Christian Baptism at St. James Centennial United Church
Introduction: Congratulations on the birth of your child and thank you for your interest in the sacrament of baptism. The following is an attempt to explain baptism so that those requesting it for their children, may have an understanding of its meaning and the way it is practised in the church and in the St. James-Centennial congregation.
What Is Baptism?
Baptism is one of the two Sacraments recognized by the United Church of Canada. The other Sacrament is Holy Communion or The Lord’s Supper. A sacrament sets forth in words and symbols what God has done for us.
Baptism is a symbolic action that signifies the new life God gives us as we join the church community.
Baptism uses water as a symbolic cleansing that signifies the acceptance of new life within the church family. The sacrament of baptism is the single rite of initiation into the Christian community, the church.
The United Church offers baptism to all ages. We believe the gift of God’s love doesn’t depend on our ability to understand it, so we baptize people as infants right up through adulthood.
With children, instruction is given to parents or sponsors to equip them for the child’s Christian nurture. During the ceremony, everyone in the congregation pledges support for the child and his or her parents.
Baptism is not a requirement for God’s love. We believe people who die without baptism are in no way condemned, lost, or damned.
Baptism in the United Church is recognized by all denominations of the Christian church that practise infant baptism. Similarly, if people have already been baptized in another church, the United Church recognizes their baptism and welcomes them as Christians.
A congregation, when it engages with parents who wish to present a child for baptism, acts for the wider Church, not just itself. A baptized person becomes a member of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church. In United Church tradition, such a membership is held within a local congregation. A congregation is a visible, local unit of the Church of God, that vast company of people of all ages and lands who responded in faith to God’s love in Christ. St. James-Centennial United Church is one visible expression of the Church of God which is composed of many denominations in many places.
An often-overlooked meaning of baptism is that baptism means entering into the ministry of Jesus Christ. Christians are people who seek through their personal lives and through their life together in the church, to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. We as individuals are called by God, to love and to serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. Baptism is entry into this ministry both on a personal level and together with the body of Christ, the church.
Who Is Baptism For?
In the case of children, Baptism is for the children of those parents, one or both of whom have been baptized and confirmed and who are members in good standing of the church. This is laid down in the Manual of the United Church of Canada. To be in “good standing” is to be actively involved in the life and work of the congregation.
If you are not a member of the church, this is the first thing for you to consider. Preparation for church membership is available to you. The minister would be most happy to discuss this with you. Many young parents find themselves in the position of having joined the church as teenagers but have drifted away during their young adult years. This is a pretty common pattern for young people to follow. If this is the case with you, now might be the time for you to do some deep thinking about your relationship to the church.
If you are not a member in good standing it is possible to have your child baptized if you would be open to having someone who is a member in good standing act as your sponsor. If so your request for baptism would also need to be approved by the Church Council. The sponsor would stay in contact with you to support you and your child in your faith journey.
It is important that if you want your child to be baptised that you intend to be a part of the church community. Otherwise why would you want your child to do something that you do not want to do yourself? Being baptized in the United Church means that you are welcomed into the community. But if you have no interest in being part of the community, having your child baptized doesn’t seem to make much sense. Why not try coming to church for a while and see if this is really what you want for your family. When you see what we are like and what we are about, you might find you like it and us. It is really hard to make a solemn vow before God to bring your child up in the church and yet not be involved yourself. If you are not interested in being a part of the church, it would be better to wait and let your child decide later for him or herself.
If you are not sure about baptism but want the birth of your child recognized in the church before God there is an alternative. The United Church has a ceremony called “dedication” for infants. It is a chance for the parents to celebrate the birth of a child with a ceremony in the church and a family party. The parents are not asked to make the same kind of vows about participation in the church, and the congregation makes no vows on behalf of the child. We do not use water in this ceremony but we use oil as a blessing and a hope for prosperity and joy throughout the child’s life. If you are interested in this option, please talk to me and I will tell you more about it.
What Will Happen If I Request Baptism?
In the United Church of Canada, each congregation is responsible for administering the sacraments in a way that is consistent with the faith and policy of the church. This responsibility at St. James-Centennial lies with the Church Council. Its responsibility is to be sure that those requesting baptism understand it’s meaning and are prepared to undertake the responsibilities which go along with it. Church Council is responsible for making the decision as to whether baptism will take place.
What About The Baptismal Service?
In United Church tradition baptism is a sacrament and is an integral part of the church’s life and worship. The United Church also emphasizes that baptism is about joining a community. In the service you make certain commitments to the community and the community makes certain commitments to you, therefore unless there is some kind of emergency baptism takes place during Sunday morning worship.
What Will I Be Asked In The Baptismal Service?
In the case of children, the parents act on their child’s behalf. Remember you make many decisions as a parent of behalf of your child. You choose the lifestyle, which your family will adopt. You decide what is best for your child until he or she is old enough to make decisions and choose for his or herself. The questions you will be asked are as follows:
Do you believe in God, Source of love; in Jesus Christ, love incarnate; and in the Holy Spirit, love’s power?
Desiring the freedom of new life in Christ, will you resist evil and oppression, seek justice, and witness to God’s love for all creation?
Will you follow the way of Jesus Christ?
Will you join with your brothers and sisters in this congregation to share in the life, work, and ministry of Jesus Christ?
Will you share your faith with (name), praying for him/her, encouraging him/her by your words and actions and helping him/her to take his/her place within the community of faith?
A note on belief. Belief does not mean you never have any doubt. God is mystery and we all have doubts. To believe is to trust. The question of belief is really asking, when it comes to your life and the life of your child where do you put your trust? The Christian response is to put our trust in the God we’ve come to know in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit. Saying you believe does not mean what you believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will never change. We are human, we grow, we learn, life experiences cause us to re-think what we once thought were certainties. One way to think of the life of faith is as a journey. By saying you believe you commit to a journey with the Christian God.
The first four questions have to do with your faith. The fifth question has to do with how you will put that faith into action in your home and in relation to your child.
What is a Christian Home? There is no stereotype, but it is at least a home where the faith, which we have been discussing, is held and with God’s help lived. It is a home where God’s love is put into concrete reality. It is a home where children are taught the content of the Christian faith, where the Bible is read and prayers are heard.
A Christian family is also a worshipping, church going family. We need to learn from, and to be strengthened and encouraged by, our fellow Christians. Someone has said, “There is no such thing as a solitary Christian.” And we might add that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian family.
Responsibility of the Congregation:
The congregation then makes a commitment to your child and your family by saying the following;
Let us pledge to (name) and his/her family our support and care.
As a baptized and baptizing people,
we commit ourselves to support and uphold you
within the community of faith.
May God grant us all the grace to live out our baptism.
God Parents are not part of the United Church tradition. In some traditions, God Parents are people who take special vows with respect to supporting the child and nurturing him/her in the faith. In the United Church, the congregation takes this responsibility.
However, should parents wish to name persons in this role, they are welcome and will be included in the service.
What about Parents From Out of Town?
Many young people make their first homes in another community. They often want to bring their children back home to have them baptized.
The usual practice is to have children baptized in the congregation where the parents attend church. This is the congregation that must accept responsibility for the child. However, we do understand the feelings that are involved. Young families today are mobile and may not feel “at home” in the community where they live.
In cases such as this, parents will be first asked to make contact with the minister of a local United Church congregation explaining the situation and requesting to meet with the minister to be prepared for the baptism. The minister should then contact the minister of St. James, indicating his or her and the congregation’s support for the baptism. In this way our congregation can act on behalf of the other. If these procedures are followed, it shows respect for the other minister and congregation. It makes baptism a more meaningful experience if all concerned are aware and supportive of what is happening.
Some Question For You To Think About
- What are the reasons that underlie your request for baptism?
- Are you seeking baptism out of social or family pressure or as a response to what you know and understand of God and his love?
- Do you want you and your children to live in relationship to God in Jesus Christ and to the church?
- Are you now or do you intend to become involved in the life and worship of the church?
- Will you, with God’s help, live the faith you will confess and the promises you will make?
All of the above is offered as a way to open conversation. The people of the church are most eager to share the joy they experience and the hope in which they live. The Good News of God’s love is for all people and will, we believe, bring meaning and fulfillment for all people. Accept this information as an invitation to dialogue. We look forward to hearing from you