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New approaches to baptism – How about a ”Baptism Forest”?

The Nordic conversation about baptism is continuing. Despite declining numbers of baptisms the inventiveness is great when it comes to new ways of shedding light on the importance of baptism. 

The significance of baptism 

In February 2021, new church membership data were published from the national statistics institute. A remarkable figure was the low number of baptisms in 2020. In 2020, 33900 people were baptised in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (ELCD). That is 6733 fewer baptisms than in 2019, in which 40633 baptisms took place in ELCD. Even though the year has been marked by the Covid crisis, this is also a reinforcement of a trend that has been asserting itself in recent years: More and more parents choose not to have their children baptised.

The declining number of baptisms has caused several reactions in ELCD. Among others from bishop Peter Birch, Diocese of Elsinore: ”The Covid-pandemic has of course had an impact on the low figures, but it has also underlined an already on-going trend. The act of baptism is not as customary as it once was. We have to take this seriously. We must strengthen our ability to express the significance and importance of baptism and enter into these conversations with new parents in the parishes.” 

Across the country baptism is on the agenda and different initiatives are rising to the surface. When baptism isn’t as common as it used to be, the question of communication emerges. How do you communicate baptism in the general public in order to highlight the importance of baptism?

Nordic Experiences

If you want to look for inventiveness, there are many good ideas if you cross the borders. The other Nordic countries are working on the same challenges regarding baptism. The Lutheran church in the Northern countries are currently discussing the common challenges in a series of webinars under the title Baptism in times of change. The collaborative project is a way in which the churches can inspire each other, share knowledge and experiences and together create new possible solutions. 

The 10th of May is the date for the next webinar, and the topic is communication, the promotion of baptism and how baptism is being portrayed in the media. The webinar includes presentations from Sweden, Iceland and Norway demonstrating new ways of talking about baptism. 

In the Diocese of Lund in Sweden the church has worked intensively with the topic of baptism for the past ten years. The diocese has created church activities specifically for children and families. Lena Andersson and Marcel Salinder will elaborate upon it in the webinar: ”In our contribution the starting point is the experiences and lessons learned from ten years of intensive work about baptism in the diocese of Lund. We are going to present a communicative perspective regarding the individual and the congregation.”

The Lutheran Church in Iceland has a special approach to baptism- an idea of baptism forests. Halldor Reynisson, project manager in the Icelandic church, will speak about ”Baptism forests”, where families and members of the congregation plant a tree for each child or adult getting baptised in the church. Each tree represents the individual person. It is connected with the on-going reforestation in Iceland, and in a Christian and Lutheran context it also has important symbolic significance.

In the Lutheran church in Norway baptism has likewise been an important issue in recent years. Ingeborg Dybvig, communications manager in the Norwegian church council, says that many new baptism initiatives have been developed. Examples include drop in baptism and cinema advertising. Dybvig will explain this at the webinar: “Among other things we have tried to get to know more about potential parents, what they want and what prevents them from choosing baptism. We have done this in order to be able to tailor campaigns in a much higher degree than earlier. More and more congregations are offering drop-in baptisms and a number of different campaigns have been run on a national and local level. One town has concentrated on cinema advertising, which increased the number of inquiries in parish offices. Several videos have been produced that feature parents explaining why they choose to have their children baptised, even though some of them were sceptical in the beginning. In addition to campaigns aimed at the general public we also worked internally to find out how we can improve the preparation of baptismal services. In the presentation I will give examples and elaborate!” says Ingeborg Dybvig. 

A contemporary theology 

The last webinar in this spring season takes place on the 20th of May. This webinar will be about theology and how baptism can be expressed in a contemporary theology. Is salvation and absolution, which we connect with baptism, something that resonates with modern people? And how can we talk about baptism in a ecumenical context? These are the themes for the webinar on the 20th of May, which will include presentations from the Swedish professor Anna Karin Hammer, the Norwegian professor Harald Hegstad, the Finnish professor Pekka Metso and the Danish professor Niels Henrik Gregersen, who has just published the theological work: “Ind i fællesskabet: En samtidsteologi om gudsriget og det evige liv" - Into the community: a contemporary theology about the Kingdom of God and the eternal life. 

Sign up for the webinars here: https://churchesintimesofchange.org/how-to-engage/