I’m going to tell you a story about how my wife and I tried to plan our daughter’s baptism and how snow and family travel plans and a broken baptistery met with resolve of a young girl to be baptized in the place where her church worships and nowhere else.
The details might bore you, but they are told to show a different way of baptizing our children that includes advanced planning for presence of family members and friends and celebrating with words of blessing. If you want to skip the story and read the baptism ceremony plans, those are at the end.
We’d been planning for several months to baptize our thirteen-year-old daughter December 1. In the 48 hours before that day, Tulsa was snowed in with a record storm. Jill’s parents were to fly in and my parents were to drive down from Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Flight was postponed to Friday and my parents couldn’t even get out of their driveway. We got stuck in the airport parking lot picking up Jill’s parents.
Meanwhile, the aging baptistery at Garnett Church of Christ had no working heater, filter, and it leaked. This baptistery was laid in before the 2,400 seat auditorium was built. It’s like a small pool. So plans had also been made to start work on this same weekend to cut out the old fiberglass and replace the baptistery with a newer, more efficient, smaller one. The decision was made Wednesday, before the storm, to allow a crew to try and rip out the old baptistery and put the new one in before Ashley’s baptism. Then the storm hit and the complicated (it took two huge semi-truck-sized dumpsters to dispose of mildewed old staging, planters, and baptistery) work took longer than expected, and my parents still couldn’t get out of their driveway, and we were faced with a decision to move the baptism to Sunday, December 3. Ice was still bad, and church was cancelled. We moved the baptism to December 10.
Jill’s parents would not be able to witness the baptism, but they gave Ashley a necklace, a card, and verbally blessed her and prayed over her before they flew back out after the weekend.
Our desire to plan and have grandparents travel to bless Ashley, to plan a celebration with communion and cake that one grandma would bake and engraved lockets and balloons and planned prayers and blessings, was thwarted by weather and a baptistery transition.
At various suggestions and jokes that we baptize her in another church or in pool or pond (break the ice), or in a snow drift, or by sprinkling, Ashley said, “I want to be baptized at my church.”
Ashley read the following ceremony plans and suggested that it’s too formal, and it is for us and it won’t be followed verbatim but with feeling and heart-felt remarks and skipped parts and choked up tears and thoughts from several people who are witnessing.
Note: I wrote the following after reading back over a section in Down in the River to Pray that I adapted from a Mennonite baptism ceremony. I realized that even in the book, it wasn’t done directly but more like a report of what Mennonites do. This is more of a direct ceremony plan, and you are welcome to use and adapt it for your purposes. Please send me adaptations if you like. I’ll be happy to continue to make this better. The key, I think, is to personalize it and bring the community directly in, and connect everyone to Father, Son, Holy Spirit who together make the whole moment real and living and beautiful.
Leader: “Those gathered here with you have pledged to renounce Satan and our sin of self-centered living and to bind ourselves under the authority of Jesus Christ to live in God’s holy community, the Church, according to Christ’s rule and kingdom.”
Leader: “Do you join with these believers gathered to witness your baptism into Christ’s body in pledging to renounce Evil and your sin of self-centered living and to bind yourself under the authority of Jesus Christ to live in God’s holy community, the Church, according to Christ’s rule and kingdom?”
Disciple: I do.
All: Our Father . . .
Uniting with Jesus
Just as Jesus was baptized and the Spirit came down on Jesus like the presence of a dove, and God the Father said, “This is my son, in whom I am very pleased,” so I say to you, my child, I am very pleased with you, your mother, brother and sister, grandparents and other family members and Christian family are pleased with you, but we also call you into a different kind of life, one united with Christ. It’s time to put on new clothes of Christ, to wash away your old life and begin anew, to be transformed and receive God’s Spirit.
We now baptize you in the same way as Jesus was baptized, with the presence and the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with you, that you may receive forgiveness of sins and continual washing by the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, that you may receive life everlasting.
Welcome circle (Pops)
Song: I have decided to follow Jesus
Blessings (Nammy, Mimi, Pawpaw, others)
Place hands and pray (Jill and Greg lead and all gather around)
“Arise, shine, for the light of the Lord is upon you.” (Ashley’s friends, Anna, Jacob)
All together: “We make a covenant with you as we renew our own covenant with our Lord: to bear one another’s burdens, to share in the experience of forgiveness, to share in the abundance of this world’s goods, to assist each other in times of need, to share our joys and our sorrows, and in all things to work for the common good, thus manifesting God’s presence among us to His glory. As we unite with each other now, may we all be joined with Christ our Lord.”
Communion and cake and celebration