Ways to remember baptism in regular church worship and life

Two articles from Reformed Worship have especially good ideas for helping worshipers to affirm their identity as a baptized people. Arlo Duba suggests ways to incorporate baptism in regular worship and special services. Carrie Steenwyk explains how to include baptism as part of the Easter Vigil, following a tradition dating back to the early church.

Two articles from Reformed Worship have especially good ideas for helping worshipers to affirm their identity as a baptized people. Arlo Duba suggests ways to incorporate baptism in regular worship and special services. Carrie Steenwyk explains how to include baptism as part of the Easter Vigil, following a tradition dating back to the early church.

Ideas from Duba and various churches are described below.

Welcome. At Immanuel Lutheran Church in Big Rapids, Michigan, Bruce C. Dilg says that placing the font in the narthex has made it the gathering place of the church. People see it when they enter and leave.

"The font sets a peaceful worshipful mood. Since for Lutherans, baptism is an act of welcome and grace, it reminds them of God’s continuous grace being offered as water flows from the rock. Many place their hands in the water and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads as they enter the sanctuary," says Robert Garrels, Immanuel’s pastor.

Baptism services begin around the font, after which the candidates and parents of baptized infants hold lighted candles and lead the congregation into the sanctuary. "The candles symbolize the light of the Holy Spirit in baptism," Garrels explains.

Dilg purposely designed Immanuel’s font so children could easily and safely touch the boulder and water.

At Trinity Episcopal Church in Toledo, Ohio, the new baptistry led to an interesting controversy. "It’s important to reverence the space. And it’s important to let little children play in it. We’ve seen rubber duckies in the font. We decided that if you send the message you can’t play with God, then you are limiting God," says Susan Lowery, associate for spiritual development.

Penitence. In Re-pitching the Tent: Re-Ordering the Church Building for Worship and Mission, Richard Giles suggests sprinkling the community from the font as part of the penitential rite. This should be accompanied by an appropriate liturgical song. It’s common to use an evergreen bough to sprinkle or fling water over worshipers.

Arlo Duba sometimes leads the prayer of confession from the font. For the assurance of pardon, he scoops water from the font and lets it visibly and audibly trickle back as he says, "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Isaiah 1:18). He repeats the water motions while adding, "Brothers and sisters, believe the good news of the gospel: in Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven; they are washed away." Then everyone says, "Thanks be to God."

Eucharist. At Trinity Episcopal in Toledo, the new interim rector, Ann Webber, sometimes links baptism and the Eucharist. "When I baptize a baby, I put my finger in wine for the infant to lick from my finger," she explains.

Duba suggests that sometimes a pastor could stand by the font to invite people to the Lord’s Table. She or he could also "lead the prayer after communion from the font as a reminder that we are to go forth nourished to live out our baptism."

Renewal of Baptism. Worshipers can be reminded to think of baptism as they wash their hands, bathe, or shower, just as they can remember communion as they share a family meal. Martin Luther instructed believers to, each morning, place a hand on their head and say, "I am a baptized person, and today I will live out my baptism."

Following the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), Trinity Episcopal often does baptisms on The Baptism of Our Lord Sunday (first Sunday after Epiphany), Easter Vigil, Pentecost Sunday, All Saints Sunday, and when the bishop visits. They can also do baptism on other Sundays. But if no baptismal candidate is presented on the special days, then the service includes a renewal of baptism vows. People gather around the font before the liturgy of the word and follow a BCP litany based on the Apostles’ Creed. Often someone will asperge the gathered people with an evergreen bough dipped in the font.

Marriages. In Ashburn, Virginia, the baptistry at St. David’s Episcopal Church sits between the altar and main seating area. So brides walk down the aisle, around the baptistry, to say their vows. There’s no escaping that baptismal vows are central to the Christian life, as wedding vows are to married life.

Duba sometimes begins a wedding by gathering the wedding party around the font, or, after the processional, going to the font with the couple. While explaining how the Lord blessed marriage, he pours water, so everyone can see and hear it, into the font. He reminds the bride and groom of their baptisms and asks them to affirm their intention to keep living their baptisms. Then the man and woman (instructed ahead of time) dip their fingers or hands in the water and touch their own or each other’s foreheads.

Funerals. At Immanuel Lutheran, caskets rest next to the font for a final viewing before the casket is closed and is carried into the sanctuary for the funeral.

People generally wear white robes or clothes at baptism. So at funerals, some churches clothe the casket in white. As the casket leaves the church, it’s sprinkled with water to remind everyone that the person who died has now begun a new life with God in heaven.

Trinity Episcopal also places a casket next to the font. Lowrey notes that since the baptistry and columbarium are near each other, separated by a wood screen, the sight of casket and font reinforces the "witness of saints who have gone before."

St. David’s places caskets across four wooden beams resting inches above the baptistry water. This represents the full circle from baptism to death and the promise of resurrection.

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