The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


An heirloom of faith

My mother cradled my son, her 10th grandchild, in her arms as my nimble fingers carefully pushed the teeny buttons through the hand-stitched buttonholes on Soren’s baptismal gown. It was made by my great-grandmother, Mary, and passed down through the generations. Its bottom hem included eight inches of intricately crocheted lace — the kind of detailed and precise handwork lost to my generation.

Soren’s plump, well-nourished arms barely squeezed through the narrow sleeves, and after an attempt to button the top button at his neck, we decided it was best to leave it unbuttoned. We wanted his dying and rising to just be spiritual that day.

As our extended family posed for pictures in the cavernous sanctuary (empty pews outnumbering full ones at least 2-to-1), I envisioned one day standing in that same place, behind that same font, next to Soren — he a young father holding his firstborn, who would be wearing that same gown.

Of course, that is only a vision. I know anything can happen. Despite my best efforts to protect it, that gown could get lost in a move, damaged by a flood, scorched by a fire.  Over the years the fabric may wear so thin that it becomes unwearable.

Or it’s possible, though the thought of it is almost unbearable, that my children or my children’s children simply may not want it. It’s possible that this baptismal gown I cherish simply won’t mean to them what it does to me, which is surely different from what it meant to generations before me.

Sermon preached and prayers prayed, it was time for the baptism. Standing next to the font, Peter and I excitedly, if awkwardly, took off the baptismal gown my mother and I had so meticulously and carefully put on him. I handed my naked firstborn to my brother, who lowered him into the water and raised him up into the air three times as the congregation sang, “Amen!” The singing, the clapping, the dancing didn’t stop until every person had come forward to bless my son — naked Soren — a beautiful and beloved child of God.


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