A View from the Pew: The Beauty and Challenge of Baby Dedications

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Whether they are innocently sleeping or desperately screaming, we can’t take our eyes off babies. This is especially true during baby dedications at church.

Spend any amount of time in church, and you’re likely to be a part of such a service, especially in Baptist churches with young families. I still remember the dedication of our three boys as clearly as I remember their births, though our oldest is now 16.

As special as these services are, baby dedications can also be difficult. They tend to make the parents anxious. For the first of what will be many times in the child’s life, the parents bring their infant into the sanctuary hoping he or she will “behave” in a manner consistent with expectations. But these are babies we’re talking about, so you never know what could happen. I’ve personally witnessed hunger screams, noisy grabbing at the pastor’s lapel mic, snoring, smiling, and the unmistakable and completely natural sounds of “a little wind escaping.”

If the older siblings tag along for the ceremony, it can really go off the rails. Many times, the elder children see this as their chance to remind everyone in the congregation that they were first, they’re still here, and people need to look at them. The psychological trauma of getting a new sibling plays out for all the church to see. It can be bashfully hiding in mothers’ skirts, nose picking, crying, asking questions out loud, or demanding to be held by Daddy like the baby is by Mommy and the preacher.

Aside from the challenges everyone can see, there’s another, often invisible challenge of baby dedications. Whether you know about it or not, you can be sure there are church members who are struggling with issues around childbirth and child rearing. Perhaps they are having difficulty conceiving or maybe they miscarried. Someone in the congregation may even have lost an infant. These are very real and very painful circumstances that can and should be accounted for in the service. The times I’ve heard it addressed most appropriately, the minister acknowledges that while children are a blessing from the Lord, they often arrive with great difficulty and pain, and the fragility of life can sometimes rob us of their joy.

Despite all of these distractions and challenges, it’s important to understand the point of the baby dedication. It’s not infant baptism. It’s not so much a dedication of the infant to the Lord’s care as it is a commitment by parents before God and the family’s church to raise their child to the best of their ability in a loving and faithful home. It’s a service of commitment by the parents and by the church.

Just like the sales manager at the local car dealership who slides in the warranty while you are still high on the new car smell, the congregation is asked to make a commitment during baby dedications that most people don’t think much about in the moment.

They’re admiring the little baby, laughing at his or her antics, or noticing how much the infant resembles one parent, and all of a sudden they say in unison, “We do.” The pastor called for “supporting these parents as they seek to raise this child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and with two words, the rest of the folks in the pews have just committed to helping raise a child. Let that sink in.

If that family or the church needs you to change a diaper in the nursery, you’ve said you’d do it. If that child needs a Sunday school teacher, you’ve already committed. When the youth need chaperones for a choir tour, mission trip, or camp, you’ve made a verbal contract to help. While babies are beautiful, they are needy. Those needs change over the course of their lives, but they do not diminish.

Enjoy the moment. Laugh out loud when something funny happens. Shed a few tears if you feel like it. But the next time your pastor walks up and down the aisles with a baby and asks the new parents and you in the congregation if you will commit to raising the child in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” above all, be aware of the fine print. It’s a commitment worth making, but it’s definitely a commitment.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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