The rite returns to Houston with a new post-COVID look

Pastor Steve Wells started a tradition at South Main Baptist Church. During a baptism, he first asks the family to stand in honor of the person about to receive the rite.

Then he calls the whole assembly to stand up. It is a moving display of support from the entire church family for an individual’s personal journey of faith, Wells explained.

“Baptism is a profession of faith, but it is also the whole church that claims this person,” he said. “Symbols are important; rituals are important. And we lost it for a year.

COVID-19 has suspended baptism. When the doors to the church closed for locking, the ritual was put on hold. When churches reopened, some found new ways to baptize.

For others, like South Main in Midtown, baptisms have been completely hushed up for over a year – and are only making a comeback.

Now that all South Main ministers are fully immunized, baptisms for immunized parishioners (the Baptist Church does not believe in infant baptism) will return this month.

“We can’t wait to start baptizing again,” Wells said.

Back to group baptisms at Pentecost

The same is true of Reverend Becky Zartman, canon missionary for evangelism and training at Christ Church Cathedral downtown.

On the day of Pentecost, Sunday May 23, baptisms resume their normal time slot and in their usual group style.

“Baptism is finally back in its place,” she said. “We’re back where we should be, and I’m so happy. For me, it is a sign of vitality and life.

At Christ Church Cathedral, she explained, the episcopal faith focuses on infant baptisms, but also traditionally offers the sacrament to adults during the Easter Vigil – until last year.

“It was the first time we had said to ourselves, ‘What are we going to do for baptism?’ It was all so uncertain, ”she recalls. “There were a few babies waiting.”

As the pandemic continued, the need to baptize became more pressing, Zartman explained.

Fortunately, she said, an answer awaited in the 1928 prayer book that served the Episcopal Church for 50 years, until it was rewritten in 1978. In the old version, private infant baptism was the standard, and Christ Church Cathedral, following these guidelines, was able to offer small services for 10 family members at a time.

In January, when the church reopened, limited group baptisms were scheduled on Saturdays. A few months later, Zartman is more than ready for group baptisms to resume on Sunday, joined by the whole church when individuals sign up.

“It’s a matter of connection at the end of the day,” she said. “Being apart made me realize how much the sacrament of baptism is about being together.”


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The ritual is fundamental to forming an identity as an Episcopalian, Zartman added, vowing to love his neighbor, serve God and set an example by serving others.

“It’s a big part of who we are,” she said. “Through your baptism, you have the power to come out, serve others, share the gospel, and change the world.

The Church of Saint-Jean-le-Divin épiscopal will also resume group baptisms during Pentecost.

Vice Rector Rev. Reagan Cocke said the congregation canceled all scheduled baptisms when the building closed in March 2020. When the church reopened in June, baptisms were limited to 10 people and held in the larger sanctuary, instead of the chapel, to allow greater airflow.

Adapting to COVID-19 led him to rethink baptism and find new aspects to keep: in the past, parents gave him their babies, before pouring water on their heads; during the pandemic, parents held their babies all the time.

“Babies were behaving much better and parents could see their child’s face all the time,” he said. “I decided to keep this practice.

He also sticks to the live broadcast, which allowed more families to attend when baptism attendance was limited. Likewise, he plans to continue the baptismal courses online.

“What has been useful to me is to rethink the practices, the way we did things before,” he said. “We have learned some good new things.

A new life

Baptismal classes have resumed in person for the ministry of the deaf in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said chaplain and program director Reverend Len Broniak.

At the onset of the pandemic, he said, the doors to their usual place of worship, the Warren Chapel in St. Dominic Village, located near the Texas Medical Center, closed.

“For the first half of the year, everything basically came to a halt,” added Broniak. “We have stopped all classes. Baptism, marriage, confirmation, it’s all over.

Then he personally tested positive for COVID-19, contracted pneumonia and remained in hospital for two weeks. “It was a little rocky there for a while,” he said.

While mass finally returned, taped for Facebook and YouTube, classes didn’t resume until just before Easter.

“Since then, we have had several requests for baptism courses, marriage preparation and even some RCIA [the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] investigations, ”Broniak said.

Currently, the ministry is using the space at Holy Ghost Church located near Meyerland, as the Chancellery is still closed to large groups. “We hope we can come back at the end of the summer,” added Broniak.

Being able to return to classes in person is particularly important for the ministry of the deaf. Although the content is similar, the course is more interactive, explained Broniak. There are several possibilities for students to request clarification in sign language.

“Living in a world without sound means you rely on the visual a lot,” Broniak said. “Sitting is important. Lighting is important. The physical and real world is our stage, which helps a lot in explaining the sacraments. “

He said celebrating baptisms again on Easter Sunday felt like life was coming back to the congregation.

“The whole past year has been devoted to prayer for those who had died. But now we were praying for those who would live, ”he exclaimed. “And to root that in our faith, where we see the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus giving life and meaning to our own life. The celebration of our baptism has given us all a renewed sense of hope, for which we are very grateful. “

Sandy Higgins, director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said baptism is a life-changing transformation, both for infants and their parents who renew their commitment to Catholicism.

“Baptism is our entry into a life with Christ,” she said. “We are brought into this new life filled with grace and hope. We are united with Christ in his mission, who calls us to holiness and leads us to look at our life through the prism of faith.

Over the past year, she added, people have had time to reflect on what they value, what brings them joy in life. It got them to turn to the church and to the faith.

“I think the joy they’ll have when they come back to church will be so obvious it’s a joy everyone will want,” she said. “And I hope we will eagerly take up our role of bringing others to God.”

Message of hope

Almost everyone knows when they were born – but not as often the date of their baptism on the calendar, explained Reverend James Burkart, pastor of the Catholic Community of Christ the Good Shepherd in the spring.

He hopes to change that.

“I do a lot of things about remembering the baptism date,” Burkart said. “Every creature on earth is born, but not all creatures are baptized. Your baptism date is more important than your birth date. This is your date of birth in heaven.

During COVID-19, his attitude did not change. He always treats baptism as a gathering of encouragement – just one with limited attendance. When the church reopened at 25% of capacity, he said, baptisms were smaller, with new protocols. Instead of using a baptismal font, water was taken from the container and placed in separate sterilized bowls for each child or adult participating in the sacrament.

The guidelines have not changed. “People are ready, but we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Yet the baptismal message remains clear, Burkart added. “People need to hear messages of hope,” he said.

Pastor Wells of South Main Baptist Church is convinced that there will be more professions of faith in the future.

“Every time you go to a baptism, this is a chance to remember yourself,” he said. “And if we ever needed something new in life, it’s now. What happens when culture goes through something like this is that we turn to our faith. Not because we need a crutch, but because we need lungs. We need heart.

God gives us the strength to persevere, said Wells.

“God renews the world – and He renews us,” he said. “So there is hope, and if you have that kind of hope, nothing can break it.”

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.

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