This is the first in a new series of articles that I’m writing for my church newsletter.
Several members of Grace have asked me how I go about doing baptisms, funerals, communion, and other areas of ministry. These are important questions, and different pastors go about their ministry in different ways. In this new Pastor’s Approach column, I will explore a different issue each month, sharing how I go about different aspects of the ministry. What I write here is not absolute, fixed, or non-negotiable, but simply an outline of how I approach my ministry. I hope this column is a conversation-starter on important topics in our shared life of faith here at Grace.
Before we get to baptism, the topic of this month’s column, let me write this: I understand church rites and blessings to be acts of faith for people of faith. What we do in the church is intended to nurture the believer in faith, shape our life as a congregation according to the way of the cross, and lead us to act faithfully as bearers of Good News for all people. Our church rites and blessings are deeply personal and rooted in our shared faith, yet they have an impact on our wholes lives and on the life of the whole world, too.
WHAT HAPPENS IN BAPTISM? In baptism God joins us to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). Baptism is a promise of resurrection and eternal life, an assurance that sin, death, and the Devil will not have ultimate power over us. Joined in baptism to Christ, we are made members of the Christian Church (the newly baptized are also made members of Grace Lutheran Church and added in our parish record).
IS BAPTISM HOCUS POCUS? Baptism is not magic. It is not a spell to keep children from eternal damnation. Rather, baptism is a unique proclamation and bestowal of God’s promises, promises that stay with the baptized and from which the baptized can take comfort throughout their entire life. Yet, we do not understand the absence of baptism to be the absence of God’s promises in one’s life. Scripture testifies that God works in and through all kinds of people. Through baptism the church does not presume to control or limit God’s activity. Baptism is a special and unique way through which God works, one which we Christians should take seriously. Yet, we know that God is at work in ways we do not understand, and we are confident of God’s love for all people, baptized or not.
GRANDPARENTS: I often get questions from grandparents asking about baptism for their grandchild, especially when the child’s parents are not church goers. This can create sorrow for Christian grandparents. Please talk with me if you have this concern. I want all such grandparents to be assured that their grandchild is loved by God, who knew them in the womb before they were even born (Jeremiah 1:5), and in whose image they were made (Genesis 1:27).
WHERE DO WE BAPTIZE? Because in baptism we are joined to the body of Christ, baptisms generally take place during worship. In emergency medical situations, or other situations where attending a service is impossible, baptisms can take place apart from worship. Such baptisms are generally later announced and affirmed in the congregation at a later date.
PREPARATION: Baptism involves death and resurrection, sin and forgiveness, and incorporation into the body of Christ. Baptism is not to be taken lightly. In the early church preparation for baptism was a several year process. While we no longer do such an elaborate process, preparation for baptism is important. I generally meet with families for two to three sessions prior to baptism to review what the church teaches about baptism, to inquire as to whether the individual (or their parents) are able to make certain promises about the Christian life (promises that are in the baptismal rite), and to encourage the candidate (or their parents) in faith filled practices for Christian living.
SCHEDULING: Baptisms need to be scheduled in conversation with the church. Not every church service is appropriate for a baptism, either from a church-season perspective or from a logistical perspective. And given the need for baptismal preparation sessions, baptisms generally need at least 6-8 weeks to schedule.
I understand that my approach to ministry might be slightly different than that of other pastors who have served here. Please come speak with me if you have any questions about baptism or any other aspect of our ministry together. For we have been called by God to be the Body of Christ in this world, working in faith, hope, and love to proclaim God’s Word and share God’s love with all the world.