Concerning Baptism

Baptism, Reaffirmation of Vows, Confirmation, Reception, Renewal of Vows

The Commission:

The Rev’d. Lloyd Prator, Chair
Dr. Owen Burdick
Sr. Jean Campbell, OSH
The Rev’d. Paul Clayton
The Rev’d. Paul Cochrane
Mr. Joseph Costa
Dr. Levy Elzy, Jr.
The Rev’d. Canon Joel Gibson
Ms. Betty Gray
Mr. Mark Howe
Mr. Paul Johnson
Ms. Margaret Lehrecke
Ms. Carol McKenna
The Rev’d. Dr. Susan Schaeffer
The Rev’d. Masud I. Syedullah
The Rev’d. Rhoda Treherne-Thomas


“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body, the Church. The bond which God establishes at Baptism is indissoluble.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 298). In these words, the Book of Common Prayer clearly states the position of this Church: Baptism by water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the only requirement for full initiation in this Church. Baptism is the root from which all other sacraments and rites of the church proceed.

Origins of Baptism

Water, a necessity for life, is valued as precious by people all over the world. From the primordial waters, life emerged. Civilizations gathered their communities along rivers and streams, around pools and lakes. Used for drinking, washing, irrigation, and recreational activities, it was and is experienced as life-giving. However, its formidable characteristics are also known–the destructive force of tidal waves and the tragic experience of drownings. Such variety and disparity of experiences make for a profoundly rich and powerful symbol.

Ancient peoples of many cultures recognized water as a potent symbol. When used ceremonially, it could express the notion of cleanliness or purity. Therefore, water was often used with religious rites to make clean, or to signify the ritual setting apart, purity, or holiness of persons or things as sacred. It is with this connection between water and cleanliness that John the Baptist, within the ancient Jewish context, baptized persons in water as a sign of their “repentance and the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). This action was at once a personal sign of rededication to the God of Israel and a sign of cleansing of ceremonial impurity. Although Christian Baptism has its origin in such water-washing ceremonies, and shares much with them, its meaning is expanded by and primarily focused on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ .


Baptism in the New Testament

We owe much to the Apostle Paul who, through his writings, left a record of how the early Christian community understood Baptism.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by Baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Baptism was, for the early Christian community, a sacramental action to convey that one was experiencing spiritual conversion and renewal–the end of one life and the beginning of another in Christ. By using the metaphorical language and imagery of death, burial, and resurrection, the early community ceremonially expressed, that in Baptism, we die to our destructive and distorted ways of being, relating, and acting, and that by the goodness and faithfulness of God, we are raised from death to a new life, guided by and filled with the Spirit of God. It was an outward and visible sign of the spiritual transformation God was doing in one’s life. It was a symbolic action performed to depict what was happening within the life of one on a spiritual journey towards communion with God, the people of God, and all God’s creation.

Although the metaphor of being raised from death to new life is the dominant image of Christian Baptism in the New Testament, no single image or metaphor can exhaust the rich meaning of one’s conversion and experience of spiritual renewal. Consequently, there developed other images and metaphors in Scripture that express how the early Chrisitan community spoke of their conversion of life and experience of renewal in the Holy Spirit. Among them are:


  1. Spiritual Rebirth (John 3:3-10)
  2. Spiritual Awakening (Romans 8:37-39)
  3. Initiation into the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:12-13)
  4. Transformation of the whole person (Romans 12:1-2)
  5. Made a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  6. To turn from darkness to light (Ephesians 5:8, Colossians 1:11-14)
  7. To be saved (Titus 3:3-7)

Baptism in the History of the Church

The history of Baptism is deeply woven into the history of Judaism and Christianity. Christian Baptism has much in common with ancient Jewish rites of initiation, which, like Baptism, included a time of intensive study and examination, renunciation of former ways of life, a ritual water bath, and marking with the sign of the tau. Certainly, Christianity took over much of this ancient practice and reinterpreted it in light of our belief in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, our incorporation into the death and resurrection of Jesus, and our becoming a part of his body by being signed with his cross.

By the third century, preparation for Baptism had, in many places, developed into an extensive period of preparation often as long as three years, culminating in powerful rites of initiation at the end of Holy Week. After a night spent in vigil and prayer, the candidate came to the dawn of the first day of the week at which time water was blessed and he or she was submerged or immersed in Baptism. The candidate was anointed, baptized with water, confessed faith, clad in a white garment and then brought to the bishop, who signed the candidate with the sign of the cross. The newly baptized normally made their first communion at this occasion.

After Christianity became a public religion, and eventually the religion of the whole culture, the increase in the number of baptisms made this kind of preparation more difficult to undertake. As Christian theology began to emphasize original sin, and as people became more enthralled with proper piety about it, Baptism became more and more the sacrament of infancy. By the early middle ages, Baptism was, in most places, no longer preceded by a time of repentance, nor did it involve a confession of faith, or participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, conferring of the Holy Spirit and binding together of the Christian community. Baptism had become the cure for original sin. Too, the increase in the number of infant baptisms, the development of new understandings about ordained ministry, and the change in eucharistic piety tended to separate Holy Communion from Baptism. As early as the thirteenth century, the Western Church in some places, such as England, required postponing Holy Communion until Confirmation, and waiting for Confirmation until the age of discretion.

The development of the rite of Confirmation, a complicated issue in its own right, probably has its origin in the custom of post-baptismal anointing. From at least the third century, anointing in some form was a part of the baptismal rite. While practices varied with location, those places under Roman influence tended to observe a second anointing by the bishop after the Baptism. This practice tended to solidify the authority of the Bishop and to establish and extend the dominance of Roman practice. These post-baptismal anointings were also the rites by which persons were restored from excommunication and welcomed to the church from heretical bodies. In form, these post-baptismal anointings were episcopal blessings, and as early as the fifth century, these rites were called Confirmations.

Even before the Reformation, some were taking advantage of the time between Baptism and the post-baptismal anointings to encourage Christian learning and piety. In some places, Confirmation was postponed until the child learned certain texts such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Apostles’ Creed. Sometimes, Holy Communion was postponed until Confirmation.

At the time of the Reformation, the Bohemian Brethren retained post baptismal anointing, insisting that it be preceded by instruction, examination, and renewal of the baptismal covenant. Wycliff disavowed the rite of Confirmation developed in the middle ages, and the Anabaptists asserted the primacy of adult baptisms. The Lutheran Reformers tried to reassert the ancient understanding of Baptism, emphasizing the death and resurrection of Jesus, and incorporating Old Testament types such as the Flood and the Exodus. They made Baptism a public rite and revived a form of the catechumenate.

The English Book of Common Prayer of 1549 attempted to establish Baptism as a public rite, to be celebrated on Sundays or Holy Days. The Book of Common Prayer retained some of the rites of the medieval church including the clothing in a white garment and anointing of the newly baptized in the manner of medieval Confirmation rites–that is anointing upon the forehead. In this way, the first Book of Common Prayer began the process of restoring the unity of the initiatory rite. Some aspects of Confirmation were conflated into Baptism. However, a Confirmation rite was also included in the book for children who had learned the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Our Father, the Catechism, and who could answer for themselves. Those being confirmed were not anointed, they received laying on of hands. The Book of Common Prayer of 1552 dropped the Apostles’ Creed and the Our Father from Baptism, as well as the vesting of the newly baptized. There was to be no anointing but there was a signing with the sign of the cross.

In 1662, a question was added to the baptismal rite about living the Christian life and a prayer was likewise added which sanctified the water. A form for adult Baptism was also added to the Book of Common Prayer.

The first American Book of Common Prayer, 1789, dropped the requirement that the newly baptized be signed with the sign of the cross, which was a vestige of the medieval Confirmation rite. Through the nineteenth century, private Baptisms became more and more the norm in the United States, and a new theological trend emerged which asserted that in some fashion Confirmation completed the deficiencies in Baptism. To bolster the theological position of Confirmation, the 1892 Book of Common Prayer added the reading from Acts (8:14-17) to the Confirmation service in order to seek a scriptural justification for the Confirmation rite. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer restored the requirement that the newly baptized be signed with the sign of the cross.

Our current Book of Common Prayer keeps the traditional pattern of water Baptism followed by a post-baptismal signation and chrismation. The rite is understood to be public and congregational. While priests may baptize, the normative minister is to be the Bishop, and Baptism is meant to have an integral relation to the church year, especially to Easter, Pentecost, the Baptism of the Lord, and All Saints’ Day. Admission to the Eucharist stands at the climax of the rite. While children and infants are provided for, adult Baptism is presented as the way in which the fullness of the sacrament is best understood. The Apostles’ Creed is restored to the rite, and provision is made for all present to renew the covenant of their Baptism. The powerful Thanksgiving over the Water cites the ancient types of Baptism, such as creation; the exodus; and the baptism, death, and resurrection of Jesus.



A Contemporary View

Today, the rite for Holy Baptism as expressed in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church provides guidance to the Church to understand Holy Baptism as an action of celebration along one’s spiritual journey which signifies:

  1. transformation of life
  2. identification with God and the purposes of God through Jesus Christ
  3. incorporation into the Church
  4. the gift of Holy Spirit to direct and inform one’s mission in the world.

It is for us the chief outward sign of God’s inner action–the sacrament from which all others flow.

Gift is the word most associated with God’s graciousness and is central to our understanding of what happens in baptism–God’s gifts of the Holy Spirit are freely given. One needs only to receive and appropriate them. Thus, infant Baptism is practiced in the Episcopal Church with the understanding that God’s gifts are extended to all, regardless of state or age. However, it is expected that the parents, sponsors, and the Church take responsibility for the spiritual formation of the child that he or she may grow towards spiritual maturity, develop the relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and learn to appropriate the gifts of God within and through themselves. It is expected that the child, when older, reaffirm the baptismal commitment.

As for adults, it has been the practice of the Church at its best, to administer Holy Baptism to those who, in response to having heard the Good News of Jesus Christ and having been made aware of God’s love, were ready to renounce the way of sin and death, declare their allegiance to God, and become disciples of Jesus Christ. The rite for Holy Baptism of the Book of Common Prayer is faithful to that task.

Vital to the contemporary Baptismal rite are the renunciations (Book of Common Prayer pp. 302-3) and the Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer pp. 304-5). Conversion of life is at the center of both. Here, the substance of the ceremonial action (Baptism in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit) and its intent are delineated. The renunciations provide the candidate an opportunity to publicly declare rejection of evil in all its forms and to pledge allegiance to Christ as Lord and Savior–at once, a statement of repentance of sin and dedication to God. In essence, one agrees to die to the past life of sin in order to be raised to the new life in Christ. The renunciations are fundamental to the journey of conversion. The Baptismal Covenant becomes more explicit about the implications of conversion.

The Baptismal Covenant lays out what could be termed, “a rule of life for the Church”–those practices that are normative for its members. The topics outlined in it are fundamental for all the baptized. Upon Baptism, one accepts the challenge:

  1. to persevere in the apostolic teaching and fellowship
  2. to persevere in relationship with God and the community through fellowship, worship, and prayer, and
  3. to be a witness of the liberating, redemptive work of Christ in the world, in thought word, and deed.

The Baptismal Covenant formulates, then, the content of the risen life in Christ. Together, the renunciations and the Baptismal Covenant express in words, what the baptismal action expresses ceremonially.

In summary we can say, that just as Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as the Spirit-filled Son of God going forth to do the work of God in the world, so also, those who believe in him and respond to his life and message are

  • Made the present-day children of God through Baptism,
  • Filled with that same Holy Spirit, and
  • Sent forth into the world to do the work God gives them to do.

Baptism and the Community

Baptism involves the individual as well as the community. Both the individual and the community bear significant responsibility toward each other. The individual promises to renounce Satan; turn to Christ; and be faithful to the apostolic fellowship, teaching, breaking of bread and prayers. The community promises to do all in its power to support the individual in the new life in Christ. Parishes who desire to celebrate this sacrament with integrity and conviction must show a strong commitment to nurturing individuals and families through the initiation process into full membership and growth in Christ.

Baptism is best understood when we examine the way in which an adult is prepared for the sacrament. Baptism of infants and young children is but an interpretation and adaptation of that fuller rite used for adults. The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, pages 112-125, outlines the steps in preparing an adult for Baptism, and we commend its careful study. Baptism involves inquiry, self-examination, preparation and prayer, all supported by the whole community, leading up to the administration of the sacrament. Baptism is followed by participation in the Eucharist, further support, instruction, spiritual growth, and renewal–all in the context of a continued commitment to and participation in a congregational community.


Who Should Be Baptized?

Candidates may be of any age. They should be either adults and older children who are converting to Christianity or infants and younger children of Christian families who are committed to the Church. Adults are prepared for Baptism according to the procedures outlined in The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, pp. 112-125, as suggested above. Infants, normally the children of adults active in the parish, are presented by their parents and sponsors who should be instructed as to their responsibility. Rites for such preparation may folow the outline of the Preparation of Parents and Godparents for the Baptism of Infants and Young Children, in The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, pp. 155-158.

Because of its importance, Baptism must be administered carefully and faithfully. All requests for Baptism should be heard sensitively and pastorally. But this does not mean that all requests for Baptism should be granted. In Baptism of children, for example, sponsors and parents promise to see “that the child . . .is brought up in the Christian faith and life,” and that the child continues in “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 302). In other words, the parents and godparents promise that they will thoroughly involve themselves and their child in the life of the Christian community. If the priest has good reason to believe that this involvement is not intended, he or she should counsel the parents to defer Baptism until they are ready to make such a commitment. The priest should strive to maintain patient and candid dialogue with the family and may helpfully assist them to reflect upon their assumptions and expectations of the Church and its sacraments. If it is decided that Baptism is not appropriate or should be deferred, the priest could still celebrate the Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child, using the Book of Common Prayer rite on page 439-445. Some careful teaching about Baptism may help to diminish the influence of ideas about Baptism as a social convention or as a talisman to ward off evil and death. We hope that persons seeking Baptism can come to understand it as a culmination of a period of exploration, renewal and growth for themselves and as a commitment to life in community for their children.


Where Should a Baptism be Celebrated?

On occasion, a sentimental or historic connection with a parish may motivate people to seek Baptism in a congregation other than the one where they might conveniently worship. An example of this is the desire to have one’s children baptized in the church where one was married or in one’s parents’ “home church.” If the persons seeking the Baptism are active church members, this is not an unreasonable request. However, because of the communal nature of the sacrament, it is expected that candidates will normally be prepared and baptized in the parish community where they will begin living out their Christian life. An appropriate compromise might be worked out between the clergy of the two parishes. It might be possible to invite a priest or deacon from the parish where the candidate actually resides to participate in the liturgy of Holy Baptism in the church to which a sentimental attachment is felt.



The Book of Common Prayer requires that each candidate for Holy Baptism “is to be sponsored by one or more baptized persons.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 298). For the purposes of this paper, we will draw distinctions between sponsors, godparents, and a new, provisional category we wish to propose, witnesses to Baptism.

Adults who seek Baptism should have at least one sponsor, also an adult, who will represent and interpret the community of faith to the candidate, and, in turn, vouch for and interpret the candidate to the community. Sponsors should be active members of the congregation in which the candidate will be baptized and should be prepared to participate fully in the pre-baptismal preparation and support the candidates in growth in faith and ministry. Sponsors should be carefully instructed in their role in the process as it is set forth in The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, page 112-125. There is no fixed number of sponsors for a candidate, nor need they be in any particular combination of males and females. Candidates should select their sponsors with the guidance and approval of the priest. Because adult Christian formation is demanding and lengthy, some parishes have found it valuable to develop and prepare a group of parishioners prepared to serve as sponsors.

The pastorally understandable desire to involve friends and family in an event as personal and powerful as Baptism inevitably raises the question about the appropriateness of sponsors who are not Episcopalians. By now, we hope that we have argued in a sufficiently compelling way for the communal nature of Baptism and for its connection to the ongoing life and ministry of the parish that the reader would begin to see that the sponsors need to be integral parts of that community. The Book of Common Prayer absolutely requires that sponsors be baptized (Book of Common Prayer, page 298). The sponsors, we believe should interpret the faith to the candidate, and provide a connection between the candidate and the parish. Sponsors, as we have argued, need to participate fully in the preparation and instruction of the candidate. It would be difficult to imagine a person not committed to our faith and practice being willing and able to meet these criteria. Relaxation of the standards will considerably dilute the impact and power of the preparation and administration of the sacrament.

On the other hand, how shall a priest respond to requests for sponsors who are not Episcopalians? Such a request may well arise in parishes where adult baptisms are not yet commonly practiced and where the clergy have not yet had the pastoral opportunity to undertake the teaching necessary to explain the role of sponsors. Clergy might want to consider having special additional witnesses to the Baptism who might be drawn from the candidate’s friends and family outside the church. Such witnesses might stand with the candidate at the presentation, at the font, and at the chrismation, and might greet the newly baptized at the Peace. It may not be appropriate for them to join in the presentation of the candidates or to participate in the Baptismal Covenant, but that would be a pastoral determination to be made by the witnesses and the priest. They might be given locally prepared certificates to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, the duty of active sponsorship could be undertaken by those who actually are committed to the faith and practice of our Church and who are prepared and able to undertake the full responsibility of this ministry.

Those who sponsor infants and young children are commonly called godparents. Their role is slightly different. They must also take the baptismal vows on behalf of the candidate, who is usually unable to answer for him- or herself. Furthermore, they promise to “see that the child is brought up in the Christian faith and life” and they are charged to help the child grow “into the full stature of Christ.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 302.) In the first instance, the godparents are renewing their own baptismal promises and, in a sense, including the child in the covenant community defined by those promises (Book of Common Prayer, page 298). This can only be done, we believe, with integrity by those who genuinely believe in the doctrine and are willing to engage in the discipline of those promises.

While sponsors must be baptized persons, and while at least one of them, should be a committed member of the community where the candidate will live out his or her life in Christ, it is also clear that sponsors have several different roles in the life of a child. Some sponsors who share daily in the life of the parish have a role. Relatives and close friends have different roles to play. Particularly in situations where the clergy have not yet had the opportunity to teach carefully about Baptism, they may wish to encourage several sponsors for each child, insisting that at least one be an active member of the congregation to which the candidate will belong. Again, we urge that clergy consider asking those who are genuinely unsuitable for the role of sponsor, but whose presence has sentimental value to the family, to be witnesses to the Baptism in the way outlined above.

The Book of Common Prayer defines adults and older children as those “who can answer for themselves” (Book of Common Prayer, page 301), while infants and young children are those who cannot answer for themselves. Both are presented by their sponsors, but those who can speak for themselves make their own responses on page 301 and 302 of the Book of Common Prayer. The sponsors of those who speak for themselves will thereafter speak only when the whole congregation speaks. The Book of Common Prayer does not define “older children”, leaving this discernment to local pastoral judgment. Some children may be old enough to answer the questions along with their sponsors.

If a child of a family not actively connected with the Church seeks Baptism, it may be appropriate for active worshiping members of the congregation to sponsor that child. Such sponsors must be serious in their commitment to seeing to the child’s nurture in the Christian faith and that the child’s parents support the sponsors’ intention to bring the child to church regularly for the Eucharist, instruction, and other aspects of community life.


Preparation for Baptism

Every Baptism should be preceded by a period of formation and spiritual preparation, for adults or for sponsors and parents of infants or young children. In the case of adults preparing for Baptism, this preparation might consist of the catechumenate as outlined in The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, pages 112-125.

The Book of Occasional Services: 1991 contains suggestions about how to adapt the catechumenate to various situations and to the key seasons of the Church Year. Clergy are encouraged to adapt the catechumenate to the needs of their congregations. In planning its content, however, clergy should ensure that these areas of study and reflection are emphasized:


  1. Christian belief about God, human nature, and human life.
  2. Scripture as it reveals salvation history.
  3. Ethical implications of the Christian life in personal, family, environmental, economic, and political dimensions.
  4. Prayer, corporate and private.
  5. Discernment of God’s call to live out the baptismal covenant and support in framing a response to that call.
  6. The practice and theology of worship.
  7. Discernment of gifts for lay ministry in the Church and in the world.

Each parish should consider having a team of trained lay persons to assist in leading the catechumenate programs.

While it is a demanding requirement, we urge that all the sponsors of adult catechumens participate in the full sequence of classes and other activities planned for the candidate. Not only do the sponsors find their own knowledge increased and their faith deepened, but we also believe that the presence of the sponsors in the program creates a particularly powerful form of Christian community.

In parishes where the catechumenate is a fully developed part of congregational life, the logical vehicle for preparation of parents of infants and younger children is already in place. Parents and sponsors might profitably take part in the catechumenate and the curriculum could be adapted to include aspects of Christian family life such as parenting, faith development, and the nurture of children in the Christian community. Such participation in the catechumenate may deepen the baptismal commitment of parents and godparents.

If full involvement of parents and sponsors of infants and younger children in the catechumenate is not yet possible in the parish, the clergy might consider using the shorter process of preparation for parents and godparents found in The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, pages 155-158.

When using the catechumenate, it is liturgically desirable to involve the whole congregation in the process of preparation by observing at the Sunday Eucharist the milestones in the process. This includes public admission of the catechumens, enrollment of candidates for Baptism, and, finally Holy Baptism itself. Careful attention should be given to the liturgical resources available in The Book of Occasional Services: 1991 including the forms of the Prayers of the People with intercessions for the candidates ( The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, page 122), the blessing of the candidates (page 123,) and the prayers during the course of candidacy, (page 124-5).

Several weeks before the Baptism, the candidates and the sponsors should be prayed for by name at each Eucharist. Note, too, that the Prayers of the People at the Good Friday Liturgy, the Solemn Collects, contain a provision for insertion of the names of the candidates scheduled for Baptism at the Easter liturgies (Book of Common Prayer, page 278).

Other Rites

While not directly related to Baptism, other rites may be of special interest to those planning the Baptism of infants. They include the Blessing of a Pregnant Woman ( The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, page 153), and the Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child, (Book of Common Prayer page 439-445). The section of The Book of Occasional Services: 1991 called the Preparation of Parents and Godparents for the Baptism of Infants and Young Children, (The Book of Occasional Services: 1991, page 155-158) is a valuable resource.

In preparing parents and sponsors for their responsibilities, the priest might profitably take this time to urge parents to consider making a will, establishing a provision for legal guardianship of their children, and providing for bequests to religious and charitable institutions. Since parents are often thinking about their duties at this time, these can be good moments for reminding them of some other responsibilities they might consider.


Occasions for Baptism

Holy Baptism should be administered within the Eucharist as the chief service on a Sunday or other feast. The Book of Common Prayer (page 298), recognizes that Baptism is an action of the entire Christian community as it is incorporating new members. In the baptismal liturgy, the community promises to support the candidates in their new life in Christ, so it is most fitting to celebrate Baptism at the time and place when the greatest cross-section of the community gathers: the Sunday or feast-day Eucharist.

It is best to celebrate Baptism on Easter (preferably at the Great Vigil) because it is the death and resurrection of Christ into which candidates are baptized; on the Day of Pentecost, because it is the Holy Spirit who is poured out upon the candidate in Baptism; on All Saints’ Day (or the Sunday following), because it is the communion of saints into which the candidate is welcomed; and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, because it is Christ’s Baptism which sets the example for us. Because the Bishop is the chief minister of Christian initiation (a responsibility he or she delegates to the priests), it is also fitting to celebrate Holy Baptism when the Bishop visits. The Book of Common Prayer (page 312) recommends that Holy Baptism be reserved for these occasions.

Until the clergy have the opportunity to teach carefully and thoroughly the reasons why Baptism should be reserved for the great Baptismal Days and the Bishop’s visit, there may be pressures to celebrate Baptism at other times. We suggest, in that case, a gradual implementation of this norm. One might begin by eliminating “private baptisms” and celebrating all Baptisms in the context of the Sunday or feast-day Eucharist. Pastoral experience has shown that there is relatively little resistance to this change once people have experienced the Book of Common Prayer baptismal rite carefully, joyfully, and richly celebrated. Then, a next logical step might be to defer Baptisms during Lent and perhaps Advent. A priest who gathers a group of people willing to have their Baptism together at, say, the Great Vigil of Easter, will soon find he or she has created an enthusiastic team of advocates for the Great Baptismal Days. It is usually possible to locate a group of parents and candidates who are willing to be educated in these traditions and to advocate them within the parish.


The Ministers at Baptism

Because the Bishop is the symbol of the unity of the church, the Bishop is expected to preside at Baptism, (Book of Common Prayer, page 298). When the Bishop is present, he or she may delegate the administration of the water to a priest or deacon, but the Bishop always anoints the newly baptized. In the absence of a Bishop, the priest takes the Bishop’s role as presider at the Eucharist, at the Baptism, and at the chrismation. A deacon present should proclaim the gospel, might lead the prayers for the candidates, could immerse or pour the water upon the candidates, should prepare the altar, should assist in administering Communion, and should dismiss the congregation. The sponsors may read the lessons before the Gospel, lead the prayers for the candidates, and read the prayers of the people at the Eucharist which follows.

In the case of an emergency, which should be understood as impending death clear to all present, any baptized person may baptize a candidate using the rite for Emergency Baptisms on pages 313-314 of the Book of Common Prayer. This is really the only occasion when there should be a Baptism apart from the presence of the worshipping congregation. An emergency Baptism should be reported to the parish immediately so that it can be recorded. And, should the candidate recover, the emergency Baptism should be recognized at a public celebration of Holy Baptism as the Book of Common Prayer prescribes at page 314. If the candidate was not chrismated at the time of Baptism, that rite whould be administered and the newly baptized should be welcomed into the community at the Eucharist.

Baptisms We Recognize

The Episcopal Church recognizes the validity of all baptisms performed with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If there is a question about the validity of a particular Baptism, the priest should make every effort to determine the way in which the Baptism was done. Sometimes this investigation can be completed by consulting with a cleric of the Christian body in which the Baptism was performed. If it is found that water was not used or that the Baptism was not in the name of the the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then a conditional Baptism should be performed, (Book of Common Prayer, page 313).

Under absolutely no circumstances can a valid Baptism be repeated. To attempt to do so would violate not only the explicit statement of the Book of Common Prayer that the bond of Baptism is indissoluble, but would also violate an unambiguous tradition reaching back to the ancient Church, and would confound the conviction of scripture that we proclaim one Lord, one faith, and one Baptism. (Ephesians 4:4-6a).


Water is the essential visible sign of Baptism. The celebrant should immerse the candidate in a considerable quantity of water or the celebrant should pour (not sprinkle) a great deal of water over the candidate. Water should be used generously, since it connects us to the waters in the creation story (Genesis l), the Flood waters (Genesis 6-9), the Exodus through the waters of Red Sea (Exodus 14-15), and Jesus’ baptism and anointing by the Holy Spirit in the Gospels (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Immersion vividly signifies the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and our incorporation in that Paschal mystery (Romans 6:1-5).

Those building new churches or contemplating renovation or refurbishment should have a font of sufficient size and design to allow the use of flowing water (the “living water” of scripture) and to allow space for immersion or submersion of the candidates. See the Bibliography for references to sources of imaginative and useful designs for fonts.

Fonts should be a permanent feature of the church’s appointments. Along with the altar recalling the Eucharist, and the ambo, pulpit or lectern, which recall the word of God, the font is one of the three most significant and powerful symbols of our life in the faith. While it is important for the font to be visible so that the whole community may participate in Baptism, those accustomed to moving the font around–or using a temporarily positioned table with a bowl–might reflect upon the suitability of any practice which suggests impermanence or transitory symbolism. In some churches, an existing font might be placed on an elevated platform in the rear of the church and the congregation encouraged to turn to face the ministers and the candidate at the time of Baptism.

It is often effective to have the presentation of the candidates, their examination, and the Baptismal Covenant in the front of the church. The Book of Common Prayer (page 305) provides a short litany which can often be used for a procession to the font. (Music for this litany is found in Music for Ministers and Congregations, page 27). At the font, a flagon of warm water, the lighted paschal candle (except in Easter when it might be carried to the font from the front of the church during the litany), a small unlighted baptismal candle, and other necessary equipment might be placed. Upon arrival at the font and following the concluding prayer, the celebrant, deacon or sponsor might fill the font with water from the flagon. The celebrant may begin the Thanksgiving over the Water during the pouring of the water. After the Baptism, the celebrant or deacon could light the small candle from the paschal candle and hand it to the newly baptized or to a sponsor or parent.

While the American Book of Common Prayer does not authorize any text to accompany the presentation of the candle, it is clear that the candle is meant to be a sign of the participation of the newly Baptized in the risen life of Christ, of which the Paschal candle is the larger symbol. The newly baptized is understood to be the bearer of the light of Christ. The revised English liturgy provides a presentation sentence: “Receive the light. This is to show that you have passed from darkness to light. Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God.”

After the Baptism and the giving of the candle, the procession might return to the front of the church for the chrismation and welcoming. Suitable texts for the procession to the front of the church might include Psalm 23, Psalm 42:1-6, Vidi aquam (a combination of verses from Ezekiel 47), or Asperges me (Psalm 51:8-11). Whatever is sung at this point needs to be very brief so that it does not unduly delay the next portion of the liturgy. If the custom of sprinkling the people with baptismal water is desired, it can be done as the altar party returns to the front of the church.

Anointing with oil of chrism is an ancient tradition recalling the anointing of priests and kings in I Samuel 16:13, Exodus 29:11-7, and I Kings 19:16; and of course, the idea of Jesus as the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ (Acts 10:38). Jesus was anointed by the Holy spirit at his baptism and with oil before his death (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9) and John’s vision of heaven includes the sealing of the elect in Revelation 7:4-14. Anointing the newly baptized recognizes their sharing in the royal priesthood of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. While some parishes anoint with a modest sign of the cross on the forehead, a more liberal use of the chrism is also appropriate. One might rub the oil on the face and head of the newly baptized. Using more oil tends to release more of the fragrance into the air where it can be discerned by more of the congregation than would result from a more restrained use of the chrism.

Chrism is consecrated by the Bishop (Book of Common Prayer, page 307). There is a general consecration of oils at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine on Tuesday of Holy Week, at an hour announced well in advance so that not only the clergy but other interested Christians may attend. Alternately, chrism may be consecrated by the Bishop when he or she visits the parish. When the Bishop is able to visit a parish only infrequently, having the chrism consecrated at the parish Eucharist can suitably emphasize the meaning of chrismation. The Book of Common Prayer allows consecration of Chrism at a Baptism, right after the Thanksgiving over the water (Book of Common Prayer, page 307). Use of chrism consecrated by the Bishop connects each Baptism with the Bishop, who is a symbol of our unity in the faith, even when the Bishop is not present. Priests baptize at the delegation of the Bishop (Book of Common Prayer, page 531, 561) as a further sign of our unity in Christ our high priest.

By way of summary, we have outlined a Baptism which begins at the altar with the Presentation and Examination of the Candidates and the Baptismal Covenant, moves to the font for the Thanksgiving Over the Water and the Baptism, and then returns to the front of the church for the Chrismation and the Welcoming of the newly baptized.

It is often considered helpful to instruct the candidate, parents, or sponsors to extinguish the baptismal candle following the welcoming of the newly baptized, so that the bearers’ hands are free for the Peace.

The peace follows, since it is the ritual action of the welcoming of the newly baptized. The Book of Common Prayer offers the alternative of proceeding to the Prayers of the People, or directly to the offertory. We urge that the Prayers of the People follow. The only intercessions in the liturgy so far have been the prayers for the candidates which do not meet the standards set forth in the Book of Common Prayer for the intercessions. The Prayer Book requires that intercessions be offered for the universal church, the nation and all in authority, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, those who suffer, and the departed (Book of Common Prayer, page 359). In his book, The Ceremonies of the Eucharist, Howard Galley offers a form of the Prayers of the People ideally suited for occasions of Baptism, Confirmation, Reception or Reaffirmation. (page 231-232.) Alternately, Eucharistic Prayer D allows general intercessions in the eucharistic prayer itself.

Of course, liturgical ideals must be adapted to our buildings with all their limitations as well as their potentials. Generally it seems best to make liturgical movements deliberate and functional, and to accompany them with texts which explain or amplify them. Many parishes find that a carefully thought-out baptismal customary, refined from time to time, assists in celebrating this rite with all the power, dignity and joy which are inherent in it.

When candidates are baptized by immersion, those planning the liturgy should consider several points. The water in the font should be at a comfortable temperature. The parish should provide a white gown, weighted at the hems, for the candidate to wear at the baptism. The parish should also provide a suitable place for the newly baptized to change clothes. Such a place should be near the font. This is of particular importance after the baptism so that the newly baptized, being wet, can remove the wet baptismal gown or clothing and replace them with dry ones expeditiously and with a degree of comfort. The actual immersion might follow this procedure. Having placed one hand over the mouth and nose of the candidate and supporting the candidate’s back with the other hand, the celebrant then leans the candidate backwards into the water, submerging the candidate for a moment, then raises the candidate upright. The newly baptized and the congregation then respond “Amen!” A server provides a towel with which the celebrant dries the head and face of the newly baptized. The celebrant then returns the used towel to the server.

A hymn, psalm or anthem may follow, during which the newly baptized may retire to change clothing, and then return, perhaps in procession, to the place where the chrismation is to take place. The celebrant says the Thanksgiving After Baptism. A server then extends an opened oil stock to the celebrant or offers a small bowl of chrism to the celebrant who then chrismates the newly baptized. Then, the celebrant says the Welcoming of the Newly Baptized and the liturgy continues with the Peace.

Baptism and the Holy Eucharist

The Book of Common Prayer unequivocally states that Holy Baptism “is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit” into Christ’s body, the Church. All of the baptized of any age are fully incorporated into the life of the Christian community. The Holy Eucharist is the basic expression of our common life and participation in the Eucharist is the final step in Christian initiation, and the ongoing ritual expression of our life in Jesus Christ. Because of these strong traditions and their compelling witness, the newly baptized of any age should receive Holy Communion at their baptisms and regularly thereafter.

In 1970, the Church permitted baptized children to receive Holy Communion before Confirmation. And, in 1979, when the Book of Common Prayer was revised, the rubric requiring Confirmation before Communion was deleted.

Despite the clarity of the Church’s position, taken nearly a generation ago, admission of baptized children to communion remains an unresolved point of church discipline. A wide variety of practices seems apparent in the Diocese of New York. Some congregations admit all baptized persons to Holy Communion. Others admit children at a later age, often during elementary school years. In some places, children must await Confirmation before being included in the eucharistic fellowship.

Many are concerned about children receiving Holy Communion. Some remark that children do not understand what they are doing when they receive the Sacrament. However, if full understanding of the eucharistic gift were required before Holy Communion, we believe most of our altar rails would be empty–as might be many of our altars. Since a child is an appropriate candidate for baptism, that child, once baptized, may appropriately receive Holy Communion. Intellectual understanding is no more required for the Holy Eucharist than it is for Holy Baptism. The invitation to the supper of the Lord comes by grace and not by understanding or achievement.

Children, as well as adults, come to appreciate more fully the Eucharist over time, and usually at the level of their spiritual development. Even the smallest child can appreciate the idea of being fed and being included, and few would deny that these awarenesses are perceptions and discernments of Christ.

Nonetheless, many clergy will find themselves in places where the people have not been pastorally educated in eucharistic practice and where the insights of the last generation have not been implemented in parish life. As with many liturgical matters, education can help. A Lenten or Epiphany class series about the Eucharist might help. Some resources for such classes are found in the Bibliography. The Sunday lectionary offers a number of readings with eucharistic themes which might suggest times for teaching and preaching about the Eucharist. They include the readings for Easter 4A, 6A, Propers 13A, and 23A; Lent 4B, Easter 3B, Propers 11B, 13B, 14B, 15B, 16B; and Epiphany 2C, Easter 3C, and Proper 17C. Parishes which have not yet admitted all the baptized to Holy Communion are encouraged to study and reflect upon the theological and pastoral implications of their eucharistic discipline.

A good interim position might be to admit infants to Holy Communion at their Baptism, but then not again until the parents are willing and the child ready. No one realistically wants to force a sacrament upon an unwilling child or a reluctant parent. Gathering a group of parents willing to have their children admitted to Holy Communion at Baptism may help to accustom the congregation to the practice of full communion of all the baptized.

While first communion celebrations are common in other branches of Christianity, we suggest that their implications be carefully considered. We discourage these rites (which, incidentally are not provided either in the Book of Common Prayer or The Book of Occasional Services: 1991) because such rites imply that Baptism was not complete initiation.

Whatever policy has been the practice in the parish, baptized persons including children who have been receiving Holy Communion in one congregation must never be denied Holy Communion in a parish to which they might later move or which they might visit. The excommunication of baptized persons must only be undertaken in accordance with the disciplinary rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer (page 409).

Infants may receive Holy Communion in several ways. A parent may take a small particle of consecrated bread and place it on the infant’s tongue. A eucharistic minister may do the same, having touched it lightly to the surface of the consecrated wine. A eucharistic minister may administer consecrated wine with a spoon (some old sick communion sets have spoons which work well for this purpose) or might very carefully touch a finger to the surface of the consecrated wine and allow the infant to suck the consecrated wine from the finger.

Because Christ is fully present in both bread and wine, communion under one species is always permissible and may be particularly convenient in the case of infants. Soon however, probably from the age of one and a half to two years, most children will be able to receive Holy Communion in the same manner as adults.

Under absolutely no circumstances may an unbaptized person receive Holy Communion (Title I, Canon 17, Section 7, Constitution and Canons 1994).

Confirmation, Reception and Reaffirmation

Faith is a life-long process. When a candidate is baptized, the church promises to do all it can to support the newly baptized in their life in Christ (Book of Common Prayer, page 303). The Church is structured in its sacramental and community life to enable its members to fulfill that vow. A parish’s education, devotional and community life assists in that process. It is a natural inclination for newly baptized adults and their sponsors to desire to continue to meet. Such gatherings, formal or informal, assist in the incorporation of the newly baptized into the congregation.

Each Eucharist renews Baptism. Baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ; the Eucharist nourishes that body with Christ’s own body and blood. Baptism confers forgiveness of sins; the Eucharist restores and enlivens the community. All ministry arises from Baptism; the Eucharist strengthens us for that ministry.

Every time Baptism is celebrated, the whole congregation renews its baptismal covenant. On the Great Baptismal Days–Easter, Pentecost, All Saints’, and the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ–even if there are no Baptisms, a renewal of the Baptismal Covenant may take the place of the Nicene Creed at the Eucharist. (Book of Common Prayer, page 312). Suitable ways to introduce the baptismal covenant are found in the appendix to this paper.

Holy Baptism is a single, unrepeatable sacrament. It requires nothing to complete, validate or activate it. However, baptized persons normally demonstrate a pastoral need to express a renewed commitment to their baptismal promises at crucial times in their lives, in the presence of the Christian community, and in the presence of the Bishop, our chief pastor and symbol of our unity in Jesus Christ. Some of these occasions are highly individualized and unpredictable. There are other points in the life cycle at which time a desire for renewal of baptismal promises are so common that they have become set in the church’s sacramental life.

Our Church distinguishes among these moments by providing three rites: Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows. In each case, the candidates make a mature reaffirmation of faith and receive laying on of hands.



Confirmation is the rite for those baptized at an early age and who now desire to make their first mature public affirmation of faith by renewing their baptismal vows, making a commitment to the responsibilities of Baptism, and receiving the laying on of hands by the Bishop.

The Book of Common Prayer clearly states that Confirmation involves “a mature public affirmation of …faith and commitment to the responsibilities of Baptism.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 412). We believe that it is difficult to read these words without understanding that this is an adult rite. It is a rite for the mature, not for those entering puberty. It is unusual to achieve this level of autonomy and authority until at least the end of high school and often much later. In an era when marriage is often postponed until the late twenties, and careers are often not settled until that age, it seems inconsistent for the Church to equate maturity with puberty. The church may take its wisest course by urging adult Confirmations.

Nonetheless, many parents, congregations, and clergy are not yet prepared to take this position. Until such time as we can genuinely celebrate Confirmation as a rite of Christian maturity, we would suggest these possible provisional positions:

It may be wise to avoid designating all young persons of a certain age as confirmands and pressuring them and their parents to begin the Confirmation process, particularly when there is little or no clear initiative or commitment on the candidates’ part.

Some clergy may find, paradoxically, that suggesting a very young age for Confirmation may be a good provisional position. From a faith development point of view, children of nine or ten may often respond better to the process of preparation and Confirmation than children at the age of puberty.

If there absolutely must be a rite of puberty due to social and parental pressures, local clergy might consider creating (with the approval of the Bishop) a genuine rite of adolescence for their young people. Such a rite might recognize the transitions of that age, the value of rebellion and independence, and the ambiguity of attitudes toward traditions, parents, and families. The liturgy might ask for guidance during the forthcoming period of questioning and growth, for strength in the development of adult faith, and for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Adolescents might at this point be admitted to a long process leading to Confirmation at a much later date. In the Bibliography, you will find some sources for such rites. Their use might ease the pressure to confirm young people who are just entering a period of transition and faith reassessment. In this way it is possible to avoid using a rite at puberty which is better designed for use at the end of adolescence and the onset of mature adulthood.


Reception is a rite designed for those who have been baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, have been members of another Christian communion, have made an adult affirmation of faith in that communion, and who now desire to join the Episcopal Church. If a candidate has not made some sort of adult affirmation of faith, then that candidate should be confirmed, rather than received.

This distinction between Reception and Confirmation is a new one. Previously, this Church received those who came to us from the other branches of Catholic Christianity, that is, the Roman Church, Eastern Orthodoxy and those Lutheran Churches possessing the historic episcopate. Protestants coming into our Church were confirmed because they had not yet received that apostolic rite. Thus, the decision to receive or to confirm was based upon the pedigree of the ministers in the Church of origin. The Church now suggests that the decision to confirm or receive should depend, rather, on the sort of commitment which the candidate may previously have made in his or her church of origin. If an adult affirmation of faith has been made in the church of origin, the candidate should be received. If the candidate is preparing to make his or her first adult affirmation of faith, the candidate should be confirmed. Persons baptized as infants, either in the Episcopal Church or in another church, who are making their first mature commitment to the Christian life should be confirmed.


Reaffirmation is for those who have already made a mature public declaration of faith within this Church. There are four occasions when this rite is appropriate:

A person baptized as an adult in the Episcopal Church without laying on of hands by the Bishop is expected in due course to be presented to the Bishop to reaffirm the vows of Holy Baptism and to receive laying on of hands. Because that candidate has already made–at baptism–a mature public affirmation of faith, Reaffirmation is the rite that should be used–not Confirmation. A person who has been baptized as an adult with laying on of hands by a Bishop needs to participate in no additional rite unless and until such a candidate reaches a further significant moment in his or her life in faith.

Baptized persons who have made a mature public affirmation of faith and have later left the Church or fallen away from active participation in the community and who now wish to express their renewed commitment to their baptismal promises may be presented for Reaffirmation.

The conclusion of a period of pastoral or personal crisis may be another occasion for the Reaffirmation of Baptismal vows.

Baptized persons who have already made a mature public affirmation of faith and who are now experiencing a call from God to new growth in faith, commitment or service, may respond to and affirm that call before the Bishop and the community of faith by being presented for Reaffirmation.

Those accustomed to using chrism at Confirmations might want to rethink that position. Chrismation is historically associated with Baptism, and its use at Confirmation may imply that Baptism is in some way incomplete or ritually impoverished, and that should be avoided at all costs. While Confirmation did historically arise from certain post-baptismal anointings, the more ancient and Catholic tradition is laying on of hands. Those wishing to restore chrismation to its original baptismal context might want to undertake some pastoral education in the history of Baptism, anointing, and the rites of Christian initiation. Pentecost might be a good time to undertake such a class and the Bibliography contains some references for such educational programs.

Note that despite the misleading rubric on page 418 of the Book of Common Prayer, subsequent clarifying action by the House of Bishops now provides that the laying on of hands is used in all the rites of reaffirmation.


Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation

Confirmation is a non-repeatable rite. Reception would be, in most cases, a non repeatable rite. Reaffirmation is a rite which is repeatable according to pastoral need.

Preparation for Rites of Reaffirmation: Confirmation, Reception and Reaffirmation

The preparation of those seeking Confirmation, Reception and Reaffirmation should be thorough and must consider the candidates’ age, their faith development, the rite for which they are preparing, and other pastoral concerns. We believe that the list of topics included in the Preparation for Baptism (above, page 10) provides a good summary of the areas which should be explored by any preparation of candidates for Confirmation, Reception, or Reaffirmation. Those planning the formation of candidates should consider that they are building on the work begun in Baptism and seeking to strengthen the life of prayer, understanding, and commitment begun by that sacrament.

There may be occasions when candidates for Confirmation, Reception and Reaffirmation can be prepared along with candidates and sponsors for Baptism. However, exceptional care must be taken to emphasize the full initiation and commitment already made by those baptized candidates seeking Confirmation, Reception or Reaffirmation. These candidates should not be called catechumens, nor should they receive the rites associated with the catechumenate. To do so would imply that their baptisms were in question and this we must always avoid.

The Book of Occasional Services: 1991 (page 132-141) contains an outline of three stages of preparation and formation for Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows along with suitable liturgical rites to celebrate them. These rites are particularly effective ways of elevating the significance of Confirmation, Reception and Reaffirmation and should be helpful to those who are concerned about maintaining the dignity of these historic rites and their important place in the life of the Church.

We urge that all candidates for Confirmation, Reception or Reaffirmation be prayed for by name at the Eucharist for a substantial interval of time before they receive those rites.


Other Rites

Commitment to Christian Service: All Christians are ministers by virtue of their Baptism. Because Baptism is connected to ministry in this integral way, congregations may wish to use the Form of Commitment to Christian Service (Book of Common Prayer, page 420-21) to commission baptized persons for particular ministries in the world. Preparation for this rite should include a period of discernment, formation, and training for ministry, as well as reflection upon one’s gifts for ministry.

Baptism stands at the center of the Church’s common life. The rites of the Book of Common Prayer have recovered the centrality of Christian initiation and provided pastoral resources for various stages of the Christian life. The Liturgical Commission of the Diocese of New York offers these guidelines as tools to aid the congregations and the clergy to grow more deeply into our common baptismal vows and to welcome others into our community, the body of Christ, the Church.