I came home from speaking on Paul Gerhardt in New York to celebrate the thirteenth anniversary of my son Nicholai's birth. He's named for that other great Lutheran hymnwriter, Philipp Nicolai, who is commemorated along with Gerhardt and Johann Heermann on the 26th of this month. My Nicholai (spelled with a "ch," instead of just a "c" or a "k," because I liked it better that way) was baptized on the 27th of October at Zion Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne. That's where we still held our church membership, even though we had already moved to South Bend by that point. I was only two months into my first regular semester of doctoral studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Fort Wayne still felt like home; Zion was still our church.
Nicholai's baptism was a blessed event. We gathered with a nice group of people in the little side chapel at Zion. Pastor Schaibley preached and celebrated the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and Kantor Resch played the wonderful little organ. I'm sure we must have sung at least one of Philipp Nicolai's great hymns, either the King or the Queen of chorales, if not both. Nicholai's godparents were there, the Reverend Kevin and Kersti Loughran, our long-time dear friends. A lot of things have blurred in my mind over the past thirteen years, including some of the details of that day, but I still remember the occasion itself very vividly.
I certainly remember Nicholai's birth, as well. Little Zach and DoRena were there with us to witness the event, along with LaRena's Dad, too. Nicholai was the first of the seven children we have had delivered at St. Jo Med Center in South Bend. It's hard to believe that it was thirteen years ago, and also hard to believe it was that long ago I started at Notre Dame. Our life seemed pretty precarious in those days, and I still don't know how we managed to survive. One day at a time, I guess—so I suppose things haven't changed that much. It was shortly after I had been accepted at Notre Dame that we found out that Nicholai was on the way, and it was daunting to consider the challenge ahead of us. Nevertheless, from the first moment I held that dear little boy in my arms, there's no way that I could imagine our life without him.
He's almost six years younger than Zachary, which has meant that he's always been one of the "younger ones," even though he's at least that much older, himself, than Oly'anna, Justinian, Frederick and Gerhardt. Now that Zach and DoRena are off and about in the great wide world, and Nicholai has grown a foot (or more) in the past year, and he's just become a teenager, he's the big man on campus anymore. I really am amazed at how much he's grown, and at how well he's growing up, not only in stature but in maturity and poise and responsibility. He's too much like his father in his exuberance and overzealousness, and it's a shame that I (of all people) get impatient with him for those very traits, but I know that he means well. He has a good heart; he is kind and considerate and sympathetic to a fault, even if he doesn't always know how best to be of help. He's also quite intelligent, and a natural artist. I don't know what he's going to be when he grows up, but I sure am pleased and proud with the path that he's progressing on.
He's named, not only for the great Philipp Nicolai, but also for the first and second Martins: Luther and Chemnitz (take your pick!). If I had been born a day later than I was in November, I would have been named a "Martin" instead of a "Don Richard." My Mom and Dad just didn't realize that I actually do share my birth date with Martin Chemnitz, so the name would have fit just fine. But I didn't hinge the moniker on any particular date, because I knew that I wanted to name a son after the great Reformer and the great Confessor. Both of them were named for St. Martin of Tours, anyway, so he can be thrown into the mix, as well.
Nicholai's third name, "Ignatius," is for the martyred second-century bishop of Antioch, one of my favorite early church fathers. A pastor of the first generation after the holy Apostles, St. Ignatius of Antioch was profoundly incarnational and sacramental in his theology, and he had a marvelous understanding of the Church and Ministry, of the Christian faith and life, and of the intimate connection between participation in the Sacrament and the martyrdom of discipleship. I could not imagine a better role model for any young man, for any Christian, or for any pastor. I don't know if Nicholai will aspire to the office of bishop (which is to speak of the pastoral office, and not of bureauocratic or political positions), but I am confident that his life will be offered as a living sacrifice of repentant faith to the glory of God in Christ and for the benefit of his neighbor. He has a more compassionate and loving heart than I shall ever have, and I am humbled by it.
Being given an "extra" middle name made Nicholai something of a trendsetter in our family. DoRena and Zachary started out with the typical allotment of names (first, middle, last), but then along came Nicky Marty Iggy (as my good friend Jim nicknamed him right away), and it all snowballed from there. I don't believe that he or any of his siblings regret it. DoRena and Zach received additonal nomenclature when they were confirmed (and DoRena yet again, to her surprise, in the Christmas letter one year), but it was Nicholai that broke the ice and led the way. Which goes to show that even middle children can be the first at some things.