The baptismal service should be a high experience for the church; everything possible should be done to make it inspiring and beautiful. Although the ordained minister ordinarily officiates at this service, provision is made in the Church Manual for the local elder to lead out when it cannot be otherwise arranged. This, however, should always be done with proper counsel. The Manual reads:
In the absence of an ordained pastor, it is customary for the elder to arrange with the president of the conference or local field before administering the rite of baptism to those desiring to unite with his church.—page 59, (1995ed.).
Even though the pastor is in charge, the local elder can do much to enhance the baptismal service. First of all, he should be eager, along with the officiating minister, to carefully plan every detail of the baptism: heating the water, arranging the dressing rooms and the baptistry, and the readying the robes and towels. Also, he will want to see that all is properly cared for following the service.
Although these physical arrangements are the responsibility of the deacons and deaconesses, everything should be checked carefully so that nothing is overlooked. The lack of communication at this time can result in some very embarrassing moments.
On these special occasions the minister should be as free as possible to concentrate on the spiritual aspects of the service. This being so, the elder may well make himself available to check the above matters with the deacons and deaconesses. A checklist something like the following can be a useful guide:
BAPTISMAL CHECK LIST
1. Be certain that the baptistry is in readiness, that it is clean, and that the heating unit is functioning properly. If any repair is necessary, do not risk its attention until the last week or two before the baptism.
2. Have a clear understanding with the candidates and the deacons and deaconesses as to just when in the course of the service the baptism is to be conducted and how it will proceed. This information should be communicated during the week preceding the baptism so that as far as possible, last-minute adjustments can be avoided.
3. Inform the candidates as to what will be expected of them and the clothing they should wear.
4. Have the head deacon and deaconess informed as to the number of candidates (how many men, women, boys, or girls) and their approximate sizes so properly fitting robes may be assigned.
5. Have dressing rooms properly prepared, with the necessary robes hung and ready for use with names attached, along with a towel for each. These should be supplied as far as possible, although it is recognized that there will be exceptions.
6. Arrange for the baptistry to be properly filled with water at a comfortable temperature. If necessary, have a trial filling before the baptism.
7. As candidates arrive for the service, have deacons and deaconesses show the candidates to their respective dressing rooms where they can then leave their baptismal attire.
8. Have deacons and deaconesses meet in the dressing rooms with the candidates to assist them in their preparations and in their entering and emerging from the baptistry.
9. Have the wet garments, floors, etc., properly cared for and the baptistry drained following the baptism.
DON'T LEAVE IT TO CHANCE
Some of these details may seem very elementary, but they are at times overlooked. The greatest fault is lack of communication. The deacons and deaconesses appreciate being properly notified well in advance when a baptism is scheduled. Do not depend on their getting the word through a general announcement or through the church newsletter or bulletin. Notify them personally and be sure that they understand what their responsibilities are.
Paradoxically, it often happens that the arrangements for larger baptisms are more properly executed than for smaller ones. This is partly because it is easily assumed that where just one or two are to be baptized, the arrangements are simple and require little attention. But this is not so. There have been too many baptisms where the lone candidate has been left unattended before and after the baptism. The attendant may not be needed for the preparation as such, but far more important is the presence that indicates a personal interest and spirit of helpfulness. The expressions of friendliness and encouragement at this time can be extremely important, offering a feeling of security and real togetherness. If a layperson has had an important part in leading the candidate to this experience, he or she may also wish to be close by at this time.
At the baptism, little extras can set it apart and make it the special occasion it should be. Special flowers should be on hand. Also, a lovely flower is sometimes given to each of the candidates as they emerge from the water. What a beautiful expression of the love from the congregation to the new member!
The friendliness of the church at the time of baptism is crucial. For some of the new members there may already be a lengthy acquaintance, perhaps months and even years of church attendance. For these it should indeed be a great day when the baptism occurs, and usually the prevailing atmosphere is one of joy and hairiness. For others, however, the baptism may come at the close of a series of evangelistic meetings, and the candidate's acquaintance with the members of the church may be quite limited. The meetings may have been conducted in a public hall or auditorium, and the number of times they have met previously with one congregation in Sabbath worship service doubtless been very few. The tendency then may be for the congregation to be less demonstrative in their joy and welcome. On such occasions, amid strange circumstances and people, the baptism can become a very lonely experience.
How important then that extra effort be put forth to literally envelope them in the atmosphere of love. They may be leaving a host of dear friends in their former church. How unnecessarily heartbreaking if the new church family shows little personal interest or care. This must not happen. Let all officers and members of the church be on their best behavior, making the baptismal day a day of beauty and happiness, one long remembered and cherished.
Dear Father, do help us to be especially mindful of the feelings of Thy children as they enter into the blessed experience of baptism. Help us to show the interest and concern that we should and do all that we can to make the baptismal day the high day that it ought to be, not only for those being baptized but for every member and friend of the church. Amen.
Orley M. Berg was associate editor of Ministry when he wrote this