Baptism Rituals

Just over a year ago I went to a Church of England baptismal service for some of my wife’s relatives.  Though they were baptised in a glorified paddling pool (which made me very grateful we have formal fonts) there were two things about that experience which impressed me to the extent that I would like to see these practices adopted by the LDS Church in the UK.  In order to do this there would need to be a policy change in the CHI in order to provide the flexibility to implement these suggestions, so I admit that it is probably unlikely.  Nevertheless here are my thoughts.

This congregation included the baptisms as part of the general Worship service and I imagine it would have made a welcome change in any religious community where the patterns of worship are fairly fixed.  Yet, I think that for LDS communities including baptisms as part of our sacrament meetings could work to demonstrate a number of important ideas.  For example,

I would have this part of the service prior to the Sacrament so that they can be baptised, confirmed, sustained and then partake of the sacrament as a person newly committed to Christ.  This may not work everywhere but it would be excellent, IMO, for congregations where there are only a few people baptised over a year and where the membership is not over 200 regular attendees.  Not only would this be a wonderful way of integrating people into the ward but more than that I suspect that it would be an excellent opportunity to exemplify the ritual re-birth that we believe comes by the spirit of God through ordinances.

In addition to this I was deeply impressed by the liturgical refrain which involved the members of the congregation in the covenants that these individual candidates were entering.  As part of sustaining our new members I would love to see the relevant parts of a scripture such as Mosiah 18:8-9 recited as part of accepting this person into the covenantal fellowship of a ward.  In this Church of England congregation they collectively expressed their commitment to support and serve these new members in the efforts to come unto Christ.  It was not that there was any special zeal with which these CofE saints expressed their commitment, for it was still possible to hear the murmur of monotony, but rather I sensed that for these new members it was extremely meaningful.  I certainly felt inspired by this opportunity to express my commitment to support them spiritually.

I am aware that we symbolically enact a similar message through the practice of sustaining.  Yet my concern is that we need to make this explicit to the uninitiated.  I think this takes more than just explaining what raising arms to the square might mean, for this sign will not have had the time to assume the weight of meaning that may come at a later juncture.  Therefore we need to express this commitment in a way that will be easily recognisable to these new Latter-day Saints.

Comments

  1. I feel that if baptisms were integrated with an LDS sacrament meeting that it could take away from a personalised baptismal service. By personalised I mean one where speakers, prayers etc. are suggested by those being baptised (obviously cleared by the Bishop). I think the confirmation being in Sacrament meeting would suffice.

    I have attended numerous baptisms where the convert has expressed their delight to members coming especially to their baptismal service and felt supported and sustained by their attendance. This could be diluted if baptisms were part of a sacrament meeting where everyone attends anyway.

  2. Aaron R. says:

    Why would the personal touch of choosing speakers need to be lost? It still has to be approved by the Bishop, so if the he is ok then it would be fine.

    Also, I suspect that people turning up can be a nice thing about baptisms outside of Sacrament meeting but it only works if people turn up. My experience tells me that they never really turn up in large numbers and that the new member would feel the same way about the experience if it was during sacrament if the other amemdment was made to how we sustain.

  3. Left Field says:

    It’s a good idea, but in my experience, in most buildings, the fonts are placed in nooks and crannies, often opening into hallways or small rooms. It would be hard to fit the whole ward into such a space. In an alarming number of cases, the font is placed in the nursery (or at least for some reason, the baptistry area is frequently chosen as the location for the nursery). I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to put toddlers within one forgotten lock from a pool of water, or to perform our sacred ritual in a room painted with blocks and teddy bears, and furnished with doll houses.

    In some buildings, the font opens into the back of the cultural hall. That might be workable for performing the baptism during sacrament meeting, but while I’m ranting about poor font placement, putting the font under the basketball standard isn’t a very good location either.

    I have been in some buildings with very nice baptistries, but they are generally >50 years old. A few newer buildings have a font in the RS room, which isn’t too bad, but for the most part, people are being baptized in front of hallways, nurseries, and broom closets. I blame church architects who associate baptism with kids (like that makes it unimportant) and therefore shove the font into some inconspicuous corner.

  4. GatoraideMomma says:

    A font in the RS room…that is a nice idea since it’s usually a nice room.

  5. Bob Sheedy says:

    I feel that having a baptism during the sacrament meeting would be redundant. Since the sacrament is a renewal of your baptismal convents, having your baptism during the sacrament meeting doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. Fast meetings (especially back before they were on Sunday) used to be considered a time for special ritual performance. Oil consecration and special healing were particularly common.

  7. The LDS building in the Anacostia section of DC is one the Church bought from a Baptist congregation, so the font was up behind the podium of the Chapel. The audience could not get particularly close to the font, but they had mirrors angled so that you could see the action. I assume they (the previous owners) did baptisms as part of their worship services.

  8. David - Mission T-Shirts says:

    Traditionally CofE perform a sprinkling (I come from CofE roots).

    I’ve always found the spirit at baptismal services so peaceful given their intimate nature. Given the reverence at most sacrament meetings I think that this would be lost.

  9. SW Clark says:

    ESO beat me on citing the Anacostia chapel. I could see certain advantages to performing baptisms during meeting, although at the same time I’m a bit skeptical of making too much of a show of the baptism/confirmation process.

    The most hands-down frustrating experience on my mission came when the father of a part-member family finally made the decision to be baptized. He was a proud and strong African man that didn’t like to be pushed, and actually committed himself to baptism (without us asking) the first time I met him after I replaced an Elder that had taught and been trying to get him to be baptised for over six months. We moved at his pace and he was baptized about 6 more months after that.

    His was the first baptism we’d had in that suburban Paris ward in over a year (a double baptism with another person, actually) and the ward put together the most well-organized, spiritual and well-attended baptism I’d ever seen. We had more people there (including tons of the family’s friends and neighbors) than at Church the next day.

    However, the next day on Sunday the Bishop had him confirmed AND immediately ordained at the start of Sacrament Meeting, despite objections from a prominent high priest and myself before the meeting that such wasn’t in accord with procedures, and quite frankly I really didn’t feel good about it. I was seated on the stand that day and my companion later flipped out on me when I very visibly abstained from sustaining the priesthood ordination. But the Bishop wanted him to pass the sacrament that day and so our new baptisee complied in what was a grand show in front of the congregation.

    That was far from his first, but it was certainly his last time at Church. He felt uncomfortable and pressured during the experience and angrily cut off contact with the ward the next day. His wife, who’d been reactivated only a year or so prior struggled to keep attending as it drove a wedge in their marriage and home. To top it off, we were no longer able to visit or teach their child prodigy of an 8-year old son who loved reading the Book of Mormon, loved Church, had amazing comprehension of the Gospel and had long wanted to be baptized.

    It’s a bit of an extreme example, but the ensuing disaster reinforced for me the importance of listening to the Spirit and putting the needs of the individual above all else. If done respectfully, and if the person knew in advance of the whole public ritual that would happen, I could see a CofE-style baptism being very meaningful and positive. If it’s done too quickly or for show or with any motivation other than to promote what is best for that particular person, however, I’m understandably a bit reticent.

  10. David, I’ve warned you before about your spamallicious handle. I am consequently putting your URL in the mod-queue and all references to your business will be deleted.

  11. When I lived in Japan, we had a brand new building, and the font was in the back of the chapel. When there was a baptism, it was done directly after church on Sunday, so everyone was already there and could welcome in the new member.

  12. Cynthia L. says:

    Left Field, somebody posted a video or picture a while back of a chapel where the floorboards in the front just under the podium lift up to reveal a font in the floor. Does anyone remember that or know where to find the link? I think it was not an LDS chapel, but it was pretty sweet.

  13. Left Field says:

    I don’t think I saw that, Cynthia. But you did remind me of the the first church building I remember attending as a child. In the early ’60s, it housed what was then the Madison Branch, but the building is now the University of Wisconsin Institute of Religion. (see here: http://maps.google.com/maps?ie=UTF8&ll=43.073414,-89.416003&spn=0,0.003433&z=18&layer=c&cbll=43.073412,-89.41589&panoid=v-VNJ4pfOrrm04NbsLaF9g&cbp=12,164.92,,0,-4.79)

    I haven’t been there since 1965, but I remember my brother being baptized in a font under the floorboards in the basement room. I remember seeing the cracks in the floor when I attended Jr. Sunday School in the same room.

  14. Left Field says:

    I expected that link to take you to the street view, but I guess you can get there from the map if you really want to.

  15. I like both of those ideas. Of course the biggest (practical) obstacle to the first is the location of the baptismal font. In our building, with the size of our ward (not to mention that our meeting time overlaps with another ward’s), performing a baptism during sacrament meeting would be impractical. But I remember seeing a movie once (I think it was Tender Mercies, but it doesn’t really matter) where a character was being baptized during a Sunday service, and they just pulled back a curtain and there was a baptistry, lo, and I thought that was pretty slick. Obviously not an LDS chapel, but cool.

    The second idea would be much easier to implement, but of course that doesn’t make it any likelier to be implemented. It’s still a cool idea.

  16. David Howlett says:

    I never realized until now that baptisms were not part of the regular services in LDS wards. The baptismal scene in the ocean at the end of God’s Army now makes more sense.

    I grew up in the Restoration Branches movement (separatist RLDS members), and baptisms during regular Sunday morning services were normal occurrences. This is also true in the CofC where I now attend. Almost all of the services feature a special “charge to the candidate” by the speaker that day (a short talk), sometimes followed by a sermon on a different topic (though the sermon might be omitted, too). Most of the time, the service is planned to make the baptism the central part of the worship service. Baptisms, like baby blessings, typically bring in visitors (generally relatives) who would not regularly attend the branch or congregation, too. So, it is also a good tool for quiet outreach, as visitors meet the regular congregation members. All in all, having baptisms as a part of regular worship services reinforces the importance of sacraments (ordinances) in the a really beautiful way, IMO.

  17. Aaron, this is an interesting thought, but I do have an issue. The purpose of sacrament meeting is, after all, the sacrament. Turning it into a baptismal service could minimize the sacrament.

    There are other logistical issues, like the time for changing clothes.

    I’m just not feeling the love for this idea.

    That said, I do believe one purpose for bringing convert confirmations into sacrament meeting was to accomplish some of what you’re recommending.

  18. >Turning it into a baptismal service could minimize the sacrament.

    I think the sacrament meeting status quo does a good job minimising the sacrament.

  19. I served my mission in a Chinese Branch in California, and all of the baptisms were performed during sacrament meeting.

  20. Bruce Rogers says:

    to #3: Our baptimal font was built in the room where the nursery was held, but the Church made a policy to prohibit that, so we now hold nursery in another room.
    Since most other Protestant and Catholic churchs allow sprinkling for baptism, that can be done in the chapel. With immersion, the person must get dressed afterward, which usually takes about 15 minutes, so the person would miss that amount of time in sacrament meeting. I would be interested in knowing how #19 handled the logistics in Sac Mtg.

  21. britt k says:

    i prefer a more private audience…I would hate for the physical aspect of the ordinance (looking right, being the center of attention, being watched, phsycially diong things right) take percedence over the pirvate spiritual comittment. It reminds me of talking to a friend married ina catholic wedding who worried over and over about doing everything right adn remembering everything and practicing…it sounded so stressful. I just had to kneel adn say yes.

  22. Our font is in the Relief Society room. It’s not nice or bad. That’s just where it is. There are mirrors there so people can see better.

    I didn’t notice David’s sales pitches until you pointed them out.

    I can’t recall a spiritual baptism because it usually involves kids running all over and giggling.

    I don’t think we have too many spiritual experiences in out church because they seem to be ecxessively emotional to our leaders and the only emotion we’re allowed to show is that sad sobbing while we’re telling how happy we are that the church is true.

  23. Allison in Atlanta says:

    Perhaps this author likes the communal support aspect of the Church of England service he attended. That is understandable.

    I attended Methodist church as part of my husband’s family reunion this past month and I liked how they stop in the middle and get up and go greet each other (especially vistors!) in the middle of the early part of the worship service, but this is not practical nor desirable everywhere!

    I really liked the feedback from a missionary about how some people are private or shy and do not like public demonstrations. I am not that way, but many family members and people I have fellowhshipped have truly felt that way.

    So I think the way it is should be how it is for now until further revelation from the Lord changes it. It might be less well-attended on occasion, but somewhat more intimate in some settings.

    I can’t fault the critical comments about less than spiritual baptisms, but some of them I have attended have been VERY spiritual. Usually it’s your own preparation and sometimes it’s the candidate’s faith that blazes. We should all try to be more reverent in these services – especially if we have to walk out in the hall if we don’t have the font in the same room where we meet for the meeting as in my current ward building.

    As the brethren have pointed out, the purpose of sacrament meeting is primarily the sacrament. We add a couple of ordinances for blessing children and confirmation, but baptism is different in its physical and logistical aspects that would not lend itself to the meeting’s milieu.

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