This week is my eldest daughter’s baptism birthday. She was baptised at our (then) local Anglican church age 1, with a large congregation of our family and friends. It was a wonderful event, with lots of interactive elements in the service and a bring and share picnic at ours afterwards. She was too young to remember it but every year we celebrate her baptism birthday, getting out the photo album with pictures and cards and prayers by people at her baptism, putting up our ‘birthday bunting’, eating cake and sharing the Godly Play baptism story.
If you’re not familiar with this story, here’s a little peak. When I told it this year with my 4 and 6yos, I set out 3 cushions in our play room and collected the story items together in front of me. I lay out 3 circles of white felt, saying that we baptise people in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then I set out a symbol of each part of the trinity one on each circle. I pour water from a small jug into a bowl, saying that this is the water of creation, the flood, the Red Sea, the water of Jesus’ baptism and of our baptism. I light a large candle saying that there once was a man who did such wonderful things and said such amazing things that people just had to ask who he was. Once when they asked him he said, I am the light. I open a small bottle with a few drops of essential lavender oil in it, let them smell it, and say that the Holy Spirit is invisible like this scent. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there. The Spirit comes to us when we need comfort and power.
The story then describes the simple pattern of the baptism service, asking questions, praying, baptising with water, signing the cross with oil and lighting the baptism candle from the Christ candle. I do all this with a baby doll, then light three tea lights from the large candle I’ve already lit when talking about Jesus. The children take this part very seriously. It’s incredibly special to be named and told this is your light. We then all take turns to ‘change’ the light using a snuffer (which I bought on Amazon!), and watch as the smoke curls into the room, as I talk about the light filling our room, and how it will be in the room wherever we go today.
There’s no wondering questions at the end of this story, and my children are always keen to play (or should that be work?) with the story materials. Today I also put out some stones and a picture frame, and the giant jenga. I offered various other materials which are around in the play room (art materials, play mobil, lego etc).
My 4yo spent 15 mins baptising her baby doll again (today we had 2 dolls, one named after each of them), using both the water and the oil. They love making the sign of the cross with oil. Perhaps we should do that as part of our family rituals more often. Maybe we should do it at one meal on my daughter’s actual baptism birthday.
My 6yo started building with the giant jenga blocks, and they are currently building a structure together which has been used as a bed and something to jump off. I have no idea how things links with the story, or if it does, but I know that sharing stories in their play room gives them inspiration long after the immediate moment of the story. I know I will see things and other effects it have will be invisible, just like the invisible light which fills the room. For me, it was that which struck me out of the story – that the light of Christ, shared in our lives, continues to light our lives even after the story is finished, when we’re back into the ‘normal’ part of our day. Interestingly, we light candles each Friday as part of our Shabbat meal, and in this ritual, it’s the not-changing of the candles (ie we leave them to burn right down) which symbolises God’s constant presence with us.
This week I’ll leave the baptism story items out so they are encouraged to continue playing and working with them. I’ll get out the photo album and put up bunting and have cake on her actual baptism birthday. Previously, their baptism birthdays have sometimes fallen on nursery days, so I’ve sent in cake (or more often meringues) into nursery for them to share with their friends. When I started doing this, they would not have noticed if it didn’t happen, and if I’m honest, when they were toddlers, sometimes it didn’t happen, or didn’t happen in the full way I describe here. And I still have to make my second daughter’s baptism day photo album!
I’d also love to include something which links us with their godparents, perhaps inviting them to send a card or call them at some point during this week. I’d also like to share this with my 3 God daughters, remembering their baptism birthdays in some way, as it feels like a good way to connect with each other and with a growing faith journey.