Once again it was great to watch believers taking that great step of commitment – baptism. And what an honour to be involved in these ecumenical Easter baptisms. This year there were 28 candidates plus 2 more from the crowd who responded on the spur of the moment to an appeal by Archbishop Sentamu.
Instead of repeating the sort of report from previous years, this time I will tell it from my point of view.
I coordinate the planning for the event. It is one of the easiest events I have been involved with as each year there are so many people who simply fall into place to do their part. This year was no exception, thanks gang!
Before the event I have the task of seeing that all the details are sent out to each candidate so they can be ready for the day. Each year we plan the event before we have any candidates, trusting that there will be some. One complication is that these baptisms have inspired churches and there are more converts being baptised during the year who do not want to wait until the next Easter.
This year we waited and trusted and the emails started to arrive in my in box. Each candidate gets the details emailed to them or to their church leader so they know what will happen, and so we get their name right on the certificates.
The day began this year as usual with the steps of the Minster being swept clean of bird droppings from the roosting starlings of the night before. That is my job! The PA company, Rocktech, start setting up their equipment early and late morning and the tank is set up. The band arrives and before long the sun is shining, a crowd has gathered and hundreds of people are singing.
Ah well, that is the plan. This year there was a problem. The standpipe that connects to a water supply near the steps had gone missing. My friend Alex at the Minster was rather embarrassed. He did know of one in the stonemason’s yard. But they had packed up for the holiday and it was all locked up.
We were trying to shift water using a small cart carrying it in containers from near the tap near the Chapter House. We had serious doubts whether we would make it in time. My friend David Casswell (vicar of Clifton Parish) suggested the Fire Brigade. He phoned them and they agreed. No he didn’t dial 999! They arrived and filling the tank took less than a minute. We agreed to pay if a fee was necessary, though I think they may be able to have used it as some training exercise.
Thanks again York Fire Brigade!
From about 1:30pm at the nearby Parish Centre of St Micheal-le-Belfry Church the candidates start arriving and are shown where they are to get changed. Archbishop Sentamu arrives and we all chat for a while before walking over to the stage. We can see the crowds. The singing is enthusiastic. More people have heard the sounds and can be seen to scurry along to join the hundreds already there. Dave Casswell turns to welcome the group of us which includes those nervous but excited candidates.
I have my programme an my hand and from now on I am concentrating on getting everything right and keeping to time. It is my job to introduce some of the people, and it is down to me to ask each of the candidates, “Why do you want to be baptised today?” They each reply in their own words, into the microphone, and the crown chears each of them in turn.
The service proceeds and those in the platform have time to look out at all the faces before them. We have such a view! We don’t just see faces, like some crowd of entertained people, we see faith. It is difficult to describe the sight but we see the devotion to Jesus in the faces of many who look at us.
After the baptisms, and after each candidate has been prayed for, that they may receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it is my turn to invite each one in the crowd to remember their own baptism and to reaffirm their commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. I read out the words line by line as the crowd repeats each line after me in a loud shout. I usually have to give them a practice to get them loud enough. This year was no exception.
“Today it is my choice to follow Jesus.
Today it is my conviction to live for Jesus.
Today it is my commission to tell others about Jesus.
Today I reject all that is evil.”
Then I finish with the blessing: “May God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit affirm today, his high calling on your life.”
And that is not the end! We ask that all who would like to splashed with water from the tank, to help them make the connection with their own baptism, to raise their hands. It is a great sight to see so many smiling faces, authentic joy, as they eagerly await their turn. The church leaders who are present fill cups with water and hurl the water across the crowd. The droplets of water shine and sparkle in the sunlight. The expressions on the faces, of faith and dedication to Jesus, is moving to see.
And that is it for another year. We go to get dry and as we do so we hear the chatter of those who talk of how fantastic they feel and how wonderful it all was.
Thank you Lord for the good weather. Thank you for the privilege of being part of this historic baptism service. Thank you that you are in the business of changing lives and lighting up lives.