Back Off! I’m Baptized!

Immediately after moving to Athens, Georgia, to attend the university there, I felt the urge to go to church; something I had always done with my family growing up. The campus ministries I had tried attending were just not satisfying my spiritual needs. Also, at the time, I didn’t have a car on campus, so I needed to go somewhere within walking distance. Being a life-long United Methodist, I figured I would try a Methodist church first. The only Methodist church I knew about within walking distance was Athens First United Methodist Church. So that is where I went almost every Sunday of freshman year.

The church was perfect for me: both welcoming and inclusive. It had plenty of ways to get involved. I joined the sanctuary choir and a handbell ensemble. I participated in some of the mission activities and worked with their REACH international student program. The church helped me make many new friends and provided an escape from the everyday stresses of college life. I loved it so much I even transferred my membership towards the end of the spring semester.

Not only did the church give me a home away from home, it gave me my faith back when it was all but the size of a pea. Something I haven’t really admitted to anyone until now. I put up a good front, but inside I was falling apart. I was struggling with my identity and where I fit into this giant world we call earth. Thankfully though, Athens First acted like a kind of crib, keeping me in one place and in one piece, so Gods arms could scoop me back up and remind me who I was: His beloved child.

One of the many ways the church did this was through baptism. Not my own baptism, that happened when I was but a wee infant only a week old, but through the many other children who were baptized in the congregation this past year. The worst kept secret of that church is that they are probably the most fertile congregation I have ever seen. There was almost a baptism a week. Which was good for me considering the state of my faith at that time.

For those who are not aware, baptism is a sacrament. The church defines a sacrament as an outward sign of inward grace. United Methodists believe in infant baptism because we believe in something called prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the concept that God pours out his unmerited favor upon all of his children before and regardless of whether they consciously decide to receive it. The water in baptism symbolizes this grace. I like to think of it as God saying, “I made you, I love you, and you are mine!” That is also the reason why we don’t believe in second baptisms or rebaptisms, because God’s love can never be undone or re-given.

Every time the pastor baptized a child in the congregation, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” he would then invite the congregation to sing this song:

Daniel, Daniel, God claims you

God helps you, protects you, and loves you too!

We this day do all agree,

A child of God you’ll always be!

Daniel, Daniel, God claims you

God helps you, protects you, and loves you too!

(The Faith We Sing; 2249; Words and Music by Stanley M. Farr)

We always replaced “Daniel” with the name of the child who was receiving the baptism. I would try to sing along until the tears came streaming down my face. I would always lose my cool right as we reached the line about “a child of God you’ll always be.”

I couldn’t help but think about all the other names this child might be called in his or her life. Names like the ones society had given me. Some used to describe like white, gay, male, middle-class, or Christian and others to wound like faggot, anorexic, or cracker. My tears though, were tears of joy because I finally remembered that in all the names this world might bestow upon each of those children getting baptized or had already given me, God had named us first!

He called us his and beloved before we were yet born. Ultimately, that is the only identity that matters. God, Athens First UMC, and those little babies reminded me that when the world wants to put labels on us we have the right to say, “Yo, back off! I’m baptized! My only true identity is that of a Child of God!”

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    July 23, 2015 at 3:05 am

    YES, YES, YES.

    All of this! As a queer-POC who comes from a sacramental faith tradition, remembering my baptism is one of the bedrocks to recenter my identity and remind me “who I am and whose I am”. Love it!

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