Pastoring a faith community is a school of love for both priest and parishioners. The other day I visited a young couple inquiring about baptism for their newborn baby. In my mind some unflattering assumptions were made even before I met them.
Yet to my surprise, not only did this couple want their baby baptized, but the mother expressed a desire to embrace Christian discipleship as the path to give meaning and purpose to her life. In other words, she desired baptism as well.
Meanwhile several months ago a single woman struggling with personal challenges reached out by phone. We have been growing our relationship by fits and starts since that first day. For quite a while I was uncertain whether our connection was helpful. Now this child of God is awakening to her God-given identity, growing a desire to be baptized and to make Jesus her pattern for living within the community of the church.
I stood back in surprise, awe and wonder. The Holy Spirit moves hearts despite us; we can’t even claim the credit. And I began to wonder: do our parish communities live up to what we profess so others can see and taste and hear and feel Jesus in our common life? Is our faith community energized by the Holy Spirit as Jesus was himself? When others see us relate and interact, are they puzzled by the love that binds us? Are they attracted and wonder what moves us and what power we draw on?
Living with Jesus at the centre ought to be a concrete expression of Christ loving through us: self-giving and generous, sacrificial and inclusive, joyfully and gratefully. Human love, on its own, is incapable of this. Human love calculates what’s in it for ourselves. We love in exclusive and possessive ways instead of inclusive and selfless ways. But the love drawn from God in Christ Jesus is other-centred. It is to be the animating force in every Christian family.
To love Jesus is to love the community of faith, to love the church, with all its needy characters and misfits. It is through the church, flawed as it is, that we are called to live as a “new creation” in Christ (2 Colossians 5:17). This summons has serious consequences for how we relate to God, to others and to the world. Why would anyone be even remotely interested in joining us if we do not look and act any differently than the world — that is what it means to be in the world and not of it (John 14:18-19).
The universal call to holiness in and through Christ is not some spiritual veneer for experts and religious acrobats. This call, issued in baptism, is to be fostered throughout life in a “school of prayer and love.” Every community of Christians is Christ’s Body on earth, and thus called to be God’s sacrament in the world.
However, just because we’ve had the water poured doesn’t mean there is no more sin, no more obstacles, no more false gods, no more mixed motives and hurts. But instead of falling victim to our own worst tendencies, we embrace with joy the holy vision of God, committing ourselves to growing into this vision our whole life long. Even if we fail and want to give up, God clearly does not give up on us.
And so, here in our little prairie town in our little parish, we have begun the journey to the waters of life with our three candidates: a newborn baby, a middle-aged woman and a young mom. We will surround them with the love of our parish family, each according to their needs. In the process each of us, priest and candidates, sponsors and catechists, will be mentored by God’s Spirit of Love — consoled and corrected, enlightened and guided, forgiven and healed. We want to be that school of love God is calling us to, and we pray for the grace to be faithful to this vision that has so captured our hearts. Please pray for us.
Ternier is an Anglican priest who serves the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, Sask. This column is co-published with the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com