A 30-something parent issued a unique request for her infant's baptism today. She asked if I'd use the ritual out of the "old hymnal." She didn't have one handy, but she remembered that the words seemed much more appropriate for the baptism of an infant than the ritual we now use in The United Methodist Hymnal.
I inwardly grimmaced, thinking there can't be that much difference. And I was biased against even considering it. I'm one of those who believe the rituals of the church are to help define us and aren't simply a matter of personal choice. That said, I don't feel bound to the precise words of the ritual, especially during eucharistic prayers. So I got out the 1964 edition of The Methodist Book of Worship and gave it a look.
She was right. Just note this beautiful phrase, missing from our present liturgy: Our Lord has expressly given to little children a place among the people of God, which holy privilege must not be denied them. Remember the words of Christ, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." The questions of faith to the parents are much more appropriate to the moment. For example: Do you accept as your duty and privilege to live before this child a life that becomes the Gospel; to exercise all godly care that s/he be brought up in the Christian faith; that s/he be taught the Holy Scriptures, and that s/he learn to give reverent attendance upon the private and public worship of God?
Why did we delete this from the present ritual, in favor of an all-purpose generic liturgy? (A liturgy that is awkwardly "wordy.") Should not an infant baptism be different from other baptisms, in that the teaching of what infant baptisms are all about be somehow included in the words?
There is a proposal coming to General Conference 2008 from the General Board of Discipleship for a new United Methodist Hymnal in 2013. What do you think? Should there be a sub-committee that updates the ritual section as well? I'd vote for it. Of course that would mean following up the new hymnal with a new worship book. Can you already see the smiles on the executives of the UM Publishing House?