So many of those who came up through parish religious education and Catholic schools in recent years—if they have not completely left the Church—have fallen away into nominal Catholicism. We can count on the fact that the only formal contact they will have with their parishes will occur on Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals. When they show up it will be for about an hour, in the midst of a crowd, on their way to another social event. They will generally be unnoticed, underwhelmed, and will disappear back into the secular ether for several months. Eventually they (or their children) are likely to stop coming to Mass completely.
We might consider though, for the time being, it is quite possible they will come to their local parish to baptize their children. While the number of baptisms per year is decreasing, many nominal Catholics still, even if for vague reasons, seek to hand on the semblance of Catholic Faith to their children. When they approach the parish for baptism they will most likely be looking for something they perceive to be a ceremonial formality and most likely won’t be interested in anything that involves lots of time or investment of energy.
(Plus … they are new parents—so they are likely not sleeping much.)
But, what if we seize this reality as an opportunity?
A Place to Start
What if, rather than simply jumping through administrative and ceremonious hoops, they were met with meaningful formation that led to an encounter with Christ?
What if the lead message was, “Welcome home! You belong here?” Is it possible that we could, by being all things to all, save at least some? St. Paul thought so (1 Corinthians 9:22).
A parish that forms an intentional strategy for baptismal preparation is a parish that understands the cunning and innocence needed for the New Evangelization.
So how can this happen? What are some concrete strategies to change the vibe from a hoop-jumping, ceremonial formality to a vibrant family transformative encounter?
Here are some ideas:
- Have a sit-down conversation with everyone who is a point of contact with new parents when they seek baptism. Note that those who approach the parish with the wrong attitude are the ones who need the gospel the most! Share the vision to ensure that nobody hangs up the phone or walks out of the parish office feeling like they are engaging in a business transaction or stressed out by all of the paperwork there is to be done. (Look—I hear you, parish staff. All of that paperwork is absolutely important and needs to be handled. I’m simply saying it needs to be handled in a human and inviting way, even at the cost of efficiency and in the face of rudeness, ignorance, or audacity.)
- Make a plan for baptismal formation that takes into account the realities new parents face and that prepares them for parenthood, not just for ceremonial logistics. Balance out potent formation with the fatigue and time constraints of new parents. (Full disclosure: This post is to support efforts to promote a program that is designed to strike that balance.)
- Literally feed new parents when they show up. (Seriously, good food supports good community. It’s biblical!)
- Make an ongoing and explicit invitation to full participation in parish life, starting with Sunday Mass, but expanding to everything else you have going on, a constant part of baptismal preparation.
- Ensure that your parish team is establishing a relationship with new parents leading up to baptism.
Simple enough, right?!? Simple, but this could literally change the script for young families in your parish and be a step that leads people to heaven.
Find out more about Ascension’s baptism program, Belonging: Baptism in the Family of God, here.
Do you have any ideas about how to make baptism preparation an opportunity to evangelize? Let us know what comes to mind in the comments at the bottom of the page.
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Colin MacIver teaches theology and has served as the religion department chair and campus ministry coordinator at St. Scholastica Academy in Covington, Louisiana. He is the author of the guide to Quick Catholic Lessons with Fr. Mike. He and his wife, Aimee, are co-authors and presenters of Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition. They are also co-authors of the Power and Grace Guidebook, and the Chosen Parent’s and Sponsor’s Guides.
Featured painting, The Baptism (1755), by Pietro Longhi, sourced from Wikimedia Commons