More than 30 percent of Americans younger than 30 have no experience with churches, and the Bishop of Chicago believes baptism provides an important way of reaching them.
As one of three keynote speakers during a conference held June 27-29 by Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission and the North American Association for the Catechumenate, the Rt. Rev. Jeffrey Lee spoke about the importance of baptism.
When he became Bishop of Chicago in 2008, Lee said, he hoped to spread baptismal preparation on a grand scale. So far the clearest expression of that hope is the diocese’s developing of a Chrism Mass.
Lee said that when he served in the Diocese of Olympia, based in Seattle, he was struck by how little influence Christianity retained in society. “Many of these people have deep spiritual longings, but they are not being met by the institutional church,” he said. “How can we create boundaries that are not barriers, but temptations?”
Christians should be fiercely committed to the central tenets of the faith and immersed in Scripture, he said. “We are the primary evidence of Christ’s resurrection,” Lee said. “Jesus died to eliminate the barrier between the altar and the sanctuary.”
Bishop Lee questions whether Communion of the unbaptized is an effective means of reaching unchurched people and said the practice hinders a bolder approach to baptism.
“The attitude of ‘Ya’ll come’ is a stark contrast to the young woman in Seattle who was so enthused after everyone in church had prayed for her during her baptism,” Lee said. “This is a conversation I would like to have with my colleagues in the House of Bishops.”
Lee mentioned an eight-year-old boy who was evangelized after his friend invited him to the Godly Play program at Holy Family Church in Fishers, Indiana, which Lee planted in 1990. In time Lee baptized the boy, but the service was filled with mistakes that left Lee flustered and upset with himself. But the boy went home and convinced his parents to join him at church.
“As Catholic Christians steeped in the Reformation, we believe that we belong to God,” he said. “I pin my hope that all this can come our way. These central matters cut across so many barriers.”
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