By Joan Huyser-Honig
As Christian Reformed congregations reclaim the importance of baptism, they’re making the sacrament multisensory and helping worshipers “live into” their baptisms.
The desire to make baptism memorable can result in families hiring a photographer, choosing schmaltzy music, and catering a brunch.
“We want to affirm a family’s desire to make it special but keep baptism communal and liturgical,” says pastor Marc Nelesen, who introduced several ideas that Third Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan, continued after he accepted a call elsewhere.
Created elements express God’s saving power
Like churches in many times and places, Third CRC focuses in baptisms on created elements that express God’s saving power.
“Family members carry in the water and pour it in the font. There’s lots of water and lots of sound. We give each family a baptismal candle that they can light at home on baptism anniversaries,” says Valerie Snoeyink, Third CRC worship coordinator.
The congregation has used homemade baptismal bulletin covers, baptism liturgies, banners, a dove on the sanctuary cross, and liturgical dance to mark baptism. “On baptismal Sundays, I wore a dove necklace and baptismal stole. At the end of the service, I’d stand at the font, put my hands in the water, and raise them dripping to give the blessing,” Nelesen recalls.
At Fellowship CRC in Edmonton, Alberta, families receive a pottery bowl at their first child’s baptism. They use the same bowl for subsequent baptisms. Other congregations give bibs, prints, or a copy of baptismal vows suitable for framing. Some churches sew white robes for baptism candidates of all ages.
Many congregations sing songs about the multiple meanings of baptism, such as “Come to the Water,” “Sing! A New Creation,” and “I Know the Lord Laid His Hands on Me.” The Hymnary links to dozens of baptism songs
Remember your baptism
Third CRC in Zeeland, Michigan is among congregations that list baptism anniversaries in the church bulletin. Some pastors pray by name for or with listed people.
At Bethany CRC in Muskegon, Michigan, the font, communion table, and lectern are usually up front on a platform. “We occasionally move the furniture for a liturgical dance or visual project,” explains Gail Hall, worship committee chair. They needed more space to celebrate Lent so moved the font to the foyer from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.
A sign on the font read: “You are not your own; you have been marked out as belonging to God. You have been cleansed from your sin. You have been identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus. You belong to the multigenerational, multicultural family of God. Pause at the baptismal font. Feel free to touch it. Dip your fingers into the water, as we remember that baptism marks the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage toward our heavenly destination."
Hall says that other than an “elderly saint” who criticized the sign as “too Catholic,” few members said much. However, as the pastor returned to baptism in several Lenten sermons, “appreciation began to grow. I was teaching an adult ed class at the same time based on a worship book by Ron Rienstra. Several chapters mention that we all enter the church ‘wet.’ ”
Thanks to the class, sermons, and temporary font location, reactions to using font water to remember baptism “grew over time from lukewarm to overwhelmingly positive,” Hall says.
Many congregations invite members to the font during “remember your baptism” services, often on Baptism of the Lord Sunday in Epiphany. Ron Rienstra’s Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship includes a reaffirmation of baptism liturgy that can be adapted for a baptism service.