Baptismal Covenant IV in The United Methodist Hymnal is a powerful ritual of reaffirmation which uses water in ways that remind us of our baptism.
The Baptismal Covenant is explicit about water being used "in ways that cannot be interpreted as baptism" as the pastor says: "Remember your baptism and be thankful."
(From The United Methodist Hymnal. Copyright © 1989 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)
Let me suggest two ways to fulfill this requirement of the Baptismal Covenant that will both enrich our current practice of baptism and help reaffirmation be clearly differentiated ritually from baptism.
There is an emerging ecumenical consensus based on early Christian practice that baptism should normally be administered with flowing water in some form-whether in an immersion pool or by pouring over a font, and that practices using only small amounts of water (droplets via sprinkling) should be discouraged. So one way to make the distinction is to use large amounts of water in baptism and perhaps significantly less in rites of reaffirmation.
A second way is to be clear about who is using and administering water in which ritual. In baptism, the presiding pastor both blesses and administers the water upon those being baptized. This is because baptism is a gift from God that we can only receive, not take for ourselves. In reaffirmation, the pastor still offers the prayer over the water, but those making reaffirmation may be invited to "come to the waters" of the font to use them in ways that may be meaningful for them. For some this may be dipping their hand in the water and making the sign of the cross on their own foreheads, while for others it may be scooping out a relatively larger amount of water to place or pour over their own heads. People may choose different ways to embody their thankful remembrance of their baptism. And that's the point. While baptism is a gift of God through the church (and so through the hands of the presiding pastor), reaffirmation is a thankful response by the individual who makes it.
Rev. Taylor Burton-Edwards
Director of Worship Resources
General Board of Discipleship
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