Though he appears and sounds to have always been a man of the cloth, the clergy was not Rev. Brock Baker's first calling, and his path to the altar has been a circuitous journey.
A recently ordained Deacon, Baker arrived at his new parish, the St. Eustace Episcopal Church, on Aug. 13 with his wife Elizabeth and their 9-year-old daughter, Annie. He graduated from seminary at the University of Oxford this spring and gave his first sermon in Lake Placid.
"What is 'the church?'" he asked his congregation during a full service on Sunday. "The church is not its doctrine," he said, "nor even the building itself. The church is its people - the people are the church."
The Rev. Brock Baker takes a moment to pose in front of his new Lake Placid parish with his wife Elizabeth and their 9-year-old daughter, Annie.
(Enterprise photo — George Earl)
He said that although people's faith often vacillates between despair and renewal, people, not prayer books, are the rock that the church is built upon.
During an interview after the service, he said his own relationship with the church has not been immune to vicissitudes of faith. He said his experience in a very different profession has helped him understand the struggle for faith and wholeness in a discordant world. Having spent much of his life as a successful writer, editor, book critic and exponent of a secularist ideology, Baker's journey to the pulpit has been unorthodox: His spiritual awakening occurring somewhat later in life but while still in the prime of his literary career. His fresh start in theology has provided a fertile basis for conveying, with surprising clarity, the role of the Christian faith in modern life.
Part of his mission, he said, is to demystify the stances of the church: to clarify and restore its original message, even though living out its teachings may be complex. This, he said, is especially important in today's turbulent world.
"I've had their (the secularists') experience," he said, "I've known what it's like to be an entirely secularist person, and very hostile to the idea of Christianity. So I can see both sides. See, that's the Anglican in me."
Baker's secular education at Andover and Harvard provided him with the intellectual tools to thrive as a journalist in London and later at a leading publishing house in New York, his native city, where he would reach the top of his profession as a columnist for The New Criterion and as a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review, among other prominent publications. But his reliance on the tenets of secularism would ultimately prove inadequate in answering the larger spiritual requirements of his life.
"Essentially, what this culture is promoting is this potpourri of experience," he said. "You can do a little Buddhism here, a little Yoga over there, but it doesn't help you at 3 a.m. when you ask yourself, 'What should I be doing?'"
Baker said he experienced this crisis in his own life. As a trade book editor at Harper & Row, now Harper Collins, he said he became disenchanted with the process of winning clients through superficial social engagements instead of through meaningful discussions, like the "next important book."
Then, 20 years after his first communion as a young man, he finally returned to the church.
"I decided: No, I want to change, I want to be a minister of a parish," he said. "So here I am, directly from the seminary into the ministry of a church."
He explained that one cannot understand Christianity through a tentative inquiry; one has to commit to it. For Baker, the announcement of his new commitment to Christianity cost him the affection of many friends, many of whom he said had a "left-wing ilk."
"It was an insult to them," Baker said. "Many of my friends were angry. Some of them shouted at me. I was disarmed."
When in Oxford, England, he said it was his habit to ask if he could say grace when he was a guest in someone's home. On one occasion, at a friend's table, his overture was greeted with hostility.
"My host shouted, 'absolutely not!' - It was an eye opener. Many of my friends believed in something else, in a 'great new world.' For them it was a passion - it was their faith."
A new beginning
Baker said his transition into the St. Eustace Church has been a blessing.
"It is a great parish," he said. "It has gotten through thick and thin and the people here are highly dedicated."
He said he has many things he would like to accomplish, such as further cooperation between the other Christian churches in Lake Placid.
"I am for working together with other churches. There is so much strife it is sort of a scandal." He said the idea is that "Baptists and Catholics and Episcopalians can do things together."
But for the time being Baker said he is busy focusing on all the good things that are already happening in his own parish, and that he looks forward to greeting new visitors.
Contact George Earl at 891-2600 ext. 25 or gearl@