When you are baptized at Abiding Presence you walk away (or are carried away) with wet hair and a wooden box.
The “baptism box” is a tradition that started many years ago when Pastor Bruggeman asked Neal Bjornson, “Can you build a wooden box? It should have a lid, maybe hinges … be about this big.” And he held out his hands in a one foot by one foot square. Neal went home, got out his tools and made a box.
After seeing the prototype Pastor Bruggemann asked, “Can you make it look more like a treasure chest?” So Neal went back home, revised the pattern, and began building pinewood treasure boxes.
From that day on, each time the sacrament of baptism has been celebrated at Abiding Presence, the one being baptized has received a baptism box. Inside are their certificates of baptism, the candles that remind them they carry the light of Christ wherever they go, and Bibles. For little ones, it is a story Bible in pictures. For older ones, it is a study Bible. Even with those things, there is still room to add other signs of growing faith as years go by – maybe some Sunday School art, later a confirmation certificate and photos from youth group mission trips.
Over the years, Neal built hundreds of these beautiful pinewood baptism boxes for the people of Abiding Presence. He says that when he thought of the family that would receive it, and of the important event that it would be a part of, he was inspired to make the box with care, and to see that the joints were straight and strong. That way the family would know that the box was made for them with the love of Christ.
Neal likes to think of the baptism box as a ‘starter-kit’ for the life of faith. His advice for the newly baptized? “Come to church! Be part of the community of faith! Fill up the box!”
This past year, the joyful task of building these boxes has been passed from Neal to Louis Sirianni. Louis first saw a baptism box when he and Amy attended “Splash Class!” in preparation for the baptism of their infant son, Trey. Louis was already interested in woodworking, had tools, and was fascinated with the carefully-made box, noticing the precise design and detail. When he learned that it was a congregation member who made the boxes, Louis asked if Neal would be willing to teach him how to make them.
Neal passed on to Louis his plan and pattern for making the pieces and for fitting them together to make a box with a domed, fitted lid. At first, they worked together on a batch of boxes. Then Louis took the pattern to his own workshop and made some boxes on his own.
The pattern is complicated; it results in a box with the patterns in the wood matched and the curved lid fitting perfectly. Louis says he had to call Neal and ask a few questions as he worked, “…and now, I’m building something better than I ever would have come up with on my own. The engineering behind it is all Neal’s. He is a very good teacher!”
Louie says, “Everybody finds their own ways of belonging in the church. Mine are the Men’s Breakfast Team and using my hobby of woodworking for the benefit of the congregation. It was wonderful to have this skill passed on to me and to continue to build these boxes with love for the children and adults who are starting their faith journey being baptized at APLC.”