Today I received a copy of the newly released second edition of Klara Tammany’s book, Living Water: Baptism as a Way of Life. First published in 2002, it had an unusual trim-size and layout that was cost-prohibitive to reprint so it went “out of print” despite numerous backorders. During my last years at Church Publishing, I advocated it be re-published as Klara agreed to update it. Approved for publication (again) in 2019 right before my retirement, it fell to two colleagues – Wendy Claire Barrie and then Milton Brasher-Cunningham – to see to its completion. I give thanks for their passing the baton toward publication. I had been asked to write the foreword, but alas the page count was tight, so it was not included. So I share it here:
My first memory of God involves a baptism. I was almost four years old, gathered with family around a font in what seemed like a private room adjacent to the church sanctuary of my childhood. Sunshine streamed through the stained-glass windows, dancing on the concrete baptismal font and red carpet. It was the occasion of my brother’s baptism and I knew that I was present for something important. I experienced warmth, community, the sacred — the important stuff of life that I could not yet articulate. I felt love. That visual and visceral memory has been etched into my being and has sustained me throughout my life.
The Episcopal Church has changed since that day of private baptism in which only family and close friends participated following the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. As a child I did not know what it meant to be a full member of the worshiping community and receive Holy Communion. Baptism was not central to Episcopalians at the time — at least not overtly. Being a Christian and going to church each Sunday was a given. Being formed in faith was not a common phrase; I needed to memorize the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and “My Bounden Duty” before I could be confirmed at age twelve, allowing me to receive communion (once a month). Four generations (the Lost, the Greatest, the Silent, and Baby Boomer) of a single family could fill a church and Sunday School classrooms; Sundays were days for worship and family, with local sports’ fields dormant and stores locked up tight.
It was fitting that I received a copy of Absalom Jones: America’s First Black Priestwritten by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones in early February, Black History Month. Exactly two years ago I wrote about Absalom Jones, sharing resources for learning about this man of faith, courage, and commitment. So it is fitting that I share a new resource for children (ages 8-12) close to his Feast Day – February 13 – that explores the history of this man and the context in which he lived and came from. The people of God are all people – all colors, all races, all languages – from all over the world.
One is immediately caught by the visually stunning cover of this book that shows what Absalom might have looked like today, surrounded by other people of faith who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, including the first Black woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara C. Harris, who died in March 2020. Illustrator, Christopher Michael Taylor describes his image on the cover as “a modernized and unique interpretation,” while each black and white artwork that begins each of the eight 3-page chapters can be described as “comic book realism.” They pop next to the text, engaging the reader in wanting to read on to see how a man, born a slave in 1746, earned his freedom and was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802.
There was a time when dioceses created and published materials for their congregations for forming and empowering lay leadership. Granted, these were also times when adults regularly attended church, participated in adult education before or after worship, or attended traditional Wednesday night offerings of study. It was also a time when education was a priority exemplified in diocesan and church budget lines. In the 70s and 80s there was an educational focus on spiritual growth and discipleship with the creation of resources to assist that growth. Deja vu? Yes (and no).
In August of 1998, a resource developed by the Rev. Ernesto Medina (then in the Diocese of Los Angeles and now retired in the Diocese of Nebraska) made its debut on the church-wide level. Entitled The Authority of Generations, this process became the foundation for the National Episcopal Children’s Ministries Conference held at Camp Allen (Diocese of Texas) in September 1998. Hundreds came from across the Episcopal Church to further explore a Children’s Charter for the Church and how to implement it on the congregational and diocesan level. Each morning, small groups of 8-10 people gathered across the main campus to pray, read scripture, sing, and share stories. All of this was grounded in hearing everyone’s voice on an equal level.
At this time of social distancing and the cancellation of many milestones of a young person’s life (graduation from high school or college, prom, senior activities, sports, performances, driver’s licenses, confirmation, etc.) there is a need to acknowledge such loss. The Confirmation Collaborative, a group of Christian formation leaders in The Episcopal Church who come together in person and virtually to live out its mission, recently met via Zoom to talk about the various projects we are working on. We chose instead to focus on creating a source that might assist churches and youth in this time of sadness and grief.
Below are some of the ideas that were generated. It should be noted that these should occur through individual expression and/or online gatherings (zoom, Google classroom, etc.). If at all possible, gather young people together in advance (online) for their input and creation of any liturgy or expression you may choose to construct. Invite them to offer contributions in word, image, music, or any expression they may find unique to their own personality or the group’s identity.