Baptism: all age and all stage

  • Ask yourself about the life of the church outside the baptism service: how does your church ‘welcome and uphold’ children and their families? Is there more you need to do in order to keep the People of God’s promise in the baptism service which will then help the parents and godparents keep theirs?
  • Always ask yourself about liturgy: “What does this look like in real life?” In other words, how will the words on the page and the actions relate to the life experience, expectations, hopes and intentions of the congregation? Different age groups and people at different stages of faith will have different experiences to which the service might relate – how can you try and make sure that everyone who is at the service experience something that engages them and has a lasting impact?
  • Involve people as much as possible in the liturgy – design your order of service so that it’s clear when everyone should be making the response, use visual cues to help people navigate their way through the service sheet, find useful things for children to do (such as pouring the water into the font, holding the shell and the towel (if you use them) etc.
  • Use movement if you can – start the service at the front of the
    church and move to the font for the baptism.
  • Use big gestures, lots of oil, lots of water… make the service feel as multisensory and generous as you can.
  • If there are older siblings who are already baptised, encourage them to bring their own baptism candle and have it re-lit at the service.
  • Try to connect the baby’s baptism with the baptismal identity of the congregation – you can do this during the talk, and also sprinkle the congregation with water from the font after the child has been
    baptised.
  • Try to find points of connection between the liturgy (as an expression of the church’s expectations) and the family’s expectations and willingness to engage. Prayer is a good one – invite the parents to write a prayer for their child to be used in the service, and include their prayer and a photo of the child in a frame which is presented to them at the end of the service.
  • If you have the resources, how about printing off enough copies of the prayer-and-photo to give a copy to everyone in the congregation as a way of inviting them to pray for the child? With the parents’ permission, a copy could also be kept by the church.
  • Why not get the whole congregation to contribute towards something during the service? Perhaps hand out pens and small pieces of coloured paper to everyone and ask them to write a simple blessing on it – you could use a template such as the one on the right, with the child’s name and the start of the sentence pre-printed. These could be collected in and stuck into a small scrapbook or similar and presented to the family (rather like some families
    do at funerals to keep a record of who came and their messages of condolence!).  Younger children could be encouraged to draw a picture on their paper or have their hand drawn round and name written in it if they can’t write yet themselves.
  • Use all-age welcomers at baptism services – could a family from the regular congregation be there at the door to greet families and their guests? This would be a reassuring sign that the church is child-friendly, and that they are welcome as they are, and can enable baptism families who don’t usually come to church to get to know families who come regularly. Children who act as welcomers
    can also help with other aspects of the service, such as leading prayers, reading readings, lighting the paschal candle, etc.
  • Make sure people have something to take away – a prayer card, or some object to remind them of the experience and any pledges they may have made, etc. I know one priest who buys up baby socks from
    charity shops, uses them during the talk as a visual aid, and then gives everyone one to take home at the end as a reminder.

Parents may also appreciate something their children can do ‘in the pew’ with them.  To that end, here are two downloadable booklets that you may wish to use – they can be photocopied and given out to children along with a pack of crayons.

Baptism Colouring Book
Download it as a .pdf document here: Baptism colouring book
This is something that younger children can do on their own, and uses colouring pictures to illustrate the baptism service – in our church we use the same images (smaller) to illustrate our order of service so that even if parents aren’t that great at engaging their children with the service, at least they can match up what they’re doing with what they’re children are doing…
Print this out 2 pages per sheet, in the order 12,1,2,11,10,3,4,9,8,5,6,7 then copy it back to back to make a booklet.  Or your printer may have a clever printer that will do booklets for you!

Baptism activity workbook for children
Download it as a pdf here:  Baptism workbook
This is based on the same illustrations as the colouring book, but has more questions, and is either for older children to do on their own or for younger children whose parents are willing to engage with them.  My 6-year-old is a good reader and can do it on his own, but I’d be interested to hear about how you end up using it in your own church, and what age group finds it most helpful.
It is for use during or just before a baptism service:
Print this out 2 pages per sheet, in the order 12,1,2,11,10,3,4,9,8,5,6,7 then copy it back to back to make a booklet.  Or your printer may have a clever printer that will do booklets for you!

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