Thank you for your interest in baptism/child dedication here at Robert McClure United Church! We’re glad you’ve chosen to make an inquiry with us, and we look forward to serving you as best we can. Here is some background information as you consider the commitments (and options) around baptism and child dedication.
The symbolism of Baptism
Baptism is, along with communion, one of the two official “sacraments” of the Protestant church. A sacrament is an outward symbolic action that portrays an inward spiritual blessing. Baptism is the initiation ceremony of the Christian church, symbolizing a spiritual “washing,” a cleansing from our sin, but also a death to an old way of life and a rebirth into new life in Christ. The action symbolizes forgiveness, a change of direction in life, a welcome into God’s family (the Church), and the gift of the Holy Spirit for the person’s life of service and ministry with Christ.
Of course, none of these things are done once for all in our lives! As we grow in Christ, and as our lives become more honest, compassionate and Christlike, we find need for deeper forgiveness, renewed commitment, deeper community and a richer experience of the Holy Spirit. Neither do we believe that an adult or child is not a “child of God” until they are baptized, or that “should something happen” to the unbaptized, they would “go to hell.” On the contrary – we believe that God loves each and every one of us, sinner or saint, baptized or not, believer or doubter, adult or child, with a love that is both real and unquenchable. Baptism is not a recognition of a change in God’s attitude towards us, but rather a change in our attitude towards God. Baptism is a ceremony in which we accept God’s love, acknowledge our adoption into God’s family, and in which we publicly name ourselves as Christ’s followers and as members of Christ’s church. It marks the beginning of a new, chosen life in Christ.
A brief history: is baptism for adults or children?
In the early days of the church, baptism was normally reserved for adults (though there is some evidence that whole families or households were baptized as well), since a decision and a major life change and commitment were required. Those were the days of the Roman Empire, when the difference between the Roman culture and Christian discipleship was fairly clear. But then came the middle ages in Europe, when everyone was assumed to be a Christian (at least in the Christian countries). There was no longer any decision or change required; being born to Christian parents in a supposedly Christian society meant you would be a Christian (or else!). At this time, (when the elements of commitment, choice, and change had become essentially meaningless in baptism) the fear began that if one died unbaptized, one went to hell. So baptism began to be something that was done to children, as soon as possible after birth. Today, our world is more like the Roman Empire. We do not (if, indeed, we ever did) live in a “Christian society.” We live in a secular, consumer culture, and the values and beliefs of our culture are once again strikingly different from those set forth by Christ. Thus, once again, choice, change, and commitment are important parts of Baptism’s symbolism, and so adults and older children are once again the normal candidates for baptism.
We believe that each individual, and also each family, is responsible for their own spiritual care and growth. Therefore we prefer that the decisions around baptism or child dedication remain with you.
To be baptized is to become a disciple (a student/follower) of Jesus Christ, and a contributing member of Christ’s church. This involves the taking of vows (in the church, these vows carry a similar weight to marriage vows).
For adults and older children, of course, these vows are made on one’s own behalf. For babies, it is the parents who make these vows on their children’s behalf.
For adults, baptism also involves full membership in the church of Robert McClure United, involving the signing of the membership covenant. Infants, by baptism, do not become full members of Robert McClure church; rather, they are considered members “in general” of the Church of Jesus Christ. If and when they decide to reaffirm their baptismal vows, then they are able to choose the particular church in which they wish to “activate” their membership.
It has been our experience that the people who come to our church seeking baptism or child dedication fall into three main groups. One group – adults, teenagers, in some cases children – are seeking baptism on their own behalf. They have made the decision to be baptized, to become Christian, to join with Robert McClure United Church. Very often these people have come to the church as seekers, and have found their spiritual home with Jesus Christ and with this church. Most often, for these people the service of baptism is a deeply moving celebration of a life-change. Such people are normally required to take the “Exploring Membership” class and the Basics of Faith course prior to baptism – though for children this process may be a bit different. The service itself is the complete baptism service (enclosed), including the use of oil.
Some people are already active members of Robert McClure United, and come seeking baptism for their children. For these people it is often a desire to be “united in belonging” that draws them to seek baptism for their children.
The third group of people are those who are not active members of the church, who come on behalf of their children. There is variety in what such people seek! Some desire baptism specifically – the sign of water, formal inclusion in the church, the vows of baptism on behalf of their children. Others seek what is often called “christening,” or “dedication” – a service of thanksgiving for the birth of a child, a request for God’s blessing, and the beginning of a relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ. Such parents are often somewhat uncomfortable with the notion of taking vows on behalf of their children, yet they desire God’s blessing, they want to say “thank you,” they want their child to have some kind of relationship with a local church, a community of believers of which they can say, “this is my church.”
Those in these last two groups are normally required to attend a “baptism preparation class,” and, for those not familiar with Robert McClure United, we also ask you to attend church a few times before proceeding on the baptism or dedication. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without test-driving it, would you?
Once again: if you are an adult seeking baptism and membership, the normal way to proceed is through the Basics of Faith program. Adult baptism also confers formal membership at Robert McClure, with a membership covenant.
If you are a parent seeking a service for your children, then you have a choice: baptism or dedication. If you seek a more formal church membership for your child, including taking baptismal vows on their behalf, then baptism is the way to go. Normally, for a baptism, one or both parents will be covenanted, active members of Robert McClure. Remember though: baptism of an infant or young child does NOT confer formal membership at Robert McClure and no membership covenant will be required. The child’s “membership” is in the wider Church of Jesus Christ, through the United Church of Canada, rather than in a specific local church. The full baptism service is used, with the exception of the anointing with oil.
If what you seek is a service of thanksgiving for the gift of your child, and God’s blessing, and a welcome to participate in a church without formal vows, then dedication is the way to go. Dedication is becoming the normal service for infants, for both members and non-members. In this case, there are no membership implications of the service; however, it can be a moving way to enter informally into the life of the congregation.
Any questions? Please call us at 403-280-9500.
Thanks again for your interest, and if you wish to attend either a Basics of Faith program, or baptism preparation, or membership exploration, do call us as well, and we’ll let you know when the next one is.