“Bring them unto the elders”

Posted by on April 5, 2013 in Family, feminism, Gender | 17 comments

Rafiki Presentation

When I found out I was pregnant with my new daughter, Linda, I was in shock. I wasn’t planning on becoming pregnant so soon and I spent the first trimester in a depression that allowed me to only play video games.

Labor was hard and it’s difficult to bond with a newborn: they don’t smile; they don’t do much of anything. You can’t tell if they actually like you, even a little bit. When I was 3 weeks postpartum, my husband took our two oldest to Disneyland for a weekend so that I could get a break from having three kids underfoot. However, having a single colicky baby without a partner to pass her off to when you’re tired is difficult, too. It was in those three days of solitude with my daughter that I tried very hard to “bond.” I felt bad for not wanting to be pregnant 9 months earlier. I didn’t want her to feel unwanted.

When my husband came home from the Disneyland trip I told him, “I want to hold her for her baby blessing. I want to make up for not being happy about the pregnancy. It’d be like a public apology to her, a reconciliation.”

The culture around baby blessings is such that if you have the blessing at home, the family has a lot more freedom in how it is done, however, if you do it in a church, there are more restrictions. I was split: I wanted to have the freedom of a home blessing, but wanted to share it with our whole ward.

In the weeks leading up to the blessing, I considered whether or not I wanted to get permission to hold my daughter for the blessing or if I should just go up and do it. On one hand, it seemed ridiculous to ask a man, not related to me at all, if I could hold my own child. Nonsensical! But on the other hand, I didn’t want to spring something out of the ordinary on the bishop the day of the event. He’s a good guy- it’d just be nice to give him a head’s up.

So I did go to the bishop. I caught him in the hallway and told him that my husband and I would like me to hold our daughter and that I know women who have done it and that there’s nothing discouraging it in the Church Handbook. He told me that he understood why I’d like to do that and would look into it and get back to me.

Our stake has a history of trying new things or doing things a little differently from time to time, so I felt sure that my request would be granted. A few days before the date of her blessing, I got a call from our bishop. He had discussed it with the stake president and it was decided that per D&C 20:70, they felt that I couldn’t be included. He did say that we were authorized to do the blessing however we wanted to at home. Once again I felt split about the blessing: home, or church? I thanked him for his phone call and said we’d let him know what our decision would be.

I spent the next 24 hours imagining different scenarios: doing it at  church, doing it at home with the two of us holding her with our family there or without them there. I also wondered if maybe I could try again. I wasn’t convinced that D&C 20 meant my exclusion- should I ask again, with only a couple of days left before the blessing? Do I want to put myself in baby blessing limbo again while I’m trying to play hostess to visiting family? I decided to email the bishop,

Bishop,

Thanks for bringing up the D&C 20 verse. To be honest, I had only looked at the Handbook II and it seems really egregious now to have missed the scripture. I have been looking at it this past day or so and it seems to me that me holding Linda could actually be the personification of the command to “bring them to the Elders before the church, who are to lay their hands upon them.” I guess I imagined me holding her up with my hands underneath her and everyone else’s hands on her head/on top of her. I know that’s not how babies are typically held for blessing- there’s something like a group bouncing motion. It was just something I was thinking about.
I have heard of great experiences with babies blessed at home and it is still an option for us. I guess I’m split because part of me sees baby blessings as a way to welcome the child into the community. When we had Margaret I had wanted her blessing to be done at home because I knew that we’d move out of the ward. But for Isaac and Linda, we know we’ll be here a while and we know that the ward members will be their Primary teachers and youth leaders and so I want the ward to be included, which is why I’m still leaning towards the blessing at church.
If I can’t hold her, maybe I could hold the mic? Also, thanks for taking time to think about this and study it out.

And then I waited.

The night before the blessing, I got a call from the bishop. He reiterated that he and the stake president didn’t feel that there was much leeway in the blessing in a church setting, but had an idea sparked by my desire to include the ward: what if I went up and sat on the first row for the blessing and when it was finished, did the Rafiki-Lion-King hold for the ward? My husband and I could do it together or I could do it by myself.

It wasn’t what I wanted by a long shot, but it was such a creative solution that I agreed to it. I knew the bishop was trying and felt constrained in his position. He also added that since we were having a musical testimony-like meeting, that it would be nice if I wanted to share a hymn for Linda.

That night, my husband and I had a small blessing between the two of us. Then on Sunday we had the public blessing. For the first time for a church event for us, we had a small crowd and we squished into two long pews. As arranged, I brought Linda up to the front and sat on the front row. Her blessing was a combination of what we had both hoped for her the night before. And when it was finished, I stood up and presented Linda, Rafiki-style. I could feel myself grinning- it was so much fun to be there and a part of it. I also did go up and talk a little about a hymn for Linda.I share this for a couple of reasons: first, I think it’s good to learn about how different people address gender issues in the Church and the back-and-forth between me and the bishop is an interesting case study. Second, for women who might want a bigger part in a baby blessing, but might be shy about bringing something up, the Rafiki-presentation would be an option that you wouldn’t even need to ask ward leadership about. Additionally, I wanted to give my bishop credit for an original idea that I hadn’t heard discussed in conversations about baby blessings. It’s not what I wanted and I’m disappointed in that, but props for creativity.

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17 Comments

  1. Yes, this is an original solution, with you sharing your sweet baby after the blessing. But I have to admit, I kept waiting for you to write that at the last minute you held your baby after all. And I am glad you were at peace with this this solution. I gave birth to nine babies and each time I felt so insignificant when they were blessed. My now X was so pompous and prideful in HIS new offspring that I never dared ask to do anything different. Blessing a baby should also be a tribute to the love and sacrifice of the mother IMO and SHE should be part of the blessing, whether it is public or private. Maybe if we ordain women it will happen???

    • There are actually a couple of unblogged details that I didn’t share that makes me more content with how this played out.

      I’m sure the ordination of women would change this. Melchizedek priesthood is the main factor for inclusion in the circle.

  2. I am impressed by how gracefully you handled this. And it is a creative “solution.”

  3. I’m glad they were able to work you in to it in some way, but I must admit to being pretty disappointed that women have to be content with the crumbs from the table:/

  4. I know it doesn’t work well as an argument, but I’ve found that the lower-case e in that verse of Section 20 gives some hope for this being detatched from Priesthood. The reason it doesnt work well is because none of the office names given in the section are capitalized as we would currently. There is, however, a good deal of hope int he section, as when talking about who may do which ordinance or assigment, it uses “the person” for the officiator, rather than “the man”. I suppose it could be argued that the general feeling at the time was that “people” did not include “women”, but this is a missive from God, isn’t it? The quick uses of “he” in places can be dismissed for expediency, since “he or she” is cumbersome and “they” is confusing as to the number of people involved.

    Anyway, I’ve strayed my thought. I personally like the idea of the word being “elders”, not “Elders”, as we are presenting our children to those in the Church who have been there, showing that we have also begun on that path of parenthood and hope for their experience in helping us raise the child we’ve been entrusted with.

    • I totally agree about the ambiguity with “people” and the “E” in elders.

  5. TopHat, I’m so glad you blogged this! There are a lot of women who would like to participate in their babies’ blessings, and this is such a great story of asking questions and working out compromises. Hats off to you—

  6. I’m glad you shared this. And I like that you call it the Rafiki presentation because that is exactly how it is. I have heard arguments that it is important for the man to feel part of a process that is so female dominated (pregnancy and childbirth) but I can’t help but think that she who brings that baby in the world gets to present that baby on the rocky outcropping to a herd of singing animals. you did it! I’m afraid that now the temptation to sing that song (Naaaa! Sing feng nya! Or however it really goes) will be very strong next time a baby is blessed in our ward.

    I was blessed at home by our home teacher and I’ve always thought I’d rather do the at home thing. We’ll see how my husband feels…

  7. I’m so glad it went well in the end. We just had our daughter’s blessing at home Easter Sunday because the exact same scenario played out with our bishop (minus the Rafiki suggestion, unfortunately), complete with same-toned email and all. All I wanted to do was hold her while the men blessed her (plus the basketball bounce makes me anxious), to be a part of it that way. I made it clear I didn’t want the priesthood. The bishop’s a nice guy but didn’t want to set a precident, brought it up to the stake president, council, all that. The best he came up with was that my husband could hold her to his chest while he blessed her so she wouldn’t be basketball-bounced.

    I would love it so much if the next activist topic (well, after the LDS Lactivists movement) now that a woman prayed in conference today (yea!!!) could be a statement about how women can hold their babies for blessings. Seems self-evident, no?

    • Threadjacking my own thread- my Provo ward bishop said a baby got dropped during a blessing because of the baby-bounce thing and was caught by a grandpa by the leg before he hit the floor. Eek. Definitely a good reason for holding a baby in a safe mother’s lap!

  8. I’m confused What is it in D&C 20:70 that shows why you cannot hold the baby? It says members. Does this mean that only men are members?

    • He felt that “bring them unto the elders” meant that everyone involved with the circle (holding baby or not) needed to be priesthood holders. I don’t think the verse says that, but that’s how it was interpreted here.

  9. I love creative solutions that move us forward. Thanks for sharing.
    Suzette

  10. I personally have no problem with how the baby blessing in the states is performed. Just because I’m not holding the baby doesn’t make the act any less spiritual for me as a mother. However, the issue is, I think tied more to cultural perception than a clear doctrinal mandate. While serving as a missionary in northern Italy fifteen years ago it was and still is the custom for the mother to hold the baby in her lap while the priesthood blesses the child. I saw this in many different branches and wards. So the real issue here is confronting perceived cultural traditions…rather than actual doctrine. Because so few stake presidents and bishops have seen the practice of the mother holding the baby they are perhaps unwilling to make a change.

    • I agree! It does seem like a big cultural thing.

  11. Thanks for sharing your experience – it is something I had never thought of before. I am also impressed with how gracefully you dealt with this, and with how your bishop tried to accommodate you in a way he thought was possible. Some bishopric members are so by-the-book that they wouldn’t have considered anything other than the norm. I feel like your request wasn’t even that big of a deal – and it fits with the scripture, bringing your child to be blessed. To me this scripture brings to mind a mother and father bringing their child up and holding it while it is blessed. Maybe when I have a child I will just carry it on up there and stand there with my husband while our child is blessed.

  12. This was brave, TopHat, particularly when you went back and continued to press.

    I love reading about how feminists navigate the baby blessing. Thanks for showing another creative way to ameliorate women’s lack of participation in this important ritual.

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