In a recent Facebook post, Rich McCaffrey, a new father in central Florida shared the story of a planned baptism gone awry.
Rich and his husband Eric have been attending the Cathedral of St Luke in Orlando, FL and had wanted to have their son Jack baptized.
We spent time discussing our desire to baptize Jack with the Dean, Anthony Clark. We were open with him about our family and that we wanted the focus to be placed, where it should, on Jack. The Dean was welcoming and open about the congregation, explaining it was a mix of conservative- and liberal-minded people. He agreed to Jack’s baptism, and recommended we opt for the later 6 p.m. service, since those who worship at that time tend to be the most “open.”
So the baptism was scheduled for April 19, and like many proud parents, Rich and Eric invited friends and family, some of whom came from out of town. But shortly before the day, something went wrong.
On Thursday, April 16 we received a message from Dean Clark asking us to contact him regarding “a development” concerning the baptism. With relatives in the room, I called and what I heard still creates a lump in my throat. The Dean shared there were members of the congregation who opposed Jack’s baptism and although he hoped to resolve the conflict, he was not yet able to (the Bishop of Central Florida, Greg Brewer, was also involved). After probing further the Dean said “the issue is with you and Eric being the first two men who will baptize their child at the Cathedral.” He offered his apologies and further explained this was a bigger deal because of the exposure that comes along with the baptism taking place at the Cathedral. In essence “this is not no forever, just not now.”
It isn’t clear what, if anything, transpired between finding out the baptism wouldn’t be happening as expected on April 19th and the Facebook post on May 2nd, but that post was quickly and widely shared to near universal dismay and anger. When contacted, Dean Anthony Clark said “Jack’s parents and I have had a very regrettable misunderstanding regarding Jack’s baptism; I’ve reached out to them so that we might resolve the misunderstanding and make this right moving forward.”
The original post also seemed to suggest that there was involvement on the part of the Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Rev Greg Brewer. However, when contacted the bishop responded; “Until I saw this Facebook post this morning, I was not aware of some of the details mentioned in this post. Please know that I never forbade baptism to this child, nor did I instruct others to forbid his baptism. I am meeting with the parents this week to remedy this very sad situation.”
The Dean also said that the family was meeting with the bishop this week which was confirmed by the family when Rich, the father posted an update;
Hi Everyone, the support from so many near and far in the past day and a half has been truly inspiring and we are very appreciative. Earlier today church leadership reached out to us and we will be talking with them about Jack’s baptism.
So at this point, it seems as though the family is still intent on getting their son baptized and the Cathedral and diocese are working to find a resolution.
What isn’t clear is why this became an issue in the first place. There is much speculation, but not many facts. We don’t know for sure the motivation of the members who were opposed or what role the bishop may have played nor do we know why the Dean would weigh their opposition so heavily as to actually postpone an already scheduled baptism.
It is no secret that the Bishop of Central Florida, The Rt Rev Greg Brewer holds conservative views, he is one of the self-identified Communion Partners, who opposed the authorization of the liturgy for blessing same-sex marriages at the last General Convention. But in their Indianapolis Statement, they didn’t go so far as to propose denial of baptism to LGBT persons or their families; what they did write was; “We are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of our dioceses. Our Baptismal Covenant pledges us to “respect the dignity of every human being” (BCP, p. 305), and we will continue to journey with them as together we seek to follow Jesus.”
This incident raises a question about how we live in christian community, with major differences in how ‘christian’ is understood. A significant shift in the baptism rite in the 1979 prayer book is to place it squarely within the context of community; the congregation is asked to give their support; “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” (BCP p 303). But what happens if the community cannot affirm that? Though it appears that the Dean was attempting to work out just that question, to deny or delay the baptism, for many Episcopalians, was an unacceptable answer.
Posted by Jon White