I couldn't be happier!

Artwork by John August Swanson If you ask any member of the congregation that I now minister to and with if I "like" baptism, they will likely answer your question with a laugh before responding, "Like it? He never shuts up about it!" This is perhaps for several reasons. First of all, my dear friend and mentor in all things liturgical, Kimberly Bracken Long, is also obsessed with the spiritual and liturgical aspects of this sacrament and much of her emphasis on this practice has splashed on to me (please forgive the pun. I couldn't resist!). Secondly, the congregational context of which I find myself is an atmosphere of excitement mixed with lingering pain and hopeful anticipation (perhaps this sounds familiar?); I believe Baptism to be a healthy framework to discern this congregation's movement forward into uncharted territory. Thirdly, as a life-long Presbyterian, I do not "remember" my Baptism in the literal sense of the word. So perhaps I am on a quest to re-live my baptism and this is a quest which I would like to share with you!

The lectionary passage for this upcoming Sunday is Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 which contains the familiar words of God to the newly-Baptized Christ: "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased" (NRSV). I will be frank with you, I have never liked this translation. To me it sounds too formal, too stagnant. For example, I am "well pleased" with this cup of coffee that is warming the palm of my hand on this January morning. I am "well pleased" with the result of the Kansas-Iowa State game last night (Go Jayhawks!). I am "well pleased" with my new iPad. For this reason, God's words to Christ seem to lack a certain "umph" that I have always felt is deserved in this moment of sheer wonder.

A few years ago I found a new translation of this passage which warms my heart. The Common English Bible translates this passage as follows: "You are my Son, whom I dearly love, in you I find happiness." Now, that's more like it! I might be "pleased" with a cup of coffee, a Kansas basketball victory, or a helpful new iPad, but I certainly do not find happiness in these objects (or at least I shouldn't!).

Baptism, when viewed through the lens of this translation, is the moment when God looks upon Jesus, and says "yes! You are the one that I have created! You are the one that brings me joy and warmth and hope and laughter! Yes, you are my beloved and I couldn't be happier!"

If our hearts are not yet strengthened by this alone then hear more good news: our baptisms bind us to the baptism of Christ and into his death and resurrection! Therefore, when God smiles and finds happiness in Christ after his baptism, God does so and finds such in you and me as well!

It's quite a remarkable thought when you think of it: God finds happiness in you and in me! You and me who are such broken people, who stray and wander and stumble and grumble. I will not attempt to explain it but rather to proclaim it! God is with us! God has stood in line to be baptized with us and to be with us! And that news does not make me "well pleased;" I couldn't be happier!

Grace and peace,



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.