If you are a lay person, use this page only to satisfy your curiosity. The instructions on this page are for clergy who have an occasion to baptize by immersion, but don’t customarily do it that way.
- You can cause serious problems if you attempt to immerse infants or people who are dizzy, bedridden, infirm, or of advanced age, who have cardiac or respiratory problems, who are connected to medical equipment, who are unable to walk without assistance, or who might panic if they are immersed. In these cases, it is probably best to use pouring instead.
- Take measures to avoid inadvertent nudity. Make sure that the baptismal clothing will not rise up in the water or become transparent when it is wet. Sew fishing weights in the bottom hems if necessary. You can purchase specially designed baptismal robes from your vestment supplier. They are made of white fabric that is opaque when wet and they have weights in the hems.
- Some people involuntarily tense up or struggle. Since this is an involuntary reflex, neither you nor the candidate will find out about it until the last minute. As soon as the candidate shows signs of stiffening or struggling, bring them back upright, wait until they are composed, then continue gently. You could also whisper to the candidate that you are switching to the method of having them bend their knees to go straight down while you rest your hand on their shoulder.
Prepare the Facilities
- If your church building doesn’t have provisions for immersions and you are “borrowing” another congregation’s building, familiarize yourself in advance with the baptistery, the changing rooms, and the route from the chancel to the changing rooms.
- It takes a long time to fill a baptistery. It needs to be done early enough that the baptistery is full, and it needs to be done late enough that the water is not unbearably cold. Make sure that an experienced person takes care of it in time. If you are “borrowing” a church building, ask the host church to fill it for you. You don’t want to show up for the baptism to an empty baptistery because everybody thought that everybody else was filling it.
- If you are improvising changing rooms, think of the the carpet and the windows. The candidates will be soaking wet and they will need privacy to change clothes. The route to the changing rooms should be reasonably short, private, and waterproof. (Imagine scuba divers tramping through the halls, and you get the idea.)
- If your church doesn’t normally do baptisms by immersion and you are “borrowing” another congregation’s church, ask if you can borrow their baptismal robes also.
Prepare the Candidates
- Have a dry rehearsal in advance.
- Make sure the candidates know where the changing rooms are.
- Make sure the candidates know the route between the changing rooms and the baptistery.
- Tell the candidates that they should not rely on your strength to lift them up out of the water, especially if they are larger than you are. Tell them that they are supposed to follow your cues.
- Tell the candidates how to prepare themselves.
- If the church is supplying the baptismal robes, the candidates need to bring a towel and a change of underwear.
- Since they will be changing clothes twice in a hurry, they should wear simple clothes to church. It’s probably best to avoid panty hose, corsets, girdles, cufflinks, neckties, tie clasps, garters, suspenders, and anything that takes a long time or requires an assistant.
- Remind everyone that their heads will be underwater. On that day they need a hairdo that they can restore quickly with a towel and a brush or comb. There won’t be time for elaborate blow-dryer tricks.
Immerse the Candidates
Use your normal baptismal liturgy. These are only the steps for the actual immersion:
- Use one of the following methods:
- Standing, leaning backwards into the water
- The candidate should hold their nose with their left hand and grasp their left forearm with their right hand, or the reverse if they prefer.
- Support the candidate by placing your left hand flat against the middle of their back and grab their arm above the middle of their chest with your right hand. You can do it the other way around if you prefer.
- Lean the candidate backwards into the water until their face momentarily is under the surface.
This is the method generally used by Protestant churches that practice baptism by immersion.
- Standing, bending the knees
- The candidate should hold their nose.
- Put your hands on the candidate’s shoulders or head
- Guide the candidates as they bend their knees until the head is momentarily completely under the surface.
This is a good variation of the first method for people with bad backs who need to keep their spine straight.
- Sitting, leaning forwards into the water
- Sit in the water with the candidate, and with your hand on the candidate’s shoulders or head
- Put your hands on the candidate’s head or shoulders
- Guide the candidate as they bend face-first into the water, until they are momentarily completely immersed.
This is the method used by Catholic Churches that use the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and have the necessary facilities. It’s also a good method of the water is shallow, such as a creek or a stream.
- Standing, leaning backwards into the water
- Immerse the candidate three times, once when you say “in the name of the Father,” once when you say “in the name of the Son,” and once when you say “in the name of the Holy Spirit.”
- Use the baptismal formula in your service book, but don’t speak while the candidate is under water.
Normally it goes like this: Before you immerse the candidate, you say, “_____, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” If there is any doubt about a previous baptism, you can say instead, “_____, if you are not already baptized, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
- Continue your baptismal liturgy as usual.