“Heartfelt participation” was the only requirement given to the 14,000 Seattle, Wash., residents who received postcards from Christ Episcopal Church offering “no-fuss, no-muss” baptisms at their Saturday Easter vigil.
Part of the pitch was that there would be “no fuss, no follow-up.”
Instead of the six weeks of classes usually required of catechumens, the Easter-vigil baptism only required participation in a genuine way at the 2-1/2-hour service and an hour of preparation beforehand.
“There are no obligations to join the parish or to become an Episcopalian,” the postcard read. “There will be no follow-up unless you request our contact.”
The Rev. Stephen Garratt, rector of the parish, told the Baptist Center for Ethics (BCE) he was “intrigued by the idea.”
“I’m not trying to go against the establishment,” Garratt said. “My bishop had been encouraging the priests to think outside the box. That is what I was doing … appealing to those who are not happy with the institution of the church.”
A number of those who inquired about baptism said they couldn’t believe the church would open its doors like this, Garratt said.
Garratt said his bishop was both supportive and concerned about the move, as Garratt did not tell his bishop about the postcards until after they had already been sent.
Garratt’s offer raised some eyebrows among traditionalists, because it was a big departure for a faith that emphasizes extensive preparation before baptism.
The Right Rev. Robert Cochrane, a member of Christ Church and retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, told the Seattle Times that making Episcopalian baptism something that doesn’t require more than an evening’s preparation negates the seriousness of the commitment.
Baptism “is not a matter of just going to a nice little ceremony where someone pours water over your head,” he said in the Times article. “It’s a beginning, not an ending. It’s a life to be lived.”
The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia did not take a position on Garratt’s idea.
“Anybody who is going to give up their Saturday night to come to a church service and be baptized has something happening in their lives,” Garratt told BCE. Garratt said an evangelical in his parish likened it to “casting the net upon the waters.”
So how many people answered the call to baptism? Twenty-eight. That’s almost five times the number of people Christ Church baptized all of last year.
Garratt told BCE he believes those baptized will ultimately live out their baptismal vows. Five of those baptized returned to church for Easter Sunday services, he said.
“They made a public confession … renouncing evil,” he said. “It was a very serious service and these people made major commitments.”
Seattle residents should not expect another such invitation next year.
“I don’t think this is something I will make a habit of doing,” Garratt said. “I just wanted to show that sometimes it is possible to be both faithful and a little unorthodox. I don’t view myself as a crusader. I am an introvert. I just want to quietly do my work.”
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.