Christ's Own Forever: Episcopal Baptism of Infants and Young Children

Christ's Own Forever: Episcopal Baptism of Infants and Young Children

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The Leader's Guide combines practical exercises with inspiring reflections on the experiences of individuals involved with baptism. Clergy and lay people will find a wealth of ideas, tips, and discussion starters to help parents and godparents make informed and committed choices on behalf of their infant or young child.

Christ's Own Forever is a unique resource developed with the varying needs of Episcopal communities of all sizes in mind. Flexible session plans are ideal for both one-on-one conversations with parents or meetings that include several families together.

Includes background on baptism and Christian initiation, as well as guidance on preparation for baptism in the Episcopal Church today. Guidance is provided for preparation and follow-up with parents who are parish members and those who are unchurched.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781931960021
Publisher: Church Publishing, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/01/2003
Edition description: Leaders Gu
Pages: 47
Product dimensions: 10.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.40(d)

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Christ's Own Forever

Episcopal Baptism of Infants and Young Children Leader's Guide

By Mary Lee Wile

Church Publishing Incorporated

Copyright © 2002 Mary Lee Wile
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-931960-02-1


Why Baptize This Child?


As people arrive for the preparatory session, greet them warmly, and if it is a group session, ask them to make out name tags—even for the baby. Deciding where to put the name tag (on the baby, on a blanket, on the carrier) can end up being an ice-breaker. A name tag is also a good way to help remember the baby's name, and godparents are often friends or family members from away, so even a small group will likely contain strangers. Be sure that you, too, wear a name tag.

Once everyone has arrived and is settled, light any candles you have, and open with prayer:

O God, you have taught us through your blessed Son that whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself: We give you thanks for the blessing you have bestowed upon this family (these families) in giving them a child. Confirm their joy by a lively sense of your presence with them, and give them calm strength and patient wisdom as they seek to bring this child to love all that is true and noble, just and pure, lovable and gracious, excellent and admirable, following the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.


Why Baptize?

Pass out an index card to each participant. In their journals, parents and godparents have already confronted the basic question of "why baptize this child" in two different entries:

You hold this journal in your hands because you have begun the process of preparing for your child's or godchild's baptism. You have said "yes" to the promptings of your own heart and/or to the encouragement of friends or relatives. Baptism used to be a societal norm, something that was automatically "done" to a child. In the early years of this new millennium, however, saying yes to baptism is a different, deeper choice.

Spend some time pondering what led you to seek Holy Baptism for your child, or, if you are to be a godparent, what led you to accept that role.

Priest and professor John Westerhoff writes that, "It is God who is the prior actor in Baptism, an action to which we can only respond." In other words, according to Westerhoff, no matter what other reasons you might name, one reason that you have engaged in this preparatory process is that God invited you and, on behalf of the child, you said yes. With that thought in mind, what stands out as specific moments or significant events in which you sensed God's presence or God's action in your life, moving you toward this place in your journey, this choice for your child or godchild?

Since they have already thought and written about what has led them to seek baptism for this child, ask them to copy or paraphrase their answers onto the index cards. Collect and shuffle the cards, then either write their responses on newsprint or a blackboard, or simply read the responses aloud. See if they are able to identify who gave the other answers, and allow them time to talk about their own.

With a single family, this can be done simply through conversation about what they wrote, but if godparents are there, too, you might consider using the cards. Index cards are small and non-threatening and very useful in initiating discussion.

What Does Baptism Mean to You?

If you have time, once you have elicited responses and allowed conversation around those responses, ask the parents and godparents about their own experiences of baptism, using questions Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold suggested in "The Journey of Growing up into Christ:"

How old were you when you were baptized?

What were the circumstances?

How are you, with the Spirit's help, able to discern ways that Christ has been formed in you since your baptism?

What does baptism mean to you, as a baptized person?

As you close out discussion of why they have chosen to have this child baptized, consider reading aloud the following excerpt from their journal:

In our secular culture, a question that you are likely to encounter from friends or family not connected with the Church is why you are offering your child for adoption by God into the Christian family. Why does it matter that you raise this child to know and love God? Ellen Charry answers by saying that "knowing and loving God is the mechanism of choice for forming excellence of character and promoting genuine happiness." In other words, knowing and loving God is good for us; it makes us better, stronger people—and it makes people genuinely happy. Prayers from the Baptismal service acknowledge this: "Give [this child] an inquiring and discerning heart, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works."

By saying yes to baptism for your child or godchild, you offer life and hope and courage and joy. And you promise to help along the way.

By Water and the Holy Spirit: the 'What' of Baptism


"I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring."

Isaiah 44:3

Our Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold worries that the very beauty and truth of our Baptismal Covenant "has overshadowed the baptism action itself, and what God in Christ had brought about in us through the action of the Holy Spirit through a ritual of washing and anointing." This section of the journal looks at the very ordinary things that are used in this holy sacrament as a way of looking at the sacrament itself.


Focus on Water

In their journals, parents and godparents have read the prayer of Thanksgiving over Water from the service, and they have responded to two reflective questions about their own experiences with water, one a general question (concerning washing, swimming, drinking, boating, fishing ...), and one recalling a particularly powerful experience encountering a body of water:

The Rev. Dan Warren speaks of the "aha!" we feel when we come to a body of water; paleontologist Jane Goodall once said that even chimpanzees dance with awe at the sight of a waterfall. I remember having lived away from the ocean for 12 years and then arriving at water's edge: I kicked off my shoes and walked into the surf fully clothed, my children following.

Can you recall "aha!" moments connected with water?

Ask them to share their responses to either water-related question. Consider sharing a memory of your own. Spend some time talking about water's importance in our own lives, and in the life and health of the earth itself.

Another question connected with water looks at it as a boundary:

Besides being the source of life and providing restoration and renewal for the human spirit, water can also serve as a boundary. The Piscataqua River, for example, separates Maine from New Hampshire at its southern border. The Rio Grande divides countries. And in our own salvation history, crossing the Jordan into the promised land holds powerful associations of achieving freedom and peace. Just so is baptism a crossing over into the promises of Christ, into the household of God.

What are times in your life when you can recognize having made a transition, crossed over a boundary, gained new freedom (and with it, perhaps, new responsibilities)?

For this exercise, pass out index cards to each participant and ask them to summarize or copy their response. Collect the cards and pass them out randomly (consider writing your own card and participating, too). People should then read aloud the card they end up with, followed by a brief response as to whether and how they have shared a similar experience; then encourage the original writer of that card to tell the story that goes with the response. (This shuffling and dealing of cards promotes more of a discussion than would happen with each simply reading his or her own.)

Close out the conversation around water with the reminder that baptism is an "aha" moment, a boundary between old and new lives (yes, even in an infant), and a rebirth. As Marianne Micks writes in Deep Waters: "the font can be seen as a womb from which those born through water enter a new body, the church."

Focus on the Holy Spirit

The journal goes on then to talk about chrismation or consignation, by which the child is "sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism ..." and marked forever as belonging to Christ. "This child will never be alone, but will forever be companioned by God's Holy Spirit," the journal tells them. Parents and godparents then are asked to name some times in their own lives when they have felt isolated and alone, and then note what happened to get them through those times. In retrospect, can they recognize God's companionship in any of their examples? Begin by sharing an experience of your own, and ask for theirs.

This kind of conversation about God and loneliness and faith and baptism may be unfamiliar to some of your participants. During my 1950's childhood, talking about religion or politics was considered bad form in polite company, and during the tur bulent years of raising my own children, contemporary culture made it easier to talk about sex than about God. Although the United States may have a substantial church-going population, it is in many ways spiritually tongue-tied. Hence it is particularly important to help these families recognize that God has already been a part of their lives, even though they may never have said so out loud before. This kind of discussion also lets the parents and their chosen godparents listen in on one another's faith journey.

Memories of the Church

Yet another question leads parents and godparents to reflect on their individual experiences with the Church, the Body of Christ, the extended family into which they are bringing this child through baptism. Because not all will necessarily have strong memories of life in the Church, and others may have negative ones, it is necessary to allow them to share these reflections in this safe space. As the journal acknowledges, "Just as our own families can be full of both love and tension, so can the Christian family; Paul's letters let us listen in on disagreements going on nearly 2000 years ago. And yet, all these centuries later, this extended Christian family still embraces us." Without judging or justifying, just listen to their experiences. Have some stories of your own to share as well.

Close out this section of preparation by asking for any remaining fears or concerns or joys or questions they have about either why they are here, or about what actually happens during the act of baptism.

Closing a Session Here

If you are ending a session here, close with prayer, and exchange the peace:

Heavenly Father, you sent your own Son into this world. We thank you for the life of this child (these children) [___________], entrusted to our care. Help us to remember that we are all your children, and so to love and nurture [them], that [they] may attain to that full stature intended for [them] in your eternal kingdom; for the sake of your dear Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


One Preparatory Session:

This would be an appropriate place to break for the rehearsal in the nave before returning to talk about "Promises" and "Beyond Baptism."

Two Preparatory Sessions:

Go on to the "Promises," saving the rehearsal and "Beyond Baptism" for the second session. (If one session will be held prior to baptism and one after, you could move to the nave for the rehearsal and return for "Promises.")

Three or More Sessions:

You could close the first session here. At the next, explore "Promises." During the following (or at a follow-up session) explore "Beyond Baptism." Interweave the rehearsal, or hold it as a separate session. Consider an evening watching a video, decorating the baptismal candles, or sharing a meal.

Remember, these suggestions are intended to serve as a framework—feel free to augment or omit activities according to your own ideas and needs.

Promises: The Promises We Make to Our Children

If you are beginning a new session here, gather as before and open with prayer:

O God, you have taught us through your blessed Son that whoever receives a little child in the name of Christ receives Christ himself: We give you thanks for the blessing you have bestowed upon this family (these families) in giving them a child. Confirm their joy by a lively sense of your presence with them, and give them calm strength and patient wisdom as they seek to bring this child to love all that is true and noble, just and pure, lovable and gracious, excellent and admirable, following the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In this section of their journals, parents and godparents have been asked to consider what promises (either overt or implicit) they have already made to themselves, to others, or to God concerning the child's physical or spiritual wellbeing.


Past Promises

For this exercise you could either pass out index cards and have them write down all the promises they have made, and then ask them either to read them aloud or pass them around for others to read; or, if you meet in a place with a blackboard or news print available, you could have them get up and write out their promises so everyone can actually see what kinds of promises others have made. Read them aloud. Ask if any are missing that they would like to add. Note if there are promises which are repeated among them.

The Renunciations

Then move to the promises they will make during the service for Holy Baptism. If you have just done the rehearsal, these should be immediately fresh in everyone's minds. If not, parents and godparents have at least encountered them in their journals.

Begin with the renunciations. Ask them to describe or identify their understanding of "Satan" and/or "all the spiritual forces of wickedness." Then ask: What are the "evil forces of this world" that they will promise to renounce? What "sinful desires" do they see themselves promising to give up on behalf of this child? Their responses might be worth noting on blackboard or newsprint, juxtaposed to their already-made promises for the child's physical and spiritual wellbeing.

During a recent retreat on Iona, I was moved by a conversation between an Irish priest and an English priest about the reality of evil. Listening to their conversation became a sobering reminder of how contemporary American culture promotes the sense that evil only exists in the movies, and that in real life we can handle everything on our own. Truth is, we can't. We shouldn't try. We need the power of God, the armor of Christ. As the Rev. Canon Ginnie Kennerley quoted: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." And some of those "things" are opposed to human flourishing. Parents and godparents have a responsibility to renounce them.

The Affirmations

Once you have discussed the impact of the renunciations, turn to the affirmations. These are often, oddly, harder for some to talk about, so again consider using index cards. They have responded in their journals to: "What does it mean to you to turn to Christ, to trust and follow him? Is turning to Christ, trusting and following him, already a familiar response for you, or will learning to do so feel new?" Pass out index cards and have parents and godparents write out their answers. Collect the cards, and then read them aloud three or four at a time, pausing to ask for comments or reactions, and to make your own. This kind of anonymous reading takes away some of the embarrassment people might feel reading their own responses. This would be a good place to include a story from your own experience.

Their journals acknowledge that they will undoubtedly struggle with keeping all these promises, and it asks, "to whom will you turn for help in keeping them?" Ask their answers and then encourage them to look around the gathered group, even if it's a single family plus godparents, and suggest that they turn to one another for companionship and help in time to come—as well as to you and to the whole congregation that will promise to help. Also remind them of the power of prayer. In the Iona Community Worship Book, a familiar line from the Lord's Prayer reads "save us in the time of trial"—not "from" but "in," a translation that acknowledges that trials do come, and in the midst of them we need God's saving power. If you have a particular prayer or practice that you turn to for help, share it with them.


Excerpted from Christ's Own Forever by Mary Lee Wile. Copyright © 2002 Mary Lee Wile. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Foreword, 7,
How to Use this Book, 8,
Baptism: Theory and Practice,
— "Pastoral Introduction" to Baptism from the Church of England, 9,
— Notes and Presuppositions Regarding the Baptism of Infants and Young Children, 9,
— Preparation for Baptism in the Church Today: Current Ideas and Parish Programs, 11,
Practical Notes,
— Timetable, 18,
— Planning the Session(s), 19,
— The Session(s) at a Glance, 21,
— Journal for Parents and Godparents, 22,
Part I: Preparation,
— Why Baptize This Child?, 24,
— By Water and the Holy Spirit: the "What" of Baptism, 27,
— Promises: The Promises We Make to Our Children, 31,
— Promises: God's Promises to Us and to Our Children, 36,
Part II: Beyond Baptism,
— Nurturing Family Spirituality, 38,
— Nurturing Faith Development in the Child, 40,
Baptismal day and Beyond,
— Rehearsal in the Nave, 43,
— The Baptismal Day, 43,
— As Time Goes By: Continuing Care of the Baptized, 44,
Bibliography, 46,

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