In the Book of Worship, Baptism has three primary interactions:
- Pledges of fidelity by the baptizee (or the parents/representatives of the one being baptized)
- The congregation responds that they will participate in offering a loving community for the one being baptized.
- The participant is baptized by the minister.
It’s the SECOND point that I want to discuss. “The congregation responds.” They say they will assist in the raising of this child/community for this adult.
But if that is the case, then why in some churches are baptisms are held after church in smaller gatherings?
A very large United Methodist church that does this has a newsletter that recently said this (edited to anonymize it)
Mary Smith, daughter of Dwayne and Rosie Smith, received the Sacrament of Christian Baptism on September 2, 2012 in the Chapel at 12:15 pm. The ceremony, officiated by Rev. Mega Pastor Jr., was attended by family and friends.
And these notices are in every single newsletter that I could scroll through, so it is clearly a regular event at this United Methodist large-size congregation. There are 3-4 services every Sunday. Clearly enough time for a baptism to be had during one of them, right?
But no. The baptism was held AFTER church, attended only by a small number of people, mostly family and friends.
If this is a regular practice, how can congregations say that they will participate in the life of the baptized? As the background reads in the Book of Worship:
The congregation corporately sponsors each candidate and takes vows at each baptism that are to be taken just as seriously as the vows of parents or individual sponsors. When someone is baptized, it is a crucial event in the life both of that person and of the Church.
and in the liturgy of the Sacrament of Baptism:
￼Do you, as Christ’s body, the Church, ￼reaffirm both your rejection of sin and your commitment to Christ?
Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life ￼and include these persons now before you in your care?
￼￼With God’s help we will proclaim the good news ￼and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.
Further, the removal of the congregation from participating in the Baptism does not give them the offer to renew their own baptisms. As By Water and the Spirit states:
Like God’s people through the ages, all Christians need to participate in acts of renewal within the covenant community. Such an opportunity is offered in every occasion of baptism when the congregation remembers and affirms the gracious work of God which baptism celebrates…Reaffirmation of faith is a human response to God’s grace and therefore may be repeated at many points in our faith journey.
I recognize that there are extraordinary circumstances when baptism is not possible in front of a congregation. People in the hospital, babies born with hours to live, missionary situations, etc. Heck, if someone was hit by a truck, any layperson can baptize the person there on the street (look it up!). ZERO problems with those sort of situations.
My problem is that these are clearly not extra-ordinary situations. They are regular services held outside of the gathered congregation hour…for convenience? So that the services don’t go over the hour broadcast mark? Why?
I would call “after-church Baptisms” to be #baptismfails in that they offer shallow versions of the sacrament that, while they are not any less effective to the baptized, they do not offer the grace-filled moment to the gathered congregation so that they can pledge their connection as the Body of Christ and also have their faith renewed. And it’s a shame that convenience trumps our sacramental theology as United Methodists.
Thoughts? If your church practices after-church or small-family-only baptisms, why?