Yes, this article is a profile of the Baptism Formation Team at Our Lady of Perpetual Help; yes, it will include hammerhead sharks; and yes, it will all make sense by the end.
Baptism Formation at Our Lady is facilitated by a team of volunteers, some who have participated in this ministry for years and others who have only conducted a handful of sessions so far. The team is coordinated by Karen Cook, Director of Adult Faith Formation, and also includes Deacon Kopczewski. Formation sessions take place a handful of times throughout the year and typically last ninety minutes with a variety of different speakers on different topics. Karen further explains that instead of Baptism Formation, attendees should consider this “Baptism and Beyond.” Instead of merely preparing these new parents for the Sacrament of Baptism, the goal is to prepare them for their responsibilities in starting a Catholic family. Their own domestic church.
Deacon Kopczewski also alludes to that responsibility during his presentation. Most of his talk explains the logistics and procedures of the sacrament itself. In particular he focuses on the questions that will be asked of the new parents explaining, “When we ask you a question it’s either asking for information or an affirmative. If you answer ‘no’ to something we’re just going to stop and figure out what’s going on.” He does attempt to reassure the attendees that they will be nervous, and it is not at all uncommon for the parents to be asked the name of their child and the husband and wife suddenly and silently stare at each other with wide eyes having completely “blanked out.”
However, Deacon Kopczewski also stresses the importance of the questions, explaining they allude to the Nicene Creed recited at every Sunday Mass. “Do you understand the responsibility because baptism can never be undone.”
Team member Jason Gale also refers to this during his presentation on fatherhood. “Your central goal is to arrive at Heaven’s Gates… with your family.” He further adds, “When you make those baptismal promises it’s real. Your child’s life and salvation depend on you.”
However, the formation session also stresses that parents are never alone and are not the first ones to go through whatever trials they are facing. Jason explains the sacrament affirms that parents are the first teachers of their children, “But not the only teachers.” Team member Meredith Adams expounds on this theme during her presentation on Keeping the Commitment. She stresses the importance of surrounding yourself with a Catholic community regardless of whether parents choose our parochial school, public school and PSR, or some other combination. New parents can lean on that community for advice, support, or simply a few words with a friendly face.
During her closing remarks, Karen also reinforces that sense of community. “You’ve met us and know who we are. If you see us at Mass or anywhere else and have questions or simply want to ask us to pray for you don’t hesitate to ask us.” Deacon Kopczewski also records the names of the parents and children of every baptism he performs and includes them when he prays the Divine Office daily. Meredith reinforces that new parents are never alone spiritually, “God is the one who guides us and leads us… be one with Jesus.” Deacon Kopczewski adds that during the sacrament we ask that, “All the saints who are, who ever will be to pray for your child.”
A central theme of the formation session is attending weekly Mass as a family. Deacon Kopczewski simply states, “The most important thing you can do is bring them to Mass. This is their home. No matter what happens they belong to Jesus Christ.” During her presentation Meredith explains, “Mass is about what you are giving; you are teaching them.” However, all the speakers acknowledge the challenge of attending Mass with children. Meredith has an entire section of practical tips for attending Mass with young children and adds, “Sometimes you just make it to Mass with them and somehow survive it and that’s okay.” Jason elaborates that a parent’s example matters, and their children are always watching them. “You’re being watched every day to see how serious you are. You need to be intentional.” All the presenters reassured the attendees that a rambunctious child at Mass is a blessing and not a distraction. Perhaps Meredith most succinctly explained this, “Remember a noisy Mass is a living Mass.”
Deacon Kopczewski again referenced the responsibilities these young parents were about to undertake. “Until they’re sixteen they’re not going to be able to make it to Mass on their own. Don’t prevent them from going.”
“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Mt 19:14 – 15)
Perhaps most importantly all the speakers expressed solidarity. Each of them is a parent and has gone through many of the same things the attendees are currently going through and will go through. They all provided deeply personal anecdotes; some humorous, some instructional, and some agonizingly heart wrenching. However, the common theme was these trials never drove them away from God, but instead drew them closer to Him.
Following the session, I had the opportunity to interview the team members. During these interviews I often ask what the greatest challenge of the position is, and for the Baptism Formation Team, the universal answer was, “It’s not challenging… it is a joy… every time I leave refreshed.” They repeatedly stated that conducting this formation brought them determination, grace, and inspiration and made them even more resolved to shepherd their own families.
Regarding their most impactful moment, all of them referenced this session I had the privilege to observe. At the conclusion attendees mingle with the team members and an older child, around 7 years old, was there with his parents and was the one to be baptized. The session took place at 9 am on a Sunday morning, and he wanted to schedule his baptism for Monday. The next day. He was so excited to join our shared Catholic Church that he did not want to wait a single day more than necessary.
So, hammerhead sharks.
Until recently Jason was a pilot and aircraft commander for a Coast Guard C-130. I have quite an affinity for the C-130 as I have close family members that were a flight engineer, pilot, and navigator for an Air National Guard unit flying that aircraft. Jason and his crew had been in Central and South America flying drug interdiction missions where they endlessly patrolled vast stretches of empty water looking for boats transporting illegal drugs into the United States.
On one of their glorious downtime days, he received a call that five divers had gone missing in an area rife with hammerhead sharks that researchers use to study them. These kinds of search and rescue missions were one of the reasons why a farm kid from landlocked Ohio joined the Coast Guard, so Jason immediately agreed to the mission. When he explained it to the crew the overwhelming consensus was, “We never find divers.” The aircraft is flying too high, too fast for the crew to ever spot something as small as a human on the ocean. Spotting a 20-foot boat is challenging, but a human head bobbing on the surface of the water is nearly impossible.
Still, they spent the next twelve hours flying over empty water counting sea turtles to keep their eyes acclimated to examining the ocean (my older twin Henry was quite excited to hear about the sea turtles.) With twenty minutes of fuel remaining, they had to choose between two airfields and turned back towards the coast. Their choice brought them almost immediately and directly over two of the missing divers. The C-130 dropped a life raft to the survivors and directed ships to their location. Jason would later learn the divers had been continuously attacked by hammerhead sharks and jellyfish during their time in the water.
Even though they “never find divers” Jason reminded his crew that this was someone’s son and this was their mission. If seven aircrew in a C-130 will make that kind of effort to save someone else’s son in this world, how much more important is our mission as parents to save the eternal souls of our own children.
If you are a parent of any age with children of any age, I would encourage you to attend a Baptism Formation session. As Meredith says, “Every time I speak at one of these there’s something new to take away.” Karen also explains, “They call us ‘practicing Catholics’ because we’re practicing at it, not because we’re experts at it.”
The next Baptism & Beyond session will be Sunday, November 7 at 9 am in the Life Center. Anyone interested in attending can register through the parish website (ourladygc.org) under Sacraments > Baptism > Baptism & Beyond Parent Formation Registration.
The members of our Baptism & Beyond Formation Team are:
- Karen Cook, Pastoral Minister
- Deacon Michael Kopczewski
- George Adams
- Meredith Adams
- Diane Boyden
- Emily Gale
- Jason Gale
By Eric Brooks