An Easter Story from York
25 February 2013
Easter Outdoor Ecumenical Baptisms
Each Easter I have a great view as I get to watch believers of all ages taking that great step of commitment to Christ- baptism.I really do feel it is an honour to be involved in these ecumenical Easter baptisms. In 2012 we had 19 candidates, but in 2011 we had 28 candidates plus 2 more from the crowd who responded on the spur of the moment to an appeal by Archbishop Sentamu.
It all began when one of the churches in our network had an open-air baptism and it seemed such fun that one of the other church leaders in One Voice York suggested that church let us all join in. They agreed and it was handed over to 'One Voice' to plan the next one. We have been doing them annually since.
The first step was to come up with a liturgy so that the baptisms would be fully legal for each of the denominations to be involved. This was no easy task and each had to be generous in identifying what was mere preference and what was important to them. It was Steve Redman who did much of that work on behalf of OVY and spend quite a bit of time with the Archbishop’s office getting it right for the Anglicans, as we had invited Sentamu to take part. The idea was that Archbishop Sentamu would get in the water for baptising all candidates, and each church leader would be in the water for baptising their own candidates with Sentamu. We were aware that having Sentamu involved would increase the level of publicity and public interest. We saw nothing wrong in looking for good publicity.
Talking with Archbishop Sentamu after the first event I asked if he knew if anything like that had ever taken place before. I knew of churches having a joint baptism from time to time (I have even been involved in a few myself) but did he know of any proper ecumenical baptisms that were valid for all denominations involved. He said he would get his researcher on to it. He contacted me a while later to tell me that no trace could be found and in their opinion it was the first in the history of the Britain. Not surprising when you remember that at one time we were killing each other instead of working together.
Would your unity group like to host one for your town or city? You could have a copy of our liturgy and we would be happy to give advice about how to organise it.
Before the event I have the task of seeing that all the details are sent out to each candidate so they can be ready for the day. Each year we plan the event before we have any candidates, trusting that there will be some. One complication is that these baptisms have inspired churches and there are more converts being baptised during the year who do not want to wait until the next Easter.
Each year I wait and trust, then the emails start to arrive in my in box. Each candidate gets the details emailed to them or to their church leader so they know what will happen.
The PA company, Rocktech, start setting up their equipment early and late morning and the tank is set up. The band arrives and before long the sun is shining, a crowd has gathered and hundreds of people are singing.
From about 1:30 pm at the Parish Centre of St Michael-le-Belfry Church, across the road, the candidates start arriving where they will get changed. Archbishop Sentamu arrives and we all chat for a while before walking over to the stage at 2:30 pm. We can see the crowds. The singing is enthusiastic. More people have heard the sounds and can be seen to scurry along to join the hundreds already there. Dave Casswell, my co-chairman, turns to welcome the group of us which includes those nervous but excited candidates.
I have my programme an my hand and from now on I am concentrating on getting everything right and keeping to time. It is my job to introduce some of the people, and it is down to me to ask each of the candidates, "Why do you want to be baptised today?" They each reply in their own words, into the microphone, and the crowd cheers each of them in turn.
The service proceeds and those in the platform have time to look out at all the faces before them. We have such a view! We don't just see faces, like some crowd of entertained people, we see faith in the faces of many who look at us.
After the baptisms each candidate has been prayed for that they may receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then it is my turn to invite each one person the crowd to remember their own baptism and to reaffirm their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. I read out the words line by line as the crowd repeats each line after me in a loud shout. I usually have to give them a practice to get them loud enough. This year was no exception.
"Today it is my choice to follow Jesus.
Today it is my conviction to live for Jesus.
Today it is my commission to tell others about Jesus.
Today I reject all that is evil."
Then I finish with the blessing:
"May God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit affirm today, his high calling on your life."
And that is not the end! We ask that all who would like to be splashed with water to raise their hands. I remind them it is to help them make the connection with their own baptism. It is a great sight to see so many smiling faces, authentic joy, as they eagerly await their turn. The church leaders who are present fill cups with water and hurl the water across the crowd. The droplets of water shine and sparkle in the sunlight. The expressions on the faces, of faith and dedication to Jesus, is moving to see.
And that is it for another year. We go to get dry and as we do so we hear the chatter of those who talk of how fantastic they feel and how wonderful it all was.
Thank you Lord for the good weather. Thank you for the privilege of being part of these historic baptism services. Thank you that you are in the business of changing lives.
By Graham Hutchinson One Voice York.