What Is It?
Among Christians, the sacrament of baptism is an action, or rite, that celebrates God’s loving initiative and our faithful response. It is God’s “Yes” to us and our “Yes” to God. Regardless of the candidate’s age, baptism is the sole rite of initiation and inclusion into Christian community. Baptism identifies us. It is an act of welcoming, blessing and belonging.
Baptism for infants and young children proclaims the unconditional grace and love of God. It is also a reminder of the wonder, blessing and new responsibilities that come with a new life. For adults, baptism is a moving witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in individual and corporate commitment. It is also a celebration of the promise of new life and growth in faith.
Baptism usually takes place in a service of worship. Parents or guardians may bring the child or infant in their care for baptism. An adult may present himself or herself. In either case, promises are made before God in the presence of God’s people. Water, a potent symbol for many things (e.g. birth, cleansing, renewal, even chaos!) is sprinkled or poured on the candidate’s head by an officiating minister. In some faith communities, the candidate, regardless of age, is totally immersed in water. Sometimes, though not necessarily, the minister may anoint the candidate’s head with oil or may place hands on the person’s head as a sign of blessing.
There is nothing magical about the water or the rite. Baptism will not “rust proof” anyone against the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” nor make the baptized person’s life healthier, wealthier and wiser than anyone else’s. Nor even holier! The power and meaning of baptism rests upon the promise of God to be with us and upon our promises to “do justly, love tenderly and walk humbly” in the presence of God and others. Baptism does not need to be repeated. It is a “one time only” occurrence. From time to time, including every baptismal ceremony, it is appropriate for individuals and congregations to remind themselves of their baptismal covenant by renewing their baptismal faith. Throughout our lives we continue to be welcomed, included and blessed.
Baptism in The United Church of Canada
Among congregations in the United Church of Canada, baptismal practices may vary. It is the responsibility of each congregation’s governing body (the Session or its equivalent) to establish a baptismal policy and oversee both its administration and celebration.
Infant Baptism is the norm within the United Church. It is the child’s right and the responsibility of baptized parents. With the consent of the Session (or its equivalent), baptism shall normally be administered “to those children whose parents or guardians, one (1) or both, have been baptized and confirmed and are members in good standing. Exceptions… may be made with the consent of the Session or Church Board or Church Council, which should share with the parents the responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the child, should require a sponsor to be provided who has been baptized and confirmed and is a member in good standing, and should seek through the means of grace to bring the parents into full and active communion with the United Church” (The Manual, 2004, �010b).
Profession of faith is an essential part of the sacrament of baptism. Since infants are unable to profess faith for themselves, their parents or guardians do so on their behalf. If the faith professed by parents and guardians is empty of meaning or intent, the sacrament of baptism, while still valid from a divine perspective, is a charade from a human perspective. An infant does not need to be baptized to be assured of God’s gracious love. But those professing faith need to take their vows seriously for their infants to live in the fulness of their baptismal blessing.
The order and wording of the vows taken by parents or guardians may vary, but they will reflect the following:
- profession of faith in the Triune God,
- commitment to seek justice and resist evil,
- commitment to follow in the way of Jesus Christ,
- commitment to the mission and ministry of the church.
While the United Church’s commitment to just and inclusive language allows for the optional use of a variety of Trinitarian blessings following baptism, our current ecumenical agreement with other faith partners requires the use of the traditional Trinitarian Formula of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” during the action of baptism.
The role of “Godparents” in the United Church of Canada has traditionally been filled by the entire congregation whose members publicly commit to the on-going nurture and support of baptized infants and their families. “Sponsors” or “Mentors” may be designated by the Session (or its equivalent) to make specific and personal the corporate sponsorship of the congregation.
It is expected that, when parents and congregations live up to their baptismal vows, baptized infants will “grow in wisdom and stature and in divine and human favour” and come to a stage in their spiritual development when they will individually profess their own faith. Often called confirmation, this profession of faith is recognized in the United Church of Canada as the moment of full and formal membership into the United Church and a local congregation.
Adult baptism occurs in the United Church whenever an unbaptized person with the capacity for decision-making is baptized upon his, or her, own request and profession of faith. In such instances, baptism and confirmation take place together.
Baptism at Edith Rankin Memorial United Church
Edith Rankin Memorial United Church joyfully welcomes
- infants brought by members and adherents for baptism (only direct requests from parents or guardians will be considered),
- adults who wish to profess their own faith and be baptized.People requesting baptism for their infants or themselves can expect
- to be warmly welcomed by a rejoicing faith community,
- to participate regularly in worship prior to baptism,
- to enrol other children in the home (3 years of age and older) in Sunday School,
- to meet with the minister(s) before the request for baptism is approved,
- to participate (or to have participated) in meaningful baptismal preparation,
- to have the request considered and approved by the Church Board or its Executive,
- to be assigned a “sponsor” or “faith friend” whose pleasure it will be to participate in the service of baptism and continue to uphold the baptized person in prayer and faithful friendship,
- to receive a certificate of baptism and other symbols, or tokens, of covenant relationship,
- to be invited to share their gifts as partners in mission and ministry with others at Edith Rankin Memorial United Church.