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baptism and renewing baptismal vows - what to do?

This Sunday we, like many congregations, will celebrate "Baptism of the Lord" in worship, when we read of Jesus being baptized by John.

A seminary friend emailed me this question - if you are leading a congregational reaffirmation of baptismal vows (as I am in Oneida), what do you do for those who are unbaptized? Is there a way for them to participate in the ritual that is meaningful and theologically appropriate?

Last year, when this issue came up, I invited those who were not yet baptized to receive a blessing in anticipation of their baptism. An imperfect solution perhaps, but it worked OK.

Any thoughts? Ideas? I checked out the General Board of Discipleship's worship planning helps, and they had this to say:

Consider how to be hospitable to people who may be present who have not been baptized. How will they participate in reaffirmation of baptism? What invitation will you make to non-baptized people to journey toward the Jordan and life in the baptismal covenant? For example, you could print in the bulletin or say: "Today we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus, and we are remembering our baptism when God claimed us as sons and daughters in a life-long covenant. If you have not been baptized, you are fully welcome here. Enjoy the ritual! Be among us in peace. Feel free not to say words that may not yet apply to you. If you would like to know more about the life of discipleship and about being part of the baptismal covenant, be sure to speak with the pastor(s) or lay leaders."

This is OK too, but then those not baptized can't come forward in any way. I guess if they are not ready to be baptized, maybe that's OK. But it would be nice to find a meaningful way for all to participate. What do you think?

Comments

one more thing - do you do a covenant renewal meeting (as per Wesley) and how do you include all in that?

Lorna xx

PS try the Bible reading plan with us. I think this is going to be good :)
Andy B. said…
I have said, "Remember the vows of baptism" a few times, which invites the baptized to reaffirm and the unbaptized to ... whatever they want!
I have also combined the remember/anticipate idea.
What about form? Have you ever splashed the people with water off of a pine branch before? It is a HOOT!
Anonymous said…
Beth,

Here is my unlearned, pathetic, layman's point of view. However, this is very personal to me as well.

I think the GBoD planning is the right way to go.

I don't think in this case, everyone has to be "fully" included. The Bible is very clear that at the return of the Lord, the sheep and the goats will be separated. Sometimes, folks need to feel the separation from the group to know that they really need Christ. I know this sounds cold and mean, and I truly don't mean for it to be. But, maybe the fact that they "can't" fully participate in the service is symbolic to them showing that they are separtated from God without Christ. I hope I'm not being cold hearted in this reply, am I making sense here?

My hope is that you would do an altercall at the close of the service and invite those who truly repent and want to be included in the Body of Christ, to come forward and be baptized. To me, that is how they become included. They don't become included by "fixing" the service to make them feel good, you have to exclude them to a degree to let them know they need Christ to be in the fold, so to speak.

I was a young adult raised in the UMC from birth, but never baptised or confirmed until I was 22. I loved the church and my heart ached when I was excluded from church decisions or from similar services because I was "outside" of the fold. But when I almost lost my local church on a tied charge conference vote that I was not allowed to vote in, I felt the Holy Spirit and knew that Christ was calling me and to either make a decision or remain embarrased and shirk to the back and let the chips falls where they may. That exclusion from the Church Body moved me to go forward, formally except Christian baptism, and formally join the UMC.

It is hard to type my feelings in a reply like this. However, I feel that my own pride was separating me from accepting the fundamental sacrament of Christian baptism. In a way, the separation that I felt was a good thing in that it made me aware that I was separated.

Don't feel that you have to "include" everyone on everything that the church does. You want to invite the unsaved, unbaptised to receive Christ, but they need to know there is a much bigger isolation than not being included in a reaffirmation of baptism vows service that could await them.

I hope that isn't too cold. Sorry for the length.
LutheranChik said…
We "advertise" this service several weeks in advance in our morning announcements and bulletin, with an invitation to the unbaptized to talk to the pastor about being baptized. And -- I know different denominations may have different baptismal rubrics, but on our group-baptism Sundays my pastor always invites anyone in the congregation who hasn't yet been baptized to come up and be baptized. If someone feels moved to be baptized, we don't want to place barriers in his or her way. We don't often get takers, but we have on occasion.
reallly interesting comments here. Beth how did it go?
Beth Quick said…
Hey all - thanks for your comments. Keith - don't be so hard on yourself. I agree with you that sometimes it is ok to have things that are only offered for some people - we just have to be careful how/when/why we do that - to make sure we are always invitational, I think, which you suggest too.
The service today went very well. Before calling folks forward to receive sign of renewal (cross on forehead with water), I invited those not baptized to come forward if they chose and receive a blessing in anticipation of baptism, and to speak to me after worship about possibly being baptized. I did have some who are now considering baptism, which is exciting.
John said…
I don't have an answer for your question. But I've been baptized twice and found the adult version very moving. I was initially a Southern Baptist after I became a Christian, and I'll never forget the moment Buddy Gray shoved me underwater and declared be joined with Christ.
David said…
Beth,
Thanks for the idea. Last year I just generally left it open. This year I asked folks to come forward and to be blessed by the ritual cleansing. Those who had been baptised were invited to remember their baptism. Those that had not, were invited to be baptised another day (not the altar call that the esteemed layman suggested, though I debated that one and chickened out I think - maybe next year). All in all it was pretty good.
Thanks for the mental fodder.
Peace,
David

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