Prayers for a baby at their baptism

Praying at Christenings – two ideas to involve the family and friends.

Christenings – whether they are in the main church services or separately – always involve a time of prayer for the child, and for their parents and godparents. Many people aren’t sure what sort of thing should be included in a prayer, especially if they don’t pray regularly themselves, but one thing that everyone has in common when they come to a christening is that they are part of a gathering in which there is a huge amount of goodwill focused on one person: the child who is being christened. There is often talk of christening being the start of a journey, so people will also be thinking about the future, and the potential of the child in their midst – the kind of person they will grow up to be, the kind of world they will grow up living in, and the life they will lead.

Here are two ways to harness this goodwill and these hopes, fears, and dreams, into prayer that can be part of the christening service itself, and have a lasting and wider impact afterwards.

A Parents’ Prayer

When you visit the family, don’t be afraid to talk about prayer – try and make connections between the promise to pray that they will make in the service and the hopes and dreams and thanksgivings and fears that all new (and not-so-new) parents have when they think about their children.  Invite the parents to work together to come up with either a fully-worked out prayer, or some key words or phrases that you can help them fashion into a prayer.

These prompts may be helpful:

When I think about…. [name of child]
I am thankful for……..
I hope for………..
I worry about………
I desire more than anything…………

Baptism personal prayer for websiteAlso ask the parents to send you a photo of their child.  Once the prayer is finalised, use it, together with the photograph, the name of the child, and the date and place of the baptism, make it look attractive, and put it in a frame (about A6 size works well) so that you can present it to them on the day. Many families will keep this as a treasured possession, display it in their home, and even ask for more copies to send to godparents and grandparents.

  • If you save it as a jpeg and email it to the parents they can share it on social media.
  • You could also use it on a baptism anniversary card
  • How about printing out enough copies on paper (without the frame!) for the family and friends who have come to the christening?
  • If you get a chance to meet the godparents in advance of the service, you could invite them to write a prayer too.
  • You can use prayers written by parents or godparents in the christening itself – they may wish to read them out, or they may prefer the vicar to do it!

A Friends’ Prayer

At a christening there may be dozens of others, not just godparents, but wider family, friends and neighbours, who all have one thing in common: they have come to church to celebrate the life of a child, to be part of something, and to wish that child well.  This goodwill and presence is an immense gift.  How can it be ‘harnessed’ and enfolded prayerfully both in the service and beyond?

Here are a couple of ways you could enable all those who come to a christening to be involved, to contribute their own prayers and hopes:

  • stick a post-it note onto each order of service, and leave pencils in the pews, and invite people (at some point in the service) to write just one word on their post it note, expressing their prayer or hope for the child being baptised. You can ask them to leave their post-it note on the service sheet, and peel them off after the service, or you could gather them in at some point during the liturgy. If your church is well resourced you might even be able to afford ‘posh’ post-it notes (a nice colour, an interesting and appropriate shape etc).
  • Have a graffiti board as people come in (or as they go out, or both) inviting one-word hopes and prayers.

You may get multiple copies of ‘peace’ ‘love’ ‘friends’ ‘happiness’ ‘laughter’ etc, and that’s ok.  People don’t have to write something different from everyone else, they should be encouraged to write whatever feels most important. They can write several contributions if they like – but each should be one word long.

Baptism tag cloud - doveHowever you collect the words, it’s what you do with them after the service that makes this into something beautiful.  Go to or a similar site and type in the words (include each word as many times as it was contributed – if 25 people all wrote ‘love’ then type it in 25 times!), then simply click to create a beautiful piece of word-art that is a prayer for the child written collectively by the whole gathering on the day.  On most tag-cloud creation sites you can configure colours, shapes, fonts etc.

  • If you save it as a jpeg, you can email it to the family and invite them to share it on social media or email it round to their friends who came on the day.
  • The illustration above is just a sample – when creating this for a real child, you could also type in their name (multiple times) so that it is featured in the finished piece of word art, to make it even more personal.
  • Again, you could keep the jpeg and send it to the family for the anniversary of the baptism, and encourage them to share it on social media.
  • The tag clouds don’t include photos, so an album of them could be kept in church without anyone having to worry about the child protection issues around keeping or displaying photographs of children.

Because these ideas involve computers and websites, it may be that you know a teenager who would like to make them for you, as their ministry….  They may have more ideas about how to create something beautiful as a lasting and net-share-able gift for those who come to church for baptism.

Letter from America (1)

I think we experienced a pretty broad range of church today.

This morning we were at St Mark’s, the church we have made our home while we are here in Columbus.  God was there in the serenity of the building, the echo of the music, in the depth and unfussiness of the liturgy, and in the warmth of the people.  This morning was more special than usual because Joanna and Daniel sang in a robed choir for the first time (and in parts, too!).  I had a proud parent moment at how grown up they are getting (even though Daniel looked tiny in his cassock!).  I saw them take their place as ministers not just as children but as musicians and worship leaders, and I rejoiced at how their music brought heaven and earth closer. 

Then this afternoon we went to our neighbours’ garden to witness their teenage daughter baptise one of her friends in the swimming pool, alongside five other baptism candidates from their church, each of whom had chosen who would baptise them – often the people who had been most instrumental in bringing them to faith. It was an occasion full of joy, completely informal, completely humane, and completely full of God. 

I was moved by both events: I saw my own children take a step in their journey of life and faith this morning, and then as I heard the testimonies this afternoon I found myself hoping that my children will grow up to speak and sing of God and life so fearlessly and with such love.  The words and gestures that we use and the ways that we express our faith are so richly diverse, yet it is the same love, the same life, the same grace that animates all praise. 

Baptism activity workbook for children

Following on from an online conversation with some lovely clergy mummies, here’s the first draft of a ‘baptism activity workbook’ that could be used to help engage older children with what’s happening in a baptism service. All comments and feedback are very welcome, as this is just a rough draft.
As with all my booklets, you have to print it in page order 12,1,2,11,10,3,4,9,8,5,6,7 and print two pages per sheet.  Unless your printer is cleverer than mine and can make booklets….
Anyway, here it is: Baptism workbook

A sermon for Mothering Sunday (with baptism) – John 19.25-27 & Colossians 3.12-17

I have to admit that I’ve never done a baptism on Mothering Sunday before, but it’s great today to have baby Hannah and her mum, Sam, with us – living breathing witnesses to the joy and miracle of motherhood, but also of its challenges.

Because this is Mothering Sunday, everyone here today comes with a different set of experiences – some of us come with thanksgivings, others with sadness, some with guilt, and others with worries and concerns, some of us come in joy, and others come with a whole mix of confusing feelings.  Because of this it can be hard to find the right words to meet everyone where they are, and I rely even more than usual on God’s unerring ability to reach out to people’s hearts, whether through my words or in spite of them.

Colossians 3 seems like the easier reading this morning: it’s a list of good characteristics and habits that we probably all wish we had more of or were better at. Sam will need every single one of them as she embarks on the lifetime’s vocation of being Hannah’s mum.  And she’ll hope to teach Hannah to grow into those characteristics, too.  The reading talks about these things as if they were clothes: “Clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, patience… above all clothe yourselves with love…”  At the moment Hannah can’t dress herself, but as she grows, she’ll need to learn not only how to put on socks properly and how to do the buttons on her school shirt, but also how to start every day by clothing herself in all the virtues in this reading, and more besides.  Like all of us, some of them she’ll find easier to wear than others. Hopefully most of them will become so familiar that they are like old clothes, well-worn and comfy.

If Colossians 3 is the easy reading, then the very short gospel reading we heard from John 19 is the hard one – in this reading we see Jesus on the cross, about to die, and his mum standing there beside him, together with his best friend.

In a way, John 19 is the ultimate test of Colossians 3.  Are those ‘clothes’ in Colossians 3 really up to the task of real mothering?  The sort of mothering that’s done at the foot of the cross?  Sometimes it seems as if the ‘clothes’ of patience, kindness, and the rest are worn so thin by the challenges of life that they go beyond the ‘old and comfy’ stage and become no more than rags.  Maybe that’s how Mary felt at that moment.

Mothering Sunday contains within it not only thanksgiving for the great gift of motherhood, but also:

–        The patience of the person who longs to be a parent and the frustration and heartache if it doesn’t come to be;

–        The love of a parent that turns to overwhelming grief at the loss of a child – or a child at the loss of their parent;

–        The wisdom of a parent in teaching their child right from wrong, and the endless worry of that same parent about whether those lessons will stand up to the rigours of real life decision-making;

–        The forgiveness by a parent of their child’s misdemeanours, but the often crushing guilt about their own failings as a parent.

–        The compassion of those who care for others, often at great cost, and the anger at those who were supposed to care, but didn’t.

Mothering Sunday is all this and more.  It is complex and ambiguous for most of us – an annual nightmare for some, and an occasion for great joy and thanksgiving for others. Can all of these things possibly be reflected in our readings?

What we see in Colossians 3 is a model to live up to, a list of virtues that we know would make the world an infinitely better place if only we could all live up to them.  It is the gold standard not just for motherhood, not just for parenting, but for human existence.

But what we see in John 19 is God’s way of dealing with it when it doesn’t work, when we fail to be all that we’re called to be.  Jesus is only on the cross because humanity isn’t living up to that call to compassion and kindness, patience, humility, peace, wisdom, and the rest.  The cross is what happens when God meets all our failings head-on.

And in this one tiny moment during the passion of Jesus we see God’s unstoppable and creative capacity for redemption and new life. Even from the cross, Jesus looks down at his mum and at his best friend, and entrusts them to each other, creating a new family out of what looked like irreparably broken pieces.

John 19 tests Colossians 3 to the limits, and finds that actually, a narrow definition of motherhood and mothering is not enough.  There’s a well-known saying, origin unknown, “It takes a village to raise a child,” in other words, every single one of us needs more mothering than any one mother could ever provide.  And although motherhood is a unique honour and challenge, all mothering takes place within families and communities and networks of support and influence.

All through his ministry, Jesus redefined the idea of our accountability to one another, he challenged people to rethink what compassion and forgiveness meant, and showed again and again that love has no limits.  He kept on doing all of this even up to the moment of his death.

Jesus was starting to create a community that really did live up to the ideals of ancient Israel, and the commandments to respect and care for all people, including the widows, the orphans, and the strangers. The letters in the New Testament pick up where Jesus left off, showing the embryonic church how to order itself in such a way that every single person gave and received love and care, every single person was provided for, every single person reached their potential, and fulfilled their God-given calling.

Parents have a unique role in shaping their children to be the people God made them to be – as Hannah’s mum, Sam’s responsibility is immense.  But she is not alone.  Not only does Hannah have grandparents who love her to bits, she also has five godparents, each of whom, I know, has taken their role seriously, and in a moment will promise to be there for Sam and for Hannah not just for today, but for a lifetime, to walk with them on their journey of life and faith, and to work out what the baptism promises mean in real life, at every stage of life.

The huge importance of Godparents at baptism points to the role of the whole church community in the formation of children (and indeed of adults, too) into individuals who ‘wear well’ the patience, kindness, love, peace and humility of Colossians 3.  At the same time the church is also called to become a community that is defined by those same characteristics.

In the old days, before Mothers’ Day was invented, Mothering Sunday was a feast of the Church, celebrating ‘Mother Church’, drawing her children to her like chicks under the hen’s wing.  If we live by the values in Colossians 3, and test them in the fire of John 19 and of all the most difficult and hard-to-bear situations faced both by the people close to us, and by our fellow human beings across the world, then we really will have a church that lives up to the ideal of motherhood, and we’ll have a church that supports all those upon whom the burden of care falls most heavily.

Whatever feelings this Mothering Sunday brings for you, may this be a place and a time for you to receive through the grace of Christ in scripture, in holy communion, and in fellowship with one another, the assurance of the overwhelming, creative, mothering love of a God who would and did do anything and everything for her children, and in whose arms we are all, living and departed, held and treasured for all eternity.


Love Life Live Lent – day five – Plant some seeds

Oddly, I’m going to be doing this action on Easter Sunday.  Why? Because as part of our Family Communion service in Offord, we’re going to plant some autumn-flowering crocuses in the old font that has been sitting, unloved, in the churchyard for as long as anyone can remember.

At the moment the old font is full of stones and scrubby dirt, but by Easter Day it will be refilled with fresh, dark, fertile soil, and we shall all plant a bulb in it – come Autumn, our Easter planting will remind us that although the days are drawing in, the light of Christ never goes out.

We’re planting the bulbs in the old font partly because it’s there – we wanted to brighten up that part of the churchyard (it’s beside the path from the carpark to the church, so lots of people walk past it). But it’s also because at Easter we renew our baptism promises, reaffirming our belief that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hatred, and that light is stronger than darkness.

We’ll be renewing our actual baptism promises inside, around the new font, but it feels right that we also visit and bring new life to the old font, too – and to enable it to be a witness to the light and life and love of God not just to those inside church, but to everyone who passes by.