About a month ago, two young children were baptized at church. The event was intriguing to me for a number of reasons. One reason was the manner in which it was done to involve other children in the worship process. The other reason is the spiritual impact it had on me.
Baptism is often something people seem to think of in individual terms. It is seen as something a person does in response to a conversion decision. Sometimes it is seen as a stepping stone in the spiritual life or a prerequisite to something else. But baptism is really an event that involves the person being baptized and the worshiping community. It is the person's public confession of faith, and it is the community's opportunity to covenant their support and nurturance. It is also the community's opportunity to affirm their faith anew. In that respect, the baptism event needs to include not only an element of testimony but also an element of connectedness between the person and the community.
Since the two people in this particular event were children, they were baptized by the children's minister. He was very creative in the whole thing. He invited all the children to come up and be near and share in "the pool party." (I at first had a problem with this terminology; but when I thought about it, I realized that he was getting on their level emotionally and using it to draw them into the experience.) He went on to explain that their friends were being baptized and why. Our baptismal font is level with the floor of the platform; and he invited the children to touch the water before he baptized the first child. I thought this was a truly creative thing to do. It sent a nonverbal message: you are welcome here, this water is not off limits, and God is not off limits to you. Later, he invited the rest of the congregation to come and touch the water if they wanted to after the service was over. In addition to the subtle message, there was a "remember your baptism" theme in the service for the rest of us.
When the children were ready to be baptized, he asked them to look around at their families and friends and then said that even people they didn't know in the congregation cared about them. One of the children was too little to see out, so he asked us to applaud the child so he could hear us. I suspect this was a more defining moment for the rest of us than for the children, but perhaps I am wrong.
Remembering baptism... Last fall, my Sunday school class studied Jim Wallace's book, The Call to Conversion. During the discussions, the question was raised about how the topic of salvation and conversion is discussed with children at this church. Most of us adults grew up with the typical conservative view of conversion: the altar call experience. The public confession of faith was present; but often the sense of community was lacking and so was the ongoing turning from a previous life to a new life. It is one thing to blame that on being raised in the church. But faith ought to result in fruit in our lives where it did not in the past.
In my own case, there was a certain need and desire to turn. I was a fairly young child: 12 years old. But already I had begun to feel the impact of disordered moods and the tendency to lash out emotionally at my family when I could not express myself well, participate in something, or control a situation which really did need my control (e.g. defining my personal space). I needed an experience of repentence and salvation, and I knew it then. It is unfortunate that I did not trust anyone in that community enough to allow them to help with my discipling process so that I could have experienced God's grace in some of those areas much sooner in my life! The result was that I grew in some areas but not others. Later I would come to speak of having a "deficient foundation." I did not know how to allow Christ to be Lord of my moods, no matter how much I wanted to.
But the remembering of the baptism experience is powerful. Every time a person is baptized, I remember my own baptism. In churches where I have experienced community and solid teaching, I have been able to take advantage of this experience to inwardly renew my covenant with God and with the community. God is able to redeem the time that I did not always use well!
All of this is to say that it was beautiful to see the intentional effort to connect the congregation and the children a few weeks ago at such a crucial moment in the children's lives!