In the lives of all human beings there are important events which call for a celebration. Since the earliest days of human communities the birth of children has been celebrated by parents and families. In Christian communities this has usually taken the form of a Baptism (sometimes called a Christening). Other names used for similar celebrations have included Welcoming, Naming, Dedication, Blessing, or Thanksgiving. Whichever name is chosen for the ceremony, what is important for Unitarians is the commitment - by the community as well as the parents - to offer the child love and support.
The Unitarian movement arose out of Liberal Protestantism and it is still common to celebrate a child's birth through the medium of Christian Baptism. However, Unitarians are not bound by credal rules and customs and exercise the freedom to create celebrations which meet a wide range of situations. Parents are welcome to help devise a ceremony to suit the particular occasion.
Usually, parents or guardians prefer the ceremony to be held in a Unitarian place of worship. However, this is not always appropriate or possible. Some celebrations take place in the child's home or in a hired building such as a hotel. In good weather they may even be held in the open air.
To whom is the ceremony available?
Unitarians enjoy the opportunity to celebrate new life and leaders of Unitarian congregations welcome members and non-members alike into their worshipping circles to create something of meaning and value. The parents will not be asked to affirm anything they do not believe or to involve themselves in the church more than they are willing. Should the parents be unmarried then no pressure will be placed on them to explain their lifestyle or home life.
The ceremony is customarily performed by a Unitarian minister - a highly qualified leader who is usually in full-time service to the congregation. However, in the absence of such a minister, there may also be trained lay people who are pleased to perform such services.
When are such ceremonies performed?
Many adults prefer to celebrate the birth of their children during a normal Sunday service in the church, when other members of the congregation can be present. The worship leader may also devote the whole of the service to the subject of childbirth or childhood. Otherwise, the ceremony can be held at a time convenient to all concerned.
At what age should a child be presented?
A child may be brought for a celebration of birth adoption at any age, Usually, the child will be a few weeks or a few months old. However, Unitarians are able to devise ceremony suitable of any age.
Godparents, guideparents, or sponsors are not essential but invited if so desired. The number and gender of godparents is a matter for agreement between the child's family and the worship leader. If the child has older brothers or sisters then they can also be involved in the ceremony. All those in attendance have a role to play in that they represent the support of the community in which the child will play an integral part.
What happens during the ceremony?
The form and content may depend on discussions between the child's parents or guardians and the worship leader, but will be determined by the circumstances of the occasion. The result will be a ceremony based on the integrity of all involved, respecting the needs of the child and the child's family. It may or may not include the waters of baptism. There may also be the giving of a flower as a symbol of the growth, beauty and fragrance of life. There may be readings and prayers drawn from various sources. A ceremony unique to the child may be designed by the worship leader in consultation with the family
Unitarian leaders may be prepared to devise ceremonies to suit the distinct circumstances of those with special needs. For example, a special Service of Adoption can be arranged to celebrate a different kind of new life. Celebrations can also be arranged for older children, and, in such situations, the children themselves may be able to participate in the preparation. Though less frequent an occurrence, sometimes adults present themselves, and a service of Adult Baptism or Adult Dedication can also be arranged. For parents who belong to different religious traditions, the source material from their own faiths can be integrated to produce a ceremony respecting the integrity of all concerned.
Whatever the name of the ceremony, the focal point of the celebration should be the commitment of adults to the nurturing of the child's fullest potential. By working together with the adults concerned the worship leader can produce a ceremony which is unique - something of which the participants can be justly proud.