July 23, 2012

Baptism in Community

The Quakers have a wonderful marriage tradition that my husband and I borrowed for our wedding nearly 15 years ago.

States require the signatures of a couple of witnesses on the official marriage certificate. But in the Quaker tradition, everyone who attends signs another certificate as a witness to their presence and support for the marriage. This one isn't legally binding, but it's community building, a reminder that marriage, like other commitments, doesn’t happen in a isolation. It happens within community. 

Our church celebrated a baptism on Sunday. Since we are still new to the congregation, we’re learning their customs. I was delighted to be introduced to a new one. 

The baptism certificate was placed on a podium near the front door with an invitation for members of the congregation to sign around the edges. As we know, the liturgy for the baptism asks the congregation to commit to the care of the newly baptized: “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ?” 

This is a potent promise. As a godparent to two wonderful children, I embraced this vow to support, nurture and love. 

But baptism isn’t just about the promises of the parents and godparents. It is about the collective commitment of the community to uphold and support the newly baptized in their faith journeys. It’s about welcoming them into the body of Christ in every way, from telling the stories of the Bible to modeling our lives in a way that reflects our faith.

That’s why I love the idea of all of the community signing the baptismal certificate. It is a tangible reminder to both the signees of their commitment. It is also a sign to the baptized that they are part of something much bigger, a community of faith that stretches thousands of years, from earth to heaven. 

As this young girl grows older, she may occasionally re-visit the document, as I do my wedding certificate. I run my fingers over the names. Some have died. Others have faded from our daily lives. But each person contributed not only to sharing that special day with us but also in shaping our lives in big and small ways. 

Baptism is about entry into the church, into the community of Christ. Signing our names, committing to each other, helps lay the foundation.