To my daughter on her baptism

Sweet Girl -

This is the week of your baptism, an event which is a big deal to your dad and I.

Baptism is a strange thing for us... Something we both have some baggage with.

Our parents had each of us baptized when we were babies. Me at your Great-Grandma Nelson's church; Your dad at your Great-Grandpa's church. At our baptisms, our parents – your grandparents - promised to raise us in the church, promises which they faithfully honored.

In college, though, your dad and I hung out with a different kind of Christian – faithful followers of Jesus, all of them, but also people who were a little obsessed with baptism. They believed our infant baptism wasn't enough because we weren't the ones agreeing to follow Jesus. So they encouraged us to be baptized again, as adults choosing to follow Jesus for ourselves.

Your dad did this but I did not, largely because of a conversation I had with Kitty, (who will actually be at your baptism). Kitty told me that as a pastor, it was her practice not to re-baptize people; That baptism was a question of who was doing the work: Us or God.

And oh, sweet girl, I want you to know that when it comes to faith, it's always God who's doing the work. In fact, it's God who DID the work. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, his work is complete. Nothing you ever do (or don't do) will change that.

Because of our history with baptism, long before you were born, your dad and I had lots of hypothetical conversations about what we'd do with our kids. Would we baptize them as babies or let them choose for themselves whether or not to be baptized later on?

In the end, we realized that the decision would, in many ways, be out of our hands. Since I work for the church, we realized we'd likely do whatever the church I was working for at the time did. If they baptized babies, we'd have them baptized; If they didn't, we wouldn't.

Now that the situation is no longer hypothetical but real, can I just tell you how glad I am that we are part of a church that practices infant baptism?

This week, your dad and I will stand with you before our family and friends and our family of Faith and we will promise to

1. Live – with you – among God's faithful people
2. Bring you to the Word and the holy supper
3. Teach you the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the 10 Commandments
4. Place in your hands the holy scriptures
5. Nurture you in faith and prayer
6. Proclaim Jesus through word and deed
7. Care for others and the world God made
8. And work for justice and peace. 

Can I just say, baby girl, I'm kind of in love with these promises? I'm so in love with them that I made your dad spend the last year teaching them to the 7th and 8th graders who are about to affirm their baptism at confirmation.

These promises are rich and good. They provide a great framework for our faith. And they are deeply woven into the DNA of our congregation.

Maybe that's what I most appreciate about infant baptism. It's not something that happens individually, it's something that happens in the context of community, a community that, sweet baby girl, already loves you so much.

In fact, sometimes I think your biological grandparents are a little jealous of the fact that through our family of Faith, you've got a lot of other grandparents... As well as aunts and uncles and cousins; People who love you even though they barely know you; People who during your baptismal service, will promise to support us in our efforts to help you learn to love and follow Jesus.

Hope, there's so much power in that.

Inevitably, there will be times when faith – and following Jesus – is hard. There will be times when you will question and doubt; When it will be near impossible for you to honestly profess the words that we say in the creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

When these words are hard to say, your community of faith will stand with you, sweet girl, a tangible reminder of God's faithfulness and love. They will help you learn how to follow Jesus, even when it's hard.

And oh sweet girl, sometimes that will be hard for you simply because you're a PK. Worse still, you're a Youth Pastor's kid. I constantly ask myself, Is it even possible for you to grow up and NOT hate the church?

But then I look around me at these people who are the church, sweet baby girl, and I think, yes, yes it is.

And so, on this, the week of your baptism, sweet girl, here's what I want you to know.

We can debate theology (including the theology of baptism) anytime you'd like. Your dad and I are ALWAYS willing to talk to you about faith and about Jesus (and really about anything).

But for us, baptism is no longer just a hypothetical theological issue to be debated. It's a deeply moving sacrament to be practiced, to allow you (and us) to experience God's grace in a mysterious new way.

Baptism is something we very much want for you now because you, Hope Kathryn, are a child of God. You have been since you were born... Since even before you were born. Although you have only recently learned to hold your head up and roll over, already, you are loved – by God and our community of faith. As a child of God, sweet girl, you are worthy, valued, and accepted, now and always.

As your parents, your dad and I will do our very best to teach you to love and follow Jesus. We believe doing so is the best way to live – for both you and the world around you. It's an incredible ride – an adventure – that we are excited to be on together.

In those times we fail, we know that our community will be there to help you learn to love and follow Jesus. These people – the five godparents we've chosen for you, our family, and our family of Faith – are all part of the body of Christ, sweet girl. They are your FAMILY. And that makes you very lucky. Together with them, you'll encounter Jesus in ways you can't alone. They'll also help you survive life's hard stuff. They will care for you – physically and tangibly – because that's what followers of Jesus do. They will also help you make sense of the world around you. Among other things, your baptism reminds us that you belong, Hope girl.

One of the many things I love about the way our congregation practices baptism is that it's not a one and done kind of thing. Instead, our worship regularly includes reminders – affirmations - of our baptism. As you grow older, sweet girl, I pray that each time our congregation participates in a reminder of baptism or you see someone else baptized you will remember

You are loved.
You belong.
You are His.

All my love,
Mom

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. When not doing ministry, she and her husband Doug can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling.

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