Making Disciples: Infant Baptism in a Small Church By The Rev A Wayne Schwab

(The Evangelism Committee believes that evangelism is not completed until one is in the world as part of Christ’s mission. While this looks like a daunting task–especially for infant baptism, it can be worked. Here is one congregation’s story.)

The baby’s mother asks:  “Why all this concern to baptize our child on a Sunday morning and do all this preparation with a bunch of people?  Is this really just another try to get us into the church more?”

The priest answers:  “We want to baptize your baby, but let’s be honest.  Raising your child as a Christian in today’s world is very difficult. Therefore, our congregation has decided to take baptism more seriously.  More is expected of you but more is expected of us to prepare you to raise your child as a Christian.”

At St. John’s, Essex, where congregations average 45 in the winter and 90 in the summer, the rector  and vestry are working out ways to baptize infants that end in more than a “christening party.”  Six to  even sessions put parents together with church members to share Bible stories and their own stories and to pray together.

A recent series worked on “Meeting Jesus in Our Sharing,” “Meeting Jesus in the Church,”  “Meeting Jesus in the Scriptures,” “Meeting Jesus in the Sacraments,” “Living with Jesus in the Baptismal  promises,” “Meeting Jesus in Baptism,” and “Ongoing New Life in Jesus.”  Both parents and members read Mark’s Gospel and carried on a discipline of daily prayer at home.  The 75-minute sessions were held at the parents’ convenience in their home.  For the baptism, the baby was undressed, fully immersed in a large tub that fit securely–and miraculously–in the existing font, redressed in the sacristy, and, clad in a white robe, returned to share in the Eucharist by the priest’s finger dipped in the wine.

The next baptism series will include two couples preparing for marriage and, possibly, one or two adults reclaiming their baptism.  The parents were at the font at the Easter Vigil committing themselves to deeper exploration of their faith, and the congregation promised to help as the rector called on them to do so.  And the parents of the last child baptized will be part of the congregational team sharing what life as God’s missionaries in all of daily life is and can be like.

St. John’s priest, the Rev. Glen Michaels, talks with parents as above because of “Guidelines for Baptism” set by the vestry.  The guidelines recall the history of baptism from the early years, through Constantine, up to today.  In the 1960s, Church leaders began to see that Western society was no longer Christian and that mere participation in society as a good citizen could not be counted on to nourish Christian faith.  The Church saw it must take steps to ensure that the Christian formation of a newly-baptized child will take place within a community of faith.

The guidelines, then, talk of the family being a community of faith and its being part of a congregation; several months of preparation; provision for baptizing infants of summer people; appropriate Sundays for baptism; and how the members commit themselves to help with the preparation and to be a community where “faith is nourished and God’s work in the world is carried out.”

[The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab; Coordinator of Member Mission Network, Inc., President of Member Mission Press, Chair of the Spiritual Formation Committee for the United Church of Hinesburg, VT, Author, Speaker.and Workshop Leader.]

A. Wayne Schwab,
The Evangelism Committee