The Cradle Roll Revisited: Ensure that the newest generation is not forgotten
by Carol Wehrheim
When I was a child, a cradle roll was displayed on the wall just outside the Beginners Sunday School room in my church. A large paper cradle was at the top. From it, on blue or pink ribbons, hung small cradles (identical to the larger cradle) with the names of the children of the congregation. Long before I could read my name, I knew which one was mine. This visual representation reminded the congregation of the newest generation of God’s people.
When I became a church educator, such cradle rolls no longer seemed to be in vogue (although I’ll bet they still survive somewhere), at least in the larger congregations and more mobile societies where I was called. But the need to remember who our children are has not left congregations or our children and their families.
Remember the little ones
Congregations today need ways to remember who the newest generation is. With the advent of church nurseries on Sunday morning, fewer babies are seen after the day of their baptism. Special efforts are required to help the adults remember these children. My congregation takes photos of the family. One is given to the family and the other is posted, labeled with names, on a special bulletin board in the main hallway. This is our version of the cradle roll. In a large congregation, a photo is more helpful than a paper cradle. Look for ways to keep the newly baptized children before the congregation.
When a baby is baptized in the Reformed tradition, the congregation acts as a corporate godparent promising to nurture the child with love and prayer. The words may change from denomination to denomination, but the idea is the same. Congregations, as a body and individually, promise to pray for the child. We can do that in a general way as we pray for all children in the church and their families. However, might there be people in the congregation who pray for each child by name, perhaps until that child reaches confirmation? A congregation might develop a group of people who, by turns, take a child when baptized and pray for that one, week after week. After all, we do promise to encourage the baptized baby to know and follow Christ and to become a member of the church. Keep the names of baptized children before the congregation, encouraging members to pray for them by name.
In The Baptism of Your Child I suggest that parents ought to mark the anniversary of their child’s baptism each year. Why couldn’t congregations do the same? When I am an elder representative at a baptism, I mark that date on my birthday calendar and send a note to the child recalling the baptism each year until the child is confirmed. Perhaps the elder could send notes until the child is enrolled in the church school, or the person who is praying for the child might send this note, along with a reminder of the prayers for the child. This combination of effort (parents and congregation) will create the memory of the baptism for the child, who was probably too tiny to remember it. It is another sign that the congregation remembers its promise. Mark the anniversaries of baptized children.
Many congregations give gifts to the child on the baptism day. Bible storybooks, a recording of hymns and other music of the church, even hand-made quilts have been presented to the family. These mementos of the baptism day are also reminders for the parents of the connection to the congregaqtion and provide ways for them to nurture their child’s faith. Give baptism gifts that will remind the whole family of the baptism day.
Finally, stand by the families when difficulties come. Know your families even before the child is baptized. Be in touch with members before they become parents. Then someone representing the congregation can be easily available to give support and love when a child is ill or a birth is traumatic. In short, establish a solid relationship with parents before the baby arrives, whether by birth or adoption. Prepare to live out the baptism promises even before they are made before the congregation.
Doing any of these suggestions consistently and with the love of Jesus Christ will insure that the newest generation is not forgotten and that the promises of the congregation will be fulfilled. Remember the little ones!
This article first appeared in APCE Advocate, Winter 2006.