I can remember a point as a missionary where the mission president taught us that we should be worried, that we should be anxious. Being a steward means caring about the people you work with. It means that you worry about things to a degree that you think about potential problems that might arise and plan ways to prevent those problems from happening.
Having said that, due to the dynamics and factors involved, it is almost certain that something will go wrong at a baptismal service. It may be something that is quite insignificant, such as a missionary (who will perform the baptism) forgetting to bring a towel. It maybe be something slightly more memorable, but not too problematic, such as the water being too hot or too cold. Of course there are potential problems that would be serious enough to disrupt the spirit of the baptismal service or prevent the baptism from happening. I’ve heard of missionaries arriving at a locked church without keys or of fonts not being filled in advance.
A baptismal service simply is not one of those events/meetings that just makes itself happen or that just works itself out. A baptismal service is supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime special experience and requires planning. That may seem obvious to many, but for some it still needs to be said. It’s quite possible to be too comfortable or too happy-go-lucky towards baptismal services and the preparations that are involved. Over time I’ve learned that it is best to have decided everything in advance, right down to who will be saying the opening and closing prayers.
I have taken a checklist the full-time missionaries gave me more than a year ago and edited it a bit, based on my experiences. In other words, stuff to worry about. Here it is:
- Has the investigator received all the discussions? Is there enough time (before the scheduled baptism) for the investigator to receive all the discussions, to understand them and to take upon himself/herself the required commitments?
- Has the investigator attended church (for the full duration of the meetings)? How many times?
- Baptismal interview – who is interviewing the baptismal candidate? when is the interview taking place?
- Has the investigator been introduced to the bishop and other ward leaders?
- When is the baptismal service ? Where is the baptism being performed? Has the room with the baptismal font been formally reserved with the stake? Has the baptism been scheduled at a time when the ward members can conveniently attend? [It's often easiest if a baptismal service is scheduled after church meetings on Sunday.]
- Are other baptisms scheduled for the same day or week? If so, the services may need to be coordinated or combined, depending on the specific needs of those involved as well as church guideilness. The church has slightly different policies in regards to the baptisms/confirmations of investigators and members who are born into the church. Be aware of those policies.
- The person performing the baptism should review the baptismal prayer and be able to recite it correctly from memory.
- The person performing the confirmation should review the confirmation prayer and be able to recite it correctly from memory.
- The ordinance should be practiced a few days before it takes place so that the investigator will know how to stand, what position in which to hold his/her hands, how and when to bend his/her knees, etc. While this isn’t difficult, it isn’t altogether intuitive either.
- Sometimes there is a specific person in a ward who is in charge of baptismal clothing. Who is that person? Is baptismal clothing ready? Do you know for sure that the baptismal clothing the right size? Make sure the clothing will be available at the right time. [Warning: Sometimes elders or individuals borrow baptismal clothing and take it somewhere else.]
- Make sure the person being baptized has been told to bring a towel and dry underclothes.
- Has the investigator invited family and friends? (you should be able to get invitations from the full-time missionaries).
- Have the full-time missionaries invited their other investigators?
- Have baptism put in announcements the week before the day of the baptism and have someone announce it in sacrament meeting and then again in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings.
- Talks assigned (be specific on length and what you want covered, who are they speaking to. The talks should generally be short, 3-5 minutes. If possible, have those giving the talks be members who are already acquainted with the investigator. If that is not possible, at least give the speakers some background on the person being baptized.
- Prelude assigned or taped music 10 minutes before meeting starts.
- What hymns/songs will be sung at the baptism?
- Who will offering the opening and closing prayers at the baptism?
- Who will lead the music at the baptism? Does the chorister know which songs have been chosen?
- Who will be the pianist? Does the pianist know the music that has been chosen?
- Who will be conducting the meeting? Who will be presiding? Will the bishop be in attendance? Go over the program thoroughly with them beforehand.
- Who is giving the opening and closing prayers?
- The room where the baptismal service is held should be clean and prepared in advance.
- Was the font cleaned before it was filled? You don’t want residue floating on top of the water or the water to be dirty. The font should be cleaned and scrubbed beforehand and it is preferable that this is not done on Sunday.
- Who has been assigned to set up the room? Are chairs set up? Are there hymn books set out> Does it look orderly? Is the room clean and picked up? Does the room need to be vacuumed or swept?
- Who will be greeting at the door?
- Are there going to be refreshments? Have they been assigned? Is the baptism scheduled on a Fast Sunday? What about paper goods? Do you have paper cups? Paper plates? Napkins? Who is going to serve the refreshments? Has a table been set up so that food, utensils, etc. can be set and arranged nicely?
- Who is cleaning up afterwards? Who will drain and clean the font?
- Who are the witnesses?
- Who will type and print the program?
- What do you want to have happen while the new convert is dressing? What are some effective ways to use this time?
- Assign two or three members to pick their favorite hymn and take a couple of minutes to explain its significance to them, then sing it.
- Have members bear their testimonies, they may be particular to the convert’s age or circumstances.
- Could a child or new convert tell the Joseph Smith story?
- A special musical number.
- Have two or three members share their favorite scripture (briefly) and why.
- Have the baptismal recommend and confirmation recommend filled out before the baptism. As soon as the convert is confirmed have them signed, then give the pink copy to the ward or branch clerk and send the white copy into the mission office ASAP.
- Who is filling the font? How long does it take for the font to be filled? Who will make sure the font will be emptied afterwards?Â NOTE: If (as is the case with most chapels) there is any chance that little children will be present, the font cannot be left unattended (even for a few minutes).Â Little children are fascinated by a font, especially if they can hear/see it being filled.Â Someone should make sure that doors leading to the font are locked until the baptism takes place and that the font is immediately emptied after the baptism is over.
- Do your best to see to it that the water temperature is not too hot or too cold.
- Does there need to be a nursery. If so, who will be in charge?
- Reverence seems to be an issue at many baptisms, how can you encourage reverence? Note: A baptism of an eight-year-old (assuming the Primary is invited) may be a very different experience than the baptism of a convert, simply because of the noise and activity that accompanies a large group of small children.
- When the baptism is announced, remind or teach briefly the sacredness of the ordinance.
- Encourage Sunday dress.
- Ask to teach a sharing time in Primary about proper baptism etiquette.