Saturday I had the privilege and pleasure of being with some candidates for baptism and their sponsors, together with my rector and the parish catechumenal committee, in preparation for Sunday. Among other things, we read the portions of the catechism on the sacraments and the baptismal covenant. There was discussion about the portion of the covenant on proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. As you might expect in a group of Episcopalians we were all more comfortable with the notion of proclaiming by example, meaning mainly being a good, kind, and honest person, and less so with proclaiming “by word.” That is good, of course, but strangers simply observing one being good, kind, and honest, in the absence of any clues, wouldn’t know whether it sprang from Christianity, or Buddhism, or membership in the Ethical Society, or … well, you get my drift. It has made me think that perhaps there is a middle option between words and examples: symbols.
But symbols are not without their own questions. Our preeminent symbol is, of course, the cross, but it has been appropriated by so many disparate groups as to be more ambiguous than not. I have over the years acquired many crosses. My main one is the black wooden one I was given when I was received as an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. I used to wear it when traveling, but I felt terribly self-conscious. I felt like I should be assuring people around me that I believed in evolution and wasn’t one of those people running around bombing abortion clinics and burning Korans and otherwise giving Christianity a bad name. My only consistently displayed symbols now are an Episcopal shield bumper sticker on my car and a crucifix right next to the mezuza at our front door. The bumper sticker isn’t much, I grant you, but it might mean something to someone to whom I am courteous to in the course of negotiating rush hour traffic every day. Do you have yours?
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC