As somewhat of a New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to do a bit more blogging. I thought I’d do a series on church language and practices for parents and other caring adults to use to talk with their kids and youth. It has a bit of progressive bent, but so do I. Here is the first in the series on practices in the church. This Sunday January 13 is the Baptism of the Lord, so I’m starting with baptism. (The pictures are meant to be fun to jog your imagination.)
Thanks, Alice Tewell (Associate Pastor)
What is baptism?
In baptism, God claims us as God’s own. Baptism sets us free from sin (all those horrible things we do) and death and unites us with Jesus Christ in his resurrection. Through the water used in baptism and the amazing power of the Holy Spirit, when we are baptized, we become part of the church, and are joined in the ministry go God’s ministry of love for the world.
So… what does baptism mean again?
Baptism is a sign of God’s complete love for you and your adoption into the family of God. You can’t do anything to get rid of God’s love. Even when you aren’t so happy with yourself and even when everyone else is mad at you, God still loves you. When you are baptized, we believe that Holy Spirit comes to you and fills you up with God’s love.
Is baptism a “sacrament”? What does the word “sacrament” mean anyway?
Baptism is called a Sacrament, which is often said to be “visible signs of an invisible grace.” Communion (aka the Lord’s Supper) is the other Sacrament that we celebrate. Both baptism and communion are ways that we can see God’s grace for ourselves and show us signs of God’s extraordinary love for us. We grow stronger in our faith when we see and participate in baptism and communion.
Who was the first person to be baptized?
In the Jewish tradition, people have participated a cleansing practice (mikveh) before important events with the family and synagogue community. John the Baptist, who was Jewish, came before Jesus Christ baptizing people in the Jordan River. Jesus Christ came to John the Baptist and asked him to baptize him. At first John the Baptist didn’t want to do it. He said he wasn’t good enough. But then Jesus asked him again, and John the Baptist baptized him. When Jesus was baptized, the heavens tore open setting the Spirit of God permanently loose in the world. A dove came down from heaven and a voice from heaven said “This is my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
I know the pastors say a lot of things during baptism. What do you think is the most important part?
When you are baptized, the pastor or pastors dip their hand in the water three times, saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You are sealed with God’s love forever.” We use a lot of water because we want everyone to see the sign of God’s love!
Why don’t we use special water for baptism? Why don’t you use soap?
When John the Baptist baptized Jesus he did it in the Jordan River in the wilderness. Jesus and all of the other people who were baptized were baptized in regular water that was probably a bit dirty on the bottom. In baptism, we believe that God shows us how we can turn ordinary things of life (like water) into extraordinary possibilities. We don’t use special water or soap because it isn’t needed. The natural things that God provides is enough.
Why does the church baptize babies and little kids if they can’t decide for themselves? What promises are made?
In baptism, we believe that parents, other adults who are family, and the church community are very important in raising children. When babies are baptized in the church, the parent, parents or another adult who raises them answers some questions including promising to “turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil in the world”, promising to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior trusting in his grace and love, and promising to be a faithful disciple obeying God’s Word and love.
In answering these questions with a “Yes, with God’s help,” the parent, parents or other adults promise to raise the child in the faith of the church. The people in the church also promise to help raise the baby or child into the faith by listening to them, being caring of them, and teaching them about God. We believe it is important to make these promises out-loud.
Is baptism only for babies?
Nope. You can be baptized at any age. If an older child, teenager, or adult is baptized, they answer the questions saying no to sin and evil, yes to Jesus Christ, and promising to be a faithful disciple for themselves. These questions are big ones, so I think “the Yes, with God’s help,” is an important thing to say too.
Should I be baptized more than once? What if I don’t remember my baptism?
In our church, you only need to be baptized once. Even if you don’t remember your baptism, your baptism is for your entire life. (We assume if you are baptized as a baby or young child, you probably don’t remember it.) When you are a teenager, likely in 8th or 9th grade, you can take part in the confirmation class, which is a class where you learn about God and the church, and decide if you want to become a full voting member in the church.
What does it mean to ‘remember my baptism’?
We encourage you to participate the practice of renewing your baptism. You can do this informally on your own on a Sunday by dipping your hand in the font and thinking about your baptism and God’s gift of grace for you. When you see another person’s baptism, you are also invited to remember your own. On Maundy Thursday during Holy Week, we usually have a time in the service to renew your baptismal vows when we pass a damp cloth from the baptismal around the congregation. There are also other ways you can remember your baptism including when it rains, when you are near a beautiful body of water or even when you wash your hands.
Where can I read about baptism in the Bible?
Every Gospel! Each have a slightly different take.
Matthew Chapter 3
Luke 3: 1-22
Activity during worship:
Next time you are in the sanctuary, consider doing these activities:
- Find the dove in the sanctuary. Why do you think it is where it is? What does it mean?
- Find the baptismal font in the sanctuary. What does it say on it? Why do you think it placed where it is?
- Find the stained glass window showing baptism. What is going on? Read the passages from the Bible that talk about baptism. Which passage do you think is being represented in the picture? Draw the window or a modern version of baptism.
- Pay attention next time someone is baptized in the church. Pay attention to the words and the prayers. Pay attention to the feelings present in the sanctuary.
Activity at home:
- Ask a parent or trusted adult about your baptism. What did they decide to get you baptized? What do they remember about it?
- Find someone who remembers their own baptism. (Hint: They were probably not a baby when they were baptized.). Ask them about it.
- Ask a Jewish friend about the mikveh cleansing ritual. Or, look it up, and report back.
- Draw a picture of a baptism taking place. What do you think baptism looks like in different cultures and places?
- Talk about and then write down what your family believes about baptism.
From the Presbyterian Mission Agency on Baptism
From Worshiping with Children
From the NEXT Church Blog – Love Letters Remembering Baptism
Presbyterian Questions and Presbyterian Answers by Donald K. McKim.
Another take from the Methodists on LGBTQ welcome for baptism
Musings with Rev. Roger Gench especially the part about soap!