Coming from a low church background I had very little pastoral training for conducting baptisms. Also, in spite of my denomination’s acceptance of infant baptism, it was never practiced in the portions of the country where I grew up or ministered – everywhere I served people wanted to get wet all over and that’s what happened. Because of that, I’ll focus in on baptism services for youth and adults – and, for the sake of this article, I’m more thinking of in-church baptisms rather than I am those that take place at a lake or river (although most of my suggestions work either way).
- Be sure people are prepared for baptism. Pastor, that’s your job. Don’t leave it to the youth pastor or Sunday School teacher or a parent. Be ready to sit down with a candidate and, in an age appropriate way, work through what it means to be a Christian and why we baptize. Of course, that means you have to understand it. In our tradition we baptize as a means of grace. That means, to us, it’s more than an outward witness. It’s a sacrament – can you explain what that means to a 12 year old? That’s exactly what you have to do if you are going to officiate at their baptism.
- Write your own version of the baptism ritual. I don’t mean that you have the freedom to make it say something it doesn’t already say, but if your candidates’ (and your congregations’) eyes glaze over as you read the ritual you are just saying meaningless words. Say it in such a way that they will understand what you are saying to them.
- Have the candidates write out (or video) their testimony and have it read by a spiritual mentor just prior to their baptism.
- Have everyone say the Apostle’s Creed together. Don’t read the creed to the candidates – have them and the congregation say it and affirm it together. After all, you are, by baptizing the candidates, uniting them with the congregation at a whole new level. By the way, you and your congregation ought to be familiar with the Creed…maybe not memorized, but used to saying it. This is who we are and what we believe. Work it into Communion services or just include it in a service once a month.
- If you are using some kind of hybrid baptistery where people sit down, etc. then practice! Let them get into the baptistery when it is dry and see what you expect of them (and yourself). This is a big deal! We rehearse weddings, why shouldn’t we rehearse baptisms?
- Be prepared to help people in and out of the baptistery – they are nervous and distracted, and then wet! Have someone ready to lend them a hand and hand them a towel.
- Depending on how your baptistery is set up, invite family and guests to come to the platform to serve as witnesses (and take photos). Beyond that, if you can, have the children and teens of the congregation to come up front to see it all.
- Have everyone ready to cheer after each one – this is a big deal and a time of celebration. Don’t let people just sit there watching the candidates get wet.
- Once in a while, maybe once a year, prior to the baptismal service, preach on baptism. Tell the congregation why it is a means of grace – have some of the senior saints ready to share the story of their baptism. Then, with everyone freshly reminded of how wonderful it is, bring the candidates up! Wow – what a great time you will have!
- Once you are finished with the baptisms, and depending on your setup, take a bowl of the water from the baptismal and walk through the congregation inviting people to touch the water and “remember your baptism.” If your sanctuary is set up to allow it, you might even have all who will to come forward and touch the water in the baptismal.
- Even as you conclude the service, announce that you are ready to meet with others who would like to prepare for baptism. You might just end up keeping the water for use next Sunday!
These are my thoughts…what are yours?