Guidelines for Baptism of Infants and Young Children at St. John’s

Our purpose in these guidelines is to assist you and your child in becoming full disciples of Jesus Christ.

Background:  Jesus began his ministry after a powerful, mystical experience of God’s love, an experience that happened during Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.  Jesus apparently did not baptize others.  He called others to fellowship with God through his sharing of meals, through his teaching, and through his healing.  However, Jesus’ followers had to undergo the trauma of his execution and the gradual realization of his resurrection and continued real presence.  This was their “baptism,” their journey from death into a new kind of life and relationship with God.

The disciples of Jesus subsequently began baptizing others.  Baptism was the “sign and seal” of relationship with God through the risen Jesus.  Sometimes baptism began this relationship; other times it confirmed an already-existing relationship with God.  The Bible for the most part recounts adults being baptized; but it also mentions entire households – -including infant children and servants — being baptized where the adult head of the household was also being baptized.  The theory was that adults could speak on behalf of the children and be responsible for their ongoing nurture in the faith.

Later, as the Christian community grew, a formal preparation period for baptism evolved. This was called the “catechumenate.”  It often lasted as long as three years. During that time, the would-be  disciples (called “catechumens”) would be taught Scriptures, prayers, Christian habits of life,  charitable service, and evangelism, each under the guidance of a mentor or “sponsor.”  The final weeks of the catechumenate were a time of extra fasting and prayer just prior to baptism on Easter eve.  This final preparation for baptism became what we now call the season of “Lent.”

In the first few centuries living as a Christian was a difficult, dangerous thing. It meant that one could lose one’s job, be abandoned by friends, or even persecuted or executed. Therefore, becoming an “official” Christian through baptism was not something to be undertaken lightly.

However, in the early fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, and life as a Christian became not only acceptable but required for social and economic success.  The Church promoted baptism of infants and made it very easy, requiring little or no preparation.  The theory was that, since society was Christian, mere participation in Roman or European sodety would guarantee that an infant would receive the education and example he or she needed to be fully “Christianized.”

This approach to infant baptism persisted for many years in the Episcopal Church and in many other denominations.  However, in the 1960s Church leaders finally awoke to the fact that Western society was no longer Christian and that mere participation in society as a good citizen could not be counted upon to nourish Christian faith. The experience of the 1970s and 1980s bore this out, as many people baptized (and even confirmed) in youth chose to sever or politely ignore their ties to Christian faith and Church fellowship.

In light of these developments, the sacrament of baptism began to be re-thought.  The Roman Catholic church and later the Episcopal Church began to hold up adult baptism and the rigorous preparation of the catechumenate as the ideal.  Infants were (and still are) baptized, but the Church low emphasizes that the baptismal promises must be taken seriously.  Since society itself can no  longer be counted on to help a child live out these promises, the Church must take steps to ensure that Christian formation of a newly-baptized child will take place within a community of faith.

For a child, the primary community of faith is the family: parents, siblings, grandparents, and close extended family. But in the 1990s the family itself is a fragile entity, frequently beset by separation, divorce, and step-family blending.  The fragile family needs the assistance of a larger community of faith — a supportive local Church congregation — in order to raise a child to live out the baptismal promises.  If there is not an adequate faith community, the Church now encourages parents to establish a faith community relationship before seeking baptism for their children.

Policies

(1) People of any age — from infancy onward — who are serious about the riches and burdens of Christian life are encouraged to seek instruction and preparation for Holy Baptism.

(2) A parent (or other relative) seeking baptism of an infant or young child must demonstrate
evidence that (i) the child’s household is a community of faith, and (ii) the child and the parent (or other relative) are an active part of a local church. [Note: this church does not have to be Episcopalian or Anglican.]

(3) Unless a household has already had thorough baptismal preparation (for example, through the baptism of an older child or through the reaffirmation of baptismal vows of a parent), at least three months of preparation are recommended, and no fewer than six weeks are required.  In the case of a summer resident, baptismal preparation in the parent’s home parish may be accepted after  consultation with the rector or pastor.  [Note: in case of medical emergency, a parent, clergy-person, or any other baptized Christian can baptize the person in danger of death.  However, baptismal instruction must follow, after the emergency has passed.]

(4) Except in case of medical emergency or other extraordinary circumstances, baptism must take place in Church during a Sunday Eucharist As recommended by the Prayer Book, preference will be given first to the Easter Vigil: Second preference will be given to one of the following Church Feasts: Pentecost (usually late May or early June); All Saints Day (early November); Baptism of the Lord (mid-January); or another Sunday when the Bishop is present at St. John’s.

(5) St. John’s commits itself to offering quality baptismal preparation of individuals and households — through the ministry of its laity as well as its clergy — and to continually striving to be a community in which faith is nourished and God’s work in the world is carried out.

(6) No fees for baptism or instruction will be charged by the priest or the Church. Gifts of money will not be accepted except for relief of the poor or similar purposes.

Rev. 8/96

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