Baptism becomes adjusted to personal wishes in Switzerland

07-08-2023

Central Europe

Lennart Nijenhuis, CNE.news

Photo AFP

In the past, children were all baptised in a church during a special service. Nowadays, the sacrament can also be administered on an Alp, in a river or in a garden. “It is an opportunity to respond to individual wishes”, pastor Sonja Gerber says.

As the number of members in Swiss churches continues to decline, the number of special church services in which baptism is administered to children decreases as well Ref.ch writes.

According to the newspaper, the number of Baptisms in the Reformed Church in Switzerland was still at 42,000 in 1963. In 2021, the number had declined to 8,600 in total.

In addition, baptisms are not the same as in former times anymore. They no longer take place exclusively during church services on Sundays. Both the day and the form can differ. Pastor Mike Gray from Winterthur notices that “about half of the parents would like a more individual shape.”

Pastor Gray has administered baptisms in the forest, in the city park or in town. But actually, he sees several benefits of these alternative ceremonies. When they are on a smaller scale, he can address the family more personally, he points out, adding that there is room for a variety of people and needs in the Reformed church.

A study from the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church (EKS) reads that “pastors have the role to be an advocate for the enduring, traditional, recognisable aspects of baptism while being open to the individual interpretations and design wishes of the person being baptised or the family.”

Alternatives

Martina and Markus Gibel from Schwarzenburg let their daughter be baptised on an Alp in the Gantrisch Nature Park, Ref.ch writes. “We looked for alternatives to the church”, they tell the newspaper. Both parents were baptised themselves but did not grow up very religiously. During the preliminary talk, they told pastor Sonja Gerber their wishes around the baptism of their daughter.

Gerber says to have baptised children in parks and at a fountain. Most of these spots have a special meaning for the family, she explains. The pastor does not see any problems with alternative baptisms. According to her, the sacrament is “one of the central stations in a biography.” “This is particularly useful for addressing people who are socialised in the church but are looking for their own way of living and passing on their faith. They deal with baptism in a very differentiated way.”

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