A Baptism-Confirmation Connection via Skype
By Melissa Lauber
In a ceremony spanning 1,862 miles and two time zones, on May 15, Rebecca Skalla was baptized in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and confirmed at Mt. Zion UMC in Highland, Md. Congregations at both locations watched via Skype.
It was the United Methodist connection at its best, said the Rev. Malcolm Stranathan, pastor of Mt. Zion UMC. “When I think about this I just tear up, and when something makes me feel that kind of emotion, I know God is moving through it.”
With this innovative use of technology in disciple-making, we “are just imagining what is possible in God’s gracious realm,” said the Rev. Janet Forbes of St. Luke’s.
Skalla began the 18-session Credo curriculum that would lead to confirmation at Mt. Zion, but part way through her family moved to Colorado and she ended up leaving her 17 classmates.
She and her family found a church home at St. Luke’s, but when Rebecca confided her disappointment at not being able to be confirmed with the friends she’d had since second grade, church leaders began to scheme.
Skalla had not been baptized. When Stranathan and Forbes spoke, both decided they would do “whatever they could to help this become a reality.”
They consulted with their tech people and decided that Skype, an online video telephone tool, was the answer. The images from Skype could be projected on the churches’ big screens.
“When you’re overcoming hurdles, there are ways things should be done and ways things have always been done. The important thing is determining how do we make allowances and take steps to make sure we do the good and right thing,” Stranathan said.
Rebecca and her sister Rachel were baptized late during St. Luke’s 8 a.m. Mountain Daylight Time service.
Their friends cheered at 10:40 a.m., as they watched the baptism during the break between Mt. Zion’s Eastern Daylight Time services. At the 11 a.m. service, 18 confirmands, including Skalla, responded to the questions that brought them into The United Methodist Church.
During her sermon, Forbes preached on the idea of “what if….” She shared the story of Skalla’s morning and a note Stranathan had written to the newly baptized confirmand, welcoming her into the Christian family. Referring to the technology and faith that made it all possible, Stranathan said simply, “What an amazing world in which we live!”
Forbes agreed, saying, “When we are generous with our lives, we never know what can be imagined.”
Skalla, who her family describes as “shy” is not excited about talking about her experience, but she does feel special, Forbes said.
Both pastors also wonder a little at how this bold liturgical act, which seems to them to embody the bond of connectionalism, reflects upon the integrity of the traditions they cherish.
Surely, Skype redefines the concept of “presence,” they say.
When he heard about the intentionally innovative service, Bishop John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference understood their thoughts. “Some people among us might say this is not of Christ,” the bishop said. “But I can’t help but think that Jesus would want to reach out in as many ways as he could to as many people he could. Discipleship is forward-leaning.”
For those who don’t understand or agree with virtual confirmation, Stranathan believes “it all comes down to intentionality and being willing to let grace prevail.”
“Jesus never promised safety or certainty or predictability,” said Forbes. “And he certainly didn’t die on the cross to tame us. He died to make us dangerous. He died to invite us to a life of spiritual adventure.”