Gathering of Baptism Teams – Clonliffe, 30 April 2015
Introduction: two challenges in baptism ministry today;
- Parents who do not go to church; how to engage with them
- The faith community’s lack of connection with baptism; how to engage with them
The Initial Contact
The initial contact needs to be personal rather than bureaucratic. It is about creating a relationship rather than providing a service. Try not to do anything over the phone, except to say that a member of the team will be in touch.
Arrange an informal initial meeting with the parents. (Ideally, with the group of parents who are having baptisms together.) This meeting is about moving away from ‘filling a form’ to ‘having a chat’. Be very welcoming, ask how the child is, etc. Be conscious of the feelings the parents might have, especially if they are not churchgoers. Explain the process – how we do it in this parish – encourage them to buy in. Go through dates. Encourage them to encourage the godparents’ participation.
A Welcome Mass
Maybe a couple of weeks before the baptism, the family (families) attend a special Sunday mass of welcome, where they are presented to the community. They might process in. After the gospel, the first parts of the baptism are done. The naming and the signing of the cross on the forehead – one or two of the congregation might do this too, as representatives of the welcoming community. The anointing with oil of catechumens. Then a word of welcome from a representative of the community (e.g. parish council or baptism team member). Then a couple of intercessions in the Prayer of the Faithful.
This is a very touching event for all concerned. The family feel the welcome; and they begin to see the baptism in the larger context of the faith community. The faith community experience their own ministry of welcome; and they begin to see baptism as part of their life.
Parishes might aim to make this mass a monthly event (depending on how many baptisms happen in the parish). The aim might be that all parishioners having a baptism would have this experience.
A big part of baptism ministry is facilitating parents in entering into their role as faith-companions for their children. The initial meeting and the welcome mass help here, through the welcome and affirmation the parents experience. But a little more is required. Some kind of meeting is needed in order to engage with the parents around this.
In some parishes, the team members visit the home, so that could be where the ‘meeting’ is held. But having a meeting at a central location has the advantage that parents can interact with one another and be encouraged along by one another.
Such a meeting would shift the focus from ‘explaining the ceremony’ to ‘empowering the parents’ (obviously it is not ‘either-or’). There would be a strong affirmation of the grace already present in the family. There would be simple, down-to-earth ways of getting people talking about this. Parents would be gently encouraged to see how they can be companions to their children in their faith journey.
Maybe more than one meeting is needed, in order to create this process. But maybe even one meeting is a lot to ask! Maybe there could be an invitation to a follow-up meeting sometime after the baptism.
Also, it is worth considering the meeting(s) on Sunday. It could happen immediately after the welcome mass. Perhaps the parents might come again the following Sunday!
Family prayer is really worth exploring as part of empowering parents in their role. The following are some examples of what could be offered as part of baptism preparation.
(1) Each night the parents touch their baby on the forehead and make the sign of the cross (as at the baptism), saying ‘God bless you and keep you, in the name of the Father and the Son and the holy Spirit’. Older brothers and sisters could do the same. It could be done with water from the baptism. An attractive prayer card could be made for the families.
(2) Each night, the family gather and each one says a prayer thanking God for something from the day. Or someone might have an intercession, e.g. for somebody who is sick. All say the ‘Glory be…’ together. Again, an attractive prayer card could be made.
(3) The family stand in a circle, with a bowl of blessed water. The first person blesses the person beside them with the water saying, ‘Thank you God for [name] whom we love and cherish’. Continue around the circle. Finish with ‘Glory be…’. Again, an attractive prayer card.
The ideas are very simple and very do-able. Obviously the second and third depend on there being older children. The children take to it very naturally. They may be the ones leading their parents into prayer.
Baptism preparation is about creating a relationship. Follow-up is about building the relationship. The following are some ideas for the time soon after the baptism;
*Present the parents with water from the baptism, perhaps in a container with the name of the parish on it.
*Baptism team member visit the family a few weeks after, perhaps with a gift from the parish (e.g. icon, contemporary holy water font, new testament, family prayers book).
*A social gathering for the parents who had their children baptised together. If there has been a meeting during the preparation, the group may already have bonded.
*Perhaps as part of the same occasion, a further reflection on baptism, e.g. focusing on the journey ahead for the parents with their child.
*Invite families to provide their email addresses, so that the baptism team can keep in contact about parish news and events.
*Encouragement to participate on Sundays, especially family mass.
The following are some ideas for later on;
- An attractive anniversary card from the baptism team, on behalf of the parish, remembering the day and wishing them well.
- An annual mass or ritual for all who have had a baptism during the year.
- An annual blessing of children who have not yet made first communion.
- Offer the possibility of blessing the family home. A prayer card could be prepared. The children could be involved. It could also be the occasion for supporting family prayer.
- Prayer resources for Lent and Advent, e.g. candle and prayer card for the home.
- Family-centred blessing rituals during the year, e.g. Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Grandparents’ Day. (For this and some of the other ideas, having the email addresses helps.)
Engaging with the Community
Besides follow-up with the parents, we want to build up the profile of baptism among the faith community, e.g.;
- Take the opportunity often to use the water ritual instead of the Penitential Rite.
- Prayer of the Faithful to include intercessions for those recently baptised.
- Occasional renewal of baptism promises in place of the Creed.
- Display of recent baptisms on a notice board in the church.
- Review the location of the baptism font, if it is not already prominent and central.
- A regular welcome mass (as above) for families preparing for baptism.
- An occasional baptism at Sunday mass (or the different weekend masses). Maybe we should be working towards all baptisms being at Sunday mass?
- Make the baptism team visible to the community, e.g. occasionally a member speak at the different masses.
The Baptism Team
Most teams are made up of older women. Some have younger women. Very few have men as members. In other areas of parish life, ‘like-to-like’ ministry has shown its value and effectiveness. It could be the same here.
Parishes might challenge themselves to work towards having a good representation of young parents on the team. Maybe parents who have recently had a first communion? If the time commitment is made very manageable, the proposition will be more attractive.