Held by her parents in her long white gown, little Nora Grace splashed her tiny hand into the baptismal font as her grandfather Rev. Greg Godwin and Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball laid their wet hands on her head.
“Eternal God, by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, you gave to your apostles many excellent gifts,” the bishop had just prayed at this Service of Baptism and Ordination during the 2020 West Virginia Annual Conference. “Give your grace to all servants of your church, that we may, with diligence and faithfulness, fulfill our various ministries.”
In those precious moments with water and spirit, a family celebrated the Holy Spirit’s gifts to Nora Grace, and the priesthood of all believers became responsible for helping her grow into those spiritual gifts. They promised to nurture her and pray for her to be a true disciple, giving the act of baptism both a personal and a corporate purpose.
“We revisit that moment a lot,” Nora Grace’s mother, Rev. Lauren Godwin said just over a year later. “We look at those pictures. … It was super special as a parent, but also as a pastor.”
Knowing that biological family and church family — Nora Grace’s own plus an entire conference — was participating made it “a moment of true celebration,” Godwin recalled.
“It truly was a celebration of the giftedness that God has given each of us,” she said. “And as she grows, we will remind Nora that her baptism is not just a day we celebrate, but a day that is about the promise we make.”
While all of life is a gift from God, 20 gifts are lifted up within Scripture as the gifts of the Spirit, given specifically for the upbuilding of the body of Christ. They are healing, discernment, serving, tongues, teaching, apostleship, giving, faith, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, wisdom, leadership, evangelism, compassion/mercy, administration, working miracles, knowledge, shepherding, helps, and exhortation.
Exploring spiritual gifts — part of growing in discipleship — begins with remembering baptism, just as Steiner Ball asked witnesses to do at the baptism of Nora Grace and as all pastors do at baptisms throughout the conference.
It doesn’t mean literally recalling the details of a baptism event, but recalling that you were marked as Christ’s own. It means remembering that God has a purpose for your life, and it impacts the church — the body of Christ — as a whole. Remembering baptism fits hand-in-hand with the church’s mission is to discover, develop, and deploy passionate spiritual leaders who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As the Baptismal Covenant states: “As members together with you in the body of Christ and in their congregation of The United Methodist Church, we renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
“Speaking as a pastor and a mom, the promise the congregation makes is such an important piece,” Godwin said. “As a pastor, I remind the congregation how critical that is. … This is a serious promise that we’re making, especially at an infant baptism. We are promising to take care of this child however we can, whether that means sliding them a piece of candy on Sunday morning or nurturing them into their giftedness and ministry.”
Participation in ministry begins with baptism, whether it happens with infant baptism or at some other point in life, and remembering it is another important piece. In her book “Liturgy of the Ordinary,” Tish Harrison Warren writes, “Baptism is the first word of grace spoken over us by the church.”
Harrison goes on to say that baptismal fonts are often placed where people will pass them as they walk into a church to worship. “This symbolizes how baptism is the entrance into the people of God. It reminds us that before we begin to worship — before we sit down in church — we are marked as people who belong to Jesus by grace alone, swept up into the good news, which we received as a gift from God and from believers who went before us.”
Christine Harman, in her book, “For the Common Good,” writes “Baptism begins the work of salvation, and from this point on, the work of sanctifying grace begins. Growing in that grace requires a partnership between the individual and that community of faith.”
So baptism concerns much more than a new sister or brother in Christ. As a new part of the whole body of Christ, each person baptized, regardless of age, is told that God has given her or him gifts. And each member of the congregation who welcomes that new part of the body vows to use “prayers,” “presence,” “gifts,” “service,” and “witness” to increase that new Christian’s faith, confirm her or his hope, and perfect that new part of the body in love.
“You are uniquely created by God. God has given you significant gifts. God has a plan and a purpose for your life. As a Christian, you have been called to serve,” Carol Carmel and Yvonne Gentile explain in their book, “Serving from the Heart: Finding Your Gifts and Talents for Service.”
For Rev. Godwin, the assurance of her child’s uniqueness and giftedness is something to celebrate daily.
“Part of my prayer life is that whatever Nora is called to be, that she’ll remember those moments, that experience, and live into her giftedness and call,” Godwin said.
What is God’s Spirit saying to you as you read this article?
Who are you feeling called to have a conversation with based on that nudge?
What is your next step on your calling journey?
Who do you need to partner with concerning that step?
Not sure how God has gifted you? Click HERE to learn more about Spiritual Gifts.
Follow this link to take a free survey that can help you identify your unique gifts.
Do you want to go deeper into how God has uniquely shaped you for ministry? Click HERE to find the course ‘Discover Your SHAPE’ on our new learning platform, Portico.
Books referenced in this article:
For the Common Good: Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts by Christine Harman
Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren
Serving from the Heart: Finding Your Gifts and Talents for Service (adult, 6-week small group, and youth versions) by Carol Cartmill and Yvonne Gentile
This is the first of six articles that will help the people of the West Virginia Conference learn more about spiritual gifts. If you have any questions do talk with your pastor or your district superintendent or send us an email.