What Happens at a Mennonite Baptism?

Mennonites cite John the Baptist's baptism of Jesus as a model.
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The Mennonite faith is the largest contemporary heir to the iconoclastic Anabaptist tradition that began in 16th-century Germany. Anabaptist teachings held that Catholic and Protestant churches had become corrupted. They strove to embody what they thought early Christian communities must have been like. This partly meant rejecting sacraments like infant baptism. Instead, Mennonites practiced adult baptism, reasoning that infants and young children could not decide to follow Jesus of their own volition. They also noted that John the Baptist had baptized Jesus as an adult. Mennonites referred to baptism as an ordinance rather than a sacrament to distance it from other Christian baptisms and stress its symbolic rather than mystical meaning.

1 Question and Answer Portion

For Mennonites, the symbolic commitment to Jesus in baptism is more important than the form or order of the ceremony. Still, there are some traditional protocols. First, a pastor or a church elder usually asks a series of questions of the person who asks to receive baptism. In contemporary Mennonite practice, this is usually a list of questions that can be answered with simple "yes" or "no" responses; the person who being baptized does not generally memorize lengthy catechisms.

2 Focus of the Questions

The series of questions usually focuses on a person's faith. For example, a new member is asked whether he has accepted Jesus' forgiveness for his transgressions -- and if he plans to live a life of obedience to the teachings of God. Other questions are asked to determine how committed he may be to the community and rules of the church he wishes to join. This often includes a personal commitment to central Mennonite ideals like pacifism.

3 Pouring

After the question and answer session, the pastor or deacon usually pours water from a pitcher over the new member's head and says, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Then the baptizer may place an inverted hand over the person's head, pour water from a pitcher into his hand and allow the water to trickle over her head. He may also cup his hands together over her head, allowing a deacon to pour water into his hands; he then opens his hands slightly to let the water trickle over her head. Finally, he sometimes just pours water directly over her head.

4 The End

After the water is poured the person receives a towel to wipe water away from his face. Sometimes he will sign a document indicting his official membership in the church. On baptisml days, congregations often hold a potluck dinner, sometimes called a "fellowship meal," to welcome the new believer into the congregation and into broader Christian community.

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.