I receive a message just before I leave Gaborone for Francistown. ‘Oh yes,’ the message says, ‘you will also baptize three people at Matsiloje on Sunday.’
I have been working a bit on my Setswana pronunciation of some parts of the Eucharist liturgy. And I have been teaching about the baptism liturgy in An Anglican Prayer Book, the prayer book in use in Botswana. But I have not actually performed a Botswana baptism. There will be more to do in the north of the country this weekend than teach and preach. I will study the rubrics and liturgy on Saturday night.
Fr. John Hamathi, a fellow lecturer at St. Augustine Theological School, and I drive up to Francistown on Friday, my birthday, and we teach our students from this region all day Saturday. Fr. George Callendar, a priest in Francistown, starts the day saying the Mass in the history St. Patrick Church, then Fr. John and I separate, he into the nave of the church for his class, me into the sacristy for mine. Midday we switch; I take the third-year students, he now takes the first.
‘I can serve for five years somewhere besides my home village,’ one of my students tells me during a break. ‘There are Anglicans in Maun’ – Maun is the western town on the edge of the Okavango Delta – ‘but there is no church. I could be there.’
These are encouraging words. One of the ideas of the St. Augustine Theological School is that the ordinands will mostly be non-stipendiary – unpaid – mainly serving congregations in their own villages or towns while continuing their own secular jobs. The notion that some are open to postings some distance from their homes, in places which lack priests or even functioning congregations, is hopeful.
‘Five years. Then I can return and serve at my home. That will be fine. That will make my training worthwhile.’ ‘That is a good thing to tell the Bishop,’ I say. ‘He will be happy to hear it.’
Matsiloje on Sunday morning is my idea. Last year I plan to come to Matsiloje, about twenty-five miles or so due east from Francistown, nestled on the border with Zimbabwe. Two of my students are from there, and they actually go so far as to arrange for me to celebrate the Eucharist on Easter Sunday. The flaw in their planning is that All Saints Church has an all-night Easter vigil instead. (I wonder why they do not know.) The vigil seems out of the question, for my daughter and her husband and children and I will have just driven all day from Kasane. So, with all due respect to the historic vigil liturgy, instead we attend St. Carantoc’s in Francistown on Easter morning. But that has left me a bit guilty, for I visit all of the other students in their home parishes. This year, then, I decide to redeem myself.
And so Sunday, I am off to Matsiloje. I am following Samuel Moraloki, driving ahead with his family, but I also examine a map. It shows a single road coming to the village, and that’s it; no other roads beyond. But as we drive I see there is a now a border post, and folks can cross over into Zimbabwe from here. Changes, even in isolated spots.
I meet those who are to be baptized: Kagiso Sebokolodi, Michelle Makabe, and Kelebogile Teseletso. I write down the names, then say them to see if they agree I have it right, and insert the paper in my prayer book. Two are young children, one is a young woman. Parents and godparents join them at the font, a metal bowl with plastic pitcher on a small stand. ‘Welcome the newly baptized.’ The congregation does. There are ululations.
I perform the baptisms because priests visit the congregation so infrequently. They find my presence an opportunity too good to miss. But when we who are clergy baptize, especially those with no particular ties to the ones they baptize, do other priests wonder what will happen in these lives we touch so briefly? I know I do. I will probably never see them again.