Voices from the Exponent Backlist: Planning a Child’s Baptism

pinterest baptism programLast year about this time, I began planning my almost-eight-year-old’s baptism. I’m a huge fan of religious rituals that welcome children into the community–I love a Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, a Roman Catholic infant baptism, a Mormon baby blessing, etc. I think these rituals build our children and build our communities.

But, I didn’t want my son to feel like his choice to be baptized made him better than anyone else. We have family and friends who have chosen to not be affiliated with the Church, and he had questions about that. Why was his choice to be baptized a good one? Why were other peoples’ choices not to be Mormon just as valid? Difficult conversations, those were (and will continue to be). However, they helped me frame how I wanted his baptism…as a gift from his community to show their love and the love of our Heavenly Parents’ love. After all, the covenants we make at baptism are simple and beautiful: we become members of our community, we take on the name of Christ, and we promise to keep the commandments, including helping each other and serving God.

On our backlist, one of our permabloggers has a friend whose child is getting baptized. She asked for help finding a reading that would be meaningful to her, as someone with beliefs that differ from her mainstream Mormon family, that would also be comfortable for those in attendance. Here are some suggestions from our backlist:

Libby: I gave the Holy Ghost talk for B’s baptism and focused it on what the gift will mean for her. It ended up being very personal and meaningful, and I was able to say a lot of things that in another context I might not have been able to.

Jana: I would probably use the lyrics of one of the sweet primary songs as a springboard for discussing love (a parents’ love and a heavenly parents’ love).

Brooke: I really felt that when M was preparing to get baptized 5 years ago, I was also doing a lot of mental gymnastics. And I was continually questioning his choice–literally asking him why he wanted to do it, etc. His answers were so innocent (and superficial)–and reminded me how young he was and how little he knew–that I felt better about it. The whole thing wasn’t so heavy on my mind anymore.

TopHat: When my daughter was 4 she came to me crying because they had been learning the “I like to look for rainbows…” song in Primary for the program and she was upset about it. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “I don’t want my sins washed away!” which is from the second verse. I don’t think she quite understood what “sin” was, but I also felt that she was worried that a part of her would be gone. I told her, “You are 4. You have no sins and so you don’t need them washed away.” I’ve been to baptisms where a huge part of the “baptism” talk is about being “clean” and sins “washed away” from children not capable of making any sin. While my daughter won’t be 8 for a couple more years, I want to make sure that the focus of her baptism is her desire to be good and kind like Jesus and not sins she’s never committed. I think the desire to “mourn with those that mourn” and “comfort those that stand in need of comfort” is beautiful and is what baptism should be focused on.

For those that would like more gender inclusive ritual/baptism experiences, perhaps these stories from our Mormon feminist friend Lorie will be inspiring: “I participated in all of my children’s church rituals. We blessed our children at home and so my husband and I and all of the grandparents stood in the circle. My husband did the official blessing, and I added a mother’s blessing. The baptisms were a bit more difficult, as they were public events. I arranged with my bishop and stake president to stand next to the font when my children were baptized and then stood with my husband as he confirmed them. My then 3-year-old daughter got away from her handlers during my son’s confirmation. She ran up to the front and placed her hands on my husband’s hands as he did the confirmation.”

EmilyCC:  I was worried about my oldest’s actual baptismal day (I was surprised at the sudden and difficult feelings of sadness I experienced on my baby’s blessing day because I felt like I had no good place in her blessing), but I was surprised how much peace I felt and a spiritual presence throughout the day.

I sent invites to our close friends in the ward (not the whole ward) because our ward only announces baptisms in Primary and to our close friends (Mormon, post-Mormon and never-Mormon). I sent invites to a handful of school friends and to his teacher.

My son’s teacher and principal came to the baptism, which still chokes me up a bit. His teacher was honored to be asked and brought her best friend, the principal, with her. While many of our ward friends weren’t able to make it, I am still touched by so many of my post-Mormon friends who made the effort (and the drive!) to attend.

I felt fortunate that my bishop and my son’s Primary president are good friends of our’s. I knew they would give lovely talks at the baptism. We did make sure that we coordinated our baptism date with our bishop’s schedule. If someone has a specific bishopric member they’d prefer to preside and speak at the baptism, I would recommend asking him and coordinating schedules.

I’m not sure if Primary presidents are required to speak in other wards. I’ve been to some friends’ baptisms where they haven’t, but anyone who know me knows that I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to have a woman leader in the program! So she did a brief talk on being a child of God.

My kids’ grandparents all live nearby, so we had each grandma give the baptism and Holy Ghost talks. My dad baptized my son, and my spouse did his confirmation.

I had to think for a while about how I would participate. It is hard for me as someone who has baptized children of other faiths to not be able to baptize or bless my child. I decided that I would bear my testimony in the program and put myself after his confirmation.

I pondered what I would say the week before and used 1 Corinthians 13 to study as I thought about this part of the program. I bore my testimony of the spiritual gifts that I have witnessed my son display. I bore my testimony of the Church and the love of God for all God’s children. I bore my testimony of the power of community and quoted Mosiah 18:8-10.

In the past, we had a Primary president who would pass out notecards to all the people at the baptism and have them write a note to the child–whatever they wanted to write about. I had people do this for my son while he and my dad changed. Small children drew pictures, family and friends wrote lovely notes to him. We didn’t give any direction and they are beautiful. My son loves that little notebook, and a year later, I often find it near him on his bed after he’s fallen asleep at night.

Because we had so many non-members and people from far away coming, we provided lunch. I wanted to provide lunch though I know some wards look down on that. We had a Mormon-owned sub shop cater because they do hokey and completely adorable subs in the shape of the number 8. I got a Costco cake with a rainbow on it for dessert (“I Like to Look for Rainbows”) and as a nod to LGBT inclusiveness. (I actually wanted to do a whole awesome rainbow-themed baptism, but my spouse thought it might be too in-your-face for some of our more conservative family members and friends. He was probably right.)

My spouse went on Pinterest and designed the program (see the picture above). We had lengthy discussions about how we would do this baptism and a lot of thought and prayer went into this special day. I felt peaceful and I felt the Spirit on that day. I hope my son did, too.

What meaningful rituals, readings, or ideas have you done or seen done at baptisms?

EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.


  1. My dad is decidedly new-order Mormon – attends church but does not tithe or temple – it is of course more complicated than that but that’s a shorthand explanation. My son who is now 12 wanted my dad to speak at his baptism (the “baptism” talk). We weren’t sure how it would end but we thought it would be best to honor our son’s wishes and ask, and let my dad choose for himself whether he wanted to participate. He did speak, and it was one of the best talks I have ever heard. He has extensive experience working underground, and he spoke about how there have been times he has had to follow a single, small light to return to the surface (power outages or something). He likened that single light to Christ, and spoke about how sometimes Jesus is all you have to hold onto, but He is enough, and the choice to follow Jesus is always a good choice. I could not ask for a better legacy of faith from my dad, for myself or my kids. It is emotional even to think about it. My faith has changed more since that time, and I understand more and more the feeling of stepping forward in darkness with your eyes on that one small light.

  2. At my daughter’s baptism, it was important to me that women had a part to play. Since the men in her life could perform the ordinances, witness them, and stand in the confirmation circle, while women are banned from all these activities, I planned the program, gave the main talk, and assigned nearly all other parts to women. I think the bishop noticed what I was doing, because when he called my daughter up to give the usual announcement that she had been baptized by her father, he also added something recognizing how her mother and grandmothers had also participated in the event.

  3. I also think telling children up to age 8 that they have sins to be erroneous. At a nephew’s baptism such a big deal was made of his “sins” (so that repentance would appear desirable) that it became offensive. Mulling it over afterward, I now think it more useful and less damaging to tell newly baptized children that after these ordinances, they are authorized to begin having real experiences with repentance, and now is the time to begin to learn how to make that a part of their life.

    Repentance is a huge topic, the companion of faith, and somewhat neglected in our discourse. To think that the ubiquitous “three Rs of repentance” covers it is ludicrous. It should begin in earnest at baptism, and better to teach this to 8 year olds than that they have sins that need washed away. I wish I had understood it better, earlier in my life, for my own benefit as well as for my own children.

    • MDearest–I totally agree with you about making a big deal about the purity issue. My daughter and I attended a baptism of three of her Primary classmates last Saturday, and the mom who gave the baptism talk (whom I really like), just harped and harped on the fact that they would be “pure and innocent like a baby.” She kept going on and on about how all their sins would be washed away, etc. Ugh. Was quite the downer.

      April–I, too, am going to incorporate as many women into the program as possible.

      My daughter who recently turned 8 will get baptized in June. I am feeling quite frustrated by the way our stake does stake baptisms here (Tucson). All of the children in the stake who are getting baptized (and their family/friends) meet in the chapel where there is one baptism talk and one HG talk. It’s very impersonal, b/c you do not even know who the speakers are (since they usual come from the other children’s families).

      We will be inviting a lot of non-member friends, and I just cannot bear to sit in that big chapel w/ a bunch of people I don’t know and listening to talks from strangers.

      I want my daughter to have a program just for her. I will insist on this, but I’m dreading a potential battle. (Probably just overreacting on my part…and I’m sure it won’t be a big deal to do it same day as Stk baptisms, just after…)

  4. There’s a risk of turning baptisms into mini-wedding receptions here in Utah–the baptismal portrait, the video, the cake, the dress, the gifts… so we tried to keep ours simple and focused on the ordinance and Christ.
    I like the image that mothers birth their children into the world, and fathers birth them into the church through baptism.

  5. This actually made me tear up a little. Heaven felt so close at my baptism. My (youngest, cool) uncle travelled pretty far and wrote me a song, I chose the people I wanted to speak and offer prayers, and the songs. More than anything, I appreciated the opportunity to exercise my agency, and the acknowledgement that I am in charge of my spiritual journey. Anything that encourages those for the child getting baptised is a good idea! (I’m against impersonal Stake baptisms, obvs).

  6. Reading all of this was lovely. Unfortunately in our stake, the baptisms are done on a stake level, totally impersonal with no flexibility. My daughter is turning 11 this month and I still get a knot in my stomach remembering her baptism almost 3 years ago. It had to be delayed by many months due to scheduling difficulties (they DO NOT make any exceptions to the 3rd Saturday of the month) and there were 11 children baptized that day. They were literally waving us from the chapel to the font and stage whispering, “next”. It was so impersonal and disappointing. Not that I think my daughter is some precious snowflake that needed a catered celebration, but this was just so bad on so many levels.

    • Dani, I have friends who live in different stakes that follow this model. On the one hand, I want to be respectful of leaders and their time, but I find this model really challenging, especially for those parents who want to have more input in this important day and ritual.

      I’m sorry that was so hard for you and continues to be difficult. I think I would feel very much the same way.

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