Birthday, Baptism, Pandemic

My son was supposed to be baptized a few months ago. His grandparents had tickets to come to Chicago. He was ready to invite his best friend from school and some other friends who, while not Mormon, have come to all of my kids’ baptisms to love and support them.

And then a global pandemic hit. My parents had to cancel their flight. The church shut down its meetings and its buildings. We worked to recover.

These days my son goes back and forth on when he wants to be baptized. He’d really like to wait until his grandparents can share the day with him but, because of age and health conditions, his grandparents can’t really travel here until there’s a vaccine and they’re able to get the vaccine. While we’re hoping for early 2021, who knows if it will happen before another birthday rolls around.

Which leads me to a question: what is the church going to do about these pandemic-delayed baptisms?

What do I mean? Well, current church policy is that the bishop or a bishopric member interviews 8-year-olds for baptism. But if a child will be 9 or older at their baptism date, they’re taught and interviewed by the full-time missionaries.

I have no idea why the church has implemented this policy. It’s arbitrary, but maybe the thought is that if a child doesn’t get baptized at 8 that child’s family isn’t active?

Whatever the reasoning, it’s disrupted by Covid. We don’t know the shape of the (hopefully) last stage of the pandemic, but it could easily disrupt life for a year or more. It could easily prevent children—especially children who live far from their grandparents and other family—from being baptized in a timely manner.

And honestly, requiring kids to have the missionary discussions and be interviewed by a district or zone leader is tremendously inconvenient and disruptive. Could we do it? Sure. But I’m not sure it adds any value—missionaries have no training in teaching kids and many parents in my situation are perfectly capable of preparing their children for baptism.

So where does that leave us? I don’t know. But it’s something church leaders need to be aware of and need to think through. Because the pandemic has legitimately disrupted parts of our church life, including parts that are probably unanticipated.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this! We are in the same boat and have also tabled all baptism plans until the pandemic is under control. It needs to be addressed.

  2. We were allowed to have my daughter’s baptism broadcast via Zoom. It actually allowed several people to participate in it who otherwise would not have been able to participate, such as a extended family in Wisconsin (both members and non-members). It was a good experience.

    Currently, the 9-year-old rule isn’t always enforced. My guess is that if this becomes a big problem that they could easily temporarily alter the rule to let the bishop decide whether or not the missionaries should be involved.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Our grand-daughter’s baptism in March was broadcast on Zoom. She had family “attend” from several states and one foreign country, including several people who would not have been able to come in person even without the pandemic. Afterwards we were all able to congratulate and visit with her as well. It was early in the pandemic so we weren’t as good at Zoom as we are now, but we were very pleased to be able to attend and she did not have to wait.

  4. We’ve been told there’s a Zoom option. But honestly, that’s not as good an option. Our son wants to be able to hug his family and eat refreshments with his friends. Kids have already lost plenty of in-person connection during the pandemic and, while thank goodness Zoom exists, it’s a poor substitute for grandma and grandpa in person.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I guarantee the missionaries are salivating, because under current rules these 9-year old baptisms count as converts and are an easy way to pad their stats.

  6. My daughter is getting baptized a few days after her eighth birthday. We were able to schedule it for a Sunday because no one is using the building for anything else. And we’re able to broadcast the ordinance over Skype to all relatives.

  7. Kevin, I think you’re wildly optimistic to suppose that either missionaries or bishops know the rules that well.

  8. Olde Skool says:

    Kevin and Kristine, our ward’s bishop(s)/missionaries were *all over that rule* when my kids weren’t baptized at 8. (Their father isn’t LDS; we elected to put off what might be a more complicated decision for them until they were more mature than 8.) The missionaries would show up at my door offering to explain the gospel to the ignorant young ones in my godless house, and I’d be like, “Dudes, I teach you in GD every other week.”

  9. I allowed my kids to decide when (or if) they wanted baptism. As a result, two defaulted into the over age 9 rule and we sat through the missionary discussions as a family, twice. The first go round, one of the missionaries was a budding cartoonist, which helped hold attention, because he illustrated different points of the lessons each week. The second pair of missionaries were dreadfully dull, and midway through the lessons were replaced by a new companionship, which didn’t improve the situation. My youngest opted for an age eight baptism because she didn’t want to be put on the spot with missionary questions. I felt the requirement for lessons was a ridiculous and unnecessary imposition, likely required for the purposes of increasing convert baptism statistics or giving bored missionaries tasks to fill their day.

  10. For some personal reasons my daughter wasn’t baptized until she was 9. The Bishop said there was no need for missionary discussions and her baptism was very much like all the other 8-year olds in the ward. Because she was over 8 the missionaries were supposed to be present. They were late and missed the whole thing. I don’t know if they got to count it in their numbers or not. I think it’s reasonable to allow the Bishop to overrule the need for missionary discussions for the children who are living through these coronavirus times.

  11. Your bishop can override the policy. Have a talk with him. My son’s baptism was delayed because of a divorce years ago. The bishop rolled with it and it happened when that situation had been I settled.

  12. My son is half-hoping that we won’t be having baptisms at church this spring when he turns 8 because he wants to get baptized in the creek in our backyard.

  13. Not a Cougar says:

    Section 18.7.1 of the new handbook lays it out pretty clearly, and I don’t read it as giving the bishop a ton of authority to make a decision here because according to the handbook:

    “The mission president holds the priesthood keys for baptizing converts in a mission. Convert baptisms are defined as baptisms of:

    “Persons ages 9 and older who have never been baptized and confirmed.

    “Children ages 8 and older whose parents (1) are not members or (2) are being baptized and confirmed at the same time as the children.”

    The only leeway I see is in the preceding subsection which states:

    “These children should be baptized and confirmed on or as soon after their 8th birthday as is reasonable (see Doctrine and Covenants 68:27). These are children for whom Church membership records already exist (see 33.6.2).” The natural reading of the section suggests that “as soon as is reasonable” can only last until the child’s 9th birthday.

    I personally abhor the idea that missionaries perform baptismal interviews. It’s an anachronistic practice that has outlived its usefulness by many, many decades. I would like to see a change made to move that responsibility to bishops and branch presidents (or their counselors), but I think that an exception to current policy will have to be (and absolutely should be) issued if members with affected children don’t want to go through the hassle of involving the missionaries in their child’s baptism.

  14. Not a Cougar says:

    I guess I should clarify that the entire guidance is in 18.7.1. The bishop’s responsibilities with regard to child of record baptisms is in 18.7.1.1 and the mission president’s responsibilities with regard to convert baptisms is in 18.7.1.2. if an exception to policy isn’t forthcoming, I suspect a bishop and stake president could make a request to the mission president to forego missionary involvement, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about that request being granted. “Why give away easy numbers?” he muttered cynically.

  15. I’m trying to imagine the possible danger in a family member only baptism at church in which family members and a member of the bishopric attend. Why are we acting like Covid 19 is lingering around every corner of the LDS meetinghouses?

  16. east of the mississippi says:

    I’m with you josh… it is time to get a move on here…

  17. Not a Cougar says:

    Josh, I think the concern is not necessarily for physical safety of the immediate family but for the extended family, many of whom are older and more at risk, especially those who would have to travel. Can we dunk a kid with a minimum of fuss? Of course, but the family gathering aspect that help to impress how important this ordinance is will be lost. I’m not saying that one approach or the other is the correct one, but you can admit the sense of disappointment many grandparents in particular will feel when they don’t get to be present for the event (kinda like temple weddings, eh?).

  18. SarahHatchPollard says:

    Similar to some of the other post-ers, my husband is not a member and asked that the kids be at least nine before making baptismal covenants. We did have to go through the missionaries; in the case of the older two, it was the missionaries assigned to our area, for the younger two, it was the ward missionaries. It was actually a positive experience for our family, and the kids seemed to enjoy the additional adult attention. The one thing that was NOT positive was the bishop at the time of my oldest child’s baptism, who announced it to the congregation as a “convert baptism” in this super self-congratulatory way, as if he personally had fellowshipped and converted my daughter, who had been in church since she was a month old. But he was released soon after and could go back to being a general contractor, which I’m sure he is great at.

  19. josh, one of the concerns I have is that the decision-makers have a similar view as you do.

    I absolutely agree that there’s minimal risk for anyone if you have like 10 people at the baptism. And if your whole extended family lives nearby, it’s mostly nbd.

    That’s not the situation we’re in, though: my son’s grandparents are on the two coasts. So they would have to get to Chicago, they’d have to find somewhere to stay (because they’re older and some are immunocompromised and we wouldn’t want to risk getting them sick by having them stay with us), and we’d have to find a way for them to get to the church safely.

    So absolutely, if you’re in Utah and your parents are in Utah it’s probably just fine. But if your family is spread out, the logistics of getting people together are significantly harder.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    I can well imagine a bishop not knowing the policy until it actually comes up and needing to review the Handbook. But I guarantee the missionaries know all about it. We have a boy in our ward who will be baptized shortly after turning nine, because his Chinese father has been in his one-year mourning period for the death of his own father. On our Ward Council zoom call when they heard that the sister missionaries didn’t need to be told what it meant and were practically doing cartwheels at the prospect.

  21. Jack Hughes says:

    It’s long been an open secret that the Utah missions have above average rates of “convert” baptisms for precisely this reason; missionaries there get to baptize the 9-18 year-old children of jack-Mormons and ex-Mormons who later choose to join the Church on their own because all their friends are members. It’s low-hanging fruit, so you can bet full-time missionaries know that rule very well.

  22. Billy Possum says:

    Jared, you should let your son get baptized in the creek regardless. Fonts are stupid.

  23. Patently obvious there should be a rule change or allowance made. Bishops I know would roll into the next year without blinking. But bishops vs mission presidents is a different matter and I don’t know how to call it.
    I’m actually sorry I read this post. (And sorry about being sorry, Sam.) It caused me to reread 18.7 of the Handbook. So much rule making!!

    My father baptized me in Lake Wingra near our home.In Madison, Wisconsin. My mother and my younger-than-eight siblings were the only witnesses. I had to stick my toes under a tree root to keep them from bobbing up. I baptized my youngest son in Walden Pond, with his mother and his older siblings watching on shore and his Sunday School teacher and his wife watching (witnessing, I guess) in a canoe next to us.
    Wonderful memories. A different time. Almost a different church, or so it feels.

  24. As a missionary in Brazil two decades ago, I was surprised at the regularity with which active members would ask us to teach the discussions to their 8 year old children before they were baptised. As most of the members were converts themselves, I suppose it probably felt to them like everyone should be taught the discussions before baptism. I think every time we were asked we would schedule some appointments for the middle of a weekday that was very unlikely to be productive otherwise and we’d go plow through two discussions per half an hour visit. You can get through them very quickly when you completely skip all the chastity parts, and they already know plenty about JS and the BOM. I think the practice was a great success: the members were happy, we got to know the members a little better (generally a good thing), we had something to do besides knock doors (a very good thing), and we got to mark down a bunch of discussions to keep the zone leaders happy. Everybody wins! (Don’t worry, we did not interview the kids, nor count them as “our baptisms”.)

  25. The pandemic has brought several issues to the foreground. Hopefully, the one concerning youth baptism will be corrected (or adjusted) once conditions have improved. Making the youth (and possibly families) go through the missionary discussions (in many homes) in clearly not necessary.

    The issue of the sacrament may be a nonissue. Since the sacrament is non-salvific. Is their anything wrong with a home sacrament ceremony with or without a priesthood holder? Taking the sacrament is intended encourage us to remember the life and sacrifice of Christ. Under exigent circumstances, can Christ really be upset with the lack of formality? Its the act of remembering him that is important.

  26. Just catching up after a busy week. Interesting post. Both my wife and I have poor parents, and they have never been able to travel for our children’s baptisms. Granted, we have lived overseas for several of them, but delaying a baptism simply because family couldn’t be there never actually came up. I totally get that if your family is close or has the resources to visit for a baptism, that would make it extra special. In my mind, however, making a baptism dependent on a family member’s attendance could possibly give the wrong impression that our living the gospel is reliant on other people.

  27. Also, huzzah for Bishops who are flexible to individual family needs and don’t make a big deal about a baptism being a few months late.

  28. Adam, I’m not sure how you’d get to “living the gospel is reliant on other people.” A baptism is an ordinance, but it’s also a celebration. Wanting to delay baptism—which has no impact at all on living the gospel—so that you can celebrate it in-person with your loved ones doesn’t give any impression at all.

    In any event, there really isn’t a substantive difference between being baptized at 8 years, 11 months old and being baptized at 9 years, 1 month. But the church has created an arbitrary line that says that one is approved by the bishop and one by the missionaries. That artificial and arbitrary line may have had some justification in a normal world (though I’m not convinced that it did even there) but makes no sense in our current disrupted world.

  29. Ask your self this question, what if your almost 9 year old child was taken from you tomorrow and was not baptized? Would you be okay with that? Do do you believe it is a necessary saving ordinance? Before the age of 8, Satan has no power over children “They cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me” (see D&C 29:46–47), but circumstances change after they reach the age of accountability. Furthermore, would you delay giving your son the gift of constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to help and comfort him in these unprecedented times? Sometimes as adults we don’t realize how deeply children feel things. The world is a very scary place right now for kids as well as adults. Why deprive him of that blessing even one day longer- much less months or years?Think of it like this, instead of the grandparents giving him a hug in person, it will be like the Savior giving him a hug through the power of the Holy Ghost!

  30. CB, are you aware of the comments made by church leaders on this is very concern in relation children of gay parents who couldn’t be baptized (that is, until they changed the policy after backlash)? Some things aren’t as cut and dried as you might assume.

  31. CB, I’m trying to think of a way to respond to you that isn’t horrendously offensive in the way that your comment is both offensive and, well, poorly thought out.

    I’m not clear either on your theology of baptism or of sin, but the idea that a kid goes from sinless to sinful the moment she turns, what, 8? 9? strikes me as a profoundly flawed worldview and a deeply troubling and poor reading of scripture. And the idea that dying before you’re baptized is somehow damning is tremendously un-Mormon; our theology explicitly provides for salvation for people who weren’t baptized.

    So no. My son’s not going to die in the next 6-9 months. And if he tragically were to pass away, I don’t believe for even a millisecond that a vengeful God would take anything away from him.

  32. Our Branch has had 1 convert baptism and 2 8 year old baptisms since COVID. 1 family is choosing to wait till they move and will do this fall. In the closest wards we’ve heard of or been to Socially distanced baptisms with lots of zooming to relatives in the States. In my area most are proceeding.

  33. Sam,
    So sorry, did not mean to offend! I was born in the church, baptized at 8, sealed to my family of origin and then as an adult became inactive. I returned to the church about 10 years ago as a divorced single mother. Even at my lowest point (and I had some pretty low points) I always felt loved, comforted and protected. I know this was the power of the Holy Ghost, even though I did not deserve and was not “worthy”, I never felt abandoned and always felt a strong sense of love and belonging. I have been comforted so many times in the depths of despair, all I had to do was ask through prayer which I have never stopped doing. I know this is a gift I was given when I was baptized. I had my son baptized at 8 years even though he is on the Autism spectrum I wanted him to have the sense of comfort and assurance I have always felt that ultimately God loves me and all will be well. I value this presence so much in my life I have a hard time imagining having to get through life without it. I still struggle with certain aspects of the gospel, and I am a work in progress. I did not mean to give the impression of judging you for your choices. I only wanted to impart how overwhelmingly powerful and comforting the Holy Ghost is to me. Satan is real and deals in despair, anxiety, and fear and division. He is able to influence our actions through our thoughts. Children are not immune to his oppressive influence. The Holy Ghost provides a protection and power to overcome this (among other things). I wish only the best for you and your family. Just for the record I don’t believe in a vengeful God, I think he loves us so much he provided a savior. Christ has already done all the heavy lifting for us and we are already “saved” and will be resurrected to a kingdom of glory (Telestial or Terrestial). No baptism required. That salvation is the grace part. The Celestial kingdom (exaltation) on the other hand is a different story and requires the ordinances and corresponding covenants (works).

  34. HokieKate says:

    Interesting discussion. I’ve never felt particularly close to missionaries until the past year, when we bonded over a shared interest in soccer. Since that companionship, we’ve had the missionaries over frequently, and they claim to enjoy lots of physical labor around our property with my husband. I’d be happy to have them teach my kids the discussions. I also trust them with a baptism interview as much as I trust the new bishop that I’ve known for ten years, given the major caveat that all children should always have a parent in the room for interviews.

  35. Are we missing the point of baptism? It is a covenant between the person being baptized and God. It’s not between earthly relatives and friends. They only are there for support, which can be given in a myriad of ways, not just being there for the party afterwards. If a child is mature enough to get baptized on his own testimony, then it does not matter who is there, the whole reason is the covenant. My advice to any child in this situation would be, get baptized or keep living on your parent’s flawed testimony of the ordinance.