Monday, March 17, 2008

Easter Baby Quandry

Alright Methoblogosphere: here's a pastoral, doctrinal, puzzle to help me solve: I have one young woman who indicated on her attendance registry that she was interested in joining the church and desired a pastoral call. (Yes, check marks in those particular boxes are rare in my experience) When I called her back the following week, she said she was interested in joining the church and having her daughter baptized on Easter. I was glad. Easter always seems more "Easter-y" when I get to celebrate a baptism. I told her I'd send her a copy of the baptismal vows that she would be taking on behalf of her daughter, and a copy of the paragraphs from the discipline related to church membership. (216-221--don't worry, I simplify the procedural points of 221) I explained to her that they were in a sense the "covenant" that the church makes with her to support her in faith and love and in return receive her support, service, presence, and gifts. So, all is golden. We're receiving new members on Easter and we haven't received any new members since August. Great.

Okay: Today I get a call. Another young couple who has a foot in our church and a foot in the Baptist church (female grew up in our church, husband grew up as a Baptist preacher's kid, she’s actually been baptized over there in addition to her baptism in our church). They want to have their baby "dedicated" on Easter Sunday as well at our church. I set up an appointment to speak with them tomorrow. I had previously (a month or two ago) told them that if they’d like, we have a service of celebration of a new birth in our Book of Worship, so this is where they’re getting the idea of “dedicating their baby.”

My concern is…does it confuse the issue or undermine the importance of the baptism already scheduled on Easter Sunday to have that “celebration” (basically consisting of an address by the pastor, standing the family up in front of the church, and a response from the church) on that same morning? What I’d probably do is have the celebration toward the beginning, and then the baptism as the culmination of the service after the sermon during the “response to the word.” But perhaps it'd be better just to ask them to choose another date. I don't know, I don't want to seem difficult or obstinate to them. I want to be welcoming and receptive to them, but also convey the beauty and meaning of our tradition. I don't want to be cheap and wishy washy, but I also don't want to be hard-nosed and insensitive to a family wishing to share the joy of a new birth in a way that's palatable to both parents.

When I speak to the family tomorrow, I think I’m going to let them know that I’d prefer to baptize the child and talk with them about their understanding of baptism and what our church says about baptism. (Using “by water and the spirit” as a guide) My understanding is that infant baptism is our dedication of the child as well as the recognition of God’s grace working in the child. Not something that we initiate, but something God has initiated and that we respond to through the gift of that sacrament and then continue to respond to through a profession of faith and a striving toward perfection.

But I’ll also mention the service of celebration of a new birth and let them know that we could do that if they are resolute in their decision not to have the child baptized. Want to help me navigate this minefield?


  1. As an infant, my niece was dedicated in the Southern Baptist church and baptized in the United Methodist church because of her one-foot-in-each-tradition parents. (As an adult, she chose United Methodism for herself.) I would say if they want to "dedicate" the baby, they ought to do it in the church that espouses that particular tradition.

    But that's just my experience from the 1980s talking.

  2. As one who just baptized an infant this past Sunday who has family from three other traditions - Greek Orthodox, Catholic, and Baptist (where the immediate family currently attends), the UMC was the middle ground (and swelled our attendance by 50% for a Sunday). We speak of being baptized into the Holy Church of Christ, not as United Methodists.
    I think there is merit in welcoming the child into the life of the church with dedication - hey we dedicate inanimate objects that will never have a voice in the church, and some may never be used in the local church (e.g. the Operation Christmas Child boxes we send overseas).
    I find this to be a life-affirming opportunity for the church and that family to experience the inbreaking of the Spirit in the world today.

  3. Greetings from Boston, my friend!

    I believe that if you do both in the same service, you are setting yourself up to disappoint more than you have indicated.

    I would worry about the baby-dedication family that celebrates their baby at the opening of worship via the dedication. Then they see the full-out baptism later in the service...and wonder if they got shafted.

    Even with all the education you can bring with the mighty "water and the spirit"...being in the presence and seeing church ladies crying for the baptism who just repeated rote the call-and-response for a dedication might be too much.

    I can't read minds, I don't have ESPN turned on...I just think they will be disappointed with a dedication as compared side-by-side with a baptism.

    Being also i the small church experience, having a day "all to yourself" seems to be preferred. Having a day shared with a baptism that seems to get more liturgical focus (and rightly so!) may lead to more disappointment than the accomodation is worth.

    Let us know how it works out. I'm interested!


  4. You baptize babies?!


  5. Let us know how this situation plays out!

  6. I was at Riverside Church a few years ago where they had infant dedications (which isn't exactly what the UMBOW calls for) and also infant baptisms.

    Seemed to work for them.

    I probably have the bulletin which contained the explanations for each.... :)

    Let us know what you do and how it works out.