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Hallo again to all.

Seabury Press, black and red type Among the most memorable turns of phrase in all of Anthony Trollope's works is the title of the sixteenth chapter of Barchester Towers: Baby Worship. The setting for the chapter is a room in Barsetshire with three occupants: an infant boy and two sisters-in-law. The scheming Reverend Obadiah Slope makes his appearance at the very end of the scene.

A regular service of baby worship was going on. Mary Bold was sitting on a low easy chair, with the boy in her lap, and Eleanor was kneeling before the object of her idolatry. As she tried to cover up the little fellow's face with her long, glossy, dark brown locks, and permitted him to pull them hither and thither, as he would, she looked very beautiful in spite of the widow's cap which she still wore. [...] The child screamed with delight, and kicked till Mary Bold was hardly able to hold him. At this moment the door opened, and Mr Slope was announced.

We imagine Trollope's scene to be something all of us can picture with some delight in our mind's eye. The actual worship of any baby aside from our Lord in Bethlehem would, of course, be idolatry. We confess, however, that we have engaged in our share of the mildest Baby Worship—or, for the theological precisionists among us, Baby dulia—in the last week following the birth of the newest member of the Anglicans Online family in the United States. Her name is Emilia,* and she has already accompanied her father on many AO production nights in utero. She does so this evening from the relative comfort of his lap as he types on a MacBook Air perched on a coffee table.

For many of us, children bring out our best instincts of care, endurance, kindness, strength, and hope. The immediate focus of our attention on a newborn comes without effort; our eyes loiter on a baby, hoping for some sign of a look back, or a smile. It is easier to put away our concerns about all that troubles us when we hold a child. If worship is resting in the presence of someone to whom we can give only our gifts of self, then perhaps it really is something like worship that springs up so readily for us.

And yet it is not right that we should have our own babies first in mind—be they nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers, sisters, daughters, stepchildren, sons, friends, grandchildren—when we sing Venite adoremus. The confusion, and the readiness with which it comes to us, is what makes the scene from Trollope so funny, so recognisable, and so diagnostic of an easy danger in Christian life.

Even in young Emilia's first week, we have been mindful to try to share the Church's worship with this baby, rather than bringing our own hearts' worship to this baby. We listened to CDs of hymns (including this one) as she was being born, and greeted the moment of her birth with Gloria in excelsis sung to the familiar setting by Healey Willan—tears shining on our faces as she wailed through her first breaths, and coming to the long Amen even before her umbilical cord was cut. Then came a Te Deum, and the Lord's Prayer, and Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and Thomas Ken's Evening Hymn, and everything else we could remember by rote. We sang together for the first full hour of her life—our voices hoarse by the end, and her wailing finally calmed to sleep. The midwife and nurse were both keen to find out what church we belonged to, and we felt unusually proud to say that we are Episcopalians.

In the evening watches since then, we've held Coverdale in one hand and Emi in our arms. We even chanced today to take her to Evensong and Benediction at our local parish church, where we were afraid she might cry out and disturb our fellow-worshipers. At the very young age of five days, however, she maintained better silence than our neighbours, two of whose mobile phones rang in the quiet stretches through which she dozed.

We all of us hope that Emilia's life will be a healthy and joyful one, and we look forward to helping her grow into a happy girl and a confident, thoughtful, and compassionate woman. For now, we are happy that we can give her some of the best gifts of our Anglican faith and culture even before she has developed rational faculties, language, or well-tuned senses. Keble might have said 'If the Church of England were to fail, it should be found still in her cradle;' her first bedtimes spent with both Keble and Ken are good indications that this will be true, with God's help.**

Since 1994, we have often asked you to share in our sorrows, and you have made true the adage that burdens shared are cares lightened. You have interceded for us steadily and readily in sickness and difficulty, as we have walked the hardest of roads with the deaths of a spouse and several friends. As Emi learns the smells of candles and incense and books at the same time as she is latching on to her father's scent and finding her mother's milk, please give thanks with us, and share in our joy that a new life has come into the world. If you have a hymnal at hand, or a Prayer Book, sing a Gloria or a Te Deum with us.

Really. Sing with us in your voice as we sing in ours, and help us to make a world where worship with a baby, and the joy of meeting her, are even sweeter than the much more common Baby Worship.

See you next week, when she'll be twice as old as she is now.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

23 October 2011

* Named for a dear friend of the same name, and the great St Emilia, mother of St Basil the Great, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Theosevia the Deaconess, St Peter of Sebaste, and St Macrina the Younger.

** John Keble (1792-1866) said, somewhat famously, that if the Church of England were to disintegrate, it would still be found in his parish.

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