Little voices pipe up in worship services occasionally to ask, “Mom, why are they putting water on that baby’s head?” Or, “Grandpa, why is that person being dunked in a swimming pool in church?”
These questions might surprise us, or even make us laugh, but these “wondering questions” are healthy inquiries that lead to spiritual growth. We might not always be prepared with answers. According to United Methodist children’s book author Glenys Nellist, that is perfectly fine.
“With children we don’t have to know all of the answers, because we don’t. No pastor really knows the deep significance and what happens when that water is poured,” she says. “We just believe that in that moment something really special happens.”
Everyone can talk about baptism
Many of us might feel a bit nervous when discussing an important topic such as baptism, but all caregivers should feel empowered to do so. Children count on us to help them better understand what they are observing.
“We’re just here to accompany kids as they step into the mystery and experience God for themselves,” Nellist says.
When children ask about baptism, Nellist suggests this response: “We can tell them that it’s called baptism, this is something that Jesus did in the River Jordan, and that God spoke to Jesus. It was the first time when He said, ‘you’re my son,’ and as Christians we follow Jesus’ example.”
Nellist’s new book, “Baptized in the Water: Becoming a Member of God’s Family,” can be a tool for caregivers walking alongside children who are growing in faith. The book’s poetry, prose and beautiful illustrations are sure to draw in young readers as they learn about this holy mystery.
“The premise of “Baptized in the Water” is that it really doesn’t matter where or how or when we are baptized,” says Nellist. “What matters is that in baptism, we belong. We all belong to God’s great family.”
Ask your own questions
Encouraging children to think deeper is an important part of “Godly play.” Nellist encourages adults to lean into that concept by asking children questions as well. She suggests saying, “[Baptism] is just one of those wonderful things about God that we don’t really understand. But wasn’t it great to watch? What did you see? What did you hear? How did it make you feel?”
To go further, a free activity pack that accompanies “Baptized in the Water” is available to download. In it, you’ll find five tips for talking to children about baptism, as well as printable puzzles, bookmarks, coloring pages and more.
Baptism unites us
Baptism is one of the few things that almost every Christian, past and present, has experienced, either through their own baptism or by witnessing others’ baptisms.
“One of Jesus’ final prayers that he prayed is that we would all be one,” reminds Nellist. “Whether we believe different things about baptism or communion, we still should be able to be united.
“I think that’s such a healthy way to raise children. To be aware of different traditions, and that they’re all valuable, but that the most important thing is that God is with us in each one.”
Or, as Nellist writes in her book, “Baptized in the water, Held in God’s great care. One family joined together, Young and old, everywhere.”
Laura Buchanan works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email.
This story was published on August 24, 2022.