The theme for the 2017 Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church was “Go & Baptize the World.” The worship, fellowship, and atmosphere were great, some of the voting was not as great. However, on the first day, I was struck by something on the cover of the worship bulletin. The hands are pouring water over an entire globe.
Clearly, the symbolism is meant to be call to evangelism and mission on a global scale. However, the image and phrasing struck me as something useful for my work. While obviously as United Methodists we baptize human persons, the idea of baptizing the world, or a specific place allows for an interesting way of describing transformation. The idea of baptizing a rural place or space, of transforming it, of pulling it outside of the commodification values of the world, is an interesting way of thinking of rural ministry.
The idea of baptizing a place and community, of acknowledging it as part of God’s creation and kingdom, allows for a lifting of the rural community into a space for transformation. So often we talk about transforming lives, but in rural communities there is a strong connection to the natural and communal world along with a deep place sensitive knowledge. If we formally and spiritually lift this part of the world up through a sacramental act, not necessarily of baptism, but of consecration, of something baptismal, we bring it into a space of spiritual and theological exploration.
When a rural space is baptized, the empty factories, the schools, the natural areas, the poor and the rich, and all that is present is brought, in a Wesleyan sense, into a place of regeneration, of moving toward a renewal of God’s image. The sanctification of place allows for a spiritual and physical restoration. It also creates a responsibility, as baptized Christians in the church are called to nurture and support those baptized.
Again, I am not calling for a formal baptism of a place, but some sort of act of consecration that also brings in the sacramental aspects of baptism which allow for justification. This justification says of this space, it is valuable and claimed by God and God’s family and is in the process of the renewing of God’s image and God’s Kingdom.
Thus, my posts about hunger are not simply about meeting the needs of individuals or families, but of furthering the Kingdom of God in this place. One might say I should use a body of Christ metaphor (Paul) and others might say a body of God metaphor (MacFague) and both would be good ways of looking at this movement. However, I like the notion of baptism, something which Christians regularly speak of, and living into all that comes with the justifying and sanctifying grace.
In feeding the hungry (and all the other aspects which I wrote about in terms of feeding the hungry) I am not only helping children of God and living into a means of Grace, I am revealing and re-imaging the Kingdom of God in Oak Hill, Earl, and every rural space.