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!

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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25 Responses

  1. Andrew says:

    “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.”

    I do not believe that this is simply because of the man/woman thing. Stake baptismal services are presided over and conducted by a high councillor or member of the stake presidency. Should what you call policy, and I call doctrine, ever change and women received the priesthood and were therefore able to be high councillors and stake presidency members there would still have been a disconnect between the planning by Brother Primary President and Sister High Councillor – or whatever combination on the day.

    I know you would like it to be solely because of the gender issue but as long as someone in authority delegates the planning to someone else there will be possible problems. The reality is that the High Councillor, whatever their sex, should have made it their job to be better informed about the programme.

    I am glad that you had a reasonably positive experience. I have not witnessed “stake baptisms” as we are lucky to get more than one primary child a month turning eight in the entire stake.

    • Here is my wild, radical suggestion: whoever plans the baptism, regardless of gender or title, could also conduct the baptism. That person would be the most qualified to conduct because she would be the most familiar with the program she planned.

      • Andrew says:

        April, I get the impression from what you write, and what you do, that you are a very capable person. You would be more than able to plan and conduct a meeting. But that is not always the case. Using people where they are best able to serve has always been my philosophy.

        And the reality is that the best planner may not be the best conductor. So what we really need is a better way of working.

        In your scenario – given current church policy – the high councillor would have had to plan and conduct the meeting along with all his other responsibilities. However, I am sure you were much happier working with the Primary president. And our last stake Primary president would have just about died if someone had said she have to conduct a stake meeting just because she planned it.

  2. anna says:

    Andrew, sorry to argue, but all baptism services are not conducted by stake high councillors. We recently attended a stake baptism in Utah for our grand daughter. The person conducting was our grand daughter’s bishop, and the baptism was clearly planned by the child’s mother under his supervision, so he knew everything that was planned, and the relationship of relatives giving talks or doing musical numbers.

    There were six baptisms that day, each one personalized for the child being baptized. Rather than one big meeting with talks and then baptise each child and send them off to separate rooms for confirmation, there were six meetings one after another. We had the talks, the baptism, and the conformation all in the same room. The several baptisms were each conducted by someone from the child’s bishopric, and planned by the family and time limited so they could fit them all it. All the advantages of individual baptisms and only filling the font once per month.

    • Andrew says:

      I don’t see any argument. I stated quite clearly I had not witnessed stake baptismal services. What I did was state the church policy for such meetings – that they be presided over by a member of the stake high council.

      I can’t speak to practices not outlined in the handbook. But I can say that sounds a whole lot better to me.

  3. EJ says:

    This is especially timely for me, as I am trying to figure out my daughter’s baptism right now. Two years ago, my son barely endured his stake assembly line able, and STILL calls it the worst day of his life. The instructions from the stake primary to our ward as hosts for the month (I was in the post, so said to me personally) “don’t do anything to make anyone feel special because other kids will feel bad”

    Pretty sure they were unaware of just how anti Christ that is.

    I am in the process of begging to take my daughter out of state for her baptism, I got permission from the ward I want to go to, but I don’t anticipate it being easy to convince my own bishop/stake.

    Bless you for making it personal for your children.

  4. Em says:

    This is why my mom got permission to baptize me in a lake — cold, but free to use and easy to personalize — and memorable. The witnesses were out in a canoe so they could get a good look. I wish they still allowed it. After all, all of the early saints were baptized in that way. I realize in the desert it may not be a good option, but many places in the world have large bodies of water suitable for baptism and then issues of cost need not weigh so heavily.
    I’ve been thinking about this and wondering if maybe the cookie cutter thing will make it less painful for me as the excluded mom. Sometimes doing the non-eternal parts (the work) can make the exclusion even harder. So maybe I can really lean in to being a cypher with the assembly line approach.

  5. Dani Addante says:

    I agree. Women should always be part of baptisms. It doesn’t make sense that women usually do the behind-the-scenes work and then don’t get to conduct. I’m glad your kids’ baptisms went well and that you spoke up when the person who was conducting messed up.

  6. Moss says:

    When someone else shows up and conducts it always reminds me of playing Dungeons and Dragons with my brother. Our party would be battling a monster, get it almost down to zero health, and my brother’s character would zip in from the sidelines where he had been safely observing and strike the final blow, getting all the credit (xp) for the kill in the process even through he hadn’t done jack. (We eventually changed how we dish out the xp, but I digress…)

    • Andrew says:

      Do you really see conducting a meeting as “getting credit”? That seems terribly sad to me.

      I did a lot of background work in getting my daughter all grown up, buying a wedding dress, teaching her the principles (including her temple prep), a bought all the food, paid for all the decorations. But since I am not the bishop I didn’t get to conduct the meeting, or perform the marriage.

      In fact, that is the way with most things in life.

      I also prepared my son for his mission, and going to the temple. And, despite being a temple ordinance worker of over 20 years, I was not allowed to perform any of the initiatory ordinances.

      Life is a set of rules – we live with them, or we go mad.

      • Moss says:

        Perhaps instead of just explaining to women how their concerns and feelings are no big deal you could help brainstorm and amplify women’s voices in places where they feel marginalized? Women- mothers- are feeling left out of their children’s baptisms. This is a problem for many women. What ideas do you have to include them?

      • Andrew says:


        Some women are feeling left out. Some women are happy to play the part they do play. Not actually participating in the ordinances doesn’t diminish what they can do.

        My wife was at the top of the steps holding the hands of each of our seven children as then came up out of the water. With the exception of our son she then helped them in the changing room, having the first conversation with them post-baptism.

        Prior to my baptism, which was going to be in the autumn, my mother helped me “practise” being baptised in the sea at the beach. So, in a way, she baptised me first.

        I have seen many mothers and grandmothers speak at baptismal services, not so many fathers and grandfathers. The same goes for opening and closing prayers.

        I don’t personally have a problem with the desires some women have to do more. As I have previously stated I see no scriptural/doctrinal reason why witnesses should have to hold the priesthood. I am concerned when the desire to do more overshadows what can already be done.

  7. Chicago-style pizza lover says:

    This reminds me of some issues we have had with baptisms in my ward lately, that have been an annoyance to my bishop and myself. Apparently even though the stake primary baptism dates are on the calendar a whole year in advance, some families seem to think they need to have other dates to fit their vacation schedules or other plans. (I say just wait till next month if you can’t make it back from Disneyland for the baptism.) The bishop asked me who should fill the font and watch it for 3 hours; I said “The parents of the kids getting baptized.” – why should he or I have to spend an extra 3 hours of our Saturday doing something to accommodate their schedule, the bishopric already gives up enough of their personal time right???

    All this lead to some thoughts about these “special” baptisms. As I looked over the stake calendar, I realized that this issue is more frequent than I realized. There was even a separate baptism on the same day as the stake baptism. It seems to be getting to the point that some parents think their kids are so special that they need to have their very own baptism program. The problem with all this is that it forgets that each baptism service means certain people have to do a lot more than they already have to do. The next time someone wants the bishop to schedule a separate baptism service and he wants to know what I think, I’ll tell him to have the parents go talk to his wife and ask if it is ok with her that he spend a second Saturday morning doing a baptism service because they didn’t plan their vacation around the stake primary baptism held the week before. Seriously, some people just don’t have very much respect for the bishops’ time with their families.

    Now, I’m not really a “by the book” type most of the time, but these issues got me to dig into Handbook 2 (20.3.4) which says: “Baptismal services should be simple, brief, and spiritual. Normally, ward or stake leaders conduct monthly baptismal services for all 8-year-old children of record in the ward or stake. Members should not request special or individual times or prescribe the content of baptismal services.” Maybe your stake allows for special requests of things to be included and that is at the discretion of your local leaders. But I think things would be so much easier for everyone, especially the leaders and their families, if we kept it simple and didn’t ask for special services or other specific content.

    Rant over.

    • Dani Addante says:

      I agree. Presidents and bishops already have really busy schedules because of their callings, and they will get worn out if others keep adding extra things. A friend of mine was in a bishopric and they had tons of meetings, and my friend didn’t see the point of some of those meetings, so he didn’t attend.

      I have a leadership calling, and one thing I found was that it was way more time-consuming than I had anticipated. One thing I’ve done with my calling is to simplify it. I don’t like receiving extra work to do unless there’s a good reason for it.

      That seems extreme that someone has to wait in the church building while the font is being filled.

      • For my daughter’s baptism, I was the one to fill the font, not anyone in stake and ward leadership. They lent me a key. While I think simply waiting for the next month’s stake baptism is often a good solution (we did wait several months for my son’s baptism, instead of doing it the first stake baptism after his birthday to accommodate Grandma) there are other circumstances where that does not work well. (As was the case at the time of my daughter’s baptism. Grandma had to travel to my city for a wedding on a different date, and it would have been an undue burden on her to make two trips.) I also empathize with people who do not want to participate in stake baptisms because their stake does them in ways that make them bad experiences for the participants.

      • Chicago-style pizza lover says:

        Handbook 2 states that anytime water is in the font, a responsible adult must be in the room. This is a safety issue. I’ve heard of kids drowning in the bathtub or hitting their head when a parent walked away for just a minute. Even locking the doors is not a foolproof thing. Maybe its extreme, but that is one place where an abundance of caution is needed.

    • EJ says:

      This is the standard that was quoted to me that resulted in my son’s terrible experience.

      But I also have a sp who firmly believes only a high councilman can be trusted with water, and since he (of course) wants out of there as soon as possible, the resulting program is impersonal and sad. This is also the line I am battling now, as the sp also believes that it means the only way a child in our stake can be baptized is at our stake center during the stake baptism., regardless of willingness/desire to travel.

  8. Andrew says:

    As a slight aside, as stake clerk I plan every stake meeting, to the minute. I prepare all the business to be conducted in the stake. Despite my meticulous planning, and meeting agenda, members of the stake presidency fail to read things correctly, high councillors make mistakes reading business, etc.

    I would do a much better job, every time! And, what’s more, they would all agree. However, stake clerks do not conduct meetings, and they do not present business. (Clerks used to present business, way back when). However, since sustaining is essentially making a covenant to do all in your power to assist, and support, the person being sustained, they need to be put under covenant by someone with the authority to do that – bishopric and stake presidency members.

    So I am behind the scenes, constantly, making everyone look good and efficient.

    So because of my excellent planning, and conducting, skills – should I be the next stake president? No, of course not. It doesn’t work that way.

  9. Just to clarify, since my OP was ambiguous on this point, a different man conducted in the chapel than in the confirmation room. The problem was not the fault of just one forgetful man.

  10. Sd says:

    Alma, at the Waters of Mormon, was confronted by an unruly crowd of over a hundred, each demanding a “special” baptism. Two years later he was still stuck attempting to schedule them all with their own unique programs. Why, he wondered, isn’t the ordinance more important to these people than the trappings? Couldn’t we just baptise them all at once and experience the joy of the gospel?

    • Em says:

      And lo, they were allowed to be baptized in the waters of Mormon, for they were free and needed not the building of a font nor the filling thereof and thus neither Alma nor Helam did not need to sit around for three hours. The people did choose to go to the Waters of Mormon, they were not commanded to assemble number two hundred and four persons. And the people did have a memorable meaningful experience full of rejoicing and fellowship and the Spirit, for it was not a boring routine unto Alma, nor did he secretly resent being there. And thereafter as many as were baptized by the authority of God were welcomed into His Church. And thus we see first that using of existing fountains of purest water would remove leadership resentment and cost restrictions. And lo, for some a great group of Saints rejoicing in baptism did bring the Spirit, while for others resorting to the Waters of Mormon privily did give them the witness they did need. For to remember always an ordinance it must needs be memorable.

      • Sd says:

        One is always free to wander over to the nearest river, swimming pool or beach. I have been part of those myself.
        And I very clearly remember my baptism half a century ago. Don’t remember a thing about any of the trappings surrounding it. Which is appropriate since the personalized trappings are superfluous and easily ejected with no harm.

  11. Kara says:

    As the baptism coordinator for our ward, I’ve seen the same disconnect between women planning everything and men executing without all the information. Even when I try to be thorough in spelling out details, there is always still information that they don’t need to know unless they do! It’s frustrating.

    Our stake does a really great format in which each ward gets a 30 min time slot in the RS room, where the baptistery is. After the baptism, guests move to the Primary or YW room to hold the confirmation part of the meeting. It allows for smaller groups, usually just 1 or 2 kids getting baptized in one meeting and still feels personal. One stake primary presidency member is the only person who has a longer commitment to stay through all the wards. They trade off on this assignment, so it’s not a burden.

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