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Soacially Distanced Baptism

As a liturgist, I had to laugh at this image when it showed up on Facebook earlier this year. In many ways, super soaker baptism makes a lot of sense. Think about it, what better way to keep your distance from the baby, the family, and the congregation? On the other hand, it seems ridiculous! The visual contradiction between the priest’s robe and the water gun causes us to wonder if the image was photo shopped. But this isn’t the only clergy person who found inventive ways to do ministry in the last 10th months. Baptism and Communion are the hardest things to change. To change the practice of sacraments is to change the theology that lives within them.

Baptism in the United Methodist Church is a celebration of the grace that God has already offered to each of us. It is an initiation into Christ’s church and an incorporation into God’s covenant community. God’s grace is a free gift and, as such, there is no timeline on when a child must be baptized.

Baptism requires 3 things: water, words, and community. The water of baptism may be shared by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. The words of the liturgy are spoken by the clergy, the congregation, and either the candidate or their sponsor(s). Most often, parents and Godparents act as sponsors at the baptism of infants and young children. The community must be present to welcome the child (or adult) into the body of Christ.

Most Christian share the belief that baptism is in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This has become a universal expectation that allows one denomination to recognize baptism in another denomination. Baptism is, generally, considered unrepeatable because it is God’s action through the community and God doesn’t make mistakes. But baptism is only part of the covenant we make with God and community. In the United Methodist Church, it is only the beginning of a life long journey of faith that includes an opportunity to commit, and recommit, ourselves to God.

While COVID has challenged us to think outside the box and find new ways to be the church, I’m not sure Super Soaker baptism conveys the divine act in a sacred way. While the only real requirement for universal baptism is the Trinitarian formula, one begins to question the validity of this particular socially distanced alternative. Will other traditions recognize this method in the future?

As a liturgist, I would also argue that sprinkling, pouring, and immersion all require a closer proximity than a Super Soaker. They require a direct and visible connection between child (or adult), clergy, and water. When the World Council of Churches last debated baptism, I doubt they talked about anything beyond sprinkling, pouring, and immersion. Who would have thought Super Soaker baptism would ever seriously be considered! But it certainly makes for a funny picture!

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