A Personalized Assembly Line Baptism
When my oldest daughter was baptized, we had permission to hold a family baptism in order to accommodate her grandmother’s travel from out-of-state, separate from the stake baptism where all the other primary kids were baptized that month. I planned and conducted the baptismal service, making sure that the people who are important to my daughter’s life had a part in the proceedings. I was particularly careful to give spiritually meaningful assignments to the women in her life since church policy excludes women from officiating the baptism, officially witnessing the baptism, officiating the confirmation, or standing in a circle while she is confirmed. I balanced these male-only tasks with speaking assignments, prayers and musical numbers by women.
But I did note with a bit of guilt that it took three hours to fill the baptismal font with water that would only be used once for a few minutes—quite wasteful in the desert where I live. As long as we continue to baptize by immersion, it makes sense to baptize multiple people on the same day.
When my second child was baptized, Grandma was able to arrange her travel to attend a stake baptism—an event that is often referred to ruefully as an “assembly line Utah baptism”.
I am pleased to report that my local stake primary presidency balanced the need to baptize many children on the same day with personal attention to each child and their family. A member of the stake primary presidency visited me and my child to discuss the program that would take place in the chapel prior to the baptism. Each child to be baptized would have the opportunity to go to the stand and share their testimony or their favorite scripture story. The stake also gave each child one place on the program to insert a family member or friend of their choice. Our family had the opening prayer and we chose Grandma. Each child chose a favorite primary song or hymn for the congregation to sing immediately before his or her baptism.
After the child’s favorite song, their family and guests were excused to the baptismal font to see the child baptized and then each child was sent to a separate room for their confirmation, where we had the option to immediately proceed with the confirmation or personalize the event with our own program. I created a 10-minute program for the confirmation room including a talk by me, a song by me and a sibling, and brief remarks by each grandparent. I appreciated this sacred family time separate from the rest of the stake. I am grateful that my stake facilitated such a thoughtful baptismal experience for my son and my family.
The only hiccups resulted from churchwide policies that give the roles of presiding over and conducting baptisms to men after women do the behind-the-scenes work. Not only did putting men in charge on the day of the baptism serve to make the women who had actually planned the event invisible, it also resulted in some minor glitches to the program. When it was my son’s turn to go to the stand, the man conducting, probably unaware of the exact instructions my son had received the stake primary presidency, asked him if he would like to bear his testimony. Startled because he had prepared to tell his favorite scripture story instead, he just shook his head no, and was almost sent back to the audience without sharing what he had planned. I had to run up to the stand to intervene. Inside our family’s confirmation room, the man conducting instructed the other men to go ahead and start the ordinance, either forgetting or unaware that the stake primary presidency had given us the option of holding a family program there. Again, I had to assert myself to ensure that the program proceeded as planned.
Overall, both baptisms were good experiences. My stake’s methods for conducting a group baptism demonstrate that group baptisms don’t have to be impersonal. Now, if only general church policies were more inclusive of women!