by Julie B. Sevig
Two gift-wrapped shoeboxes sat before us, accompanied by a card. We were still basking in the joy (and exhaustion) of our first-born’s Easter Vigil baptism as we opened the card and then the two shoeboxes: one tiny and one adult-sized.
They were gifts from our son Peder’s godmother, Heidi: tiny sandals and man-sized sandals. Peder weighed 11 pounds and was four months old on his baptism night, but he still seemed small to us. It was hard then to imagine him fitting into toddler shoes, let alone adult shoes. But today he does.
As I write this, it is exactly 15 years since that night. He’s nearly six feet tall and wears size 13 men’s shoes. He’s gone from being dunked in the font at the Vigil, to (along with other teenagers) dazzling us with a reading of the creation story. And of course, all sorts of leadership in between: torchbearer/acolyte, lector, banner bearer, cantor, incense bearer, crucifer, communion server.
It won’t be this way forever, of course. There are already Sunday mornings he would rather opt out. We know he will not only leave our beloved congregation but may drift from church altogether. He may become a “none” (religiously unaffiliated).
But every baptism anniversary I’m reminded of when his little naked body was lowered three times into our big font and of the people who continue to surround him.
But every baptism anniversary I’m reminded of when his little naked body was lowered three times into our big font (that’s how we joyfully do baptisms at our congregation), and of the people who continue to surround him.
May Heidi’s words carry him a lifetime:
“I give you two pairs of sandals to mark the day of your baptism. The little ones will support you when you make your first steps.
“You went into the font alone, but you came out connected to all of God’s people: people like me, who love you and who will support your every step.
“When the little sandals no longer fit, keep them to remember where you have been and all the people who have walked beside you.
“The larger sandals will support you when you are a young man exploring God’s purpose for your life. Every time you put them on, remember this day and your connection to God’s world and God’s people. Thank God for your identity—child of God—and a mission— to serve and love your neighbors in the world.
“When you are man, pass on the sandals to your children and grandchildren. And when you do, tell them stories about the people who walked before you and beside you.
“When you are old, let the sandals remind you of the promises of God, the ultimate companion, given to you on this day, and listen to God’s voice saying ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
Peder has spent his Sunday mornings in the front row, already hearing hundreds of sermons, listening intently and—as he’s aged—critically. In his enormous urban high school, faith is both diverse and largely ignored. It’s not easy to keep the faith.
Still, I know what has brought him to this point: a gracious God and people who love him. May he indeed always remember his identity as a child of God, connected to God’s people and called to serve the world.
Then, regardless of what pew he sits in, even if it is none at all, he may hear God saying as he breathes his last, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Julie B. Sevig is communications specialists at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. This article first appeared in the September 2018 issue of Gather magazine. Subscribe to Gather here. Photos by Julie of the sandals Peder received from his godmother at his baptism. Next Sunday we observe the Baptism of our Lord/the first Sunday after Epiphany.