Graham is looking handsome. He’s in a button-down white shirt and necktie. He just wet his diaper. But in a minute, this won’t matter.
It’s a beautiful September morning out here on the banks of the Bark River where a tall cross made of 4x4 lumber rises from the long grass. On the clipped lawn next to it, roughly 75 people sit on metal folding chairs with “St. Mary’s” stenciled on the backs. Others sit in camping chairs -- those with armrests and drink holders -- carried from their cars.
There’s the Sunday best. A lot of nice dresses, polo shirts, khaki pants -- and Aaron Rodgers jerseys. (Possibly this is because the first game of the Packer season is later this afternoon. Although Packer jerseys are likely acceptable -- even encouraged -- clothes of worship all across Wisconsin, whether a game day or not).
The Rev. Scott Leannah, rector at this Episcopalian church in Dousman, stands behind a sturdy, rustic pulpit. He’s wearing the traditional collar and white robe. Under the robe, he's wearing shorts. (This is only known because a parishioner earlier asked whether he was “ready” and Father Scott gave a quick flash of bare leg. Although this might not be exceptional at all. He might always wear shorts under there. Just no one has yet inquired).
In this warm autumn weather, seated here in the last row of folding chairs, it’s comforting. To breathe it all deeply in. There’s the fading roar of a pack of motorcycles passing on Highway 18. The airliner silently crossing the deep blue sky. The hawk soaring low over the marsh. The Bark River gently flowing past, and the 1-year-old, fair-haired boy about to be dunked into it.
Three times, actually. Once each for the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Also seated back here, in the last row, is a thin, 12-year-old girl named Iris, who spots a monarch butterfly fluttering about. She leans over and whispers, “It’s flying south.”
Iris, it turns out, knows an exhaustive amount about the migratory habits of butterflies. She explains -- still whispering, aware that others are actually listening to Leannah, up front -- that monarchs will travel thousands of miles to winter in Mexico. Not that one monarch does the entire journey, Iris notes. The cycle, to get there and back, she says, takes a few generations of a single family.
“I wonder,” she adds, “how the baby butterflies know where to go.”
Iris, momentarily, quiets, her interest piqued that Leannah is joined at the pulpit by Graham’s parents. Graham is in his mother’s arms. He is also now wearing nothing but his diaper.
Leannah raises a hand. “In the waters of the Bark River,” he says, “we welcome Graham into the body of Christ.”
(Before today, Leannah had performed only one other baptism in the river. It was the previous summer, for an adult parishioner named Bob. It was a much smaller ceremony, with only a few relatives present, looking on as Bob knelt into the river while Leannah cupped handfuls of water over his head. “It’s fitting to use the Bark for baptisms,” Leannah will say later. “Jesus, after all, was baptized in the Jordan …”)
Leannah removes the long stole draped around his shoulders and walks into the river. Graham’s parents slide off their shoes and follow him. The congregation gathers quietly at the river’s edge. Graham is passed over to Leannah, who’s wading nearly knee deep, the bottom of his robe fanning out in the current.
Later, there’s a cake reception up at the church. Iris is there. She says that the monarch butterfly -- the “exact” one noticed earlier -- lingered on a nearby reed, as if it, too, wanted to witness the baptism. That the butterfly saw how Graham didn’t cry when lowered into the chilly water. Again. Then again. That Graham even reached down for the river each time he was pulled from it.
The butterfly remained until Graham was placed back into his mother’s arms and carried ashore. “Then,” Iris says, “it flew away.”