The Sacrament of Infant Baptism at Henrietta United Church of Christ
What is a sacrament?
A sacrament is a “visible sign of an invisible grace.” In infant baptism, we see water being sprinkled on the child’s head. That’s the “visible sign.” But the invisible grace that is the real action of baptism is a powerful, life-shaping process. In baptism, the child is marked and named forever as a child of God, whose life comes from God’s Spirit, and whose life and destiny belong to God. In baptism, the parents promise to bring up their child in the Christian faith, so that in due time the child will confirm–or freely claim as his or her own–the baptismal covenant which the parents and church once entered on the child’s behalf. Finally, in baptism, the child’s church family pledges their resources, time, and care for the continual Christian nurture of the child.
The heart of the sacrament, then, is a covenant–a solemn agreement: the parents, church, and God will work together to plant, water, and nurture the seeds of Christian faith, love, and service.
What is the meaning of the water in baptism?
The water links us with Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John, as part of Jesus’ preparation to undertake his mission as God’s Chosen Son.
Water is a symbol of cleansing–being washed clean of our sin by the forgiving grace of God.
Water also symbolizes death and spiritual rebirth. This meaning is more obvious in baptism by immersion, where the person is fully plunged into the water. Entering the water of baptism signifies dying to our selfish, sinful self, and being reborn by the renewing power of God as a child of God now and for all eternity.
Water is also a symbol of birth. With the breaking of the water of the womb, the child is brought into the world. By the water of baptism, the child is brought into the church, symbolizing his or her spiritual birth.
What other symbols are present during baptism?
A child who is baptized is often (though not necessarily) clothed in white, or has a white bonnet or article of clothing. This symbolizes that God “clothes us in righteousness” as we die to ourselves and to our sin (sin is whatever separates us from God).
The baptismal candle is a symbol of the spark of God’s Spirit that is put in each human soul, and that is now entrusted to your care as the parents of your child. We encourage you to light this candle on each anniversary of your child’s baptism, to remind yourselves and your child of the eternal flame of God’s love that shines on your family through each stage of the child’s life.
How should we prepare for our child’s baptism?
The first step is to thoughtfully read this pamphlet with your spouse or other family members and prayerfully consider when you are ready, with God’s help, to enter into the covenant of baptism. It is something like making a decision to enter the covenant of marriage. Although you know you may never have the fullness of love and patience that a perfect marriage requires, you reach a point where you are ready to commit your life, your will, and your heart to the promises you will make. The right time for your child’s baptism really has nothing to do with the age of the child. It has more to do with your readiness as a parent to commit yourself to raising your child as a child of God in partnership with the church.
You might consider if you would like to have godparents or sponsors to share this commitment with you. They may be family members or close friends who will have an ongoing relationship with you and your child, providing love, care, prayers, and support as your child grows towards Christian maturity. Godparents, sponsors, and/or siblings can all be included in the baptismal service.
Part of the preparation will include actually planning the service with the Pastor. The promises you make and the covenant you enter will be adapted to reflect your thoughts, your faith, and your hopes for the child. Here are some of the questions you and the Pastor will think about together as the basis of planning the service:
What qualities and personal gifts do you pledge to bring to your child as you parent him or her in a Christian home?
- How will you help your child learn that God is his or her creator, redeemer, and friend?
- How will you continue growing in your faith, so that you can help your child’s faith grow, and so that God’s grace and love can continually help shape your child and your family?
- What would you like the church to pledge and provide for your child’s spiritual growth and nurture?
- If you have godparent(s), sponsor(s), or other children, what part would you want them to play in your child’s care and growth?
The baptism service will be scheduled to take place during a Sunday morning worship service. The child is baptized into the Church Universal, with this congregation, gathered in worship, as the representative. Exceptions are occasionally made in unusual circumstances, but a representative of the Board of Deacons of this church must be present.
What happens after the baptism?
When the visible part, the sprinkling, is over, its invisible power to shape your life and the life of your child is available. Its power does not lie in the ritual, but in the relationship to which you have committed yourself as a Christian parent–your relationship with God, your child, and the church. If the covenant you have entered is neglected, its power will be lost to you and your child. But if you take the sacrament as the foundation on which to build, it will become a life-changing force in your life, the life of your child, and the life of your family. We pray that God will continually help make this so!