MY RUBBER DUCKY BAPTISM

Rubber Ducky you're so fine,

And I'm lucky that you're mine,

Rubber Ducky I'm awfully fond of you!

So goes the lyrics of that wonderful children’s song made famous some years ago by “Sesame Street”. Many of us who gathered at the celebration of Holy Baptism on December 29th, 2013, certainly recalled the song and smiled at the recollection.

Some weeks previous to the day I had been asked if my might officiate at the baptism of a little boy. I discovered after I had agreed that the candidate was a little boy of two and a half years old. It was too late to back out of the event by the time I learned the child’s age. I would never have done that anyway. It certainly is not that I dislike baptizing older children, but children of such an age can certainly make the celebration difficult.

I have been blessed in that throughout the years of my ministry I have usually had success in my ability to baptize children. Very few have struggled with me and usually the celebration is a wonderfully positive experience. My own first son was an exception however, never to be forgotten. He was dressed too warmly for the early onslaught of warm spring weather and the overheated church. He screamed…and the louder he screamed the louder the officiant countered (my predecessor!). It was not the best baptismal moment!

I admit that there have been times when I have actually been afraid of officiating at the baptism of some little ones. One frightening experience was with a little year-old girl. She was a delight as she unsteadily toddled around her father’s legs as we all stood at the font. At that moment when I picked her up for the “deed”, she screamed. In fact she screamed louder and louder and fought against me with a remarkable strength. It was all I could do to hang onto her! At one point, I thought the little girl was going to go into convulsions. The poor parents stood in stoic silence, probably thinking that I was the absolute worse cleric they had ever met! It was actually a relief for both me and the child when I gave her back to her mother. The whole fiasco brought the congregation to their knees, not so much in prayer as in laughter! At the door one parishioner commented that he was quite sure that the child had not, in fact, been actually baptized. She had fought so hard he was sure I didn’t manage to even get any water on her, let alone make the sign of the cross on her forehead!

As we approached December 29th the prospective candidate’s grandmother felt that she needed to warn me that her grandson was a busy little boy and hated getting his face washed. Oh no, I thought, and remembered back to the disastrous baptism of the little girl years earlier! I wracked my head thinking how I was going to manage baptizing this reportedly “active” little man “in his horrible twos”. Somewhat flippantly I mentioned to my wife that maybe I needed to get some kind of little rubber toy and entice the boy to the font. God bless her, a few days later she presented me with a little rubber duck. We laughed but I thought that it was somewhat a lessening of the sacred sacrament and put the duck in the closet.

The day prior to the scheduled baptism I finally met the candidate. Indeed, he was a bright and outgoing little fellow and showed absolutely no concern at me. Indeed, he was “busy” and so on my way home I was convinced more than ever that the sacred celebration was going to be a challenge. At home I quietly put the rubber ducky in my bag along with my vestments and my sermon! Rubber ducky might very well be needed, I thought.

I admit to tossing often during my sleep that night. People know me as not approving of sloppy liturgy, especially with my own leadership and sometimes baptisms can run roughshod over the best liturgical intentions. So, I fretted!

I need not have worried. I awaited the baptismal family at the entrance to the church in my episcopal vestments, sure that I would appear as an overblown giant to any little child. But upon entering the church with his family the candidate looked up at me and clearly remembering my visit the day before (and obviously coached by his mother), reached up his little hand and said “Hi Tom”! That was a good start, I thought and remarkably our celebration went very well. Parents worked at keeping our active candidate busy during the service until it was time to gather at the font. I quietly asked him if he might like to help me and he, with a mild quizzical look on his face, nodded ‘yes’. I hurriedly grabbed a nearby chair and had him crawl up. He seemed interested for the moment but it became lengthy during the liturgical promises and prayers and he began to become fidgety. That’s when I grabbed the duck and sat it on the lip of the font. Our candidate stared in fascination so I asked him if he wanted to play with my duck and with a quick nod I invited him to go ahead and put the duck into the water. Except for a slight jerk when I sprinkled water on his head the first time, Our new member was too busy with little yellow ducky to have bothered with getting wet. With all of the liturgical dignity and conviction of the celebration our little man was signed with the cross and made “Christ’s own forever”. Clutching the little yellow ducky he even agreed to walk with me down to isle to be presented to the community.

The congregation laughed and applauded and we all joined our newest Christian is passing Christ’s peace with a little more joy on that Christmas morning. I suppose the liturgical purists might frown upon such an action, but on that day my little rubber ducky was a wonderful assistance in a moving baptismal celebration and the words of the little song ran happily through my mind, “Rubber ducky, I’m awfully fond of you”!

One last note, our newest member of the Christian family turned out to be the great-grandson of Moosonee’s former Suffragan Bishop, Neville Clarke (1951-1975). I could hear the old Bishop roaring in laughter and agreeing with the moment!

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