It is often the things that the church takes for granted that make a big impact on families and their guests. Praying for them by name, the way water is poured into the font, a lighted candle, even applause, are all very significant moments. Adding a personal touch at each step makes it even more special for the family and their guests. Small things can make a big difference…
On the morning of the service, parents of a small child or baby will be preoccupied with getting the child and themselves ready. For many families, there will be a party afterwards, and they’ll want to make the effort to look smart. Clean clothing, nappy changes, feeding and naps aren’t easy to coordinate even on an ordinary day, so by the time they get to church, they may already have had quite a stressful morning!
These are just a few suggestions to help the family feel more at ease:-
- Make them feel warmly welcomed as they come in to church, ask if all is well with the child, admire outfits and show the family to their seats.
- Some churches join in with the celebratory feel by putting out balloons and having a personal welcome message for the family up on the projector screen.
- Some families and godparents may worry about saying the right things at the right moment, so make sure that everyone who has ‘lines’ has a copy of the Order of Service.
- Print out hymn words on the Order of Service if possible, and/or have them displayed on a projector screen. Include the name of the child/children and a photo, where possible.
- Encourage someone from the family to do the Bible reading, but only if this has been prearranged.
And as the service gets underway, these are a few of the moments that can be made extra special:-
Signing with the cross
It’s possible for the parents or godparents to do this as well as the minister. Ask the parents beforehand how they’d feel about others making the sign of the cross alongside the vicar. Smiling while looking at the child as the sign is made will make the child less likely to cry (though it’s never guaranteed!).
The moment of baptism is so important to families – the water authenticates the service as ‘proper’. The formality of the words helps to give this moment a sense of seriousness and everyone tends to go quiet. At the same time, the drama of the water being poured is the moment the parents will look back on; when it comes to memories, symbol speaks more loudly than words. So invite parents and godparents to move in closer. Children in the service may also be encouraged to gather round the font to see it up close. It helps them feel that this moment is special and significant. After the baptism, inviting everyone to give a round of applause offers a moment to relax and makes it feel extra-special for the family.
Always include personal prayers for the child and the family somewhere in the service and be sure to use first names wherever possible throughout the whole service – it will make it feel personal to the family. Try to include any prayers the family may have asked for specially. There may be some creative ways of helping everyone to be involved. See Shared ideas.
Because symbols are a powerful way of creating memories, being given a candle is really significant for families. The research indicates that being given a candle is one of the key moments that stays with the family long after the service. They love this gift from their church and will keep it as a reminder of the day and all that it stands for. It can also be referred to in the future – families can light it briefly every year as a way of remembering the christening on every anniversary.
An invitation for guests
Families can bring scores of friends and extended family to celebrate with them. The guests’ experience of the service will form an impression of what church, and God, is like. Extend the welcome of the church by offering something to them too.
A guest bookmark may given out as guests leave the church, but it can be highlighted during the service as something they will be able to take away with them. Talk about how everyone can play a part in the child’s life, however near or far they may live and the bookmark will help them remember. It encourages them to pray and directs them to the ‘Light a Candle’ feature in the christenings website. Because each virtual candle that is lit can be shared on Facebook and Twitter, it’s a simple but effective mission tool.
Filming and taking pictures on special occasions and sharing these special moments with wider family and friends is second nature to young families.
A Vicar in the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham says: “The child won’t remember the day, but in years to come, photos and films will enable the parents to talk to their child about what happened at their christening.”
Within the law, be as flexible as you can on photography and filming.