"Remember your baptism and be thankful."
A newly confirmed youth sprinkles water on delegates as they reaffirm their baptismal vows during the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
Christians worldwide will hear this charge on Baptism of the Lord Sunday as many services will include a reaffirmation of baptismal vows.
The celebration of Jesus' baptism used to be marked at the beginning of Epiphany on Jan. 6, at the end of the 12-day season of Christmas. The ancient church conducted baptisms on that day, following preparation for the sacrament during Advent, explained the Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards, director of worship resources for the General Board of Discipleship.
The "remembering" is about recommitment.
"It would be better if our ritual had translated this as 'remember that you are baptized and be thankful,'" Burton-Edwards said. While not everyone can remember the occasion of their baptism, "we can all remember that we are baptized and be thankful for that."
United Methodism teaches that baptism initiates people into the faith community and into a covenant relationship with God and God's people. Reaffirming their vows enables Christians to renew their commitment to discipleship—with the help of the Holy Spirit, Burton-Edwards said.
While people fail in their attempts to live as faithful disciples, "God has done God's work in the covenant," he explained. Thus, The United Methodist Church does not rebaptize. The reaffirmation ritual is appropriate for those who have been baptized and wish to recommit themselves to Christ.
When the people of Peace United Methodist Church in Orlando, Fla., reaffirm their baptismal vows this year on Jan. 13, they will receive reminders of the ways in which Christ heals them.
During worship, clear bowls of water will be set on pedestals in the sanctuary aisles, said the Rev. LeeAnn Inman, Peace's lead pastor. In each vessel will be pieces of sea glass, shards from discarded objects that wash up onto Florida beaches.
"This is glass that has been sand-blasted smooth and very beautiful," she said. "It was once broken but has been made smooth and clean. Likewise, we have been broken in various ways, but the waters of baptism bring us back into the beauty that God meant for us."
Worshipers will each touch the water and take a piece of sea glass from one of the bowls.
"You see a lot of tears, a lot of peace" among those who participate in these services, Inman says. "It is one of the most spiritually engaging days of the year."
Remembering God's love and grace
The Rev. Deborah Walkes of Fridley (Minn.) United Methodist Church will invite people to come forward and touch the water, perhaps using it to make the sign of the cross on their forehead or hand. She has used evergreen boughs to fling the water toward the worshipers, but finds that too passive. "It can lack the engagement of the person in choosing to start again," she said.
Walkes has also led a reaffirmation of baptismal vows during times of social upheaval, including after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"There are times in a church's life or with what is going on the world that restatement of what we believe and of God's love and grace for us needs to be made and there needs to be an action for that," she said. "We reaffirm whose we are and who we are and, because of that, how we are going to live with what is going on around us."
Reaffirmation can be "a bridge to help people who are struggling, needing to know that God remembers them and loves them and they can start over," Walkes said.
The Rev. Victoria Rebeck is a United Methodist deacon and director of communication of the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Resources for Reaffirmation of Baptism
"Baptismal Covenant IV," The United Methodist Hymnal
United Methodist baptismal liturgies (updated by 2008 General Conference)