The first Easter vigil I attended was early in my experience at King’s Chapel, around 1996. The vigil at that time was held at 10 o’clock at night, later than it is now. As you know, at the vigil King’s Chapel is dark, the atmosphere is sad and brooding. Shadows are all around and the only light is from flickering candles. The form of the service is quite unlike Morning Prayer, with its familiar canticles and prayers, making the church seem an altogether unfamiliar place.
Engrossed in the service, I sat in my darkened pew with my son, who was seven years old, stretched out on the seat beside me and dozing. When an offer was made to us to come forward and renew baptismal vows, I knew I wanted to participate, although I had never heard of such a practice.
What would it mean to renew these vows? Most of us don’t remember our baptisms, having been christened as babies. I had been baptized hastily on a Saturday afternoon by the pastor of my childhood church, who realized a week before my confirmation that my parents hadn’t gotten around to having me baptized as a baby. I don’t recall any vows, and didn’t think much of it. We are usually passively baptized, the decision having been made by loving adults. How wonderful to be offered a chance to actively choose to affirm my baptism!
Deciding to accept the offer, I got up from my box pew but realized that Chris might wake up while I was gone and be afraid, alone in the pew in the darkened church. I roused him into a semi-awake state and led him by the hand to the communion rail, where we knelt alongside a few others.
Charles Forman, our beloved affiliate minister, stopped before me, touched my forehead and murmured some words of prayer and hope, of Jesus and the promise of everlasting life. He then stepped in front of Chris and, wordlessly, placed his hand on Chris’ head and rested it there, a loving act of benediction on a small child, a christening too newly minted to be in need of reaffirmation.
Today as I read the service of Morning Prayer with Joy I experience once again the feeling of being part of a continuum of history, of people worshipping at King’s Chapel far into the past, worshipping right here, right now, and continuing this reassuring practice into the future.
My earliest experience of King’s Chapel services was as they were conducted by Carl Scovel and Charles Forman. Both well loved and learned, they were steeped in the words of our Book of Common Prayer, which seemed to flow from both of them as naturally as a flowing river. To hear those words from them over and over, on many Sundays, was a gift to this new member of the congregation – the words, surely, as they were meant to be read and said.
Charles Forman knelt on the left, and intoned the Collect for Peace, with its beautiful words, “Oh God, who art the author of peace and the lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom…..”
Perfect freedom…….perfect words to help us begin to fathom God – how could these words ever come from anyone else? When we lost Charles Forman too early, I wondered how they could ever seem the same again without him to say them.
And yet, as the next reader knelt on the left, I found the words to be just as moving, just as perfect. Through Sundays of hearing many assistants read the Collect for Peace, and many of my fellow parishioners, I found the same truth in the words as I had when they were intoned so gracefully by Charles. And in each reader, I see the spirit of Charles Forman, blessing their reading of God’s love of peace and concord, of our eternal life, and of service as perfect freedom. And I feel blessed to be able to read the words myself.