Baptism is a life-defining event that emphasizes a commitment from God to God’s family and from us to God’s creation. It is not a checkbox occurrence, but a lifetime process that is complete only in death. Therefore, it is important for the leadership of the church to keep the commitment of baptism always present as it gets involved in Christ’s mission by “studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life.”
Most baptismal services in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) include liturgies that echo the Book of Common Worship and ask the congregation two questions:
“Do you, as members of the church of Jesus Christ, promise to guide and nurture this person by word and deed, with love and prayer? Will you encourage her/him/them to know and follow Christ and to be faithful members of his church?”
The answer from the gathered congregation is “We will.” This response invites us into a long-term commitment to assisting the Spirit in faith formation, to engaging in Bible study, to connecting the spiritual life to the ordinary in hopes of a faithful response to all that it brings, and to being in relationship with church families as they fulfill their baptismal vows at home.
On a recent Sunday morning in the small church that I pastor, the time with the children included a book that took 10 minutes to read. I was nervous. I was concerned that people would get restless because of the extended time focusing on the children. But it occurred to me that this is precious time to make space for the children to connect to God in a way that might not be available to them because the liturgy tends to be designed for adult ears. We are a small church with a wide range of ages in worship and in the church community, and all are a part of our baptismal commitments.
As ruling elders of the church, one of our main responsibilities is to work with pastors and other leaders to provide opportunities for discernment, study, asking questions, and wrestling with our faith in ways that make it stronger, fruitful, prophetic, and impactful. There are no words or witness if we don’t provide opportunities for the Word to take hold and to grow. Being intentional in providing opportunities beyond a Wednesday night Bible study is imperative and essential for our baptismal life as the Church of Christ. We follow a teacher who was creative and intentional: he used meals, conversations, and objects to strengthen the Word he was preaching, knowing that people learn and grow in different ways. Jesus was the master of show-and-tell! And we, as ruling elders and teaching elders, should follow his example.
- What are your own practices, as a ruling elder, to study scripture and to connect the Word to your life and calling?
- How can ruling elders assist in keeping the baptismal commitments of the congregation in the forefront and find ways to engage and invest in those commitments?
Marissa Galván-Valle is a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). She is the senior editor for Spanish language resources in the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and temporary pastor at Beechmont Presbyterian Church, an intercultural church that worships each Sunday in Spanish and English. She was ordained as a ruling elder when she was 21 years old.
Throughout 2023 and 2024, monthly Regarding Ruling Elders articles will alternate between a deep dive into the ways ruling elders discern and measure the life of a congregation through the ministry of members and stories about how ruling elders are using their call and gifts as they move within and beyond the walls of the congregation.
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