This was a first for our little daily newspaper (at least in my memory over the last decade.) An ad appeared on Friday entitled "Harmonious Spirit," offering the availability of a meeting room or chapel at a listed address in town. It then read, "Services performed: Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms." The ad also included the name of a man entitled with "Rev." As far as I can tell he does not represent any of the local churches or cults. The ad sports a cross, so contrary to the Eastern-sounding name "Harmonious Spirit," I am left to believe he may be Christian. I can somewhat understand the idea of hiring yourself out for weddings and funerals. People are always looking for a pastor willing to do theses "services" for the unchurched. Some calls to my church are as crass as "How much do you charge for a wedding?" Funerals are the same way. When someone dies it does not matter if they seldom if ever graced a church for worship. The important thing is that a "reverend" is there to say kind enough words so that we are all led to believe the beloved relative and friend is now comfortably situated with Jesus in heaven. Somehow, it is expected in our culture that everyone is entitled to these "Christian" services with or without real faith. I shouldn't complain too much, however. In talking with my British professor this past summer I learned that in the Church of England a priest would be expected to provide these services to any citizen of the country, as all are considered part of the church. Unlike me, they have no choice. It's their job.
Now what concerns me most of all in this ad was the provision for baptisms. Of all the "services" rendered by the "reverend," this is an act most closely associated with membership in the church and inclusion in the Body of Christ. I assume he provides infant baptisms, since these would be the most likely requests. Unfortunately he only perpetuates the existing ignorance and confusion surrounding this sacrament. As a 'rite of passage' many baptize their babies for the simple reason because that is what you are expected to do. They go in, sit through the ceremony, take lots of pictures for the babies book of memories, and have a luncheon afterward. Then they come back when the child is old enough for Sunday School. Maybe. Sometimes they may never return.
I suppose I should have expected that someone would see a potential business prospect in this area. It's probably done a lot in larger cities. Still, it cheapens even further the church's sacred acts and mission. We have toyed with worship to such a degree that some sanctuaries are little more than theaters with stages awaiting the audience's enthusiastic applause. Now we will sell our sacraments for a fee. I assume he charges a fee, but I may be mistaken. The basement "chapel" I viewed on Facebook seemed pretty low budget with minimal upkeep, and as far as I can tell he has a day job elsewhere. So perhaps he is offering these services gratis to assist those frequently disconnected people who require an inexpensive "quicky" when it comes to these formerly formal ecclesiastical acts.
I wonder what the saints of old would think of this. You know, the ones in the Early Church that took Baptism so seriously it was preceded by years of catechesis. Or even our forefathers from only a century or so ago. They would not believe it could come to this. And neither can I.