Planning for a new baptismal font

This is a guest post provided by Joseph Mangone, a pastoral liturgist from Irving, Texas.

Last week my friend told me that his pastor wants to install a baptismal pool in the center of the church replacing a traditional font located in a side baptistery area. It would cost $15,000, and he was asking people to contribute to this project. I asked him: “Was there any mention of such a project communicated to the folks in the pews?”

“No. We found out by a flyer in the parish bulletin.”

I open with this true story to make a very important point: No matter what type of project or change that a pastor or staff member would like to do, without proper communication and support from the people of the parish, it is doomed to both failure and sends a bad signal about how the parish does business.

This article is a basic outline on how to evaluate your present baptistery and determine if a new one is needed.

The first step is to establish a small committee of folks who are involved in the baptism ministry at your parish. When the committee meets, they should answer some basic questions like:

What does the rite call for? Has anyone who is responsible for baptisms (clergy, liturgists, baptism team members, and RCIA team members) read both the rite and the introduction? How are baptisms celebrated in the parish? When was the last time it was evaluated? Do the symbols (font, oil vessels, ambry, paschal candle, baptistery space, etc.) meet the requirements of the rite? Where is the present font located? Does it need to be moved? Where are the bathrooms or changing rooms in the church or adjoining buildings?

Once you ask these and other questions, you then have to come up with the answers. Part of this will be reading and studying the Rite of Baptism as well objectively evaluating how your parish celebrates baptisms. You may want to call or visit neighboring parishes that do have immersion pools and ask them what methods they used to renovate their baptistery. How has that parish reacted to the use of immersion for both infants and adults? A good book on the history of baptism is A Place for Baptism by Regina Kuehn (LTP).

As you do your research, don’t forget to read the Order of Christian Funerals. Remember, the baptistery plays an important role in our funeral liturgies. The casket or remains are placed near the font for the vigil service and at the entrance rite of the funeral Mass.

Once your research is completed, the next step is to come up with the design, placement and cost. The design of your church will determine many of these decisions. Remember, everything should flow together and match aesthetically. For traditional cruciform churches, the marble altar rail and marble font can be reconfigured into a font and pool. Placement issues include the location of changing rooms; vision line of the assembly; location of plumbing and electrical lines; lighting of area, etc. On the theological side, the font and altar should be on the same axis showing the connection between baptism and Eucharist. Remember, it should match your present church design (material, color, etc.). Obtain estimates on design and installation and budget maintenance (chemicals, cleaning, heating, etc.).

When a tentative decision is made to move forward, it’s time to sell it to the parish. The pastor can begin this explaining the process that has already taken place. Next would be educating everyone about the history of baptism, the development of font designs and what the Rite of Baptism calls for. This can be accomplished via website, workshops, flyers, etc. The last piece of the puzzle is showing the new font and any other additions to the baptistery; the cost of the project and how it is going to be paid for.

It is important that the people have a say and voice in this project. Throughout the process, you need to determine when to “go public” with the project as part of the overall decision. Everyone must take ownership of this otherwise it becomes “Father’s idea” which will hinder its support and paying for it.

Parishes that now incorporate immersion have been transformed by this saving action of grace and new life.

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