Baptism is usually a time to celebrate new life and spiritual community. But for Rich McCaffrey, a new father in central Florida, the ritual took on a hurtful note when he had to cancel his son's baptism -- because McCaffrey and his husband are gay.
McCaffrey and his husband, Eric, began attending the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Orlando, Florida shortly after adopting their son, Jack. They hoped to become part of a spiritual community in which they could baptize their son, McCaffrey explained in a May 2 Facebook post.
The church’s dean, Anthony Clark, initially agreed to the baptism and encouraged the family to schedule it for the 6 p.m. Sunday service, “since those who worship at that time tend to be the most 'open,'" according to McCaffrey. The parents chose April 19.
Things turned sour on April 16, when, three days before the planned baptism, Clark told them that “there were members of the congregation who opposed Jack’s baptism” and the service would have to be temporarily cancelled.
"Jack’s baptism turned out to be the very opposite of what it should have been," McCaffrey wrote on Facebook. "It became about Jack having two dads, rather than a community opening its arms to a joyful little soul, one of God’s children."
McCaffrey's Facebook post has been shared more than 1,000 times as of Wednesday afternoon.
After the news spread, Bishop Greg Brewer of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, where St. Luke is located, contacted McCaffrey to make amends, according to Joe Thoma, communications director for the diocese.
Thoma said Brewer was “caught by surprise” when he learned of the baptism's cancellation and wanted to repair the situation. After Brewer and McCaffrey spoke on the phone Sunday, the two released a joint statement saying they would not give any interviews or comments “to protect the privacy of their conversation.” (McCaffrey did not respond to a Facebook message requesting comment.) The two are scheduled to meet again Thursday and release a joint statement on Friday, Thoma said.
Clark called the cancelled baptism a "regrettable misunderstanding" in an article in Episcopal Cafe, a Web site focused on church matters. “I’ve reached out to them so that we might resolve the misunderstanding and make this right moving forward,” he told the site.
Thoma said that Clark was “supportive” of Brewer's meeting with McCaffrey. Clark's office told The Huffington Post Wednesday that Clark was out of town and unable to comment on the incident.
While the episode has put the church into the "public glare," Thoma said, it also created an “opportunity to reconnect and connect with many people one-on-one” on the issue of LGBT inclusion in the church -- something that McCaffrey said had been thrown into question.
“Is this how the church loves its neighbors and respects the dignity of human beings?” he wrote on Facebook. “Or are we only afforded that respect and dignity if you fit the church’s view of what a family is?”
There may yet be a happy outcome for the family, but McCaffrey has already taken some lessons for his son from the experience.
“Do not be fearful of what you don’t know," McCaffrey wrote near the end of his post. "Keep your heart and mind open to diversity among people, thoughts and experiences.”
UPDATE: May 14 Bishop Greg Brewer met with Rich and Eric McCaffrey on May 7 and agreed to have Jack baptized. "We are appreciative and are looking forward to the baptism to take place this summer," Rich McCaffrey wrote on his Facebook page.