Friday, November 13, 2009

Preparing Parents for Their Child's Baptism

I spend several hours preparing parents for the baptism of their children. I don't know who taught me to do this but I have maintained this practice from the beginning of my ministry. It is often one of the most rewarding things I do and at the same time frustrating -- depending upon the parents and their own relationship to the Church.

We start by going through Dale Meyer's DVD called Easter Showers. Although old, it has a nice way of bringing up topics that often are difficult to address -- myths about baptism, what to do when parents come from different perspectives on infant baptism, the idea that baptism doesn't do anything for the child because they child is not aware, etc... Then we discuss what the DVD said, as an open door to the particular conversations that go on among differing Christian groups regarding baptism and what Lutherans believe, teach and confess.

Then we go over the Small Catechism (Luther's words here and not the whole section of the Synodical Catechism). How can water do such things? and What does this mean? There is a helpful booklet from CPH that comes with the packets that we buy to keep contact with these parents and their children. It is a great resource and is the primary text for this discussion.

We review the liturgy of baptism (not just where do you stand but what does this liturgy say about baptism and connect to what we believe, teach, and confess). The rite of baptism is itself a great teaching tool.

We talk about the gifts bestowed and their symbolism -- the anointing with oil that references healing of forgiveness and the making of royalty as the brothers and sisters of Christ our Lord... the white napkin that denotes the white robe of Christ's own righteousness which we wear by baptism and how God sees us through this baptismal clothing... the candle that denotes Christ's light passing to us and the analogy of the ten virgins and the need to keep the oil stocked through worship and education and the light burning... the Thrivent baptismal medallion as a signifier of the precious treasure given in baptism (though we do not mention where it comes from), and finally our own baptismal banner to place on the wall of the child's room that every day he may recall "I have called you by name, you are mine..." from Isaiah 43.

We talk about the church landscape of Clarksville, TN -- skewed as it is toward believer's baptism and the questions that other churches may raise and the answers we have to respond as well as the affirmation that believer's baptism is the exception to the rule -- infant baptism being the unbroken practice of the Church from the earliest of days.

We talk about faith (not the Protestant definition of knowledge, understanding and consent but the Biblical definition of trust and how infants trust -- using Matthew and Mark's words from Jesus as the locus for this and not our opinion).

We talk about original sin and actual sin and how both are met in baptism (the Flood Prayer here has a great line to help us address this).

We talk about how you teach the faith to your children. We give out a baptism coloring book that can help the parent initiate a conversation with this tool to help reinforce it. Our Sunday school has a two year old class for both parents and their 2 year old that focuses on teaching the faith to your child. I relate my own experience as a child and my parents praying with me and me praying with my children from their first day home from the hospital. I remind them that if you wait to age 15 to ask to pray with your child they will think you weird but if you have been praying with them from the beginning it is natural and easy even for a teenager to pray with a parent. I talk about modeling forgiveness at home and showing your child how God deals with our failures through forgiveness and restoration and how what they do as parents helps their child to know and see this. We talk about noble intentions and often failed follow through and how God expects from us not great theological discourses with our children but honest faith conversations and how they occur all the time if you are listening and to take advantage of them.

I will meet with two families on Saturday morning (I met with two families last week) and it is a marvelous conversation... except for those who do not want to listen or be part of this wonderful dialog that begins with parents bringing their children to Jesus.

Some of the administrative details of my vocation I would gladly ditch in a minute but these kinds of appointments are rounds that I delight in making. Here you a little glimpse into a Pastor's world and the things that fill those Mondays through Saturdays...


Master of None said...

You should teach a class seminar for pastors and sem students on what you just outlined. It is a good and necessary thing. Well done, Fr. Peters.

Sue said...

That is wonderful - I wish all pastors did that. Even raised in the church, I did not get that much teaching from the ground up, nor did I do as I now think I should have with my own sons.