Upon entering the sanctuary at Church of the Holy Spirit, we are greeted by the sight and sound of the flowing waters of the baptismal font. The font is no ordinary place, but the sacred place of our being made over into the likeness of Jesus Christ, of our being transfused with the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters of creation and raised Jesus from the dead. The location of the font at the entrance reminds us that we are initiated through baptism into the living Body of Christ, the community of Christian faith. Baptism is not merely a ritual of infancy, but the sacrament that forever defines the orientation of one’s life. As theologian Fletcher Lowe observes, baptism “is not only a single event, but an all pervasive and lifelong process.” In baptism, we do not embark upon a personal and very private journey; rather, we become part of a people who share one faith, one baptism, and one God. Together, we are called to share with one another and the world the transforming love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ.
What makes baptism different from other events that celebrate the birth of a child?
The gift of new life in the birth of a child is a wonderful event that evokes much joy and thanksgiving. It is a life-changing event for the family. Years ago, societies had ways to mark, to celebrate and to give thanks for important moments in the human life cycle. Rites of passage, as they are called, still exist in contemporary society, but are not as widely celebrated nor as commonly shared as they were in the past. Nevertheless, there remains a universal human need to mark crucial stages in life’s journey from the cradle to the grave. So, given the absence of broadly celebrated rites of passage, it is no surprise that we have come to use other events as a means of marking important moments in life. This is frequently the case with infant baptism. Baptism is often understood as a part of the events that surround birth—a family tradition that is used to express in the presence of family and friends some of the immense joy that is felt.
However, baptism is much more than a rite of passage or a tradition to celebrate the birth of a child. Baptism is one of the two great sacraments of the Gospel. In baptism, God we acknowledge that we are God’s children and members of Christ’s Body and the Church. Baptism requires the making of vows in which we state that we will live as Christians—a way of life that is often at odds with what comes “naturally” to us. Confusing baptism, which is a sacrament, with a rite of passage obscures the meaning and implications of entering into a covenant with God on behalf of another person and for oneself. Baptism is about God’s call to us to see that our true life, our true joy resides in a conscious intentional loving relationship with the image of God seen in human form in Jesus Christ. In baptism we are brought into this way of life as celebrated in the community of the church.
Why should my child be baptized?
As Christians, we believe that we can only be fully human if we live in relationship with God and live in community with other people of faith. The forces that move us away from being truly human are not just social and psychological, but spiritual as well. In baptism, we incorporate individuals into the community of faith and promise to assist parents and sponsors/godparents in the very difficult task of raising children to know God and to love God.
At what age should my child be baptized?
Your child is ready to be baptized when you are ready to make the promises and vows in the baptismal service. Your child is ready to be baptized when you are committed to living your life and raising your children in the context of the faith community of the Holy Spirit. Some children are baptized within a few weeks of birth, others not until months or even years later, and many people are baptized as adults.
Where should my child be baptized?
Baptism takes place in the church when the church family is present—at the main Sunday worship service. It is desirable that infants be baptized in the parish community in which the child has some likelihood of continued association—as opposed, for example, to a parish to which the parents are attached only by family ties or a history of past membership. The congregation’s vows in the service make no sense if the baptism is done privately, if the family lives elsewhere or if the family does not attend church.
On what date should my child be baptized?
The Episcopal Church seeks to bring baptism into a significant relation to the church year, associating it with the great events in the redemptive story. As such, the preferred days for baptism are the Easter Vigil, the Day of Pentecost, All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the First Sunday after Epiphany). However, at Church of the Holy Spirit, baptism may also be appropriately celebrated within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast. The baptism of a child is an important occasion for the members of the whole congregation to renew their baptismal vows. The focus of the liturgy is on the ministry of all who are baptized into Christ, including the candidate for baptism.
What is the role of Sponsors/Godparents?
For candidates who are infants, parents select two or more sponsors/godparents. In the service, parents and sponsors/godparents publicly proclaim their Christian faith and promise to be an example of Christian living to the child. It is not the understanding of the church that sponsors/godparents will act as legal guardians in the event of the parents’ death. Sponsors/godparents are close friends of relatives who:
- Will maintain a special relationship with the child;
- Are baptized Christians (not necessarily Episcopalians);
- Are active members of a faith community;
- Will assist in seeing that the child is brought up in the Christian life and faith.
When may my child receive Communion?
Infants and children are full members of the community by virtue of their baptism; as such, they may receive Holy Communion whenever they are able to safely consume the bread and/or receive the wine. Many small children receive the bread only until they are old enough to drink the wine from the chalice. Please be assured that your child has received the full sacrament in receiving only the bread or the wine. At Church of the Holy Spirit, it is common for very young toddlers to receive Communion. Children who are too young to safely consume the bread or wine are blessed by the priest during the distribution of the bread and wine.
What do I need to know and do before my child is baptized at Church of the Holy Spirit?
Baptism is the initiation of a person into a Christian life and also the start of a relationship with the community of the Church as experienced through participation in the life of a particular congregation. In the case of an infant or small child, the parents need to know this particular congregation and want to be a part of it.
We ask parents to consider the following before the baptism of a child:
- Worship with the congregation for at least four to six months;
- Participate in the “Welcoming of Baptized Members,” reception or confirmation so that the parents are already active members of the church community;
- Participate in the life of the COHS community and ministries.
While there may be situations in which the above steps of preparation may not be practical or possible, when parents commit to this spiritual groundwork, they are better prepared to undertake the gift and responsibility of raising their child as a Christian in the midst of a supportive Christian community.
In any case, parents and sponsors/godparents will meet with the Rector one or more times before the baptism to discuss the affirmations and promises they will make during the service. This is an opportunity for all participants to talk about their own Christian faith and practice and how they can best fulfill and support one another in their roles. During these discussions, we will discern that:
- Baptism is:
o Public and corporate;
o The primary rite of initiation into the community of faith, the Body of Christ and the household of God;
o The beginning of a new way of life in Jesus Christ.
- Baptism is not:
o A social occasion for a particular family to give thanks for the birth of a child;
o An ecclesiastical life insurance policy to protect the newborn baby;
o A perfunctory rite of passage.
Is there a fee for Baptism?
No. Baptism is a sacrament and therefore a gift from God and not something that is a commodity to be bought or sold. However, most do make special gifts to the church in thanksgiving to God for the occasion of baptism of the child or adult. And, it is usual for individuals and families who are part of Church of the Holy Spirit to be active in its ministries and to contribute to the life and support of the church with an annual pledge.
What happens in the Baptismal Service?All candidates for Baptism sit with their parents and sponsors/godparents during the first part of the service. Immediately following the sermon, the baptismal party assembles in view of the congregation. When an infant is being baptized, customarily one of the sponsors/godparents holds the child. The service includes:
- Presentation of the Candidate(s). Parents and sponsors/godparents, speaking as individuals, name (first and middle names) and present the child, saying, “I present N.N. to receive the Sacrament of Baptism,”
- Examination of the Parents and Godparents. Speaking as individuals, the parents and sponsors/godparents publicly proclaim their Christian faith and promise to nurture the child in the Christian faith and life.
- Baptismal Covenant. The entire congregation renews its own baptismal vows.
- Prayers for the Candidate(s). These are led by a layperson.
- Thanksgiving Over the Water. The priest blesses the water and sprinkles the congregation as a reminder of each person’s baptism.
- The Baptism. The child is then handed to the priest, who baptizes the infant in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- The Chrismation. The child is sealed by the Holy Spirit using oil blessed by the Bishop, which reminds us that we are baptized into the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, not just Church of the Holy Spirit. One is baptized a Christian, not an Episcopalian (or a Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.).
- Welcome. The whole congregation welcomes the newly Baptized and the peace of Christ is exchanged.
- The Eucharist. The congregation, including the newly baptized, share in the sacramental meal which Christ has given us. The bread and wine are the food which sustains us on our early journey until we share in the heavenly banquet with the risen Christ.
- Greeting the Baptized and Their Families. At the conclusion of the service, the families of the newly baptized are asked to stand with the clergy at the entrance. This provides an opportunity for the congregation to greet personally the newest member of Christ’s Body.