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Twin Cities congregations help families live out initiation promise through baptismal gifts

New Beginnings offer opportunity to re-assess in the new year

Infants are welcomed into the Lutheran church through the act of baptism. Congregations welcome them as fellow members in the body of Christ and promise to support them in the Christian growth. Baptism is their first passage in their Christian journey, a new beginning for the infants, their families, and their sponsors alike.
Christian educator Marilyn Sharpe describes the act of baptism as the welcoming of infants into the church, saying, “In baptism we don’t welcome them as a future commodity, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, a gift right here, right now.”

Trinity Lutheran Church, Monticello, Minnesota, offers the baptismal family a “safe chest” on the day the child is initiated into the church. Photo provided by Trinity Lutheran Church

“Our goal is [to encourage young families to] be a regular part of worship, let them  know they are an important part of the congregation.”

For some local Lutheran congregations, that gift is marked through tangible, symbolic gifts and continuing education materials for the children and their families. During the act of baptism, congregations welcome the infants into the church and promise to support them in their faith journeys. This promise is further lived out through these gifts, given as acts of service for the church’s newest members.
Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Monticello, Minnesota, wanted to support young families as they go through milestones so they feel more closely connected to the congregation. Leaders at Trinity decided to provide baptismal families with a set of study materials to accompany the children through the first three years of their lives.
Because ordering pre-made materials was cost prohibitive for the congregation, members chose to create their own educational materials to be distributed to families.
At the time of baptism, the families are given looseleaf booklets with the infant’s name on the front page. Inside is a letter from the pastor, a plastic liner in which they can place the baptismal handkerchief, and the first in a series of quarterly newsletters they will receive for the first three years of their child’s life. These newsletters, called “Splashing Around,” include age-appropriate ideas for bringing the child to church, including ways to make them more aware of their worship experience, a devotional, family activities centered around faith, and resource suggestions for parents and the children.
In addition to the baptismal educational materials, Trinity gives the children a “safe chest,” a wooden chest made of oak with a safe lid and a cross on the back. They also receive a shell as a symbol of their baptism and a baby blanket knitted by the congregation’s prayer shawl ministry.
“Our goal is [to encourage young families to] be a regular part of worship, let them know they are an important part of the congregation,” said Trinity member Pat Cina, who helped bring the program to the congregation and remains an active volunteer leader for the program. “We are there for them.”
The program is rewarding for Trinity’s volunteers, as well as the families. “People really sincerely feel that it is a very precious part of their ministry at Trinity. They really feel like they’ve given something that’s really important to the overall wellbeing of our families,” Cina said.

Blanketed in the love of God

Cheryl Biessner, a member of St. Paul-Reformation (ELCA) in St. Paul, notes that she has carried the tradition of a baptismal blanket ministry with her from her previous congregation because she sees baptism as a critical time for keeping people in the church. “With the birth of a child, many seek churches,” she said, noting that “often new members come for the first time to baptize a child. This was a small way to try to retain them.”
Likewise, St. John’s Lutheran (LCMS) in Chaska, Minnesota, celebrates the baptism of children through the gift of baptismal blankets, referring to the gift as a way to “wrap [the children] in prayers and love.” Additionally, the church has created a congregational sponsorship ministry.
Jenny Erdmann, a St. John’s member and children’s ministry leader, explains that families are often over extended. So, the congregation provides sponsors who can connect with the young families and act as mentors to walk with them and their children in their faith journey.
“It can be challenging for a young family to bring a baby to church,” Erdmann noted. “It is nice to have someone say that they will be an encourager and a faith sponsor.”
She notes that while sponsors are listed for the baby, the congregation views them as sponsors for the whole family. To encourage the building of this relationship, the sponsors present the families their Cradle Roll packets, which are given at different stages through the new baby’s life. Sponsors also give shepherding cards at Christmas, Easter, baptismal anniversaries, the child’s first birthday, and on All Saints Day.
Each year on All Saints Day, the children come together with their parents and sponsors to receive an additional gift. Each child is given a washcloth embroidered with a baptismal shell. They are reminded to remember their baptism as they wash their face each morning. November 2012 was the first time the gift of a wash cloth was given on All Saints Sunday, and the congregation intends to make this an annual tradition.
“As Lutherans we understand that once baptism happens, we live it every day of our lives,” Sharpe said, “We focus on how we are going to do that.”
These Twin Cities Lutheran congregations have focused on how to do that each and every day of these children’s lives, and are reminding parents of thepromises they made at baptism through multiple touch points.
In Sharpe’s words, “That’s an awesome thing.”

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