A History of Our Baptismal Font
By Rev. David Glendinning, Former Rector
In 1969 when I became Rector of Saint Mark’s, one of the attractive possibilities of the call was that there were plans in the works to build a new church. Indeed, there even had been a design drawn for the Eustis Parkway site. But it was equally clear, not too long after my arrival, that those plans were premature and would need to be postponed .
I include this overview because it helps explain why we got the present baptismal font. Amongst the members of the parish at that time was the Rev. William Crawford, a retired priest who lived in the environs of the Belgrade Lakes, although his residence was actually in Oakland. Bill had long ties in the area having attended as a camper, and then as staff, one of the boys’ camps in the area. Father Crawford had been editor of the Seabury Press when it and the national church were headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut. When the church center was re-located to 815 Second Avenue in New York there was a simultaneous shake-up at the Press. It has always been my understanding that Bill was leveraged out of his editorship and basically forced into an early retirement. Bill Crawford retained many of the ties to the international church during· his retirement years; and as he had done during his active tenure at Seabury he received innumerable publications from the various diocese not only in the American Church, but also the English.
By 1975 Saint Mark’s had grown significantly enough to resurrect some stirrings of the building plans of earlier years. I can remember that we began some careful studies, did some advance work, talked with a lot of people over an extended period of time. I think we all understood that some sort of building program was going to be in our future, but we were clearly only laying groundwork in those early times. It was in this atmosphere that Bill Crawford came to me one day to suggest that we might acquire an antiquity for the new church in order to clearly symbolize the generations which have supported the Christian enterprise.
Of course, Bill had something very specific in mind. In the Journal of the Diocese of Lincoln in England he had read the report of “The Redundant Churches Uses Committee”. This committee had been charged with determining and arranging for the disposition of the sacred objects of parish churches in that Diocese which had closed their doors and disbanded. Communion silver, vestments, altars, pulpits and baptismal fonts etc. were on the list of available items. Included was the Baptismal Font of Saint Mark’s Church in Lincoln itself.
It was Bill’s idea that we request the donation of that font as it were from one St. Mark’s to another.
Eventually the font was donated to our parish and arrangements were made to ship it to us. It should be noted that the shipping costs were, to my remembrance, raised amongst the parishioners by a very informal and low key fund raiser.
The font finally arrived in America on a ship and was delivered to Boston harbor. Father Crawford and I borrowed a 4 wheel vehicle from Jeff Dean, also a parishioner, and the gentleman who owned the monument company above the interstate on the way to Oakland. We drove to Boston, the crate was loaded on by forklift and we drove it to Center Street. Once there, we had to recruit extra people to help us get the heavy crate into the church. Rudy Landry, a postal worker, and several of his folk helped us off load the crate by hand and move it into the church. In a matter of days it was uncrated and assembled on the platform which had been built. The font was first used on Saint Mark’s Day (or the Sunday nearest) I think in 1977. I know that we had three baptisms that first time; an infant, a teenager and an adult intentionally trying to represent the generations who lived and worked in the parish. It was a very grand affair.
The font was installed in the “new” Saint Mark’s as part of its construction and no special significance was paid to the font at that time.
Historically, the bowl of the font dates from the 12th century. It is clear that the pedestal is of a different stone and is probably dated about 300 years later. Clearly, it has seen much history. It was Bill Crawford’s theory, and I concur, that the repaired piece in the lip of the bowl probably occurred shortly after the Cromwellian period in English history. One will notice the small iron pin across the font from the repair. Bill’s notion was that the pin was a hinging devise for a cover and that there had been some sort of hasp and locking device on the opposite side. Water blessed in the font was apt to stay there and the locks were to prevent the more superstitious from taking it home to drive out demons etc.. Cromwell’s troops were in the habit of destroying these more “catholic” practices. Bill thought that perhaps the troops smashed the lock, and with it the lip, in order to spill out the holy water. Obviously, it was skillfully repaired.
Over the years I used the font as a teaching device helping confirmands especially get the sense of the historical perspective of 12th century Christianity. I guessed that there might have been more people baptized in this font than were resident in all of Waterville. That seemed very impressive to young people. Personally, it was a wonderful project. Bill Crawford saw the font installed in the “old” Saint Mark’s. He died of a brain tumor before we could complete the new church. As a matter of fact, part of the seed money for the building campaign included a bequest from him. He would have been very pleased to have seen it in its present configuration and being used in this new setting.