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Kids in Church for Baptisms

July 22, 2010

Baptism services are a wonderful opportunity to involve children in liturgy – both the children of parishioners and the children of guests.  For the past two years, I have watched the Rev’d Gwenda Wells, priest-in-charge at St. Barnabas Anglican Church in St. Lambert, Quebec, take advantage of this opportunity in some wonderful ways.  She has given me permission to share her not-so-secret secrets here.

The first rule is the same as for all services – invite kids to come and see what’s going on.  Then, once they’re there, take a moment to identify what everything is.  This needn’t take long and could be done at each moment rather than all at once.  It could go something like this:

This is the font.  We are going to fill it with this clean, fresh water to pour over candidate’s head when we baptize him/her.  The water is a sign that his/her sins are all gone and that he/she has a new life as a child of God.  This is the oil I will put on his/her forehead after he/she is baptized.  It’s a sign that God has chosen him/her to be in God’s family.  This is the candle we will give him/her.  It’s a sign that he/she now has the light of Jesus and has to share it with the rest of the world.

Children can also be given tasks.  Gwenda asks a child to help her pour the water into the font and to hand the lit candle to the baptized person/their parents.  Gwenda also invites the baptized person’s parents/sponsors/family members and any children present to make the sign of the cross on the newly baptized’s head after she anoints him/her.  Finally, the children are particularly included in the call to welcome the newly baptized person and in the invitation to exchange a sign of peace with the rest of the congregation.

Especially when the person being baptized is a child, including other children in the service is powerful for everyone present.  There is something very beautiful about children supporting the baptisms of their peers.  (Although there is, of course, no reason to limit such involvement to children’s baptisms.)

I have witnessed this power not only as a member of the congregation or liturgical team but also as a mother.  My son was not quite two when he was first asked to help give a lit candle to the parents of a newly baptized baby and, one year later, he still talks about it and is excited to be present at baptisms even without a job to do.  We have also been able to use that experience to talk to him about his own baptism and he is very proud of his own baptismal candle.  Does he understand all the theological ramifications of a baptism?  Of course not.  But he does understand that there is something special about baptisms and that he is included in whatever that specialness is- as a baptized person and as a member of the church family.

If I could write a Sunday School lesson that conveyed that understanding, I would count it a great success.  Many thanks, Gwenda!

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