Rather than just reciting "the rules" to the caller, Pr. Julie kept the door open and seized the opportunity for conversation and the possibility of the Baptism of a child along with growth in baptismal understanding by a parent.
When a person comes to baptism what are the practices that are experienced? Both The Use of the Means of Grace and Principles for Worship give guidance as we seek to practice the Sacrament of Baptism in ways that are biblical, confessional, and faithful to the tradition of the Church.
Baptismal practice begins with preparation for Baptism. In the case of infants this will often involve parents and sponsors meeting with the pastor, or meeting with a group of families and sponsors who are preparing for a child to be baptized. This is a time for parents and sponsors to deepen their understanding of baptism and to grow in their desire and ability to nurture their child in faith. Some congregations have adopted the practice of assigning a member of the congregation to serve as a sponsor of the child in addition to those persons chosen by the family. Other congregations have emphasized the role of the community of faith in assuming responsibility for the growth and nurture of the baptismal candidate.
In the case of adults and older children some congregations have found the introduction of the catechumenate beneficial. This is an ancient process that has been adapted as a useful way of welcoming new Christians into the church through the study of Scripture, worship and the use of mentoring relationships to guide those preparing for baptism. The materials to help guide the catechumenal process are published under the title Welcome to Christ.
The celebration of Baptism within the context of the gathered community of faith promotes the understanding of baptism as initiation into the Body of Christ. There are especially appropriate times during the year for the celebration of Baptism. The Easter Vigil provides a rich liturgy in which the meaning of baptism permeates the event. Death and resurrection, putting on Christ, washing, anointing, sealing – these are some of the biblical images organic to the liturgy. Other good times for Baptism are the Day of Pentecost, All Saints’ Day, and the Baptism of Our Lord. "Baptismal celebrations on these occasions keep Baptism integrated into the unfolding of the story of salvation provided by the church year." (The Use of the Means of Grace, Application 25B)
Generous and highly visible use of water is a powerful sign of what happens in baptism. When water can be seen and heard the meaning of baptism as cleansing, dying and new birth is accentuated. Many churches are including large fonts when planning building programs. Some are large enough to accommodate the immersion of adults. Some revive the ancient practice of building a font in the shape of a Greek cross. Some have running water, so that every time one enters the worship space the sight and sound of running water are a persistent reminder of baptism. Where a large immersion-style baptismal pool is not possible it is helpful to use a large pitcher or basin for pouring water over the head of the baptismal candidate. Congregations with small fonts can increase font size by purchasing a larger glass or plexiglass bowl that can be placed in the present bowl.
When adults are immersed they could be clothed in a simple alb or white garment with a bathing suit underneath. When infants are immersed clothing is not necessary.
The placement of a baptismal font speaks powerfully of the centrality and importance of baptism. A font located at the entrance of the worship space is an obvious statement and reminder that baptism is entry into the Church. If water is kept in the font people have the opportunity of dipping their finger in the water and making the sign of the cross as a baptismal reminder when they enter and leave the worship space. It is helpful to provide adequate space around the font for people to gather. Some newer churches have allowed enough space around the font for the entire assembly to gather at the time of Baptism.
A large paschal candle, lighted initially at the Easter Vigil, stands next to the font throughout the year and is lighted for every baptism and every funeral. The placement of live plants at the font helps to focus attention on living water and the life-giving essence of baptism.
The use of other signs underscores a variety of baptismal themes. The laying on of hands with prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit is a reminder that in baptism the gifts of the Spirit are generously given to all so that all might share in the mission of Christ and his Church. Anointing with oil is a sign of being sealed with the Spirit. As priests and royalty are anointed with oil, so at the time of baptism the baptized becomes a member of the royal priesthood of all believers. The oil can be simple olive oil. It might have a scent added to it. The giving of a lighted candle is a reminder that one is baptized into Christ, the light of the world, and through this sacrament all the baptized become bearers of that light. Clothing in a white baptismal garment is a wonderful sign that in baptism we "put on Christ." (Colossians 3:10, 12-14)
Baptism is a beginning. Congregations will want to provide support to families whose children have been recently baptized. The use of a Cradle Roll or other material can be helpful. Post-baptismal instruction is important as it occurs through the educational and nurturing ministries of the congregation. Encouraging the celebration of baptismal anniversaries can be an important way of reminding people of their identity as God’s children.
And, it is an appropriate and powerful sign if the one being baptized receives the eucharist for the first time at the baptismal liturgy. (See Use of the Means of Grace, Principle 38.)