imagination: Encouraging new and courageous ways of worshipping, in different places, which connect with more people
On 3 September 2017, over 150 people gathered at the Sandford Lido in Cheltenham for the baptism of Charles, Sarah and Rosie. Coming from two congregations we gathered in the light rain, but those being baptised were about to get very wet anyway! Baptism began as a very public act, and continues that way in a lot of places, and whilst the lido is not quite the River Jordan it is still a great experience to take this significant moment out of our church buildings.
Equipped with our service sheets we surrounded the children’s pool and prayed and sung drawing some curious bystanders who had come for their morning swim. I had never preached in public before, and it made me conscious of explaining the story of Jesus’ baptism we heard from Mark’s Gospel in language which made this strange thing that we were doing more accessible. Before the adults were baptised they were also able to share a bit of their stories and the difference that following Jesus was making for them.
The amazing thing about baptising people in a large body of water is that the imagery of dying to sin and being raised to new life is powerfully visible. Bishop Rachel often talks about us trailing the wet footprints of our baptism as we go about our day to day lives, and you could literally see that happening. It is also surprising the effect of taking this very Christian activity into a public space. When we make our baptism promises in a church building I wonder if they feel a bit safer. When they are made outside you have ‘the world’ right in front of you, and the decision you are making seem more real and perhaps more challenging.
This was the third year that we at Cheltenham Network Church have held baptism mornings at the Lido. Because we don’t have our own building, and as a Bishops Mission Order church, rather than a parish church, it encourages us to think about how our faith and church activities engage with the community around us. On a Sunday we meet at Bournside School and we often have church events at the cricket club. But as we think about the Church and mission, then it is good to weigh up what things we can do and celebrate in a more public setting that enables people to come into contact with our Christian faith.
The Revd Jo Pestell is a curate at Cheltenham Network Church and the South Cheltenham Team.