Minister: Do you, the people of the Lord, promise to receive this child in love, pray for him, help instruct him in the faith, and encourage and sustain him in the fellowship of believers?
People: We do, God helping us.
Holding her son Brandon who had just been baptized, she paused by the microphone and then began to speak, “26 years ago many of you present this morning made a vow when I was baptized in this very sanctuary. During the years of high school and beyond, I rebelled, turning my back on the Lord and on you. But the Lord would not let go and neither would you. And when I returned home from ‘the far country’, you welcomed me back with grace and with encouragement. Thank you for keeping the vow; now I can’t wait to see how you will keep the vow you just made to our Lord on behalf of Brandon.”
There was not a dry eye in the house.
During the forty years that I’ve been involved in youth ministry, I’ve come to see this simple liturgical act of making a corporate vow at every baptism as the cornerstone of our congregations’ ways of walking with children and teens. And I’ve experienced first-hand the ways in which the Lord’s blessings flow through our commitments.
I remember the father who said, “Last night at dinner we asked our sixteen year old, Christina, what she considered to be the safest place in the world. After pondering for a moment, she replied, ‘it would have to be when we ended our congregational retreat last month by standing in a large circle, holding hands, and singing “Bind us together, Lord.'"
A college freshman told me that when the youth group came to the end of its season the previous spring, the high school seniors realized how much the congregation had loved them from birth through graduation, and they put on a thank you dinner for the congregation out of appreciation for their encouragement and care.
Five teens from our church’s youth group served on a panel at the annual Day of Encouragement (a conference designed to equip clergy and lay leaders for various kinds of ministry). One by one they described how they were encouraged to use their gifts to bless congregational ministry, and how they recognized how worship and other church activities very intentionally engaged them to mature in their walk with the Lord.
In the 1980s, this baptismal vow was first included in CRC liturgies. I remember some folks saying, “I can’t make that vow. That family may move away in three months, I’ll never see that child again, and I would be a hypocrite!”
But gradually we realized that this is a corporate vow that draws us into covenantal commitments, and each of us finds his or her specific callings there. Of course my life will not intersect with every child who is baptized, but as these points of intersection happen in various ministries, in conversations after worship, in shared service opportunities, and simply by being present together for worship, the vow builds space for a shared way of being together as a community being formed in the way of Jesus.
Last week I met Brandon again when I took my turn in the nursery. As I placed him in his mother’s arms after the service, I had to smile. I had just received a delightful opportunity to keep the vow myself, and I was grateful.