During a recent church service, someone mentioned the phrase ‘Pilot Light‘ in a prayer for a child who had been Christened that morning. I do not remember in what context they meant it, or what was meant by it. But the phrase triggered a memory of my grandparents checking the light pilot light that burnt constantly in their boiler, or maybe it was their cooker – it is a memory from a long time ago. Wikipedia describes a pilot light as ‘a small gas flame, usually natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas, which is kept alight in order to serve as an ignition source for a more powerful gas burner’.
Reflecting on the memory it struck me that the image of a pilot light serves as a metaphor for Christening or Dedication. In that in these ordinances the parents are asking God to light the pilot light of faith in the child, a small flame that as the child grows can ignite the individuals own powerful faith. I remember watching my Grandparents regularly checking that the pilot light was still on, I guess as a small child this must have fascinated me and I remember trying to look for myself to see if it was alight but not really knowing what they were looking for. But I also remember the makeshift shields they used to protect it from drafts that would otherwise blow it out. In the same way my grandparents used a piece of cereal box, parents need to protect this small flame of faith to stop it being blown out, continually feeding the pilot to keep it alight and providing the fuel and opportunity for it to ignite.
This also helps to illuminate the mistake made by so many who have children Christened for the wrong reasons. In that the pilot light is not the main flame, it is never enough to heat the boiler or heat an oven and if not taken care of can be easily blown out. In the same way that infant baptism or Christening should not be mistaken for faith and salvation. It is just the lighting of the pilot light.