We come for baptism (or bring our child for baptism) in order to begin a lifelong, loving, unifying and restoring relationship with God. In baptism the adult or child is “soaked” in the life of Jesus. He or she disappears under the surface of God’s love (to use Archbishop Rowan Williams’ turn of phrase) and is brought up into new life by being given a new relationship with God and each other. Sometimes baptism is called the sacrament of constant union. Baptized people understand that God is never elsewhere than right where we are.
The youngest person we have baptized was hours old, the oldest was an eighty one-year-old woman whose observation afterwards was: “I finally feel like I belong.”
Baptism makes us one with Jesus in the same way that a branch is one with a tree. As the branch draws water and nourishment up through the trunk of a tree, so we draw our strength and healing from the love of Jesus. A tree never has just one branch, but many. In the same way, baptism brings us into relationship with all the other people in the Body of Christ.
Baptism bestows upon the new Christian the forgiveness of sin. This says as much about God as it does about us. Ours is a forgiving God, so the first thing God does when we encounter God at baptism is to forgive because that’s just the way God is. As adults we come to realize that life without God is missing some essential ingredient. Baptism gives us the process, when we become separated from God (which is what we call sin), to “repent and return to the Lord.” God’s compassion and reconciliation restore us to wholeness and strength. Forgiveness also creates trustworthy relationships. It is part of the glue that holds community together. Without forgiveness we would splinter apart. The church is a mutually forgiving community.
Baptism is being received into the household of God. So it is important to have the “household” present. Baptisms are most often held during Sunday worship. This also reminds the congregation of their own baptismal vows. The language of baptism is “performative.” We tell each other what we will do. The baptized say they will grow in the Christian faith and life in the community of the church that is the Body of Christ. The church says to the baptized that it will support them in their life in Christ.
For baptism please call the church office. In emergency, clergy will respond day or night. For planning a baptism, clergy like to visit with the family ahead of time to record information, go over the worship and answer any questions there might be. Scheduling a baptism can be whenever family and friends can be present. The church does not celebrate baptisms during Lent. The Great Vigil of Easter (right after Lent) is a wonderful time for baptism as are the day of Pentecost, the Sunday after All Saints’ Day and on the First Sunday after the Epiphany when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.
The church expects that young people (9th grade or older) and adults, when they are ready and have been prepared, will make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to their Christian responsibilities, with the laying on of hands by the bishop who represents the diocese and the world-wide Church. Pastorally, it means that every Episcopalian comes into personal contact with the bishop who promotes the unity of the whole church.
Preparation of young people consists of a series of classes that reflect the teaching of the catechism in the Prayer Book pp. 845-862. Young people are mentored in their preparation by adults in the parish who guide, pray and care for them. Adults meet in preparation with the rector.
Confirmation is the renewal of what was promised at baptism. The baptismal relationship with God and others is life-long. Confirmation is an empowering for that life journey of living more and more fully into the baptism promises to turn from evil, turn toward Jesus and follow him as Lord. The Navajo have a word for confirmation which when translated into English means: “May that which stands within you be made strong.” Confirmation is this strengthening in the Spirit. The life of each person confirmed is to grow increasingly conspicuous for its spirit, love, unity, forgiveness and joy.
If one has already been confirmed by a church in the catholic tradition (Orthodox, Roman, Lutheran, Moravian) that confirmation is recognized and the person is instead received into the Episcopal Church. There is no demand that former allegiances should be renounced or denied. The bishop brings the person from one communion into the Anglican or Episcopal communion.
Additionally, a member (already confirmed or received) may reaffirm their faith in the presence of the bishop when they feel the need for the power of the Spirit at a time of particular significance in their lives. Or perhaps they have had a reawakening of faith and wish to signify that before the bishop. In this case the bishop prays, “may the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you in the service of Christ and his kingdom.”
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