Theology

Where is the best position for the baptismal space, by the entrance of the church, or in the chancel?

There are two major locations regarding placement of baptismal furniture, therefore influencing the baptismal procedure: 1) Placing the baptismal basin by the entry of the worship space, or; 2) Placing the basin in the chancel. Both have their advantages although by the entry has its limitations.

Placing the baptism vessel near the entry (or in the narthex) hinders visibility. During the service of baptism, it is difficult for the congregation to witness the baptismal service. Even so, confronting the baptismal bowl near the front door reminds Christians of their own baptism. Also, at the beginning of each worship service, water, if in slight motion, can give a warm welcome to those entering worship.

Placing the baptismal vessel in the chancel gives the liturgical designer the advantage of positioning the baptismal events in full view of the worshipers. The baptismal vessel, the altar-table, and ambo can be constant reminders of God’s continued grace to all of us. The baptismal space should be large, but if it is not, importance of the event can be shown by having a bowl filled with water held by a person during the rite, possibly one of the parents or a sponsor.

Baptismal fountains were placed by the entrance of the building soon after worship structures were first built. This placement symbolized the entrance into the Christian faith; but, more than that, the beginning of one’s work in approaching God, suggested by His symbolic location in the chancel. How unfortunate! This prevailed until the Reformers brought the baptismal bowl to the chancel. They understood the Church, rather than the worship structure, is God’s gathered people. Therefore, one’s entry into the household of God was to be performed before the true Church. To bring the newly baptized into the midst of the assembled saints reflects more accurately the meaning of the Sacrament.

While baptism is the beginning of our Christian walk suggested by a baptistery near the front entrance, it is more than that — baptism is all of life. Baptismal fonts should be in full view of congregation members at all times as Luther’s words express: “Their baptism should have been called to their minds again and again, and their faith constantly awakened and nourished. For just as the truth of this divine promise, once pronounced over us, continues until death, so our faith in it ought never to cease, but to be nourished and strengthened until death by the continual remembrance of this promise made to us in baptism.”

Baptismal basin placed in the chancel

A baptism taking place before the people can more easily be seen as a celebration of an important event in the new Christian’s life. Both the fountain (and the event) should proclaim resoundingly the importance of the rite.