Thursday, October 4, 2012

Baptism at St. Margaret's

Christian Baptism at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Edmonton

What is Baptism?

Throughout our history we humans have used physical signs and given them non-physical meanings. We shake hands with someone to indicate friendship; we shake our fist to indicate anger or dislike; we nod and wave and kiss and exchange wedding rings and use all kinds of other physical gestures and symbols.

In the sacrament of Baptism, God takes a physical action and gives it a spiritual meaning. The Bible gives us two records of Jesus commanding his first followers to baptize new Christians:

‘And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned”’ (Mark 16:15-16).

‘And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

In these verses we can see that Jesus was sending his followers out to the whole world to spread his message, the ‘Good News’, and to call people to become his disciples (a word which is very close in meaning to our modern word ‘apprentices’). The early Christians went everywhere and told people that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection human beings have been reconciled to God, and that the power of God in Jesus can set us free. They invited those who heard their message to put their trust in Jesus as their Rescuer (‘Saviour’) and Master, and to commit themselves to a lifetime of learning the new way of life Jesus taught, in company with other Christians. Those who accepted this offer were baptized as a sign that they were becoming followers of Jesus.

The first generation of new Christians were mainly adults who put their faith in Jesus and were baptized almost simultaneously. There is some indication in the Bible, however, that the children of people who were becoming Christians joined their parents in baptism so that entire households were marked as followers of Jesus together. In later generations the majority of Christians came to believe that it was right for the children of followers of Jesus to be baptized as babies. After all, in baptism we become ‘disciples’ (learners, apprentices), and it is never to early to begin to learn the new way of life Jesus is teaching.

Baptism is something which is common to all Christians. There is no such thing as ‘Anglican baptism’ or ‘United Church baptism’; baptism is not a sign of becoming an Anglican but of becoming a follower of Jesus.

What does it mean to be baptized?
If you are an adult or older child going through baptism, you are simply saying “I believe in Jesus, I am thankful for all that he did for me, and I want to commit myself to a lifetime of learning to follow him in company with other Christians”.

What does it mean to have a child baptized?
You are saying “I myself am a follower of Jesus and a member of his Church. I believe that the Christian Faith is the best gift I can pass on to my children, and I want them to grow up to hear the Good News, believe in Jesus and follow him. So I am having them baptized as a sign that they belong to Jesus, and I commit myself to bringing them to church regularly, passing on the Gospel to them, and teaching them (by my words and my example) to believe it and put it into practice”.

Please note that in the Anglican Church we do not believe that a child who dies unbaptised will go to hell. To believe this would be to see baptism as a magical rite protecting a child from the cruelty of a monstrous god. Rather, infant baptism is a sign of a family’s commitment to following Jesus together in the company of fellow-Christians in Christ’s Church.

When are baptisms held at St. Margaret’s?
Because baptism is not only about coming into a relationship with Jesus but also about becoming a member of the community of his followers, baptisms are held at the time when that community is gathered together - Sunday morning worship. Furthermore, in order that people can be properly prepared for baptism, the sacrament will normally be administered on certain set Sundays of the year, after a time of preparation with the parents.

In the Bible people were baptized after they had heard the Gospel and indicated that they believed it and wanted to live by it. Therefore, before people are baptized or bring their children for baptism we ask them to go through a period of instruction with our Rector, Tim Chesterton, in which he can explain the Gospel, how baptism fits into it, and what the baptismal promises mean.

Also, since the baptismal promises include a commitment to bring up your child as a church member, we ask that you make a habit of joining us for Sunday worship (see below for information about our services).

What about godparents?
In the first years of Christianity, when people were choosing to become Christians as adults, the Church appointed sponsors to walk beside these new Christians as mentors and help them grow in their new faith and lifestyle. The sponsors often went through the baptismal preparation with the candidates. Later on, when the custom of infant baptism became general, the ‘sponsors’ became ‘godparents’, and they committed themselves to helping the children grow in their Christian faith.

Because of this commitment, sponsors or godparents should be baptized Christians who are prepared to make the spiritual commitment expressed in the baptismal promises.

If a chosen godparent is unable to attend the service, it is possible to have another person stand as their proxy.

It is also quite acceptable for parents to stand as godparents for their own children.

What sort of support is there for children at St. Margaret’s?
At St. Margaret’s we have two Sunday services, at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m. The 10.30 service lasts for about 75 minutes, and is very child-friendly. Children stay in the church with parents for the first part of the service (opening hymn and prayers, Bible readings, and a children’s talk) and then go down to the basement for Sunday School for about 20-25 minutes during the sermon and intercessions. They then come back up to join their families for the last part of the service, Holy Communion.

During the school year there are often as many as 20 children in our 10.30 service, many of them pre-school, so there is no need to worry about people noticing a child who makes a noise! We also have sound feed out into the foyer and in the nursery in the basement, so if a child is extremely noisy and disruptive it is possible for a parent to take her out until she calms down, and still hear what is going on in the service.

There are also some children who attend our 9.00 service (which lasts for 45 minutes); however, this is a quieter service with no Sunday School or other provision for children, so most parents choose to bring their children to the 10.30 service.

General Information

How much does it cost?
Absolutely nothing - if it’s money you’re talking about! Of course, there’s also a sense in which it costs everything - after all, it’s a commitment to end an old way of life and start learning a new one, with the help of God’s Holy Spirit!

What about photographs?
Photographs may not be taken during the service itself, but they are permitted afterwards.

Will there be a record of a baptism?

All baptisms are recorded in a register kept in the parish, and a certificate is also given to the candidate or the parent(s) of the candidate.


Kathy Durance said...

A clear and timely explanation. Thank you!

Sarah said...

Very detailed information. Thank you. Looking forward to my daughter's baptism.