Each fall hundreds of church leaders and planners gather for a Day of Encouragement in Hamilton, Ontario.
Attendees meet for praise, hear an engaging speaker, and participate in workshops on a variety of topics.
This year, among other things, some participants brainstormed about celebrating baptism. And this in turn inspired a special baptism service for a woman named Vivian on the day after the conference.
The brainstorming about baptism took place as part of a Family Connections workshop, led by Faith Formation Project coaches Jolanda Howe and Karen DeBoer.
Launched last year, the Faith Formation Project invites congregations who believe God is asking them to re-vision their calling and to strengthen their faith formation practices to consider having conversations with a coach.
The project, called “The Next Step in Faith Formation,” involves more than 100 churches and 12 coaches such as Howe and DeBoer who listen to a church’s story and discern with church members the ways in which God is moving in their midst.
Coaches then connect them with appropriate resources and serve as a sounding board for developing a strategy to address the next steps of faithfulness.
At the recent day of encouragement, Howe and DeBoer asked participants in the Family Connections workshop to consider ways to nurture the faith of all ages during worship.
In doing this, participants grew animated and the discussion was lively as it focused on the topic of baptism, says DeBoer, an associate curriculum editor for children and youth materials and writer with Faith Alive Christian Resources.
After brainstorming on the topic as table groups, especially discussing ways in which to celebrate the baptism of a child, they shared ideas such as these:
- Making a banner with the child’s name on it to use during the service and then giving it to the child.
- Welcoming the child into God’s family after baptism as he or she is carried throughout the sanctuary by a pastor, elder or other congregation member.
- Giving the child a personal letter written by the pastor as a reminder of the baptism.
- Inviting older siblings of the child to pour the water into the basin before the baptism.
- Lighting a candle from the Christ candle, keeping it lit during the baptism service, and giving it to the family afterwards with an encouragement to light it each year on the anniversary of the baptism as a celebration and reminder of baptism.
- Gathering photos of other members of the child’s family or the church family who have been baptized and then displaying or projecting them during the service as a reminder of the scope of God’s family.
As happens so often during a workshop in which ideas are shared, the brainstorming continues on the way home.
Karen DeBoer’s pastor, Andrew Zantingh, from The Journey Church in Waterloo, Ontario attended the workshop. As he drove home that day, he thought about the adult baptism scheduled the next morning at church, and he wondered about a meaningful way to include the children of the church in the celebration.
The result was a beautifully chaotic and wonderfully meaningful fully intergenerational baptism, says DeBoer.
Here’s what happened.
Near the end of the worship service, when it was time for the baptism to begin, the children were invited to leave their children’s ministry program and return to the auditorium.
As they wandered in, the pastor called out with excitement in his voice, “Hey kids, we’re glad you’re here—Vivian is about to be baptized and we need your help. Come on up here.”
All 20 kids raced to the front of the room as the pastor continued shouting instructions for them: “Get the tarps—they’re in the hallway!” “Spread them out!" "Somebody get the pitcher!" "Move the table!" "Grab the towel!" "I need all of you to help!"
In a noisy flurry of activity, the kids worked together to lay a giant tarp on the floor, move a table, place a pitcher of water on top, and arrange the towel.
When everything was ready, the pastor invited the kids to stand along the edges of the tarp and “hold it in place” as they formed a circle around Vivian, now standing in the center.
The kids watched with wide eyes as Zantingh slowly poured a full pitcher of water over Vivian’s head and baptized her.
Then they moved forward to form a tight circle around Vivian, along with the adults who came forward to lay hands on Vivian and pray over her.
A five-year-old boy reached up towards Vivian as they were about to pray and asked, "May I hold your hand?" All ages gathered around Vivian and, as tears streamed down her cheeks, passed the microphone from person to person to pray for her.
The following Sunday DeBoer was teaching in the children’s ministry program and began her small group by inviting the kids to tell about what happened in church the previous week.
Their eyes lit up as one child said, "We baptized Vivian!”
Everyone eagerly contributed to the conversation, offering bits and pieces of what they remembered about the tarp, the water and the prayer.
Then, out of the mouth of an eight-year-old came this: "It was great because all the kids were included."
“It was an intergenerational baptism celebration that no one will forget,” said DeBoer.