Much of the past two weeks have been spent translating from Dutch a collection of essays on births in different parts of the world, by a photographer who travelled to 14 locations to record how childbirth takes place there. The result will be a coffee-table book, an exhibition and a TV series. It is generally well written, even if a little too women’s lib for my taste. But as so often, when it comes to describing baptisms and other church-related facts, it goes disastrously wrong.
“Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. ….. the persons receiving baptism step into the bath, slide their feet under the iron rod and are then fully immersed by the priest.”
(Call a Baptist pastor a priest and you risk being exorcized on the spot…’ )
“Godparents undressing their godchild above the font. After the immersion, he is chrismated. The priest, godmother and godfather then solemnly walk round the font and the priest makes the sign of the cross with the child.”
Undressing a child in diapers over a font seems a risky business, but we’ll let that pass. But not “The priest, godmother and godfather then solemnly walk round the font”. And where’s the child? ‘And the priest makes the sign of the cross with the child’. Has the journalist got the sex wrong? In principle a boy is taken round the altar and a girl is held in front of the altar gates and the sign of the cross made with her. I checked again, it clearly says ‘he’.
And in the facts and figures on Russia: “Religions: Russian Orthodox 15-20%, Muslim 10-15%, other Christians 2%.” Some of us may be fear Russian Orthodoxy is going downhill, but not that precipitously.
“Naturally, the priest conducts the ceremony in Norwegian. I catch the words ‘sex’ and ‘alcohol’ and manage to work out that he is speaking at great length about John the Baptist. Meanwhile, several girls pass a green bag around and collect money. (…) The priest then places the money on the altar. When I try to gather more information about this to me strange occurrence, the answers are shorter than the baby’s christening gown.
Maybe. John the Baptist has no doubt been associated with stranger things. But this ‘strange occurrence’ with the money has nothing strange whatsoever about it to anyone with any familiarity with Protestantism. No wonder the answers were short….