Have you ever seen “Mr. Bean Goes to Church”? If you haven’t…you really should. It’s brilliant. I’ve always seen it as a great commentary on what church must be like for those not accustomed to how we do things. As a Christian who has spent his entire life in the church however, I always just kind of laughed and viewed it from afar.
Until last Sunday. Last Sunday I WAS Mr. Bean.
Let me back up for a moment. A couple of months ago, some friends asked me to be the Godfather to their little girl at her baptism. I’m not Catholic but I love these people and it’s a huge honour to be asked. In Catholic tradition, if something happens to the parents, as the Godfather, I’ve committed myself to raising their little girl. Seriously…I have no idea what they were thinking. But as I said, these people are important to me. And of course there’s also the fact that I get to call myself “The Godfather”…so…you know….
As a side note, I did make a rule that these people are never allowed to travel together in the same vehicle or place themselves in any sort of dangerous situation while in the vicinity of the other. Individually…go crazy. But NEVER TOGETHER.
So I’m good.
After they asked me I was like, “So when are we doing this thing?” Turns out they don’t just let you be The Godfather without a little training. I had to go to mass for two Sundays…take a little class on baptism (which I aced by the way…)…and then the third Sunday was the baptism.
The first two Sundays were easy enough. We sat at the back...stood when everyone else stood…hummed along to some nice songs…slipped out when everything was over. It was a nice church and the Father knew what he was doing…so it was all fine. The only surprise was how big the place was. It was out in the country, so I was expecting somewhere around thirty or forty people. That first Sunday I tried to count how many people were there, but I lost track between five and six hundred. That threw me off a little, but I figured, what the heck…I was a professional and standing up in front of a few hundred people wasn’t that big of a deal.
Oh, the overconfident pride of the idiot youth pastor/missionary.
Baptism Sunday rolled around and I picked everyone up in my truck and off we went to church. The little girl decided she wanted to sit up front with me. To be clear…I do like little kids. But wow…they talk a lot. Like A LOT. And they ask a lot of questions. I mean…a LOT of questions.
We also had the language barrier issue….she didn’t always understand my Spanish and I didn’t always understand her gibberish. But I made accommodating sounds like I was interested and paying attention…and that seemed to satisfy her.
Except eventually she caught on that I wasn’t really listening (we were late and I was concentrating on driving). She started asking, “Padrino (Godfather)? Padrino? Padrino?”
On about the fifth or sixth “Padrino?” I got a look and a “PAAADDRINNOO!” in a tone of voice that will serve her well when she’s someday married. I quickly apologized and told her I was listening and that she looked very pretty…and we were good again.
We arrived at the church…took some family pictures (the Father was later than we were as it turned out)…and then went into the church to sit down.
In the front row. To be clear, that’s the front row that’s in front of everyone.
I went from hiding out in the back…to being the only gringo in the place (who should have paid better attention those last two Sundays) and sitting in the front row. Suddenly I found myself trying a lot harder to get things right as I felt little Grandma lady’s eyes boring holes in the back of my neck every time I didn’t cross myself with everyone else.
When I was in high school, I sang in the tour choir and I stood beside the son of the music director for the school. He helpfully taught me that if you don’t remember the words to the song, just sing “watermelon” and it makes your mouth look like you know what you’re doing.
That served me well on Sunday. During the music, I just kept singing watermelon over and over to whatever tune we were singing, with the occasional “Jesus” and “Santo Dios” thrown in there for good measure. The chorus of the one song just repeated “Hallelujah” over and over and whenever we got to that part, I belted those Hallelujah’s out like….well, like Mr. Bean really.
As a side note, the “watermelon” thing also works when you’re supposed to be reciting prayers. I already apologized to God for that one, so no need to comment.
Then came the part when the Father asked the parents of the children being baptized (there were three) if they were good Catholics and prepared to raise their children with an understanding of the traditions of the Catholic church.
I instantly broke out in a cold sweat and felt my face start to go red hot. Was he going to ask me that? I thought we’d been clear on this in the class that I wasn’t Catholic. Was I going to have to say no to his question in front of 400 good Catholics? I wonder if little Grandma lady can kill me using only her mind?
Then he turned to the Godparents and asked us if we were prepared to be good examples to our Godchildren and teach them about God and the spiritual life.
I was so relieved I pretty much shouted “YES!” in response. Because THAT I can do! You know, being a missionary and all. The Father actually paused for a moment and looked at me before continuing on. I’m sure he’d never had such an enthusiastic Godfather before.
The first child to get baptized looked like she as about three days old and was very cute. She slept through the whole thing. The second little guy was about four and…a little chunky shall we say. He was cute enough in his little white suit…but that didn’t hide the fact that he was a bit of a terror. And then every time the Father went near him or touched him to bless him, he started screaming and yelling.
My friend leaned over and said, “I think he has a demon.” Because you know…priest…holy water…The Exorcist…the fact that he kept poking at the icon of the Baby Jesus on the platform during the service…
Well, okay…technically it may have been me who made the demon comment. But since I’m a professional youth pastor/missionary, it probably wasn’t appropriate. So I’ll blame it on my friend. Although…I still think it was funny.
My little Goddaughter handled the whole getting water poured over her head thing like a pro. When I commented on that afterwards, my friend was like, “Well, she likes to swim.” I don’t know…for some reason that makes me laugh.
Then came my big moment. I had my candle clasped tightly in my hand as I walked over to the big candle by the baptismal. I was to light the candle as a representation of the light of Christ in the life of my Goddaughter.
Except my stupid candle wouldn’t light. It was a rookie mistake. I’ve officiated at enough weddings to know, YOU ALWAYS PRELIGHT THE CANDLES! And I thought about that…but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to. So instead, I just kept standing there like an idiot waiting for my candle to finally catch on fire. If I didn’t know any better, I would have said the Light of Christ wasn’t very gung ho with my candle.
But eventually my candle lit and everyone breathed an audible sigh of relief...or maybe that was just me…and I rejoined the family for the blessing.
And then we were done! My Goddaughter looked beautiful. I got my candle to light. The Father managed to baptize the…uh…rambunctious other kid…and we were good to go. Except for the eating of an inordinate amount of barbequed beef and aroz con queso at lunch. Which we did.
I will never watch Mr. Bean Goes to Church again without a certain heartfelt sympathy in the midst of my laughter….