What does baptism look like in a new community?

On arriving home yesterday after an evening playing football, there was a phone message from someone on the estate who wanted to be contacted about a baptism. My wife took the message. This is now the second contact about baptism since a note went out in the local parish council newsletter saying that it was something I do!

Usually my policy has been to conduct baptisms within the context of a worshipping community – i.e. during a service. In my previous post, this wasn’t a problem as there were 4 services every Sunday to choose from. The hope was that they would want to be part of the community they had met on a Sunday. My preparation with the family would normally consist of a couple of meetings in their home, where we would discuss aspects of the service, and talk about the meaning of the promises they would be making. Usually, I tried to delay the action of putting a date in until the meaning of baptism and what it means to be a Christian had been well discussed. Sometimes I used a short video, such as one of the Christianity Explored courses as part of the meeting. If they were not already members of our church, I would encourage them to come along a few times before the baptism service.

Over my time in Plymouth, most non-church couples who came for baptism were not seen much in church after the baptism itself (although, undoubtedly, good relations had been built up). In one case, the family became regular members of the church and I ended up baptising the mum as well as the children, and both parents got confirmed too. They became full and active followers of Jesus! I get goose pimples even thinking about them! With one other family, the mum said she would come regularly when the baby was older, and, to my surprise, when the baby turned two, she started coming almost every week.

Here, however, we do not yet have a worshipping community in that sense. We are due to start monthly worship in our home from May. So if we are to be in keeping with my usual policy, the options for baptism are more limited. First, they could have the baptism in one of our services on a Sunday afternoon. The advantages to this are that is it cosy and welcoming, the disadvantage is that it might seem to them like they were intruding on our small and intimate service in our home. Also the number of guests would have to be limited, and, depending on the number of enquiries we get, we could end up doing a baptism every time we meet. The other option is to ask another local church whether I could borrow one of their services and do it there. Yes, it would be a worshipping community, but not our worshipping community. (And anyhow, the local Anglican churches tend to have baptisms outside of their regular services as often the numbers of guests would more than fill their churches.) Neither option is ideal.

Perhaps it is time to adjust that policy, given that we are only meeting once a month. But what do we change it to? In my role, I am not the vicar of a parish church with a building, but the community vicar of a new-build area as well as leader of a new church. Our values as a church are community and Jesus centred. Our aim is to be welcoming, hospitable, fun and relevant, a blessing to others as well as Jesus-centred.

What would a baptism service look like in this community with these values? In sticking to these values, perhaps at this stage the connection and welcome to the family is more important than having the ritual in a service of worship.

What do you think? How can we, as a church community, introduce the baptism family to our church? How can we prepare the families for the commitments they will be making as a community? Would this enact more of the values we are trying to show than my usual preparation methods?

I’d value your thoughts.

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11 Responses to What does baptism look like in a new community?

  1. Colin Cooke says:

    Andrew I think that maybe asking the parents to confirm their faith in Christ before the baptism takes place seems like a great idea. Asking them to come to do the Christianity Explored course would help with this, it certainly worked in our case. Have you thought about doing an open-air service (weather permitting) now that we are going into summer.

    • tallandrew says:

      Hi Colin. Certainly a good opportunity to investigate faith is one of the essentials! Baptising Tracy and your kids was one of the highlights of my time in Plymouth!

      • Colin Cooke says:

        You were a great curate. Many thanks for your help in getting our journey started. Congratulations on the birth of Anna. Hope both Sarah and Anna are doing well.

  2. Hi Andrew
    I have very similar issues as we have started an ultra informal tea-time service which is attracting newcomers. The others services are alien to them – a foreign country. If you had a meeting place with room then that might be an answer but I can see that in the very intimate gathering space of your house this would risk people feeling like intruders – it might also feel a bit weird! What about waiting for some good weather and holding a baptism outside (paddling pool?) with a shared tea afterwards? I guess cell churches (for whom ‘church’ is their cell) still have to meet occasionally as a corporate body in some larger meeting place. Is this something that you will transition to?
    The other thing is the liturgy that I find totally inappropriate to the unchurched. The parents get prepared (and I attempt explain what being clothed with Christ means!) but when we have 150 guests who have never set foot in a church before I feel something is ‘lost in translation’!

    • tallandrew says:

      Yes, I have always found the liturgy a problem, even in the more traditional church atmosphere of my previous post. I was planning on completely disregarding the traditional baptism liturgy and finding something else. Shhh… Don’t tell anyone.
      An outside event sounds like a good idea. We do have a gazebo! I’ll give that some thought.

  3. Ailyn says:

    Ask the parents what they think. They may have some very good ideas! Could it not be at a venue of their choice with an open invite to your congregation to support and witness.

  4. revpamsmith says:

    I think the essence of pioneering is to find theologically coherent ways of approaching things from a new angle, so finding an appropriate way of doing baptisms sounds like a good place to start.

    If loads of people are interested in baptism, then maybe this is telling you something about what local needs are and the sort of direction you need to be going in?

    It strikes me that you can be quite flexible about how you deal with this particular request without setting a precedent for all future baptisms.

    Baptising into an existing Christian community is quite important but in practice the links between baptism families and the church community in a trad parish can be very tenuous and end up with, at best, families attending two or three times a year in response to specific invitations.

    Maybe the concept of ‘a Christian communty’ needs to be revisited. Can you provide a small ‘community’ of Christians who will commit to a relationship with the baptised person?

    it all sounds very exciting anyway, and whatever you do I’m sure God will be there!

  5. Andy says:

    Hey Andrew- its a good problem to have… those people just ringing you up to talk about God in some way… i ended up writing my pre-ordination dissertation on this kind of thing- its a few years old and nothing amazing, but the appendix bit is about how to work out baptism within the context of the values of a surfer church…the ideas might be helpful for you…or then again they might just make you laugh… you can download it at the Fresh Expressions website: http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/research

    will be praying for you.

  6. I wonder whether this is something that needs to be done in the public arena of the wider community. The ekklesia would be your home church, spilling out onto the streets, perhaps (though not necessarily) in the context of a street party. The family themselves might have some ideas about how such a party for their family and friends could be expanded by the church’s help, and might even design their own liturgy. That would be really cool…

  7. Beth Honey says:

    Hi Andrew, We have young families congregation that has a life of its own from other services, and we began getting requests for baptism within this community. We did develop the litrugy in line with the worship in that particular worshipipng community, i.e. engaging 3 year olds and their parents. This congregation only meets monthly too, so we have limited the baptisms to twice a year, with extended time for preparation. The community have accepted this very well, and they are great occasions – baptism, Bible teaching, singing, party feel all in half an hour! Glad to hear things are going well. Beth

    • tallandrew says:

      Hi Beth. That sounds great and it might be something we move towards when our monthly gatherings are more established and in a larger venue. At the moment we have decided to offer the baptism service when and where the couple want it. This leaves us with the questions of how we live out our values in the baptism prep and how to bring the couple into interaction with the existing church community. They will certainly be invited to our monthly gatherings. In addition, to exercise the value of hospitality, each couple will be invited for lunch with us one weekend.

      And for the prep and to enable the church community to come into contact with the couple, we are going to hold a morning for all the couples to come together and discuss the meaning behind baptism and the promises they will make. Some members of our church will be around to talk about what they have done to give their kids Christian upbringing. I’m going to update the liturgy where I can (in one of the cases the church where I’m doing the service insists on using the ‘proper’ Common Worship liturgy!).

      Hopefully all this will build up relationships between us and the couples concerned!

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