by Karen DeBoer
I dreaded the baptism day of each of our four children. I fretted about what I would wear, when to feed the baby, how to feed extended family, and whether or not the baby’s siblings would start to fight while we were standing at the front of the sanctuary.
It’s been 20 years since we baptized our last baby and since that time I like to think I’ve grown in my understanding of infant baptism as an event that showcases God’s grace, not the family of the person being baptized. I also like to think church culture has changed in the way it approaches baptism in general, by helping both individuals and families see it less as a stressful event and more as a joyful celebration of a significant milestone in the faith journey of both the one being baptized and their family.
And, of course, baptism also provides God’s big family with a beautiful opportunity to say, “Welcome to the family!” to the one being baptized. Use these easily adaptable ideas to help your church do that with arms open wide:
- Prior to an infant baptism, make the most of your visit with the family. As you read New Baby Ministry: Churches Supporting Parents, consider what such a visit could look like in your church context. Might it be a way to connect a new parent with an experienced mentor-parent who could offer encouragement and support?
- Invite church members of all ages to welcome the family of the one being baptized by signing their names to a group card, letter, or poster. Make that practice even more meaningful by inviting people to write down their prayers for that person. At the Rev. Linda Cox’s church they do so by creating a Footprint Book of Prayers for each new member; index cards slipped into a simple photo album would also work well.
- Be sure to include children in welcoming those who are being baptized. Ally Barrett makes these Baptism Doves with the children at her church. Another idea for including children comes from church education director Vickie Caro Deith, who once asked the children of her church to contribute to a letter that began this way: “Dear Landon, We are excited you are being baptized today. As part of your church family we look forward to sharing Jesus’ love with you. To help you know who Jesus is we will. . . .” The ideas the children added included “give you comfort,” “be kind to you,” “help you fall asleep.” The letter was signed “Welcome to the family! Your brothers and sisters in Christ, the CPC [Christ Presbyterian Church] Kids.” If a teen or adult is being baptized you might invite the children to provide words of welcome this new brother or sister in Christ.
- Following a baptism, invite all ages to come forward, surround the one who has been baptized and their family, lay hands on them, and pray for them as the microphone is passed around. At our church this practice has led to beautiful moments in which persons of all ages, from preschoolers to grandparents, pray aloud for the newest member of God’s family.
- People are more likely to celebrate their baptism each year if they are given the tools to do so. That’s why at Willoughby Christian Reformed Church in Langley, British Columbia, families get this liturgy (which has ideas for celebrating with the very young as well as with older children and adults) along with a baptism candle.
- Many of the items in the “Scripture Swaddle” line from Modern Burlap would make a beautiful infant baptism gift, bsut my favorite of their products is the “I am a child of God” blanket because, in addition to making a wonderful baptism gift, hanging one on a wall inside your church provides people of all ages with the ultimate selfie photo backdrop. #churchfamilygoals
Karen DeBoer is the author of the Home Grown Handbook for Christian Parenting and the contributing editor of God’s Big Story cards and You’re Invited: A Week of Family Devotions on the Lord’s Supper. She makes her home in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.