October 24 seems to be the day for Susan Olson to gently push the limits of Presbyterian polity. I was ordained on October 24, 1993. Back then, you were ordained and installed in one ceremony at your calling congregation. Since I was ordained to a specialized ministry there was no calling congregation, so I was ordained at my home church. I didn’t follow many of the ordination customs at my ordination, pretty much because I’d never been to an ordination, so I sort of made it up as I went along. There were bagpipes and pumpkin muffins, and a sermon and some prayers. The weather sparkled apple-crisp and blue, and that funny little church was full of people and love and though it wasn’t a typical ceremony, it was all I wanted, all I could have wanted.
Selam’s baptism was similarly odd. In our denomination, pastors don’t belong to churches—we belong to presbyteries. And only members can present children for baptism—which leaves me with the Presbytery as the location for a baptism, if one were to read the polity strictly. I was hoping to schedule it between the Committee on Ministry and the Council report.
So, Selam ended up being baptized with her grandparents as sponsors instead of me. I had other options for her, but in the end, I felt like a Presbyterian minister ought to have a Presbyterian church make baptismal promises for her baby, I mean big girl. She was baptized in the congregation where I was a member from 6th grade until my sophomore year of college (I transferred to my college church then). The building has been gutted and rearranged, but my confirmation teacher was there, and the woman who rode with me to Presbytery when I was commissioned as a Youth Delegate. My childhood pastor showed up for the party, too.
Selam was so excited. She wore her white traditional Ethiopian dress—a dress that Alex and I found (after much searching) in Addis on the day we left for the US. I gave her an Ethiopian cross that morning, and she wore the new shiny brown shoes that she loves so much they got mentioned in the same breath as Jesus.
The pastor met with us ahead of time, and told Selam that she was going to be asked a few questions, too. She was amenable to all of them (Do you want to be baptized and do you want to be a Jesus girl?). He also told her that she would be asked to say her whole name—but not her last name. “Your first names are your Christian name but Olson is your given name,” he explained. I knew she’d struggle with that. She learned them all four together, and it would be hard to stop after Adane.
The baptism was at the beginning of the service. Selam bounced up there when it was time. She began swinging her leg back and forth, back and forth next to the font. I decided that she should be held! She watched through the questions of my parents and myself, and smiled when the congregation gave their consent. Then she let the pastor pick her up and hold her. He asked her questions and she answered in her inimitable way. “Yes, I do,” she said, when he asked if she wanted to be a Jesus girl. Then he asked her name and she clearly said all four. He smiled at that, and baptized her. She giggled at the water on her head. I imagine that’s a pretty good start to a life of faith: laughter.
Then, because I asked him to, he picked up the Ethiopian Liturgical Umbrella that Alex and I managed to wrangle back to the US, and with Selam on one hip and the umbrella over her, gave the charge to the congregation.
I thought about her insistence on giving all four names. Part of it is that it’s the way she memorized it. But part of it is that it’s who she is. She is Selam, named by the one who carried her and who cared for her as long as she could. She is Lanalee, a made up name mashing together a beloved friend who died too soon, and her grandmother’s middle name. She is Adane, the name of her grandfather—lacking a father, Adane was her last name in Ethiopia and is her tie to the family that loved her into being. And she is an Olson, forever merged with the mob of Swedish-ish Americans. For Selam, I think all four are her Christian name.
After the sacrament, there was a song, one that I had requested, not because it had one thing to do with baptism but because it just makes Selam so happy. She requests this before bed, and sings it to herself in the car. And though it’s not a baptism song, I hope that with every child born, we imagine again that the world is about to turn.
My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight,
and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
RefrainMy heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!
2. Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me,
And your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
You will show your might, put the strong to flight,
for the world is about to turn.
3. From the halls of power to the fortress tower,
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware for your justice tears
ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more,
for the food they can never earn;
There are tables spread,
ev’ry mouth be fed,
for the world is about to turn.
4. Though the nations rage from age to age,
we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound,
‘Til the spear and rod can be crushed by God,
who is turning the world around.
Tonight, at bedtime, Selam was talking about being baptized. “That rober put water on my head!” she giggled. “He did,” I said, “and now Jesus can always find me,” she added, “a cause of the water, and a cause of I’m his girl forever.”