I didn’t actually have to get baptized as part of my conversion. The Episcopal church doesn’t have a clear policy on what do with Mormons—while Catholics and some Protestants have ruled that Mormon baptism is invalid and converts from Mormonism must be baptized, Episcopalians have been rather less definitive. There are certainly LDS converts to Anglicanism who’ve made the religious transition without being baptized (perhaps most notably a former Episcopal bishop of Utah). When I first started playing with the idea of converting, I figured I’d do it via confirmation only; I liked the idea of holding on to my Mormon baptism as a way of maintaining continuity in my religious journey.
I’m not sure when my thinking on that changed. But the more I considered the matter, the more convinced I became that Mormon baptism and the baptisms performed by other Christian denominations don’t mean the same thing. Certainly that seems to be the case from the LDS perspective, given that Latter-day Saints baptize literally every convert, regardless of whether they’ve had a Christian baptism in their past. The discussion of whose baptism is valid has tended to focus on the issue of proper authority (on the Mormon side), and the question of whether the Mormon version of God is so far outside of orthodox Christianity as to nullify the legitimacy of a baptism even if was performed in the name of the Trinity (on the non-Mormon side). In deciding that I wanted baptism, though, I wasn’t aiming to take a position on the fraught question of whether Mormons are Christians, or make a dig at anyone’s claim to legitimate religious authority. Rather, my decision grew out of my sense that Mormon baptism is specifically about joining the LDS faith community, not about becoming a part of Christianity more broadly, and finding that I wanted an explicit connection to the latter. I will not deny that I was also influenced in my thinking by the fact that the Episcopal baptismal liturgy is really quite lovely, and I was very drawn to the possibility of getting to participate in it. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of doing this conversion as thoroughly as I could, and really having a new beginning.
I was a bit nervous, though, when I went to meet with my rector to discuss the subject. I was aware that some hold the view that Mormon converts don’t need baptism, and there is actually sometimes reluctance to perform the rite because the Episcopal position is quite clear that baptism is not something that can be repeated (“the bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble,” says the Book of Common Prayer). However, there is a sort of loophole upon which many a priest has drawn in dealing with the thorny issue of whether to baptize a Latter-day Saint who requests it—the Episcopalians allow for something called conditional baptism, which is done in cases where there is reasonable doubt that a valid baptism (that is, with water and in the name of the Trinity) has been performed. The liturgy is only slightly modified, with the clause “if you are not already baptized” being added to the beginning. To be honest, I think it’s a somewhat inelegant solution to the problem, and not the most theologically satisfying way of dealing with it. However, the situation is what it is, and that’s what I was planning to push for when I brought up the subject with the priest. I had carefully thought out my reasons in advance, in case I had to argue my case. And the rector did indeed tell me that he didn’t think I needed baptism. But when I said that it would mean a lot to me to do it, he acquiesced fairly quickly. The concern he raised was that he didn’t want me to think I wasn’t seen as a Christian already, or to feel like they were expecting this of me. I appreciated that, but assured him that this was coming entirely from me, and it really was what I wanted. So we scheduled it.
In the Episcopal calendar, there a couple of days when baptisms are traditionally performed. When I first started considering the idea, I imagined that I’d opt for Easter Vigil, because that’s my favorite service of the year. But it was November when I finally made the decision to do it, and the next possible date was the Sunday after Epiphany, and it occurred that in some ways that would be even more meaningful to me—my birthday was just days earlier, and I loved the idea of starting a new calendar year and a new year of my life with this ritual.
The decision made me happy and excited, but I have to admit that as the date got closer, I started to get nervous. Not about the choice to convert, which felt so right that I didn’t really question it. But I am not a person who loves being the center of attention, and the fact that the ritual involves an element of social performance was causing me some anxiety. In fact, if I’d been able to get away with it, I might have been tempted to have it done privately. But Episcopalians don’t do that. Baptism is a deeply communal rite, and the community is an essential part of the whole thing. (In fact, the entire congregation repeats the baptismal vows at every baptism.) So I found myself just hoping that it would be meaningful enough that it would be worth the challenging aspects.
And thus a few Sundays ago . . . it happened! I have to say—it was so, so worth it. I don’t feel ready yet to say too much about what the experience personally meant to me. So I’ll just say this—I hoped that it would be a beautiful service, and it definitely was. I hoped it would mean something significant to me, and it unquestionably did so. But I honestly did not anticipate just how spiritually transformative and powerful it would feel. For all my familiarity with the liturgy, and even with having seen other baptisms, there were elements of my experience of the rite that genuinely surprised me. I will be reflecting on it for a long time yet.
I’ve encountered a lot of debates over the years about infant baptism vs. adult baptism. I can definitely see value in ritually bringing a child into the community right away, in not waiting to make those connections to other believers and to God. I can also see value in waiting until a person can make make a meaningful decision on her own. (Mormons, it seems to me, are somewhere in the middle on this, with setting the age at eight). I don’t really have views on what anyone else should do. But I do have to say that making the choice, and going through this as an adult, was an absolutely incredible experience.