Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Getting Wet

Do any of you older and wiser and more experienced pastors have any advice to give a newbie on how to go about a pre-baptismal meeting? In your experience, what has been the line for pastoral concern vs. baptism as a act of worship in community, especially when it comes to issues of public/private baptism?

On a more basic level, what are the things you tend to cover when you schedule an appointment for folks to come in and talk about baptizing thier child? Materials/handouts you have available? Going over the liturgy and what it means?


Michael said...

I would hardly consider myself "wise" on any level especially as it pertains to baptism, but I will offer my 2 cents and hope it will help you on some level.

First and foremost, there should be no such thing as a "private" baptism because of what I consider to be the required, active participation of the congregation. For the parents and/or sponsors, an entire congregation is standing with them in making a covenant to the Lord to nurture the child (or new, adult believer) in the faith. It is, in my opinion, a solemn vow we make to the Lord Himself. I make sure this is understood by all the congregation before we move into the baptism itself.

As a local pastor who has served a lot of rural churches, I've had to get past those who believe only in the so-called "believer" baptism (one able to speak for oneself, like the Baptists do) by helping them to understand the fallacy of such a literal reading of Acts and the Gospels by helping them to understand the nature of whole households being baptized as a result of the head of that household coming to Christ and making the decision for those in his charge, truly taking responsibility for those for whom he is responsible. It's not unlike the Abrahamic covenant of the circumcision when a male child was to be circumcized at the age of 8 days. There was no "profession of faith" by the child, but there was certainly a profession of faith and obedience by the parents. I believe in that particular practice and tradition when it comes to baptism.

What has worked best for me, though, is to listen to those coming forward and help them to think through their own thoughts and ideas. It will help them to embrace the spiritual reality on their own accord rather than in yours.

I hope this helps.

Mark said...


I am a UM evangelist and have been out of the local church pastorate for a while. There is a good Q & A on baptism on a GBOD site that you can find here:

This will answer most of the questions that parents would ask about the UM understanding of baptism.

Melissa said...

Michael and Mark,

Thanks for your pointers here.

I too believe that public baptism is what the United Methodist tradition puts forward, but are there occasions (other than "emergency" situations) where a private baptism would be seen as appropriate? I'm thinking of a situation where someone might be on the periphery of a faith community for good reason, or there are other issues that would make someone hesitant about a public baptism during worship.

Anonymous said...


I'd be hesitant to have a private baptism for any reason other than emergency. But that does not mean all baptisms must take place in the context of a full worship service.

Baptism is a grafting to the body of Christ. You can't do this without the body there. But the body of Christ can gather in settings other than a full worshp - althought I'd still be wary of intentionally avoiding worship.

Baptism is a way we bring a person from the fringes to the heart of the community. If the person or the congregation is not able to accept that, then there might be some pastoral work to do.

Without specifics, I've probably already wildly over-generalized.

Anonymous said...

Hi, it was nice to talk to Ben the other day.

No private baptisms for me. The baptism doesn't need to be in the church (I'll do them anywhere) but the congregation must be invited (with ample notice) to witness and celebrate with the family or individual.

Here's what I do:

Resources: I use "By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism" ( and "Your Baptismal Liturgy" ( I was introduced to these during seminary and find them helpful. I go through it with the families one on one because I am not doing 100 baptisms a year - YET. I usually require families that have not had a child baptized in the UMC before to meet with me for 4 one hour session. (Adults I approach differently and I am assuming you're talking about babies.)

#1: get to know one another and give them materials, set-up a reading schedule, set-up dates for next meeting and the actual baptism, etc.

#2: go over "By Water and the Spirit" - highlighting the main points and answering questions they might have.

#3: I go through "Your Baptismal Liturgy" and answering any questions.

#4: Do a run through and fine turn at the church. (Kind of like a wedding rehearsal.)

Hope that helps. God bless you and Ben!