonacci recently did a forum on male spirituality where he talked about one of the roles for fathers being that they give their sons a blessing (as they go off into the world to slay their dragons and so on). For me, having my dad fly down on a moment’s notice to be there for my baptism, and to participate in it (Lee had him be the lector) was a blessing that I will never forget. Although the confirmation a few days later, with the bishop and the drama of the darkness and the music and a full cathedral, was beautiful and mesmerizing in its own way, it was my little noon baptism with just a small group of friends and my dad, will always be vivid in my memory and the closest to my heart. Looking back, I can assure you I had no idea that this baptism would be the beginning of so much more. It was a beginning that would be a blessing not just in my life but in the lives of others along the way. Over the years, the Cathedral would touch the lives of my family, my friends and neighbors. But it all stared back at that little, hastily arranged baptism. Even my dad, who had never taken us to church as kids, began attending church after he returned to Santa Cruz. Where he would eventually become…a lector.

Chris Harris is Canon for Congregational Development at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral and candidate for holy orders. His passion is helping people integrate their faith and a sense of call into all aspects of their lives -- workplace, finances and relationships -- while designing a life of purpose and mission. He can be reached at harrisc@stpaulcathedral.org or connect with him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/chrisharris00

No comments: