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                  Father, Son, and Distilled Spirits

       This title could probably cover many stories I tell, since my grandfather Abraham Sisson and his wife Elizabeth were proprietors of a liquor store that figured prominently in the life of their son Ralph as well as others in the family.   But at the moment I'm using the title to try to introduce an unusual experience I had many years ago.  I'm the only person I know personally who ever managed to get his baptism revoked by the Episcopal Church.

      It might be more conservative to say it was simply overturned on appeal.  And I'm careful to limit any claim of uniqueness.  I've often wondered about the efficacy of the baptisms performed a few years ago on some children in a day-care center in Texas that reportedly baptized children without telling the parents, and I think that there was an allegation in the 1990's that some nuns in Mother Teresa's hospices in India sometimes baptized terminally ill patients without telling them what they were doing.  Earlier in the 1990's, I've read, some young Mormons became concerned about people killed in the Holocaust, and set out to baptize as many as they could posthumously.  I think they had baptized a few hundred thousand before some surviving relatives complained and the Mormon Church canceled those baptisms.  So I don't know how many people have actually had their baptisms revoked, I just know that I never met anyone else but me, and never heard of another case in the mainstream churches.

         In graduate school, I actually thought hard about whether to pursue a career in mathematics or in theology.  But I figured that somewhat nonconformist Jews with an academic interest in Protestant Theology might not be leading job candidates.  And when I talked with college faculty, it seemed that religion faculty were actually at a real disadvantage in talking about religion with a student - - out of fear that nonconformist beliefs could endanger either the teacher's job or the student's grade.  Then I was actually admitted to Yale Divinity School - - only to have my Draft Board say in no uncertain terms that they would defer me from the draft as a mathematician, but would draft me in a minute if I went to Divinity School.  It would have made an interesting legal case, since one supposes that I could have been deferred to study Protestant theology if I were a Protestant instead of a Jew, but in those days of the Vietnam  War I was more interested in the deferment than in the intriguing legal case, so I went on studying mathematics and auditing courses in a couple of departments of religion and divinity Schools.

       That brings me to the first part of my college teaching career - teaching mathematics, and having long discussions about religion with any students with whom I had the opportunity.  After one sequence of such long discussions, one of my students apparently became gravely concerned about my immortal soul, so she snuck up on me, poured a glass of liquid over my head, and pronounced the formula for baptism.  According to an Episcopal Priest who was present, she got the formula right.  He conjectured that it was very likely, in fact, a valid baptism.

     So I appealed to the Episcopal Bishop of the diocese (the Rt. Rev.Addison Hosea of Kentucky) for a formal ruling on whether such a baptism would take. He was a generous man, quite reasonably wishing to save as many people as possible, and as he put it, "hadn't become a Bishop in order to unbaptize people." So we had fairly long discussions. He ruled that the quantity of water in the glass was sufficient, that a priest wasn't needed, and that consent of the person being baptized wasn't needed. I argued that I had no desire to be a Christian, but that I was aware of the (odd to me) notion that Christian Baptism could only be performed on a person once. It appeared to me that in the event that I were at some future date repentant of my manifold sins and wickednesses, I ought to have a chance to be baptized while in a state of repentance. (It was a wonderful exercise, going through the Book of Common Prayer and other reference books for the right phrases for my arguments).

     Eventually the Bishop ruled that the officiant "had not formed a sufficiently solemn intention" to perform a valid baptism, and ruled that I was not a baptized Christian. While I knew the girl who did it pretty well, and personally think she was of serious intent, the Bishop may have been influenced by the fact that what she actually poured over my head was a scotch on the rocks.

      So, due to this manifestation of wholly distilled spirits, I am not (at least as of this writing) a baptized Christian.

(c) 2001 Edward Ordman

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