In my young days, I was an ardent Sunday school student at All Souls Unitarian Church. It was the one large, well-established, legally and happily racially integrated and nationally recognized church in otherwise segregated Washington, D.C.
It was under the leadership of a British theologian, the Rev. A. Powell Davies, who at All Souls baptized babies in the manner of the English Methodist Church into which Davies himself was born.
In my teenage years, I was fascinated with the career of theologian (of sorts) and legal scholar James Pike, who co-authored, with another scholarly lawyer Henry Fischer, a multi-volume treatise on administrative law applied to the emerging field of communication regulation (radio and television), the field in which I wrote my senior thesis at Harvard Law School.
Pike, like a number of “cradle” Roman Catholics in those days, had been baptized Catholic in infancy just as Episcopal priests, or deans or bishops, baptized many others into the catholic church with a lower-case C ...
In my mid-20s, with a growing love of the Episcopal Church of my “cradle Episcopalian” wife, I worshiped and served otherwise at the church across the street from the White House (and conveniently across from my law firm as well). It is St. John’s, Lafayette Square at what is now “Black Lives Matter Plaza,” where Pike, ordained as an Episcopal priest first served as a curate and began his constructive fascination with the anti-McCarthyite, African American and Women’s Civil Rights, and anti-Vietnam War movements.
It was there that I saw baptism as more than an initiatory rite (whether sacrament or ordinance).
And like Davies, Pike, and Martin Luther King Jr., I regarded baptism like the cataclysmic “events” of the Bible, Old Testament and New. After all, I was nearing 30 and was really ready to “clean up my act,” launch an empowering marriage in an everlasting partnership and get to work helping to make the world a better place while equipping future progeny to do likewise.
The setting was perfect — the baptismal pool in the undercroft of the inner city’s New Bethel Baptist Church, with parents and grandparents all standing by, all calling to mind watery Creation and Re-Creation in the time of Noah; Salvation through the waters of the Sea of Reeds and later in the Jordan River; Jesus’s call to his Disciples (and “even me”) from a shore of the Sea of Galilee.
All that, along with other assurances that this almost five-feet deep pool and my simple white robe were not for drowning but for launching, was emphasized by Grandad, who insisted on a private walk in the dark — around the block, just the two of us — as he reminded me of, and asked that I never forget, John 13:34-35 (“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”) and never forget and my call to spread agapé love, universal and unconditional until I die.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., J.D., LL.D., D. Min., K.St.J, is Washington National Cathedral Priest Scholar and Chaplain, and he previously served churches in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.