Thanksgiving and Baptism
Where do we start?
In the Parishes of Jarrow and Simonside, we believe that it is right to celebrate, and thank God for, the gift of a child, and to prepare properly for the step of baptism, which requires promises about involvement in the life of the Christian community, the Church.
We want to see familes and friends rejoice together around a new baby or a child being received into the family by adoption, so with every child we offer to begin with a service of Thanksgiving - this gives a great opportunity for a joyful, user-friendly service in church or elsewhere, at a time to suit everyone, and which leads naturally into an ongoing celebration and party. Because we usually hold each Thanksgiving service just for the one family, we can accommodate a larger number of guests than we can at a baptism service, so this is the time to get all the family and friends together for the celebration.
Of course, for many people, there will be a desire to go on from the Thanksgiving to explore Baptism, initiation into the Church. Because this is a significant step in the life of any person or family, we want to help parents and godparents, and older candidates who can think things through for themselves, to come to a good understanding of what the promises they'll be making actually mean. For this reason, we will offer preparation for baptism to those people and families who want to think about taking this step and making this commitment. Following this preparation, each person is then free to give their own answer to the question of going forward for baptism - either to say that they feel ready to make the commitment, or to decide that it's not a step they're ready for at that stage. There's no "right" answer to that question - each person is different, and each person needs to make the decision that's right for them. Even when someone doesn't feel ready, they are always welcome to keep exploring and to come back to baptism at a later date - God is always ready with a welcome, and we hope we are too!
What is a Thanksgiving Service?
In a Thanksgiving Service, as the name implies, we first and foremost say thank you to God for the wonderful gift of a child. There are none of the promises and declarations, nor the commitment to involvement in the life of the Church that there would be in a baptism service. Rather, we thank God for the gift of the child, proclaim the name of the child, commit ourselves to looking after each other and the child - and the child is blessed. We present the child with a Gospel or Bible, and pray for the child and one another. In Jarrow and Simopnside, we hold the Service of Thanksgiving for every family that requests it, and we arrange it at a time convenient to us all, and intended to precede a family party or celebration.
Following the Thanksgiving, you may also have a Baptism service for your child at a later date, following exploration of and preparation for baptism, as mentioned above.
What is Baptism?
Baptism marks the start of a journey of faith, which involves turning away from the darkness of self-centredness, turning towards Christ and becoming a member of the local and worldwide Christian family.
Baptism is a 'sacrament': a visible sign of God's love. In baptism, we are thanking God for his gift of life and publicly acknowledging his love. We are acknowledging that we all need to turn away from the darkness of evil and to make a new start with God.
Because baptism is a public entry into the fellowship of the Church (the community of Christ), there are certain declarations and promises that those being baptised (the ‘candidates’) must make. Those who can answer for themselves make their own promises. Those who bring young children/infants for baptism are asked to make the declarations and promises on behalf of the child.
They make the declarations and promises in the presence of God and in front of the church congregation. The Christian community promises to support and pray for the candidates, and their families.
Baptism will normally take place during the main Sunday service (a list of forthcoming dates and times can be supplied by the Parish Office). This is so that the candidates can be seen to be joining the family of the Church and be welcomed into membership. In turn the Church will promise to support and pray for each candidate, and their families.
The priest taking the service, and members of the congregation, will make sure candidates and their families/guests know where to sit and when they need to move. Some parts of the service will be for the whole congregation to join, some will be for candidates, parents & godparents, and sponsors. The priest will explain things as the service progresses.
For the baptism itself, candidates, parents & godparents, and sponsors will be asked by the priest to gather either at the front of the church or around the font. (The font is a large basin on a pedestal, containing the water for baptism.) The priest will ask candidates (or the parents and godparents where the candidate is a child) to make declarations and promises, and to join with the congregation in a Affirmation of the Christian Faith.
A number of important symbols will be used during the service itself:
· The sign of the cross - the priest makes the sign of the cross on the candidate’s forehead. This is like an invisible badge to show that Christians are united with Christ and must not be ashamed to stand up for their faith in him. The priest says: 'Christ claims you for his own. Receive the sign of his cross. Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified.' The priest may invite parents and godparents, or sponsors, to sign the cross on the candidate's forehead after he or she has done so.
· Water - the priest will pour water on the candidate’s head. Water is a sign of washing and cleansing. In baptism it is a sign of being washed free from sin and beginning a new life with God. Water is a sign of life, but also a symbol of death. When we are baptised our old life is buried in the waters (like drowning) and we are raised to new life with Christ.
· Anointing - after baptism in water, a minister may put a christening robe on the candidate and anoint him or her with oil. This is a sign of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit. The priest says: 'May God, who has received you by baptism into his Church, pour upon you the riches of his grace, that within the company of Christ's pilgrim people you may daily be renewed by his anointing Spirit, and come to the inheritance of the saints in glory.'
· The welcome - the church congregation will say some formal words of welcome to acknowledge that the candidate has joined the Church and to show how pleased they are to have the candidate among them.
· Candles - Jesus is called the light of the world. The large Easter candle is lit in the church and the candidate (or their parents) are given a lighted candle at the end of the service as a reminder of the light which has come into the candidate’s life. It is up to the candidate’s parents & godparents, or sponsors, and the church community to help them reject the world of darkness and follow a way of life that reflects goodness and light and shares this light with others.
A child being baptised has a number of Godparents, who make the same promises on behalf of the child as the parents. Godparents promise to pray and support the child and to help the parents to bring up the child in the Christian faith. It is an important and responsible role.
Traditionally, the child being baptised has at least three godparents: two of the same sex as the child and one of the opposite sex. Godparents can be family members or friends, even the parents themselves. However, it is important that you choose people who will take an interest in your child's spiritual welfare and who will pray for you and your child. Godparents must be baptised themselves, and ideally should have been confirmed.
An older child or adult, i.e. someone who can make their own declarations and promises at baptism, may choose to have one or more sponsors – people who take an interest in their spiritual welfare and who will pray for and support them in their Christian journey.
Q. What's the difference between Baptism and Christening?
A. None, they are just different words for the same thing.
Q. Can we have a private service of baptism?
A. Baptisms usually take place in the church's main service, because they are a public declaration that the candidate has become part of the church family. It is important that the church congregation is there to support you and welcome your child. However, if personal circumstances make this difficult, talk to the parish clergy - it is sometimes possible to make special arrangements in cases of strong pastoral need.
Q. What's the right age for baptism?
A. Baptism can happen at any age. What matters is that those concerned believe it is right to ask for baptism.
Teenagers and adults may also be baptised. This is celebrated with confirmation by the Bishop. You can only be baptised once, but there are ways of renewing your commitment publicly as an adult – the clergy will be able to advise.
Q. I'm not a regular churhgoer - can I still have my child baptised?
A. Yes. The Church believes that God's love is available to all, regardless of their background. The clergy can talk you through the options: you may prefer to have a service of Thanksgiving (see above) first and then consider baptism when you have had time to talk through what is being asked of you. You may also wish to find out more about the Christian faith and what joining the Church involves before you make a decision about baptism. Again, the clergy can give you guidance.
Q. What will it cost?
A. A Thanksgiving or Baptism service is free.
(Though there may be a charge for the organist outside Sunday morning worship - this can be discussed)
If you require more information about Christian initiation please do contact us!
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