After the opening praise songs, the pastor announced that we would celebrate baptism. Celebrate baptism! I thought, I’m just a visitor. I don’t think there will be any celebrating by me. The baptism proceeded without further ado—first some teaching on the significance and meaning of baptism, with a PowerPoint presentation to keep my mind from drifting. Next came the vows, the parents responding with, “We do, God helping us,” followed by the congregation’s similar response. We all sat down again as the parents, infant in tow, stepped up to the baptismal font.
This father held the child in two hands stretched out toward the font.
Instead of cradling the infant close to his chest, I noticed that this father held the child in two hands stretched out toward the font, as if offering his child to God. Hmmm—this was unusual! The pastor baptized the child in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, adding some significant details about each person in the godhead in relation to the child. Then came the prayer, signaling that the baptism was almost done.
After his “Amen,” the pastor asked the parents if he could have their child. Kind of unusual phrasing, but I’d seen this done before: the pastor carries the child around the sanctuary, introducing the congregation’s newest member. Many faces lit up as they saw their newest sibling squirming in the pastor’s embrace.
But there was also something different in the air. Sure, there were smiling grannies and proud relatives, but there was also a heightened sense of awareness, of anticipation, that seemed to settle over the congregation.
The pastor, by this time halfway to the back of the sanctuary, turned to a member of the congregation, handing her the child and asking her to take the child back to its parents. As this worshiper, holding the child, walked toward the waiting parents, the pastor continued to speak. He explained that the person carrying the child back to its parents was symbolic of what the congregation had just vowed to do. As a congregation, we had just promised to help raise that child. Some members would be that child’s Sunday school teachers. Others would be the child’s GEMS or Cadets leaders. Some would be catechism teachers. One or two of the members might even be there for that child later on during the turbulent teen years when so many questions arise, or perhaps even when that child has run away from home, to help bring him or her back.
That day I was reminded of how often I had stood up and joined in speaking the congregational vows, “God helping me.” I thought of all the children I knew in my own congregation who were wandering like sheep gone astray. I remembered all the children I had taught in church school. That day I was struck by the significance of our baptismal vows.
Through it all, I was reminded of my own baptism. I was reminded that God chose me to be engaged in the church family. God chose me. In the same way that pastor chose a member to carry the child back to its parents, God has chosen me! That day, I celebrated baptism.