What if she kicks? What is she cries? What if God forbid she bites the pastor in front of everyone (again)? These are the questions swirling through my head as I anticipate the baptism of my almost one-year old daughter Isabella. Don’t get me wrong, she is a joy to my life but, like all one-year-old’s she’s an unpredictable ticking time-bomb which may explode in giggles or growls without any warning. The thought of her being placed into a stranger’s arms, cold water poured over her head, and a couple of hundred people watching (who may be later called to testify to the assault charges against her) is a terrifying one. So, why are we willingly giving ourselves over to this tradition (or terror) that millions of other parents have before us?
Well, we know a couple of the reasons already: Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3) and calls us as a church to baptize people of all nations (Matthew 28). Jesus specifically calls us to prioritize the presence of little children (Matthew 19). But, I think infant baptism in all its terrifying unpredictability reminds me of another essential spiritual truth: The Spirit of God moves in the unexpected and in every moment of life both planned and unplanned, giggles and growls- God wants to be there. God is not interested in well-rehearsed faith where we put on our best dress, best manners and display our spiritual worthiness. God is interested in an unscripted, authentic, kicking, crying, laughing faith that displays God’s grace in the midst of our messiness!
What’s more is however Isabella decides to react, we as her parents and the congregation committed to growing with her in faith are reminded that her baptism is not an event, it’s a process. This won’t be the only time when God is moving in her life and she feels like kicking, crying or biting. She has kindergarten, an awkward adolescence, the college years, and hopefully her own children to experience the wonderful challenge of discipleship. Yet, I have faith that like the many children baptized before her- when the water flows down her face she will be comforted by the voices of God’s people reciting in unison: “We will surround you with a community of love and forgiveness, that you may grow in your trust of God, and be found faithful in your service to others. We will pray for you, that you may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life (United Methodist Baptism Liturgy).”
And after those words are said, there are meaningful ways in which congregations can continue to resound that commitment into the baby and her family’s ears. Here are a few:
- Capture the moment: Assign one of your congregation members’ photo and/or video duty so families can completely engage this momentous occasion and not worry about getting everybody in the shot.
- “Cover” the baby in grace: No matter what United Methodist Church I’ve visited, resourced, or preached in- there is always a group of seasoned saints gifted in crocheting or knitting. It’s a radical and meaningful gesture to create blankets for baptized children so they remember their church family is “covering” them in grace. Isabella will receive one by The Mark’s “Covered by Grace” ministry and this will be a cherished spiritual heirloom for generations to come.
- Come Again: If baptism is truly to be a process and not an event- then it requires intentional opportunities to live out our faith when the water has dried. Consider, “Out of the water and into the World” Mission projects that invite people and families to live out their baptism through meaningful mission in the community. For some great community organizations to partner with, click here.