Sunday, January 9, 2011
Baptism -- Private or Public
I made the same decision in this parish. Baptisms are normally scheduled for the Divine Service (generally the late service since folks in the baptismal party like to have an extra hour or so to get everything together). There was some flak about it at first and some folks who did not like the extra 8-10 minutes it added on to the liturgy but the folks gradually got used to it.
I have also baptized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and even in the Delivery Room. These are extraordinary situations and most often accompanied by the public blessing of the baptized within the Divine Service. I do not hesitate to do this and this is not in conflict with the ordinary practice of baptizing within the Divine Service.
In our church body, this is a practice which has been all over the page. On vicarage the baptisms were never scheduled for the Divine Service (we had three on Sunday morning, one on Saturday afternoon, and one on Wednesday evening). There are some who have strong feelings about this and any discussion about it can often turn into fighting words. I am not drawing that kind of line in the sand. I just believe that baptism is best a public act, a congregational act, and that it belongs within the Divine Service.
When this cannot happen, then I made ajustments. For example, I have had military dads who are deployed and are back in town for only the week day and have acceded to their request for a baptism outside the Divine Service. I am not an ogre without compassion. I just think that it is best for the people in the pew on Sunday morning to witness the parish baptisms and I find their own sense of themselves as the baptized people of God is strengthened by scheduling the baptismal liturgy within the Divine Service. Finally I believe that the baptismal liturgy is itself a great teaching instrument and that merely by watching and listening, our people are educated in the faith and instructed in one of the most important doctrines of our faith.
In Luther's day public baptisms were rather rare (at least within the Divine Service). Growing up, I did not see very many baptisms and I know men who came to seminary and had only ever seen one or two baptisms in their entire lives. This strikes me as odd. We need to see the invitation of the font extended and the miracle and mystery of its new birth reach out through time and eternity to claim an infant, a child, a youth, or an adult for the Kingdom. This is a good thing, something to be celebrated, and a wonderful occasion to be lived out in the life of the congregation.
Since today is the Baptism of Our Lord, we will have an opportunity to dip our fingers into the font and recall our own baptism into Christ. And we will witness a child received into God's kingdom through that blessed gift of water and the Word (at least at the 10:45 service). All of this a strong and powerful reminder that baptism is a central part of our faith, our piety, and our common life together as Christians...