To bless or baptize

November 22, 2011

I was baptized on Palm Sunday in 1981. I wasn't yet a year old. That's how it was done in my childhood church; the sacrament was administered to adorable babies and confirmed by awkward 13-year-olds. To be honest, neither occasion was especially meaningful to me. I don't remember the baptism, and in my confirmation class I was more interested in learning about the boys present than about the stories of Jesus.

As an adult, I joined and was later ordained to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination that practices believer's baptism by immersion. At first I was relieved that my infant baptism meant that I didn't have to succumb to the rather inconvenient ritual of getting completely soaked during a Sunday worship service. But as I prepared to do my first baptism, I realized that I was a bit wistful that I hadn't been immersed myself. I have only immersed one teenage girl in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and without a doubt, it was one of the coolest experiences of my life.

I settled my longing by reassuring myself that at least my children could be dunked. Possibly even by me--though when the time came to bless my older daughter, I found myself wanting to be just the mama, recruiting my best friend (a baby-baptizing Methodist) to do the honors.

But there's a twist. I'm currently serving in a congregation of Disciples' sister denomination, the United Church of Christ--which baptizes infants. Though I miss the extraordinary symbolism of a full baptistry, I have no serious theological qualms with infant baptism. I left watery thumbprints on the foreheads of several newborns during my first year of ministry in this place.

The plan is to be here for a good long while. So what to do about our children? Do we request a baby blessing for little Genevieve, so her welcome matches her sister's? Or do we do as the Congregationalists do and have both girls baptized? Not having grown up in a context where adult baptism is normative, I have this feeling that they might have a hard time accepting immersion as anything other than this weird thing their preacher mother inexplicably wants them to do.

We're leaning toward baptizing our daughters. Perhaps we'll even schedule the sacrament for Palm Sunday. Neither aesthetics nor theology sway the decision. Both ways are beautiful, and both ways--to borrow a quip of William Willimon's--"work." What it comes down to is the matter of community. While I fully intend to maintain my ties with the Disciples of Christ, it is not the tradition in which my children will be raised. Their local congregation--the community of people who will enter a covenant to love them and pray for them and, in so many words, be their church--baptizes babies. Who am I to withhold the fullness of the welcome offered to them in this place?

They will not remember the feel of the water on their heads and the sense of its eternal significance. But neither will they remember a time when they were not full members of the body of Christ, when their lives were not the subject of a sacred covenant. I can handle a tradeoff in which, no matter what you give up, you receive grace upon grace. I may even baptize them myself, so that their preacher mother remembers the feel of the water on their heads and is humbled by its eternal significance.



We had our oldest blessed and haven't even done that yet with the little ones. As pastor's kids they grow up in our UCC congregation anyway. They will eventually stick with it or run away. They are blessed by God anyway, regardless of what we as a church do to them. If they think it good do affirm their relationship with God they can later on call that confirmation, Baptism or reaffirmation of Baptism. Rites don't matter. Relationships in the congregation do. Help them grow up in the church. Water does not do anything.

Living the life is what counts

Agreeing with the previous comment, it is long past time when we should have stopped caring about these kinds of details.  What matters is the relationships in the congregation, and living a godly life.

Sowing confusion

This article serves little purpose but to draw the reader into the author's own confusion over the meaning and importance of the sacrament of Baptism. Could Baptism be more than just a quaint custom practiced differently by different churches, without any of them knowing why?


As the Apostle Paul wrote, there is "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:5).  Do you remember how hard he (and the other Apostles) had to work to remind each congregation of Christ's teachings so they did not wander?

Ask yourself these questions - Why was Jesus baptized as an adult? Why was it done in a river if all that was necessary was to sprinkle some water? Why did he go to John to be baptized?

He beckoned for us to follow Him.  True baptism involves accountability, immersion (as a symbol of spritual renewal), and the proper God-given authority.

The truth is in the scriptures, but you can only learn for yourself by spiritual guidance.  As the scriptures were given by revelation, so they must be received.  Yes, it matters.  No one is better than anyone else in this life and our Heavenly Father loves us enough to have provided the way back to Him.  See or

Beautifuly Written

Having been raised in the Lutheran church and baptized as an infant, I had to be baptized again, when I joined a evangelical megachurch in the Chicagoland area.  It felt a bit odd even though they explained it in their own way. Yet it was beautiful as well.  I love the way you've responded to it here.  It reminds me of the way Pastor Stuart Briscoe taught about baptism when I lived in the Milwaukee area.  I've been to many churches and seen the sacrement celebrated in many ways. Thank you for your article!

Baptisms the Greek Orthodox Way

Of course I don't remember being baptised as this was done before I was 1 yr. old. But I have attended Greek Orthodox baptisms and I feel the baby being dunked vs. having the forehead annointed is more of a religious "visual", to me at least anyway. Also I liked how both boys and girls being baptized wore their baptism gowns AFTER the baptism was done.