The Boys' Baptism Special

The (not quite) complete baptismal party!
The (not quite) complete baptismal party - from the left Sharon, Père Claude Andriot, Caleb, Benjamin, Joshua, Père L'Huillier, Granny March, Jean Picard, Marie-Thérèse Picard - We're not all present as I'm taking the shot and David and Diane Bjork had to fly to catch a plane, if you get my meaning!

Benjamin being baptised while his godfather and godmother lay hands on him Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb were baptised on Saturday 26th March 2005 in the church at Vitteaux during the Veillée Pascale - the Easter watchnight service. From the early centuries of the Church this is the time that adult catechumens have been baptised. The symbolism was very powerful. After a long period of preparation, during which the catechumens had been instructed in just what it means to be baptised, they would then be baptised at sunrise on Easter Sunday morning. Thus, symbolically, they 'die' are 'buried' and 'rise' out of the waters of baptism, at the same moment when Christ rose from the tomb. Wonderful!

Joshua being baptised while his godfather and godmother lay hands on himIn contemporary Catholicism the process is a little different now, for one thing, the watchnight service is no longer an all-night affair. It started at nine and finished about eleven thirty. However, though some elements have been modified, it remains the key time for adults to be baptised.

Our boys have all attended catechism classes since our arrival in Villy. As part of this process some of the children who had been baptised as infants, were being prepared to take their first communion. Caleb was very thoughtful at this time and asked why he couldn't take communion. We explained that our Christian tradition was different to that of the Catholic church, and in our way of understanding baptism it is something best entered into as an adult. For that reason babies are not baptised, but rather dedicated to God. We therefore explained to Caleb that he couldn't take communion in the Catholic church because he was not yet baptised. Caleb subsequently asked if he could be baptised then!

Caleb being baptised while his godfather and godmother lay hands on him Sharon and I encouraged Caleb to think and pray about it. We explained to all the boys what baptism meant and the differences in approach within the different Christian traditions. Caleb and his brothers talked together about this, and together they came to the decision that they would all like to be baptised. Sharon and I were very pleased and encouraged that, understanding what baptism meant, they wanted to express their commitment and obedience to Christ in this way. However, we were also a little peturbed. Should we ask if they could be baptised in the French, Catholic church, or should we return to the UK so that they could be baptised in our home church in Burton?

After much thought and prayer we decided that France is the boys' home now, and the French Catholic church is where they will live ot their Christian lives. It would therefore make no sense for them to be baptised as Protestant, Baptists, if their future church home is to be the Catholic church. Thus if we were to have them baptised back in the UK, our only possible motivation would be that we thought Catholic baptism was somehow inferior to that of our home church. But that would deny the whole basis of our lives and mission here in France! Thus, with the boys and with the blessing of our home church, we decided that we would seek to have the boys baptised by our local Catholic church here in France.

Benjamin being baptised while his godfather and godmother lay hands on himWe approached the priest and he talked with the boys. Having talked with them all, he said that he would be very happy to baptise them, as they all had a good understanding of what baptism signified. He explained that the boys would be considered as adults candidates for baptism. This means that there are four steps in the baptismal process.

Firstly, the boys made a public request to be baptised in front of the local church congregation. This took place on Sunday 29th August 2004 at an outdoor service held at the top of one of the hills overlooking the village. It was a very special and moving service, many people were in tears to see these three young boys express their desire to follow Christ and to join his Church. At this event the Church formally accepts the candidate's request to be baptised and commits to helping them as they take the pilgrim's path which leads to the discovery of Jesus Christ.

Joshua being baptised while his godfather and godmother lay hands on himSecondly, the boys were officially accepted into the catechumenate. A step which acknowledges that they have begun to experience the life of the Christian community and by this step they are seen to enter into the Church, the People of God. As an expression of this the boys were signed with the sign of Jesus - the cross. This was done by the priest and then by their godfather and godmother. The boys are invited by this step to come and hear the word of God each Sunday with the rest of the Christian community. They are also now encouraged to share their faith with those around them. This second step was incorporated into the same ceremony as the first step.

Following some informal contact with the boys over the suceeding months, the priest said that he felt that they might be ready at Easter to undertake the final steps of the process.

Caleb being baptised while his godfather and godmother lay hands on himThe third and fourth steps were likewise combined. The third step is to publically renounce Sin, Satan and all his evil works. Following the first two steps, candidates having spent time with the Christian community and hearing the gospel proclaimed and explained, are now at the point were they realise that it is not easy to be a friend of Jesus. Many things prevent us from loving God and others as we should. Therefore in this step the priest lays hands on the boys and prays for them to be forgiven their sins and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, in order that they may know the power of God in their lives. The final step is the baptism itself, followed by particiapting in the eucharist and ultimately confirmation by the bishop.

The boys with their GrannyThus it was that we found ourselves on Saturday 26th March 2005 in the church at Vitteaux during the Veillée Pascale (Easter watchnight service). The church was very busy, and damp, but not too cold!! Granny March had been able to come to be with us for the event. We know that the rest of our family and friends were very much with us in spirit too!

The boys' godfather was our friend and colleague, Pastor Dr. David Bjork. The boys' godmother was Madame Marie-Thérèse Picard of Villy. She and her husband, Jean, have become very precious to us since our arrival in Villy en Auxois. They are both devout Catholics and their love of God shines throughout their whole lives.

Père Claude Andriot of Vitteaux officiated as the priest for the parish, with Père André Lhuillier, our neighbour and retired priest of Viily, assisting. We were very appreciative of the many people who remembered us - the boys received cards, books and gifts from around the globe!

Joshua signing the baptismal register watched by David, Sharon and Marie-Thérèse Several local people also told us that they would be remembering the boys in their prayers. We want to thank all of you who took the time to pray and also those who sent Bible verses for us and the boys at this time. We really feel that the Holy Spirit clearly guided you to what you shared with us. The verses are appended at the bottom of this page.

The day of the baptism passed peacefully with David and Diane joining us before the ceremony and David prayed for us all before we left the house. The service began at 9 p.m. As usual at the Veillée Pascale we had seven readings before the preparation for baptism. In these readings the whole of salvation history is summed up. The priest then asked the boys to say in a few words why they wanted to be baptised then asked us as parents if we were in agreement. We indicated our agreement by kissing the boys on the cheeks in the French manner.

David and Marie-Thérèse were asked if they were willing to be godparents to the boys. They each expressed their willingness to do this in a short speech. David shared that as a Protestant, Evangelical Pastor he was happy to assist the boys in their Catholic baptism as it is one of the central things that all Christians share in common.

Père Lhuillier then went through Apostolic Creed with the boys asking if they believed these statements.

Père Andriot then blessed the baptismal water and called the boys forward to kneel in front of the church and be baptised. They knelt in font of the giant basin as the priest poured the water over their heads three times - in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

After this the boys received a white stole as a symbol of purity. This was presented to them by David, Marie-Thérèse and Granny March.

David lighting the boys' candles from the Easter candle In the Easter watchnight service, at the beginning of the service a fire is lit and from that, the Easter candle is lit - a large candle given by the bishop to each of the churches in his diocese, and which will burn during each service throughout the year to come - a symbol of the light of Christ that illuminates the darkness of the world.

The boys light the Easter candle that belongs to our own church here in Villy en AuxoisDavid gave each of the boys a candle which they will keep to remind them that they are now to bear the light of Christ in the World. The boys lit their candles from the the big Easter candle and then moved round the whole congregation lighting each person's candle. The boys also lit the Easter candle that belongs to our own church here in Villy en Auxois, carried by Jean Picard.

Later the boys were anointed with oil that had been blessed by the bishop as a sign of their future confirmation by him.

The boys with the PriestWhen it was time for communion the boys went up to receive it together. This was very moving, but actually the next day, at our own church in Villy, it was very special for us to be able to communicate as a family for the first time. At the end of the baptismal service the organist, who had previously warned us to look out for something 'special', struck up with 'God Save the Queen' in the boys honour!

One of our specific prayers for this time was that this step would not only mean something to our boys but also have an impact on the lives of those to whom we seek to witness in our community. At the end of the service, a lady thanked David for his ecumenical input (he had spoken very well about why he, as an evangelical pastor, was willing to be the boys' godfather). The next day, Easter Sunday, a man from our own church here said to us 'It was such a moving ceremony - Like Simeon I can die happy now I've seen an adult baptism in my own parish.' It was the first and only one he had ever seen - and he's seventy-five! And another lady who struggles to bring her friend to church said 'Did you notice us last night? My friend said he would come because your boys were being baptised.' We are praying that the effects will be further-reaching than even we could realise!

Bible Verses Given to the Boys

Ben's Verses

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.
[Proverbs 3 vv 5&6]

Glory in his holy name, let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
[1 Chron 16 v 10]

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.
[Psalm 17 v 8]

But when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own, he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
[John 16 v 13]

God will keep in perfect peace the man whose mind is focused on him.
[Isaiah 26 v 3]

Joshua's verses

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
[Philippians 4 v 13]

Glory in his holy name, let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
[1 Chron 16 v 10]

By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country.
[Hebrews 11 v 9]

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
[John 3 v 16]

Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and bless your Father in heaven.
[Matt 5 v 16]

Caleb's verses

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
[Matt 6 v 33]

Glory in his holy name, let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
[1 Chron 16 v 10]

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you or forsake you.
[Joshua 1 v 5b]

My heart says of you "Seek his face" - your face, Lord, I will seek.
[Psalm 27 v 8]

I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
[Isaiah 41 v 10]