Baptism is one of the two sacraments recognized by the United Church of Christ. The other is Communion or the Lord’s Supper. A sacrament is a means of grace by which God touches and blesses the life of a human being in a tangible way. Baptism is itself a kind of communion: it’s the way that an individual becomes a covenanted member of the body of Christ and of a church family.
In the Lord’s Supper, the bread and cup are the physical elements that bring us awareness of God’s presence. In baptism, the tangible ‘stuff’ is water.
Water is essential for life. In creation, God separated and gathered waters. Noah and his family survived the waters of a great flood by God’s grace. Moving through water often represents a new beginning, such as when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea to escape slavery and the Jordan River as they entered the promised land. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan, and Jesus commanded his followers to baptize others in his name.
In the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the candidate is asked questions about renouncing sin and evil and about desiring to be in relationship with God and with other Christians in order to grow in faith. When a candidate is too young to answer these questions, parents or guardians and godparents or sponsors (if any) will answer on his or her behalf. These persons will also be asked to promise that they will help nurture the child so that one day, the candidate may be led to confirm those vows himself or herself.
The congregation covenants to participate in the life of a newly baptized person by offering prayer, fellowship, and encouragement as we grow together in faith.
Baptism is a rite of incorporation into a Christian community, so it’s important that the community be present. Unless there is an extraordinary circumstance, baptism will take place during a regularly scheduled worship service.
Baptism is celebrated at the mutual convenience of the candidate’s family and the church. The first step is to contact the pastor so the date can be arranged. The pastor will meet with baptismal candidates and their families at least one week prior to the baptism to discuss the sacrament in more detail, to answer questions, and to make sure all the paperwork is correct.
A word about godparents or sponsors: this important role has the potential to build a wonderful relationship between a child and a caring adult willing and eager to share the journey of faith with that child. Godparent/sponsor is an interchangeable designation. There can be one sponsor or several, but most often there are two. A sponsor or godparent should be present at the baptism.
It’s an honor and a privilege to be a child’s godparent or sponsor. It is not, however, a legal designation and does not convey guardianship. Those wishing to ensure that if something happens to them, a particular person or persons are granted guardianship of a minor child must make a legal arrangement to do so in consultation with an attorney.