The birth of a child is usually a time of joy and excitement. For most of us it is natural to give thanks to God for the gift of life. The community of the church rejoices with parents and families, welcoming a newcomer into our midst.
When families choose to have their children baptized as infants, we celebrate the profound love of God. Often before the child knows its own name, and while the child is totally dependent upon adults for care, we mark the child with the water of baptism… a powerful sign of God’s grace which precedes our even knowing God’s name.
Neither we nor our children can earn God’s favour. Nevertheless, the abiding grace of God does surround us. It is the most important power in our life. Our faith in Jesus Christ assures us of God’s good will toward us and all children. We are dependent upon God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
If you wish to present your child for baptism then, you are choosing to have her or him marked with the water which will initiate their membership in the church (the community of Jesus Christ). Baptism has been the method of adopting people into the church right from the beginning! Jesus himself, the first disciples, and most early Christians were baptized … as adults. It was a ceremony that marked the person’s turning AWAY from the ways of selfishness and sin, a turning TOWARDS the fulfilliing ways of God (forgiveness, renewal, justice, peace). The early believers were baptized by being immersed in a river or lake. When the person burst out of the water, it was as if they had died to their old life and were rising in Christ’s new life. Baptism customs have changed over the centuries and vary somewhat among denominations, but the meaning today remains the same.
In the early church, it wasn’t long before the practice changed to whole families being baptized as they became Christian … including infants and children. It was properly believed that God’s forgiveness and good intention belonged to everyone, from the beginning of their life! It became common then to pour or to sprinkle water as a sign of God’s power in setting our lives straight.
In our relationship with God we do not grasp grace and goodwill and then run off with them. We are surrounded by God’s love and are always growing in grace if we are open to that love and presence in our lives. The sacrament of baptism is a symbol of God’s love for us, but it is also a symbol of our birth in Christ … the beginning of a new life. It symbolizes God’s action, but also symbolizes our intention and belief. Therefore, in the sacrament of baptism, parents and congregation make promises. We hope and pray that we can remain faithful to Jesus Christ in the raising of our children.
The Responsibilities of Parents and Families
During a baptism service, parents will be asked to do their best to provide a Christian home for their child. The term “Christian home” can be given a lot of meanings. Obviously, as parents or guardians, we are expected to try to provide children with the basic necessities of life, as well as with the love, attention, guidance, protection, security and joy that all children need in order to be healthy people. No one is the perfect parent, and the baptism vows do not ask us to be perfect. The promises you make at the baptism of your child represent your public commitment to do what you can to help your child become the special and unique person that God intends. As a congregation, we promise to be a church home, where your child will learn to be a member of a COMMUNITY of faith.
A Christian home is not simply a good home. There are many excellent parents who do not label their home a Christian one. The word “Christian” implies that this home is one where the Christian story is told and Christian values (such as forgiveness, grace, hope and love) are honoured. If we are sincere in wanting our children to live in faith, we have to be intentional in teaching them about Jesus, about prayer, about how the Christian message applies in their lives. Children learn so much from our unspoken messages and attitudes. If, for example, our kids are “sent” to church rather than being “taken” WITH their parents, they may learn that Christianity is okay for children, but not for adults. If children never see their parents praying or studying the Bible or seeking to express their faith in their living, they may conclude that our faith is not really workable in dayâ€‘toâ€‘day situations. If children do not experience their parents (and other important people) genuinely valuing and respecting others, they may be very confused about Christ’s teaching of the worth of people.
About Godparents and Sponsors
There is no specific reference to godparents in our worship. Rather, the congregation as a whole takes on the responsibility of assisting parents with the Christian nurture of their child. If the tradition of naming specific godparents for your child is important to you, you are free to do so.
Godparents are welcome to participate in the baptism service, are normally introduced at the same time as the baptismal families, and are invited to pledge their support to the nurture of your child.
Sometimes, the congregation appoints sponsors for families seeking baptism.
A sponsor is an individual from the congregation who takes special responsibility to demonstrate the congregation’s concern and care for the baptized child and her or his family. In the weeks, months, and years following the baptism, the sponsor attempts to maintain strong ties between the child, her or his family, and the church community by showing concern for the family and by encouraging them to participate in the worship, educational, servant, and social life of the congregation. At Harrow, because the congregation is small enough that people get to know one another in more informal ways, there is not usually a specific person designated as a sponsor for families of children who are baptized.
We can understand the desire to record such an important event in a child’s life with the taking of photographs. However, so as not to detract from the service of worship and the actions taking place, we request that NO photographs be taken DURING the actual worship service.
The minister and sponsors will be happy to pose for pictures simulating the baptism following the worship service.
The Questions and Promises
It is understood that when a child is baptized, his or her parents speak on behalf of the child, who is too young to speak for herself/himself. By bringing the child to be baptized, the parents are saying that the Christian faith is important to them, and that they want their child to be raised in the faith.
The church hopes and prays that your child, and all children who are baptized at an age when they are too young to speak for themselves, will grow up in the Christian faith and come her/himself to say, “I agree with what my parents did in having me baptized. I want to affirm that and make my own personal commitment now.” This process is what is known as confirmation. Just as baptism is an ENTRY into life in the Christian community, so confirmation is not a graduation or departure from the community, but rather an AFFIRMATION that the Christian community is where we belong, where we find our identity, where we struggle to find wholeness. To paraphrase St. Augustine, “I believe the work God has to accomplish in me is so great that it cannot possibly take less than a whole lifetime!”
As adults we periodically reaffirm our faith. This may happen at the time of confirmation, on an occasion for re-affirmation of faith, when we recite creeds or statements of faith together in our worship, or when we bring our children to be baptized. When you present your child for baptism, you will be asked a series of questions which give the opportunity for you to publicly proclaim your faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ and known through the Holy Spirit. You will also be asked to state your intentions to raise your child in the Christian faith and to participate in the community of faith, the church. The congregation, in its turn, will be asked to receive your child into the community of the Christian church, and promises to help teach the Christian faith by word and example.
The questions may take a variety of forms. When you meet with the minister in preparation for baptism, you will be introduced to a multiple-choice format of questions that will form part of the discussion. Parents are invited to consider the meaning of the various forms of the questions and to discern which ones are most meaningful for them.
WE IN THE CHURCH WELCOME YOU AND YOUR CHILD INTO OUR COMMUNITY, AND WE LOOK FORWARD TO A LONG AND MEANINGFUL PILGRIMAGE TOGETHER.