Sunday, 7 July 2019

38. Holy Trinity RC Church, Sutton Coldfield

We’re always making promises. So says an advert currently cropping up all the time on TV. The paint company behind the ad is attempting to compare the hollow assurances we give others over so many things in life with the certainty it offers of full satisfaction when you stand back and admire your re-decorated room. There’s even an element of getting your money back if you’re not absolutely blown over. 

Life frequently offers moments when we have to place our trust in others in the hope and belief they will be true to their promise and not let us down. In many cases those situations arise because we are helpless to act for ourselves - the first years of our life being an obvious example. 

This Sunday I’m privileged to be at a christening. It’s a practical example of how we make our promise to look after someone and how we also choose to record that promise in the sight of others we trust. Both are important and both carry a great deal of responsibility.

Christenings, in common with weddings and funerals, are an occasion where the pews are often temporarily filled with many who wouldn’t otherwise be seen in a church. Having recently been to many largely unfamiliar churches  and places of worship, it’s strangely pleasing not to be the only one unsure of when to sit or stand, what to say out loud or when it’s permissible to point the camera. The family and close friends - particularly those being called on to be Godparents - rise to the challenge well and the service has a buoyant, joyful character. 

It’s at these times in our lives when we’re most aware of the need to have people around us. Family support would be our first wish, but there’s a wider network among friends and colleagues. And there’s also the broader sense of the church as a family and I hope, as we all do today, that this young lady growing up will come to feel she’s backed up by any or all of these families. 

Welcoming a new person to our family - whether that be a metaphor or not - is something all cultures seem to do. The exact details of the ritual may change from religion to religion but the basic vows are the same; we promise to look after the new arrival in a physical, practical sense but also in terms of spiritual and emotional support. In this case it’s a Catholic christening and so we’re focussed on the font and the blessed candles.

Christenings are wonderful examples of metaphors and symbols at work. The water used to draw a cross on the baby’s head represents all that water stands for in the process of creating and supporting life. Its role in nourishing our earthly life is also strongly remembered.

And there’s light too, in the candles lit and held by those supporting the child. Light symbolises so many things, not least keeping darkness, and through it threat, at bay.

It’s symbolism of a fairly straightforward nature admittedly, but it comforts and underlines the very straightforward things we all feel for our children.

When all’s said and done the christening is a memorable occasion for everyone there apart from the most important person who will, of course,  have no memory of the gathering and its meaning whatsoever - even more so having had the good grace to sleep through much of the proceedings. But as long as those charged with looking after her keep the memory of what they promised safe in their minds, that won’t be any problem at all.