Why I’m not baptizing my daughter

This Sunday at the 11:00 service our church will celebrate Kate’s baptism.  When I realized that this Sunday also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day, I remembered that we baptized Drew on Halloween.  Though neither of those was an intentional choice, both are holidays with sacred roots being held hostage as secular celebrations.  Somehow I see our accidental planning of baptisms on those days as a providential way to reclaim their sacred nature.  It’s also a great way for the kids to remember the anniversary of their baptism every year.

Happy Halloween! (Remember your baptism and be thankful!)

Recently a good friend of mine, a fellow pastor, told me that baptizing his own children was an incredible experience for him – the chance to reach into the water and mark them with the symbol of the cross, claiming them for God’s family.

When he asked me if I was going to baptize Kate myself, I think I surprised him with how quickly and forcefully I answered: “No!”  It definitely surprised me.  Up until that moment the decision had just been a gut reaction, so I had to stop and clarify – even for myself – my strong feelings on the subject.

As a pastor I get to participate in a lot of baptisms.  I get to stand in the pastor’s designated spot next to our church’s huge baptismal font (it’s rumored to have been custom made from an outdoor fire pit – a story that deserves its own theological reflection to say the least!) and invite families to come forward.  I watch them step up on the other side of the kneeling rail as they bring their babies forward.

Baptizing Hunter (I'm 6 months pregnant with Drew here)

Baptizing Hunter
(I’m 6 months pregnant with Drew here)

For years before I was a parent myself I watched the mothers’ faces as they held out their squirmy bundles.  Their mouths smiled, but the fear in their eyes communicated wordlessly: Please. Please don’t squirm so hard that I almost drop you as I hand you to the pastor. Please don’t scream and cry in front of the whole congregation. Please don’t spit up on the pastor’s stole or try to eat the microphone on her robe or belch loudly into that microphone. (I’ve had babies do all of these things at their baptisms!)

Baptizing Libby

Baptizing Libby

I’ve stood on the other side of the altar rail so many times, trying my best to reassure those mothers with my calm smile.  But inside I’m praying right along with for the mercy of a calm baby.  It’s been one of the greatest privileges of my role as a pastor to receive those babies into my arms, representing both the arms of the Church and the arms of God, and to speak those holy words over them: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” To speak God’s love over them and to seal their adoption into His family.

Baptizing Ella (I'm 6 months pregnant with Kate here)

Baptizing Ella (I’m 6 months pregnant with Kate here)

In the best of scenarios the tiny baby sleeps through the whole thing, not even waking when a splash of cold water crosses their brow.  Those are my favorite moments. Not just because all possible baptismal foibles have been averted, but because I see in my arms the perfect picture of how we all receive God’s grace – so unaware of its depths that we mostly sleepwalk through it all.

It wasn’t until the dark years of infertility and miscarriage that I realized how I longed to stand on the other side of the rail.  The babies we lost never had a chance at baptism. They were God’s children nevertheless, sent the express route straight back to Him, too early for us to name them or claim their place here in the Church that I love.  It was hard to hand the dream of those children back over to God.  It wasn’t until the day I finally got to officially claim the title “mother” that I realized that this is the ultimate vocation of mothers – handing our children over to God.

Baptizing Hannah

Baptizing Hannah

It was then I finally understood the look in those mothers’ eyes at the baptismal rail. Their slight hesitation as they passed babies to me draped in slippery white gowns.  That in that act of handing them over they were formally saying what all parents who trust Christ must say: “This is not my child. This is God’s child. I will use every last ounce of my energy and resources to care for them for a time. I will raise them in faith and sing to them about God and whisper Jesus’ love in their sleepy ears, but ultimately they are not mine. Someday they will return to Him. This is God’s child.”

I need to hand my baby over the rail this Sunday because I need to say it again:
“This is God’s child.”

I need pictures of that moment hung in our house to remind me of that every time I’m tempted to plan her life out for her. Every time I’m tempted to control her with my disapproval or direct her future with my worry.  Every time I want so badly to be god in her life I need to remember that I officially gave up that job on St. Patrick’s Day 2013.  The Church will remind me of that too.  She will be their baby now, theirs officially to love and raise on God’s behalf as well.

So I won’t be baptizing Kate this Sunday.  I won’t be able to stand in the place of pastor –  some wonderful men that I admire and serve with are going to stand there instead.  But there’s only one person who can stand in the place of her mother.

This Sunday I will sit in a pew I’ve only sat in once before – at Drew’s baptism on October 31, 2010 – the pew reserved for families with babies being baptized.  Though it was Halloween I had removed my clerical costume and come as myself.  Just a mom.  Holding a baby.  Handing him over to God and His family.

Dr. Robb baptizing Drew October 31, 2010

Dr. Robb baptizing Drew
October 31, 2010

Rob Renfroe blessing Drew at his baptism

Rob Renfroe blessing Drew at his baptism

This Sunday is my last chance to do that again.

I hope I remember my line.

Pastor: “What name is given this child?”
Parents: “Katherine Juliet LaGrone.”

This is God’s child.

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35 Responses to Why I’m not baptizing my daughter

  1. Sherry says:

    I loved this Jessica! “Just a mom, holding a baby, handing him over to God and His Family” just perfect.

  2. John Leek says:

    This is beautiful Jessica. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I’m glad that you’re baptizing your daughter even if YOU are not baptizing your daughter. The power of God coursing through the element of water, bestowing upon us His grace that goes before our choice, is too holy a thing to forgo.

    I was relieved when I saw what you meant! And Katherine, welcome to the family of God!

  4. Shelby Lowell says:

    You made me cry this afternoon, Jessica! I can remember in detail each of the four mornings we’ve baptized our children — two at St. Andrew’s UMC in Plano, one at Libertyville UMC in Grayslake, IL and then Audrey at TWUMC. I was always very aware that I needed God and those friends and family sitting in the congregation to help me be the Mom I needed to be. And I ALWAYS cried when I looked out and listened to those in the congregation say they would help Steve and I raise them in the church. Looking forward to sharing Kate’s baptism with you on Sunday.

  5. Tina Matteson says:

    This is beautiful, Jessica! And congratulations!

  6. Jamie Ross says:

    That was beautiful, Jessica! I got all teary… Of course the hormone surge of being 38 weeks pregnant isn’t helping, but I can’t wait for that moment once more!

  7. Cheryl Smith says:

    So wise, Jessica. Thousands can and will vow and love and guide Kate. Some of them will even be pastors, but that is not who you are called to be this St. Patrick’s Day. Your sitting in that front row pew is not a diminishment of roles, but an acknowledgement of the uniqueness of your role. Only one mother. I will be adding my prayers and saying my vows from a distance–With God’s help, I will proclaim the good news. . . . .surround this child . . . . .pray for her. . . . . Amen and amen!

  8. Becky says:

    I have passed this on…lovingly to my family and friends. Thank you…dear one!

  9. Nelda Perry says:

    Jessica, so well stated! An emotional time for all members of a church at the time of baptism. Handing over a child to God is a great accomplishment for a parent. Being a part of the ceremony is a blessing for each church member. May we all remember our responsibility to the children. May Sunday, March 17, 2013 be a wonderful day for you and Jim!

  10. Jessica says:

    Thanks Sherry!

  11. Jessica says:

    Thanks, John!

  12. Jessica says:

    Intentional play on words in the title, Timothy. Glad it gotcha!
    Thanks for your encouragement and your welcome for Kate. I’m thankful we’re all in this family together!

  13. Jessica says:

    Isn’t it amazing to listen to a congregation take that vow to raise your child? I’m thankful that you and your sweet family are adopting Kate on Sunday. Thank you for who you are and all you do!

  14. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Tina!

  15. Jessica says:

    Oh, the hormone surges! I’ll be praying for you in these last couple of weeks, Jamie. Blessings for another wonderful miracle!

  16. Jessica says:

    Thanks for showing me how to balance these roles with grace. You are a master Reverend-Mother! :)

  17. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Becky!

  18. Jessica says:

    Thanks, Nelda! And thank you for being part of the community of faith that helped raise me through the years with your love and prayers. :)

  19. Ruth Anne Reese says:

    wonderfully reflective…

  20. Jean Aynn Prestenbach says:

    What a beautiful, poignant reminder of our jobs as parents.

  21. Ben McGehee says:

    I am a pastor as well, and my baby is being baptized this Sunday, too. We have invited a clergy friend of ours to be in worship with us and baptize our baby. Our other two were done a little differently (different churches, different situations), but every time we had someone else perform the baptism and I got to be the Daddy. The first time, we did it this way because my wife insisted, but now I really appreciate what we’re doing. This post helped me process some of those thoughts. Thanks!

  22. B.J. Funk says:

    I loved everything you said. You brought me back into the reality I already knew, but need to be reminded of. How special that you expressed yourself for all of us to read. And, I do love that Dr. Rob Renfroe. He is special to our church in south Georgia!!

  23. Brian Vinson says:

    The vow that the congregation makes is one of the most impressive vows that I know of. As a pastor, I stop here and make sure that the congregation is paying attention, that they know that they really are making a vow that they will raise the child to know God’s unconditional grace and love bestowed on her/him and that this child will be watching to see if their actions measure up to their words.

  24. Brian Vinson says:

    Wonderful post. It’s also a reminder to the congregation that we pastors are human, too, that we share the same hopes and dreams for our children… and struggles raising them, too. That we, too, need the love and grace of a community to help raise our children to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ with all their lives.

  25. Can we copy & use this? This is good to give to all parents who are presenting their child to the Lord! Thank you for your thoughts. (Too bad I didn’t read them 37 years ago – I baptized all 5 of my children; I might reconsider now.)

  26. JM Smith says:

    I’m curious as to how this differs from when our believer-baptism friends do infant dedications? Is that not also the act of “handing over to God” their child? I’ve not completely made up my mind on the issue of baptism (believer vs. infant), but it seems that Scripturally speaking, this would be more of a dedication.

    Not attacking or criticizing, just questioning.

  27. Jessica says:

    I hope your family’s big day was a wonderful one today! We certainly felt God’s amazing presence with us. How fun that both of these children of God (and children of pastors) share a baptism day!

  28. Jessica says:

    As long as you cite this blog as a source you are welcome to use this.
    And I’m sure there was a very special connection there, baptizing your own children. That’s a blessing in itself. :)

  29. Dale Schoening says:

    I’m a pastor, and I didn’t baptize any of my children, either. I felt my role in that event was to be parent, not pastor. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  30. Tommy Conder says:

    thanks for this. My wife and I are both pastors. For my daughter, we chose two very special pastors in my wife’s journey to ministry. For my son’s, we chose two pastors important to my own call story. I was very very happy to be a father for the services rather than fulfilling the priestly roll of officiant at their baptisms…blessings

  31. Jarell says:

    This was absolutely wonderful, so honest and heartfelt. It moved me.

  32. Brenda Myers says:

    Never thought about this before. I totally agree.

    On another subject, Jane Regner and I had our intro meeting to your study last night. 25 beautiful folks to share it with. Male and female. Love it so far. You wouldn’t believe how many “Jo’s” were there. Brenda Jo, Carol Jo, Betty Jo……Too funny. You could almost tell the generations and locales by the names. Margie Kearns refuses to give us her middle name, so I am on a hunt for it. Do you know it, by the way??? Just kidding ;) Sooo looking forward to the study. Jane has taken a peek – I am waiting to experience it with everyone else. She says it is like sitting down with you and listening. I am hoping so! Anyway, love you bunches…

  33. Thanks Brenda! I’m so excited you guys are doing Namesake. You’ll have to let me know what you think. :)

  34. alicia coltzer says:

    I love reading this post. I love reading your writing. This blog is priceless. I hope you print out and put in a keepsake book so when Kate needs to remember who she is, she will look back to her mother’s words..a child of God.

  35. Beautiful post. Beautiful story. Beautiful moment. Beautiful message in that you also showed men and women everywhere that no job anywhere supersedes the one of being a father or mother humbly dependent upon His grace.

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