Originally published by the Rev. Glen Berg-Moberg
The pastor visits a Sunday school classroom and asks each child in turn, “When is your birthday?” Each child answers with no hesitation. Brightly, proudly, they shout out their dates.
“November 11!” “Mine is March 10!” Another says “January 7.” Then the pastor asks a different question. “What is your baptismal date?”
The answers are not as quick. They have to stop and think. But their excitement is even greater when they realize they can answer. They surprise themselves. They DO know their baptismal dates. This isn’t a dream. It can really happen, through some very simple lessons and habits at home and in church.
Consider how easy it is for children to rattle off their birthdays. How do they learn this so well? It’s simple. They learn their birthdays because daily rituals make so much of each birthday. Children can’t miss knowing. They get brightly wrapped birthday gifts and perhaps a party with their friends. There is a cake with the child’s name on it and everyone in the room sings a special song.
At what other time does your family sing to you or light candles in your honor? The child may have the privilege of deciding on the menu for family dinner. No wonder kids know their birth dates! The family teaches them and does the job well.
Families are great teachers. Families who teach children about their baptisms will be able to do so more effectively than any workbook ever could. Parents do not need special training or a seminary degree to be good teachers. They just need encouragement and a little direction.
Baptism is our birth into God’s family. The order for Holy Baptism in the Lutheran Book of Worship states that in baptism, “we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life.” Think of a baptismal anniversary as a Christian birthday party and everyone understands.
Parents do the best job of impressing the importance of baptism on their children when they make baptism anniversaries stand out on the calendar as much as birthdays do. Here are just a few ideas to help make baptism as important a ritual as a birthday.
Celebrate with a cake and candle. As on a birthday, let the child choose the menu for the family dinner. Have a cake with the child’s name on it and decorate it with a dove, a cross, or a baptismal shell. Sing a song together. Many congregations give a candle to those who are newly baptized. For an anniversary, why not bring out this candle and have it burning during a family meal and celebration? Gifts will add both to the meaning and excitement. A recording of Christian songs, a story Bible for the young, or a Bible camp T-shirt are a few gift ideas.
Give a baptism birthday gift. Gifts will remind the child that belonging to God’s family is something to cherish and celebrate. The goal is to make children aware of their baptismal anniversary. When the pastor asks, “What’s your baptism birthday?” the child will know the answer as well as they know their own birthday. No one can teach this more effectively than parents, who need to realize they are valuable teachers in their children’s Christian education.
Keep a baptism birthday file. Parents need to know they are not alone. Sunday school teachers and pastors can help, too. Your church can keep a card file organized by calendar year. (A PC database is another way to do the same thing.)
Each day’s card can list the name of children who were baptized on that date. Each year, each child can receive a greeting card from the church that bears the date of his or her baptism, and words or congratulations and blessing from the church. Have the card signed by the pastor, the child’s Sunday school teacher, and any youth workers.
The card itself can be designed by a confirmation student from the congregation, whose name appears on the back of each card. This can be a wonderful affirmation of that particular student’s talent.
Create a worship baptism banner. Baptism education also occurs in worship. At your church, consider creating a banner, for example one with a large baptismal shell. Leave plenty of blank space below the shell. Then, every year on the Sunday of the Baptism of our Lord, fill the blank space with blue “water drops” cut from fabric.
Make each drop with the name and baptismal date of a person baptized at your church in the past year. During worship, read a list of these names and invite families invited forward to take their water drop home with them. You can mail any water drops not picked up a few days later, before the baptismal anniversary.
None of these projects or programs are difficult or expensive. Each child receives many reminders of baptism as these programs carry on through the years.
Why do it? Our ceremonial baptism service is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even for those who fall away from the faith and then return, we do not re-baptize, but instead reaffirm the original baptism. Since baptism happens only once, children easily forget.
The repetition of reminders will help children grasp the deeper truth – that baptism is the foundation, the fountain where we can return again and again for the water of life. To be able to recite date and time of baptism will not save our souls, but knowing that date and time, unchanging through the years, can illustrate for all Christians the absolute nature of God’s love for each person.
Birthday parties are fun, but knowing and celebrating a birthday gives a sense of roots. Just as birth is the beginning of a growing, changing life, so baptism is the beginning of a growing, maturing faith in God. Baptism provides our faith with roots, and we need to know the roots of our faith as well as we know our family tree.