Ask a YCW: Baptism Edition

Post Author: Askie

Dear Askie,

Six months ago, my wife and I were blessed with our first child, a beautiful baby boy. We want to have our son baptized at our church, but our pastor is making things difficult. She keeps saying that the baptism needs to be on Sunday morning during the regular service, but that doesn’t really work well with our family. We wanted to have the baptism on a Saturday afternoon, so that we could have just family and a few invited friends there, and take them all to a celebratory dinner afterwards. Our pastor says she won’t do a private baptism, only one during Sunday church. How do I explain to her that it would be so much nicer and more intimate for our family to have a private ceremony? We’ve offered to let her pick the time on Saturday, and we’re more than happy to pay any costs, but she still won’t agree. How do I get her to stop being so unreasonable?

Frustrated Dad

Dear Frustrated,

Oh boy. You’re probably not going to like the answer on this one, because Askie has to side with your pastor. In our modern society, it seems like if you’re willing to pay for a service, you should be able to get that service at the time of your choosing. If you’re throwing a party, shouldn’t you get to pick the guest list?

But that’s not how baptism works. In most traditions, pastors are not allowed to accept money for baptisms, so it’s not an issue of money. You are wanting to have a family celebration for your baby, which is a lovely idea and perfectly appropriate. Baptism, though, is not about welcoming a child into your family, but into the family of God. Not every Christian tradition baptizes infants, but for those that do, the service typically includes vows made not just by parents and/or godparents or baptismal sponsors, but also by the congregation as a whole.

In the United Church of Christ, the pastor asks, “Jesus Christ calls us to make disciples of all nations and to offer them the gift of grace in baptism. Do you, who witness and celebrate this sacrament, promise your love, support, and care to the one(s) about to be baptized as he/she/they live(s) and grow(s) in Christ?” and the people respond, “We promise our love, support, and care.”

In the United Methodist Church, the congregation vows,

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news
and live according to the example of Christ.
We will surround these persons
with a community of love and forgiveness,
that they may grow in their trust of God,
and be found faithful in their service to others.
We will pray for them,
that they may be true disciples
who walk in the way that leads to life.

In the Presbyterian Church (USA), the congregation is asked, “Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture (name) by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging him/her to know and follow Christ and to be a faithful member of his church?”

Episcopalians are asked, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”

You didn’t mention your particular denominational tradition, but it most likely includes similar promises and vows. Perhaps your pastor didn’t explain this to you as clearly as she should have, but the reason most churches don’t practice “private” baptism is that baptism is a sacrament in which a person is publicly named as a member of the body of Christ, as a child of God. Your precious son has been entrusted to your care as parents, but ultimately belongs to God.

Askie appreciates your desire to celebrate and welcome your child into your immediate and extended family. There is certainly a place for that. Baptism just isn’t it. I suspect that your pastor wants to make sure that your child is blessed not just with the parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles of the family into which he was born, but with many other loving and nurturing adults who are a part of his family of faith. Removing baptism from the context of public worship means that the community of faith misses out on the chance to welcome and celebrate its newest member.

Although you’ve been a parent for just six months, my guess is that you’ve already experienced a number of times when the responsibility of caring for this tiny vulnerable life was pretty overwhelming. There is so much that your child needs in order to grow up healthy and happy, to become the amazing person God intends him to be. There have probably already been times when you felt you were falling short or even failing miserably at this parenting thing. The good news of baptism is that you are not alone. God knew and loved your child before you even knew a baby was coming. God will be there even in the times you aren’t. And God has charged the Church (both your local congregation and the worldwide body of Christ) with the responsibility of standing with you, loving and nurturing this little one in faith throughout his life. Let them.

Blessings to your dear boy as he is welcomed as a precious child of God.

Image by: Lwp Kommunikáció
Used with permission
1 reply
  1. Jim Hamilton
    Jim Hamilton says:

    There are a lot of rules in PCUSA I may not agree with but this is one where I have to go along with your pastor. The baptism is a statement to the community of faith, your community of faith and calls on that community to support that child, to teach that child and you are asked about your intentions to raise that child in a Christian home and for you to teach him as well. In essence you are making a proclamation to your church of your faithfulness to the Gospel. There is no reason a post service private celebration can’t take place. Please reconsider, it is important to your congregation, that is your church family.


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