Worship Ideas on the Sacrament of Baptism

The sacrament of baptism in the worship life of the church is a richly symbolic action through which God intends to assure us, comfort us, nourish us, and challenge us.The celebration of baptism can stir our imaginations to better understand his work and the richness of the gospel.

Worship Ideas on the Sacrament of Baptism

“…baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….”
Matthew 28:19

Sections:

            The Sacrament of Baptism
            Ideas for Fresh Baptism Liturgies
            The Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows
            Music Resources for Baptism Services

The Sacrament of Baptism

The sacrament of baptism in the worship life of the church is a richly symbolic action through which God intends to assure us, comfort us, nourish us, and challenge us.  The celebration of baptism can stir our imaginations to better understand his work and the richness of the gospel.

In The Worship Sourcebook, a book of worship resources published by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker, the following foundational pastoral principles for baptism are identified:

  • Baptism is a celebration of God's grace, not human achievement.  It is a means of grace through which God acts to seal the promises of the gospel.
  • Baptism is not an end in itself.  It always points beyond itself to celebrate God's grace and covenant faithfulness.
  • Baptism is a sign of a relationship that is covenantal, not contractual.  Our relationship with God in Christ is based on promises, like a marriage.
  • Baptism is deeply personal, but never private.  It is a communal action of the gathered congregation, which represents the church in all times and places.

The wisdom of church practice over 20 centuries has taught us that the baptismal liturgy should contain at least these parts:

  • A declaration of God's invitation and promises surrounding baptism, through the words of institution and instruction from Scripture.
  • A statement of the church's faith, and the particular promises or vows of parents presenting their children for baptism or those being baptized.
  • A prayer of thanksgiving and petition for the work of the Holy Spirit in and through baptism in the life of the community and those being baptized.
  • The baptism itself, with words of blessing.
  • A welcome into the church and commitment of the congregation to encourage and support newly baptized members.

On the basis of these principles, we offer the following structure of a model baptism liturgy.  Those who plan baptism liturgies are encouraged to use this structure.  You may wish to consider other possible options and additions within each section.

                  God's Invitation and Promises

                              The Words of Institution
                              Scriptural Promises

                  The Response of Faith

                              Presentation of Candidates for Baptism

Profession of Faith by those presenting their children for baptism or those being baptized

Covenant Promises and Vows

                       The Prayer of Thanksgiving
                       The Baptism

                                    Administration
                                    Blessing
                        The Welcome

                                    Words of Encouragement and Congregational Promise
                                    Intercessory Prayer

Your own denomination or tradition will have its own formularies for the instruction concerning baptism that you can use or modify.  We encourage you to pay special attention to the need of other children and youth within the worshiping community to be instructed in the meaning of baptism.  Most formularies are written with adult minds in view.  An explanation of the concepts of baptism on a level that can be understood by children will serve them well.

Ideas for Fresh Baptism Liturgies

The structure of a baptism liturgy leaves ample room for shaping it in a way that has strong significance for the participants and the congregation.  Especially in those congregations in which baptism services occur often, worship planners will want to do some creative thinking to keep it fresh.  We present here a miscellaneous list of ideas that have come from a variety of congregations and experiences.  You may want to consider some of these to invigorate your baptism liturgies.  It is important to keep in mind that our aim is to practice a rich tradition with freshness, not just to be novel or cute.

1. The children of the congregation can be invited forward to “participate” in the service of baptism.  This gives them an opportunity to witness the baptism up close, and gives the pastor the opportunity to explain the meaning of baptism.  If baptism occurs often, the pastor may want to identify several core ideas about baptism and present one each time.

2. The entire extended family of the candidate for baptism can be acknowledged, or join in a circle around the baptism font.  This extended family is the “covenant circle” into which this person has been placed by God.

3. An elder can offer the prayer of intercession for the child/adult being baptized, asking for nurture, protection, growth and blessing.

4. The congregation can sing the same hymn at every baptism service so that the hymn becomes identified with baptism, and both children and adults learn it by heart.  It is important that such a hymn carries the message of baptism's significance.

5. In the case of infant baptism the child can be presented to the congregation before they make their vow of support for this child.  Either the pastor or elder can present the child to the congregation.  Some congregations prefer that the pastor or elder carry the child up and down the aisles to present him/her to the congregation.

6. A large banner can be constructed and displayed for every baptism service.  A smaller replica, or an individualized banner, can be presented to the person who is baptized or the family of a child being baptized.

7. A member of the congregation can present a red rose to the family as a symbol of the sacredness of this life created by God.

8. A candle can be lit at the baptism service to symbolize the light of this life with all its promise.

9. Invite a family member to read a relevant Scripture passage as part of the baptism service.

10. If there are siblings of the child being baptized, it is important to remind them that this water being placed on their brother/sister tells us that Jesus loves this child, and that they also had water placed on them as a promise that Jesus loves them.

11. A personalized baptism certificate and booklet can be prepared and presented from the church.

The Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows

Though baptism is administered once in a lifetime and need not be repeated, we all need to be reminded regularly of our baptism for our comfort and encouragement.  It is helpful, therefore, to participate in a reaffirmation of our baptism vows from time to time.  Such a reaffirmation service can be included at the time of a baptism service, when the pastor is preaching on baptism, or at some other time in the church year.

The following liturgy for the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows was adapted by Rev. John Paarlberg from the Order for the Sacrament of Baptism from the Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America.  It is from Sing! A New Creation (240) and is used by permission.  For copyright permission to print the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows liturgy, contact John Paarlberg, First Reformed Church, Albany, NY (firstchurch@verizon.net or 518-463-4449).

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

The promises of God's grace are signed and sealed to us in our baptism.  In baptism God promises by grace alone to forgive our sins; to adopt us into the body of Christ, the church; to send the Holy Spirit daily to renew and cleanse us; and to resurrect us to eternal life.

This promise is made visible in the water of baptism.
            (Here water is poured visibly and audibly into the font.)

Water cleanses, purifies, refreshes, sustains; Jesus Christ is living water.

Through baptism Christ calls us to new obedience: to love and trust God completely; to forsake the evil of the world; and to live a new and holy life.

I invite you now to remember God's promise, to turn away from all that is evil, and to reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to Christ's church.

(The people may stand and encircle the font.  When people are in place, the leader continues.)

Renunciations and Affirmation

Trusting in the gracious promises of God, do you renounce sin and the power of evil in your life and in the world?

I renounce them.

Who is your Lord and Savior?

Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Will you be Christ's faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?

God being my helper, I will.

Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

The Prayers of the People

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

We give you thanks, O holy and gracious God, for the gift of water.  In the beginning of creation your Spirit moved over the waters.  In the waters of the flood you destroyed evil.

You led the children of Israel through the sea into the freedom of the promised land.  In the river Jordan, John baptized our Lord and your Spirit anointed him.  By his death and resurrection Jesus Christ, the living water, frees us from sin and death and opens the way to life everlasting.

All say or sing:

“We have put on Christ…”

(from Galatians 3:24; see Music Resources for Baptism Services for copyright information)

We thank you, O God, for the gift of baptism.  In the waters of baptism you confirm to us that we are buried with Christ in his death, raised to share in his resurrection, and are being renewed by the Holy Spirit.

All say or sing:

            “We have put on Christ….”

Pour out upon us and on your whole church the gift of your Holy Spirit, so that all who have passed through the waters of baptism might be dead to sin and alive in God in Christ Jesus.

All say or sing:

            “We have put on Christ….”

To God be all honor and glory, dominion and power, now and forever, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we are bold to pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.

Charge and Blessing

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:1-2

May the God of peace make you holy in every way and may your whole being – spirit, soul, and body – be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Thessalonians 5:23

Music Resources for Baptism Services

Possible Congregational Songs:

Each denomination and individual congregation has its standard and beloved baptism hymns that are most often used with the sacrament.  The song suggestions given here are baptism hymns written or arranged within the last 30 years.  They are given as supplements to your present treasures, not as replacements!  They include a variety of styles - from classic hymn structure to responsorial settings, from contemporary folk settings to African American spirituals.

All are taken from Sing! A New Creation (SNC).
234       “Come to the Water” [Contemporary folk]
237       “Crashing Waters at Creation” (Arise) [Classic hymn structure]
235       “Loving Spirit” (Chhun-bin) [Asian]
242       “Psalm 105: The Steadfast Love of the Lord” [Responsorial]
243       “Psalm 139: O Lord, My God” (Shepherdswell) [Contemporary folk]
241       “Sing! A New Creation” (Ebenezer/Ton-y-botel) [Classic hymn structure]
236       “Take Me to the Water” [African-American Spiritual]
239       “Wash Me Through and Through” [Contemporary folk]
238       “Wash, O God, Our Sons and Daughters” (Beach Spring) [Classic hymn structure]
244       “You Have Put on Christ” [Refrain; could be used as a response or repeated response; see SNC240 “We Have Put on Christ”]

For copyright permission to print “We Have Put on Christ” (found in Sing! A New Creation 240, or “You Have Put on Christ”, Sing! 244), listed in The Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows section, contact the International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ph. 202.347.0800; fax 202.347.1839; email ICEL@eliturgy.org).

The copyright information is as follows:

Text from Rite of Baptism for Children © 1969, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ICEL); music by Howard Hughes, S.M. from Music for Rite of Funerals and Rite of Baptism for Children © 1977, ICEL. All rights reserved.

Possible Anthems:

The following suggestions encompass a variety of anthem types – some that are scripture-based, some that celebrate the sacrament and some that focus on the vow of the parents and congregation to teach a child in the ways of the Lord.

“A Song of Promise”, Robert J. Powell Choristers Guild CGA-479 [1989] (Unison with flute, keyboard and opt. adult choir)
“Child of God”, Dorothy Christopherson Augsburg 11-10122 [1991] (Two part, with keyboard)
“Come to the Water”, John Foley SJ OCP9489 [1993] (SATB with keyboard, opt. instrumental parts and opt. congregational involvement)
“How Will They Know”, Natalie Sleeth Sonos S044 [1985] (SATB with keyboard)
“I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry”, John Helgen Kjos 8826 [1996] (SATB divided with keyboard)
“Suffer the Little Children”, Edward Bonnemere Augsburg 11-10180 [1994] (Unison choir or solo)
“The Gift of Children”, Lloyd Larson Alfred 18951 [1999] (SATB with keyboard and opt. C instrument)
“Train Me Up in the Way I Should Go”, Ruth Elaine Schram Belwin BSC00247 [1993] (Unison with opt. two part, with keyboard)
“We Name You in Joy”, Dorothy Christopherson Choristers Guild CGA-586 [1992] (Two part treble or mixed voices with flute and keyboard)
“Who Will Teach the Children?”, Anna Laura Page Alfred 17983 [1998] (SATB with keyboard and opt. children’s choir, congregation and flute)

Possible Service Music:

“Baptized in Water” (Bunessan)
Burkhardt, Michael “Praise and Thanksgiving vol. 4” Morningstar MSM-10-754 [1991] (organ)
Callahan, Charles “Thanksgiving Suite: II” Morningstar MSM-10-600 (organ)
Page, Anna Laura “Morning Has Broken” Jeffers JH S9190 [1996] (3-5 octave handbells)
Sanborn, Jan “Piano Music for the Care of the Soul” Ron Harris RHP0403 [1997](piano)

“Borning Cry”
Larson, Katherine Jordahl Augsburg ISBN 0-8006-5397-1 [1994] (3-4 octave handbells)
Albrecht, Mark “Timeless Hymns of Faith” Augsburg 11-10863 [1998] (piano)

“Sing! A New Creation” (Ebenezer/Ton-y-botel)
Burkhardt, Michael “Seven Hymn Improvisations and Free Accompaniments, set 1" Morningstar MSM-10-847 [1992] (organ)
Krapf, Gerhard “Sing and Rejoice, vol. 3" SMP KK278 [1983] (organ)
McChesney, Kevin “Once to Every Man and Nation” Alfred 18556 [1999] (3-5 octave handbells)
Purvis, Richard “Seven Chorale Preludes” Fischer 0 3450 [1949] (organ)
Wilhelmi, Teresa “Hymns…Light Jazz Style” Word 301 0136 315 [1997] (piano)

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