A Baptismal Promise

I was raised in the church.  Like a good, cradle Presbyterian, I was baptized as an infant, went to Sunday School regularly, sang in the choir, completed Confirmation, participated in service trips with my youth group, and was even ordained as an Elder during my senior year of high school. Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church has always been my second home, and those who make up its community have played a crucial role in my spiritual formation. From a young age, my Sunday School teachers encouraged me to ask questions and wrestle with what it means to be a person of faith in a world made broken by oppressive systems, injustice, and hatred.  This community supported me throughout my youth as I struggled to find my voice as an advocate for equality, and they empowered me to swim against the streams of social pressure, institutional hierarchy, and unjust policy.

So, when I found myself falling in love with Judaism during my first year of seminary, I became terrified of losing the community that raised me.  I desperately searched for ways to make my faith feel authentic in a Christian setting.  I went to daily Chapel services, participated in evening worship, and joined a Christian spiritual formation group.  But, the more I tried to make my faith fit in these contexts, the more lonely I became in them.

I continued my exploration of Judaism mostly in secret.  But when I let my heart open to the Jewish teachings I encountered, I felt recharged and alive.  In Judaism, I found myself drawn to many of the qualities I had come to value as a child of Grace Covenant: the call to challenge faith and wrestle with questions of the Divine; the commitment to bringing a voice to those who society has silenced; and the devotion to community and family.

I told my parents that I was going to officially begin the conversion process three days before Christmas 2009.  I hoped they would be supportive, but deep down I feared that they would see this as a rejection of who they are and what they had taught me.  There was a divine presence in my living room that night, as I looked at my parents with tears in my eyes and told them that I longed to be Jewish.  I could not have asked for a better response from them, as they hugged me, expressed their love for me, and began to ask me questions about what draws me to this beautiful religion.

Two days later, at the Christmas Eve service, my pastor came up to me and said, “Welcome home, Elizabeth!  I’d like to see if you’d be willing to preach this summer.  And, I’d like to talk to you about the care process, the first step in Presbyterian ordination.  Well, we just have a lot to talk about.  Let’s do lunch sometime this week.”  Wow, you have no idea, I thought to myself as I shook his hand, nodding slowly.

I met him for lunch that week, and anxiety ran through my bones every day leading up to our meeting.  As we sat down to eat, I told him that I would not be pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian church, because I planned to become Jewish.  After almost two hours, he told me that he still wanted to talk to me about the church taking me under careDid he not get it?  Had he not just heard the last two hours of conversation? Does he not realize that I’m leaving the church?

“I don’t understand,” I told him.

He looked at me with pure kindness in his eyes, as he spoke.  “Well, it wouldn’t look like anything that has been done before, but Elizabeth, you are a child of Grace Covenant.  When we baptized you, we made a commitment to walk with you on your journey of faith wherever it may lead.  You are a seminary student–our seminary student–and we are your family.  I’m sure you are not alone on the Jewish side of this process, and we cannot possibly abandon you from this side either.  We celebrate those who are under our care when they graduate from seminary.  Likewise, when you convert, I would love to be able to bring you in front of the congregation, and give you our blessing as you take the next steps of your journey.  We say we support our Jewish brothers and sisters, so how could we not support one of our own as she finds her true self in that community?”

On August 16, 2010, I sat in front of Session–a council of which I had once been a member, some six years prior–and I told them my plans.  As I looked into the faces of former Sunday School teachers, parents of my childhood friends, and spiritual mentors, I felt the unconditional love that had been preached from the pulpit of Grace Covenant throughout my life.  They didn’t reprimand me or try to convince me to change my mind.  Rather, they embraced me as a child of God, to whom they made a lifelong commitment–a baptismal promise–and in that, they blessed me.

In religious communities, we talk a lot about what it means to live out the messages we preach.  Too often, I think we fail to do this.  But, on that August evening, Grace Covenant embodied a divine message that no sermon could ever convey.

I will forever be a child of Grace Covenant, and I aspire to live my life in a way that reflects the kind of radical hospitality and unconditional love they have shown me in both word and action.

Share this!
  • Print
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • RSS
  • Twitter

11 thoughts on “A Baptismal Promise

  1. Have you thought about exploring Messianic Judaism? Not to be presumptuous, but I’ve been studying it and becoming interested in it. I’m a Christian, and I feel like the Torah and the Jewish roots of our faith are so often overlooked, when really they are so valuable when it comes to understanding Jesus and his teachings. I wonder if exploring that road would help you blend your past and your future together. 🙂

    1. I appreciate your question, and it is one that has been asked of me before. While my faith now is definitely influenced by my religious background, I am okay with the two identities being distinct in their own rights. I am not totally comfortable with the idea of blending traditions, because I fear that we run the risk of not being true to either when we try to be true to both.

      I have always had a low Christology, meaning that the messianic component to Jesus was never really my focus. Even when I identified as Christian, I took Jesus to be a role model for how I should live as a person of faith in this world, rather than focusing on his death, resurrection, and the world to come. The divinity of Jesus was never really essential to my Christian faith. So, for me, Messianic Judaism is not something that speaks to my heart.

      That being said, I think it’s beautiful when Christians find wisdom in their Jewish roots. Notions of sabbath, rituals surrounding grief, and study of Torah are a few starting places that I have seen in doing this.

      I look forward to being in future conversation with you as we both explore these questions together. Thanks for commenting!

      1. based on what you said here, it seems you didnt leave christianity at all because it sounds like you never had it at all. i had a nephew who my sister told me had “left the faith.” one has to have something to leave it. your sweet little pcusa club sounds like a great social club and uses a lot of theological rhetoric, but i really can’t see how it is different from any other gathering of nice well-intended people. why confuse things with a bunch of theological language? join my circle of friends secularist-humanist club and leave the empty emotive theological rhetoric behind.

  2. Beautifully written, and so moving! I often feel that the sense of “home” you describe is one of the strongest offerings of religion. I’m not sure if or how Humanists could provide that for each other, but it’s something I hope to explore in a future post.

  3. I always appreciate the story of someone coming home to herself, and a community living up to its calling. What a gift for you and for them!

  4. Eliz…I could not be more proud of you. As your older sister, I have looked up to you for most of my life. You are an incredible woman and I have loved watching you go through the conversion process. I love you!

  5. Elizabeth – you are an amazing young woman. As someone who has asked questions of the organized religious community all my life, I commend you for having the courage to follow your heart. I also know that your family have open minds and open hearts and only want contentment for you. Love to you –

  6. I thought this was an amazing response from your pastor: “When we baptized you, we made a commitment to walk with you on your journey of faith wherever it may lead. You are a seminary student–our seminary student–and we are your family.”

  7. This was an amazing piece! I pray that you will find the love and openness of your community of origin in your new community of choice. Please keep us posted.
    Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Department of Multifaith Studies, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College

  8. Yours is a fantastic story that is beautifully written. Oh what a world it would be if everyone lived their faith as your church does!

Comments are closed.