Passing Through the Waters

Happy New Year and Happy Epiphany! I hope you have gotten the chance to enjoy some "down time" after the craziness of the holidays! I took advantage of a rare occasion such as this a few days ago! I have been preaching weekly at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church south of Rome, Georgia. However, as I am yet to be ordained as a pastor in the PC(USA), I get the first Sunday off since they bring in an ordained pastor to preside at the Table on those days. I took advantage of this past week off from preaching to visit St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Tucker, Georgia where my dear friend, Joseph Taber, is currently interning. (I encourage you to check out his blog here). They recently remodeled their worship space and I was fascinated with their renovation and wish to share it with you!

"Because we have passed through the waters of baptism,

we dare to bare our souls before God..."

The above liturgy is taken from a Call to Confession from the Feasting on the Word Worship Companion for the current liturgical season. Of the many reasons to feast upon this liturgy is its emphasis on the movement of baptism. Simply put, Christian baptism represents the journey that we make because God first journeyed to us. Therefore, a liturgically healthy worshiping community (in my opinion) takes as many steps as possible to embody the baptismal promise that God makes to us on this wild and precious journey. The people who are St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church have done so in quite a few delightful ways!

First of all, you will notice that the font itself is designed (as many are) so that the water is completely visible. From virtually every angle, the water is visible and therefore emotionally and spiritually accessible. Enclosed fonts, especially those unfortunate ones with the lids, close us off from the waters of our baptism and convey that baptism is a private and distant event. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth! Baptism is a public embodiment as we proclaim God's promises both to us as individual children of God and as the corporate Body of Christ.

Secondly, I noticed the simplicity of this font. Overly decorated fonts, while perhaps intricate works of art unto themselves, tend to distract from what is used in baptism: water! The beautiful simplicity of the font above immediately directs your gaze upwards to the water and gets right to the point: this is about the cleansing water of baptism!

However, what I found most compelling and beautiful about this font was not the structure itself but rather its placement within the worship space as a whole.

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The God in whose life and death we are baptized is none other than Emmanuel, God with us. As such, the placement of the font within the gathering of the people of God serves as a beautiful reminder that God's love for us is not distant and unattainable. Rather, the love promised to us in our baptisms is here among us as we are baptized into the death and resurrection of the Christ who was and is here among us! Another benefit of this placement is that the congregation is able to dip their hands in the font as they, quite literally, pass through their baptismal waters on the way to the Lord's Table, as we did this past Sunday.

Furthermore, this congregation's baptismal identity is not only reflected from within the sanctuary but from outside as well. While most pastors have horror stories regarding the often mundane and painful process of choosing carpet, I have a feeling that whatever process that produced this carpet in the narthex was well worth the discussion!

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My good friend, Joseph Taber, let me in on a little secret: the carpet in the Narthex was specifically chosen to reflect the waters of Baptism! Therefore, the entire congregation has no choice but to pass through the waters of baptism on both the beginning and end of the journey that is worship. Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful!

Thanks be to God for the promise made to us in our Baptisms! And thanks be to the people who are St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church for actively embodying this grace in a liturgically abundant way! This is an example of how intentional worship (which does not necessarily have to look exactly like this!) can nurture and sustain a holy space where the people of God are called to receive and respond to the Word of God that then sends us back through our baptismal waters to the world into which you and I are sent.

Grace and peace,

Stephen

 

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Stephen Fearing

Stephen was born in 1988 in Cookeville, TN, where his parents met whilst attending Tennessee Tech. Shortly after, they moved to Dalton, Georgia where they put down roots and joined First Presbyterian Church, the faith family that taught Stephen that he was first and foremost a beloved child of God. It was this community that taught Stephen that it was OK to have questions and doubts and that nothing he could do could every possibly separate him from the love of God. In 1995, his sister, Sarah Kate, joined the family and Stephen began his journey as a life-long musician. Since then, he has found a love of music and has found this gift particularly fitting for his call to ministry. Among the instruments that he enjoys are piano, trumpet, guitar, and handbells. Stephen has always had a love of singing and congregation song. An avid member of the marching band, Stephen was the drum major of his high school's marching band. In 2006, Stephen began his tenure at Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC where he majored in Religion and minored in History. While attending PC, Stephen continued to explore his love of music by participating in the Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, Jazz Trio, as well as playing in the PC Handbell ensemble and playing mandolin and banjo PC's very own bluegrass/rock group, Hosegrass, of which Stephen was a founding member (Hosegrass even released their own CD!). In 2010, Stephen moved from Clinton to Atlanta to attend Columbia Theological Seminary to pursue God's call on his life to be a pastor in the PC(USA). During this time, Stephen worked at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, Central Presbyterian Church, and Westminster Presbyterian Church. For three years, Stephen served as the Choir Director of Columbia Theological Seminary's choir and also served as the Interim Music Director at Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 2014, Stephen graduated from Columbia with a Masters of Divinity and a Masters of Arts in Practical Theology with an emphasis in liturgy, music, and worship. In July of 2014, Stephen was installed an ordained as Teaching Elder at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church in Shelter Island, NY. Later that year, Stephen married the love of his life, Tricia, and they share their home on Shelter Island with their Golden Doodle, Elsie, and their calico cat, Audrey. In addition to his work with the people who are Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, Stephen currently serves as a commission from Long Island Presbytery to the Synod of the Northeast and, beginning in January of 2016, will moderate the Synod's missions team.