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Jackie Gillard and her daughter. Photo courtesy of Jackie Gillard

What is the purpose of baptism?

With no strong ties to a particular religion or church, one mom explains why she still decided to have her daughter baptized

By Jackie Gillard

In 2009, when my husband and I began the process of adopting a child in South Africa, we faced a conundrum: would we baptize her?

He is a lapsed Catholic. I was baptized in the United Church and raised by evangelical parents. But neither of us had strong ties to any particular religion or church. We both struggled with the purpose of baptism, and yet we felt compelled to go through with it.

First of all, we knew that our respective families expected it. And second, I worried that we might be risking our child's soul if we didn't provide her with a ceremonial church blessing. Basically, her baptism was a way to assuage our own residual concerns from those Christian upbringings.

I've always believed in my own version of God — one who embodies acceptance, understanding, forgiveness, diversity, equality, love and respect. In place of a regular membership to any organized religion, I have cultivated a more personal spirituality founded on the facets of Christianity that I agreed with, while casting out elements that scared me or were difficult to support.

One of the aspects I spurned was the concept of hell. Surely, a loving, just God would not banish anyone to burn forever? In my version of judgment, even those who made bad choices in life would be welcome in the heaven that I envisioned. After all, bad choices don't equal bad souls — just tortured ones, right? Yet, there I was, agonizing over condemning my unmet child to an afterlife of flames if we chose to eschew baptism.

In the end, familial tradition and fear of the unknown won. We wanted to hedge our bets over hell's existence, so our new daughter was welcomed to the Christian community in a United Church ceremony. And I couldn't have planned it better myself.
With a strong focus on love, joy, family and human unity, the minister thoughtfully wore an African-patterned stole, the choir sang an African hymn and a South African elder in the congregation became our little girl's sponsor. Her baptism mirrored my fundamentals of holiness.

Despite all of our deliberation on our daughter’s baptism, the event is a fond memory. Besides, I sleep better knowing that I haven't committed my child to eternal damnation.

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The author is baptized at Central United in Calgary. (Photo courtesy of Al Coe)

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