Some Commonly Asked Questions about Holy Baptism
"One Lord, one faith, one baptism..." --Ephesians 4:5
"And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name." --Acts 22:16
Emerging from a mixed Lutheran and Reformed Protestant Christian tradition, our congregation celebrates two sacraments--Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Our congregation baptizes children of all ages, as well as adults. Baptisms are celebrated in the midst of a Sunday morning worship service with the full participation and witness of the congregation.
What is baptism?
Baptism is a sacrament of the church by which a person, through promises and covenantal commitments made with God and our congregation, becomes a member and participant in the church, the living body of Christ. Baptism marks the beginning of a person's Christian life and journey. In the New Testament baptism means everything that water means: cleansing, birth, and new life.
What are the origins of baptism?
Baptism was practiced within Judaism as a rite of purification, repentance, and human preparedness for the coming of God's reign. In the New Testament, we read how John the Baptist baptized men and women, including Jesus, at the River Jordan (Matthew 3:11-15). In turn, Jesus instructed his disciples to teach, preach, heal, and baptize (Matthew 28:16-20).
Does St. Paul United Church of Christ baptize children?
Yes. Believing that the good news of God's saving love is not only for us but also for our children, we baptize infants and children amid supportive promises and covenantal commitments made by parents, sponsors, and our congregation. With baptism we recall how Jesus received and blessed children when they were regarded by others as distractions. He said, "Unless you receive the Kingdom of God like a child, you shall not enter it" (Mark 10:15).
Does St. Paul United Church of Christ baptize adults?
Yes. Anyone who wishes to become part of the Christian faith and family, and who has not been previously baptized may be baptized. Adults receiving the sacrament of baptism make a personal profession of faith and affirm their commitment to turn away from all evil and to serve Jesus Christ in the midst of his living body, the church.
May a person be baptized more than once?
No. Because re-baptism is neither necessary nor even appropriate. In the sacrament of baptism God acts once and for all to provide us with the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. Provided the sacrament is offered in the name of Jesus Christ and is administered in sincerity and faith, the baptism is valid, regardless of specific details of the ceremony that might make the baptismal service in one church somewhat different from the baptismal practices of other churches. Our St. Paul congregation affirms the spiritual validity of baptisms administered in all Christian churches, Protestant or Roman Catholic. It is possible, however, to renew one's baptismal vows in a service of baptismal renewal. This can be a meaningful time of remembering one's baptism and recommitting one's life to Christ and the church. Also, baptism is available to those who are uncertain as to whether they have been previously baptized. The prayer for such occasions acknowledges our doubt and uncertainty calls upon God to regard the ceremony as either a baptism or a renewal of baptism, depending upon the true circumstances which may be known only to God.
Are godparents or sponsors required?
No. In the United Church of Christ the entire congregation accepts responsibility to help nurture and support those who are baptized into Christian faith. In other words, the congregation acts as a sponsor. If, however, parents or candidates for baptism wish to designate godparents or sponsors, they are encouraged to do so. Godparents should be adult baptized Christians. God-parents personally participate in the baptismal ceremony, making their own convenantal affirmation to help nurture the child or adult baptismal candidate in Christian faith.
What is the role of parents?
At the time of baptism, parents make promises on their child's behalf. Parents also commit themselves to raise their child ac- cording to the teachings and values of our Christian faith and in the midst of the on-going fellowship of the church community so that he or she, upon coming of age, will ultimately be prepared to make his or her own confirming decision for Jesus Christ. Because fulfilling these promises involves being an active part of the congregation, it is expected that at least one parent will be a member of the church. But sometimes grandparents or other relatives who are members of the congregation can and do assume the responsibilities of Christian nurture for a child who is being baptized if and when parents are unable to do so.
Why is water used?
Water has profound symbolic meaning, signifying cleansing, birth, death, and life renewed. Water also has a prominent place in Biblical faith--the waters that God divided from the skies to create the world, the waters of Noah's flood, the waters of the Red Sea, the water in the wilderness, the water of Mary's womb, the water with which Jesus washed the disciples's feet, and Jesus speaking of himself as "living water." The water used in baptism also reminds us of the waters of the River Jordan in which Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
How is the actual act of baptism performed at St. Paul United Church of Christ?
All persons are baptized from a baptismal fount at the front of the sanctuary. The officiating pastor either makes a sign of the cross with water on the forehead or sprinkles a generous amount of water upon the child or adult to be baptized. We have no rule against immersion or pouring forms of baptism, but do not as a matter of practice or administer baptism in those ways. In instances of infant baptism, it is customary for our pastor--with the permission of parents--to carry the newly baptized child down the center aisle of the sanctuary where he or she may be greeted and welcomed by the congregation at large. The pastor and child then return to the chancel for the closing prayer of the baptismal ceremony.
Is there an appropriate age for the baptism of an infant or child?
There is no set or recommended age. For infants, however, a baptismal date closer to their birth allows baptism to be a celebration of the child's birth when he or she is being welcomed as a new family member. After the age eight, when children are already establish-ing a stronger sense of their own identity, it may be more meaningful to further defer baptism until the child is fourteen or fifteen--the age for confirmation for young people who have been baptized as infants or young children. Baptism for your son or daughter can be administered as a part of a confirmation ceremony.
If families choose to defer baptism for their child to a later age, is there some way to honor and celebrate the child's birth?
Yes. The United Church of Christ Book of Worship includes "A Service for Infant Dedication" which can be a means of celebrating a birth or adoption. The infant dedication service recognizes the child as a gift of God and provides an opportunity for parents to dedicate the child, as well as themselves, to God. While it is preferable and usually more meaningful to celebrate an infant dedication at a regular service of worship, it may also take place at home.
How do I schedule a baptism?
Please call the St. Paul church office to arrange an appropriate date for the baptismal ceremony. Generally, only one baptism is offered at any given worship service. Also, baptisms are not performed when or where they might conflict with other major celebrations of our church life. In scheduling a baptism, parents are asked to complete a baptismal information form that will be used to register the baptism in parish records. Click on Baptismal Information Form for a copy.
How do I prepare for the baptismal ceremony?
You may wish to meet with the pastor to discuss the pending baptism and what it means to be raised and nurtured in Christian faith. On the morning of the baptism, you, along with any godparents, are asked to meet with the pastor in his or her office at least twenty minutes before the start of the worship service to review the order of service and the specific words of the baptismal ceremony. An usher in the church narthex can escort you and the godparents to the pastor's office.
Is there anything else I should keep in mind regarding the baptismal service?
As a sacrament, baptism is a very special and holy moment in our lives together in Christ. It is important that we honor the occasion by both our dress and demeanor. Also, as a matter of respect for the worship service, no flash photography is allowed. Children, including the infant to be baptized, are welcomed to the pews of our church. But we remind parents that there is a sitting room in the narthex area that can be used if infants or children become fussy or disruptive. The ushers can provide direction and other assistance. At the close of worship, the pastor is generally available for any photographs which the family of the newly baptized child or adult may wish to take. At that time, the pastor will also present the baptized child or adult with a baptismal certificate, which should be kept with important family records.
The pastor and administrative staff of St. Paul United Church of Christ will be happy to answer any additional questions which you may have about the sacrament of baptism. Please call 313-291-1221