Whether you are a parent with a child who will soon be baptized, a church member welcoming the new little one into the fold, or a family member who practices a different religion, you all have one thing in common. You likely have questions about the basic rules for baptism etiquette. What do I wear? What should I bring?
While each church varies in its practices, knowing the customary code of polite behavior at a baptism will help you feel more comfortable with planning or attending this special event.
Baptism Invitation Protocol
Invitations can be done formally, by telephone, or through email by the parents or godparents. It’s appropriate to extend an invite four weeks prior to the occasion so that family and friends have time to plan ahead, especially if they need to travel. You should include an address and directions for the church and reception for those that may not be familiar with the area.
You may also wish to include any information about your church’s customs that will help your guests of other faiths feel more at ease.
If you’re a guest, it’s polite to RSVP to even an informal invitation. It’s helpful for the family to know how many seats to reserve at the church if necessary and plan for refreshments at the reception afterward.
Since most baptisms occur in churches, or after a church service, you’ll want to be respectful in choosing your attire. Dress as you would for a wedding, shower, or other special occasion. For men, this calls for a suit or sport coat and tie. For women, it means knee-length dresses or skirts, or business pantsuits. Also, women must have shoulders covered if they are entering a Catholic church. Unless the family specifies that your attire can be very informal, it’s not appropriate to wear jeans or miniskirts.
Baptism Gift ideas
It is considered good form to bring a gift, although you should wait until the reception following the service to present it. If you are only attending the service, you should send the gift to the family before or after the event. Appropriate gifts are usually religious in nature. You can find a variety of religious gifts ideas here. For example, mementos such as:
- a cross
- artwork with a religious theme
- a spiritual book
Silver is a traditional gift that represents a wish for prosperity. Simple but thoughtful silver gifts would be:
- an engraved silver spoon
- a silver cup
- a silver frame to hold a picture of the baptism
If you’re not religious yourself or don’t share the same faith, you could opt for a personalized gift such as:
- an engraved photo album
- a keepsake box
- a special blanket
- glassware with baptism date
You could also offer to bring food or dessert to the reception in lieu of a gift. Parents of the child might donate money to or provide the officiant with a gift. Even if this isn’t expected of the host family, a donation to the church is always appreciated.
Attendees who are not religious are not expected to participate in rituals or group movements. If you do wish to follow along, you can look at the booklet describing the order of the ritual, if one is provided. The main thing here is to show respect by dressing appropriately and remaining quiet. It also shows reverence for the occasion if you stand when requested, and sing along with the hymns.
After the baptism ceremony, many families have a reception. Since the main purpose is to celebrate the occasion and the child’s baptism, this doesn’t need to be an elaborate event. It can be held at your home with a casual potluck or finger foods.
Of course, if you want to go all out on the reception, you can certainly do that too. There’s no “right” way to host a baptism reception. The important thing is to have a joyous occasion on the child’s special day, and to make everyone feel welcome.
Comparison of Baptisms in Different Religions
If you haven’t been to many baptisms, you may be wondering what attendees or the person getting baptised does at different religious baptisms. Many baptism rituals involve the pouring or sprinkling of water over a person’s head in a Catholic church, or total immersion in water for those taking place outside of a church, for example, a beach setting.
This generally symbolizes a sign of one’s entrance into a church or acceptance of religion, and is in many cases considered necessary for salvation.
Baptism vs. Christening
In Catholicism, these two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are a little different. Christening refers to the naming ceremony while a baptism represents a child being received into the church. In some traditions, a christening is reserved for the baptism of infants.
A Christian baptism is done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a reenactment of the baptism by the Spirit which takes place in the book of First Corinthians. Christian baptism is a public profession of faith in which one is admitted into the fellowship of the church and a cleansing of one’s previous sins. This is also known as a believer’s baptism and takes place upon conversion into the faith, usually as an adult.
Opinions differ as to whether or not a baptism gift for an adult is expected, however, a thoughtful gift is never inappropriate. In this case, you may consider a memento such as a Christian book or a prayer journal.
Certain religions, such as Quaker, Unitarian and Christian Scientist, do not perform a baptism ritual. Others, like Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not baptize infants. In the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day saints, members are baptized at the age of eight.
A traditional church baptism may be complicated for couples of different faiths, or who don’t belong to a specific religious community. Recently, baby blessings have become a popular alternative to traditional baptism for those who still want to welcome their babies with a ritual. Incorporating elements from different faiths or simply those rituals that are important to the family, baby blessings can even be held outdoors without a church.
The main idea behind etiquette is thoughtfulness, so if you try your best to be respectful to the family’s faith. Your attendance alone shows your appreciation at being invited and a joyful heart at the new baby’s momentous occasion. However, a thoughtful baptism gift is a wonderful way to celebrate the sacred event and will be treasured by the family for years to come.