Recently I attended a bar mitzyah, a ceremony that initiates 13-year-old boys into the duties and responsibilities of the Jewish religion. The liturgy, anticipation, and preparation for the program thrilled me. Parents and relatives made this experience the most important event in the life of this young man.
As I returned from this impressive ceremony I thought about our own young people. When we baptize them into the church, how much special attention do we give them? Do we make this event the most memorable experience in their life?
Unfortunately, baptisms often don't seem to be too important to us. The baptism is casually listed in the bulletin, and the ceremony itself is squeezed in between the announcements and the beginning of the worship service. One minute the congregation is listening to an announcement about the church campout; the next, the curtains open and the minister and a youth are standing there, ready to begin without wasting any time. The pastor mentions the person's name, says some kind words, and immerses the individual. Then the curtains close and the worship service continues as usual.
Several years ago, Pastor Ademar Quint began holding a special spring baptism for the young people in his church. Soon the entire South American Division joined in holding an annual spring baptism. The idea spread—and today all divisions are invited to participate in an annual Spiritual Commitment Celebration—April in the Northern Hemisphere and September in the Southern Hemisphere.
A Spiritual Commitment Celebration can take many forms. Some churches devote an entire weekend to this special event; others only the Sabbath morning worship service. Some use the worship service linked to an afternoon service. Sometimes the baptism is held outdoors at a river or lake; other times it is held in a church. A Spiritual Commitment Celebration can also be part of a youth congress, a campout, or a Pathfinder camporee.
Recently I attended a baptism in Europe where the young people were baptized in a large water tank at one of our camps. The tank was decorated with flowers, giving it the appearance of a beautiful garden. Before the baptism all the campers attending the service lined up on two long lines facing each other. As the campers sang, the white-robed baptismal candidates marched through the lines with the ministers to the place of baptism.
A band played several religious songs, and then the whole group sang a beautiful hymn together. Those who were being baptized formed a circle, and one boy and one girl prayed. A pastor, relative, or friend read short biographies, alternating with music and testimonies. It was inspiring to hear the youth give their reasons for being baptized. The pastor then gave a ten- or fifteen-minute sermonette. The young people sang a cappella between the baptisms.
A weekend of celebration
Involving your whole church family in a weekend of celebration will make baptism a never-to-be forgotten experience for your young people. A meaningful way to begin this special weekend is with a family communion service. A unique setting can add much to the total impact of the service. If an auditorium or fellowship hall is available, tables can be set up in the shape of a cross in the center of the room. Use white tablecloths, arrange the bread and grape juice in a pleasing way, and accent the table setting with candles.
Sabbath school is an ideal time for a special program presented by the Path finders and/or youth division. Be sure to allow the youth adequate time to prepare their program.
The church service should involve youth in as many ways as possible, and the sermon should relate to the week end's special emphasis. A suggested outline for a Commitment Celebration sermon is: (1) Celebration of Joy, (2) Celebration of Remembrance, (3) Celebration of Anticipation, (4) Celebration of Commitment.
The fellowship and unity of this special weekend will be enhanced by a church potluck. Encourage all members and visitors to attend. Arrange for extra food and table service so that there will be plenty for everyone and no one need stay away because he is unprepared.
The baptism and commitment celebration is best held on Sabbath after noon. Youth and many adults prefer an outdoor baptism, despite the water temperature. Wherever possible, consideration should be given to holding this service in a quiet lake or river.
To build the intergenerational bond, some of the older "saints" can briefly tell how they became Seventh-day Adventists, followed by committed youth who give their testimony of what the church means to them today. These presentations, interspersed with music by members of all ages, will make the baptism an event long to be remembered by the entire church family.
An all-church family social is a good way to end this special weekend of celebration. Your conference youth director has ideas on new fun games for all ages. One meaningful way to conclude is to have all members—young and old—join hands and form a circle around the room. Close by singing together a song such as "I'm So Glad I'm a Part of the Family of God."
If the baptism is held during a special service in the church, the sanctuary can be decorated by each family represented in the baptism. Flowers can be used on the platform and pews. During the recessional the youth can walk to the foyer and receive special greetings from the church members after the service.
A baptism held outdoors can be especially memorable. There's some thing about the natural environment that reminds us of the baptism of Jesus Christ Himself. Here is the counsel of the Lord: "Whenever possible, let baptism be administered in a clear lake or running stream. And give to the occasion all the importance and solemnity that can be brought into it. At such a service angels of God are always present."—Evangelism, pp. 313, 314.
When using an outside location, all arrangements should be made in advance. The site can be decorated with flowers, palm trees, or easily movable plants. If the baptism is to be held in a lake, a heart made of flowers can surround the youth during the baptism.
As soon as the youth are baptized, give each one a bouquet of flowers. If it is a cold day, they should get dressed first, but if not they can remain by the water and receive the flowers and congratulations from those in attendance. A certificate and book should be given or sent to each one as a memento of his decision for the Lord.
One word of caution. Be sure the young people are properly dressed with clothes underneath their baptismal robes (especially if the robes are white), or that they are covered with a blanket or large towel as soon as they leave the water. Neglecting this precaution can result in embarrassment to the young people and an effect on the audience that will ruin the sacredness of the occasion.
If the young people being baptized are members of the Pathfinder Club, con duct a special ceremony, using candles. Welcome them to the circle of lights by saying: "Your light is now part of our light. Welcome to the circle of love and fellowship in Jesus Christ." Assign each a prayer partner.
Preparing for baptism
During the bar mitzvah I was impressed with the amount of time the parents had spent studying the Torah with their son. As they thanked God during the service they mentioned how worthwhile it was to have spent those long hours studying together.
The General Conference Youth Department has a new baptismal manual that can be used by parents in studying the doctrines of the church with their children. It is based on the twenty-seven fundamental beliefs and will be a blessing not only for the youth but for the whole family. Family worship hours can be used to strengthen faith in Jesus.
We assume many times that because young people are born into the church they know everything the church teaches. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dress, modesty, hygiene, food, diet, recreation, social life, movies, marriage, dating, music, et cetera, are topics that need to be brought before the youth. And it is very important to put Ellen White into a proper light—not as one who is always negative.
A baptismal class is a must in preparing young people for baptism. It is common to hold the class in the church or at the church school. This can be started right after the Week of Prayer or even at the beginning of the school year.
In preparing young people for this special service of celebration, don't neglect the willing cooperation of the church schoolteachers, the Sabbath school leaders, and the Pathfinder leaders. Very often it is at a school Week of Prayer or a Pathfinder camporee that young people make their initial decision for baptism.
As you visit your young people in their homes you will be able to ascertain their readiness for baptism. You will also have the opportunity to begin to build anticipation for the spring Spiritual Commitment Celebration.
Holding this annual event will take a little more planning than just squeezing a baptism in between Sabbath school and church. But for the young people you baptize this will become the most memorable experience of their lives, as well it should.