Where is the baptismal font in your church? None of us would have any difficulty locating our favorite pews, or the pulpit for that matter. Indeed, most of us know where the communion table is. But where is the font in your church?
The question arises out of a game I developed some years ago on a trip through Europe. In every town we visited, I would stand in the doorways of churches and cathedrals and try to locate the pulpit, the table or altar, and the font. It's a game I continue to play as I travel through the Reformed Church as a denominational staff person. Pulpits are prominent and tables apparent, but fonts are often pushed over in a quiet corner where they disappear into the shadows.
Some people might argue that the location of the font is irrelevant. After all, we know where to find it when we need it. But I believe it's important for churches in the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition to have the font out front every time they gather as a worshiping community.
John Westerhoff retells the delightful story of a baby lion who was found and raised by a flock of sheep. Soon the lion learned to eat grass and to baa like the lambs around him. In fact the young lion was quite happy with his sheep family until one day a lion's roar interrupted the peace of the meadow and sent the entire flock running for the hills. The adopted lion remained alone in the meadow, responding to an unconscious urge to stay. The visiting lion stared at the adopted lion in disbelief. "What are you eating," he asked, "and what sound are you making?" Then the lion who had been raised by lambs looked at his reflection in the quiet water of the stream and understood for the first time who he was and whose he was.
The water of the font provides the church with a similar opportunity. Our baptism into Christ marks us for life and can remind us each Sunday who we are and to whom we belong. So the font is more than a place for crying infants and beaming parents; it is a visible symbol that calls us each Sunday to remember the covenant in which we live out our lives.
The sacraments are God's way of reaching out to us and participating in that children's game of "show and tell." As Jesus spoke of breaking and sharing his life for the world, he showed us around a table in an upper room. As we listen to Paul say that we are buried with Christ by baptism into death, we see in the sacrament of baptism our own dying and rising with Christ and our acceptance into his family.
Where is the font in your church? With the pulpit and the table, the font is a symbol of God's work in our lives. With the Word and the Supper, the water of our baptism can remind us again and again who we are and to whom we belong.
The Reformers moved the font to the front of the church where baptism was performed in the midst of the covenant people of God, or as the Scots phrased it, "in the face of the congregation."
The font speaks to us of our baptism into Christ and our continued dependence upon his redeeming work; therefore let us at least elevate the baptismal font to a level where it can be seen! . . . Once elevated to the place where it can be seen, the size of the font and its quality become more important. To achieve proper quality and size it will be necessary to have fonts designed by architects and artists, rather than [settling for] the usual marble bird-baths or wooden "Gothic" creations from religious supply houses.
Donald J. Bruggink and Carl H. Droppers, Christ and Architecture: Building Presbyterian/Reformed Churches. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1965,pp. 138,170.