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Asking the Clergy: What does it mean to be baptized?

From left, the Rev. Winfred B. Vergara of

From left, the Rev. Winfred B. Vergara of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, the Rev. Wendy C. Modeste of United Methodist Church of Bay Shore, and the Rev. Mark Bigelow of The Congregational Church of Huntington, United Church of Christ. Credit: Holy Trinity Episcopal Church; Lasting Impressions Photography/Jennifer Mercurio; Alexandra Bigelow

On Jan. 12, many Christians celebrate a feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. This week’s clergy discuss what baptism represents to them and other members of their faith.

The Rev. Winfred B. Vergara

Priest in charge, Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Hicksville

As a sacrament, the outward symbol of baptism is water and the inward grace is the Holy Spirit. There are three “P’s” in baptism: privilege, power and performance.

First, baptism is a privilege. The person, after renouncing evil and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, may decide to be baptized. In infant baptism, the parents may decide for their children. The baptismal rite is administered by the priest either by sprinkling or pouring water or by immersion in the water.

Second, baptism is power. John 1:12 says, “to as many as received Jesus, who believe in His name, He gave power to become children of God.” One is given, through the Holy Spirit, the power to live a new life as a child of God, a member of the Christian church and heir of the eternal kingdom of God.

Third, baptism is performance. Two of at least eight vows in the Baptism Covenant of the Episcopal Church (Book of Common Prayer, pages 304-305) include: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” To these questions the person replies, “I will, with God’s help.” Baptism is, therefore, the initiation by which the person begins to perform this Christian ministry of love and reconciliation.

The Rev. Wendy C. Modeste

Pastor, United Methodist Church of Bay Shore

Baptism is a symbol of God’s grace. The water cleanses us of our sins, allowing us to be reborn in the spirit of God. In Methodism, we typically baptize babies by sprinkling them with water. (But adults can be baptized, too.) In this ceremony, the parents, godparents and the entire congregation commit to nurturing the children, teaching them about the faith and guiding them to accept God’s grace for themselves when they are older.

In the New Testament, it’s recorded that Jesus was baptized by John, and Jesus commanded his disciples to teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Methodism affirms that baptism involves dying to sin, newness of life, union with Christ, receiving the Holy Spirit and incorporation into Christ’s church.

When we become Christian, we receive a new identity. The apostle Paul instructs the church to “put on Christ.” (Colossians 3:10) When we put on Christ, then we put off our old ways.

One of the most vivid examples of baptism occurs in the Book of Acts, in which the apostle Paul and Silas had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel. At midnight, while they were praying and worshipping God in prison, God sent a violent earthquake and opened all the prison doors and unfastened the prisoners’ chains. The jailer, thinking that all the prisoners had escaped, pulled his sword to kill himself in disgrace.

Then Paul called out to him, saying, “We are all here.” The miracle so moved the jailer that he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” To celebrate the new life that comes through Christ Jesus, Paul baptized the jailer and his entire household that night.

The Rev. Mark Bigelow

Pastor, The Congregational Church of Huntington, United Church of Christ

As parents present their baby for baptism, they have a wide range of thoughts and emotions — from extreme gratitude for the gift of their child to great dreams for their future. Baptism, in the tradition of the United Church of Christ, is a sacramental expression of these emotions.

Typically administered to young children, the sacrament of Baptism is a sacred expression of gratitude for the wonderful gift of a new child of God, and it is a promise. The parents, godparents and the community dedicate themselves to the raising of this child to know that she or he is child of God. In our gratitude and promise we acknowledge the grace of God that is present for all people. Baptism itself is not the cleansing of sins and acceptance into God’s family — this is not the purview of humans to decide. God freely offers God’s grace.

As a community of faith we acknowledge God’s gift. When older children or adults are presented for baptism, the sacrament serves to express gratitude for the journey that has led them to faith, but it also represents their own acceptance of the gift of God’s grace and their reality as a child of God.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS you’d like Newsday to ask the clergy? Email them to LILife@newsday.com.

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