If You Ask for Sunshine, Remember to Bring Sunscreen: Lessons from an Outdoor Baptism Service

Sometimes things start out all wrong, but somehow end up gloriously more than just all right. Such was the case with an adult baptism service on the shores of Lake Michigan one August Sunday morning.

The night before the baptism, torrential rains hit Chicago, and the road leading to the beach was closed by flooding. Several of us prayed for sunshine and good weather for the next day, but the morning of the baptism dawned cloudy and cool, and the lake itself was officially closed to swimming. We arrived at the beach to find a local radio station had set up a soccer tournament, complete with six-foot speakers pounding out rock music.

As the worshipers gathered at the beach, however, the sun broke through the clouds. While some people scouted out another possible location, another person explained the situation to the soccer officials. The music was turned down immediately, the lifeguard granted permission for the pastor and the new member to enter the water, and the baptism was on.

About fifty people—church members, friends, and family—sat on beach chairs and blankets as we worshiped. A guitarist and cantor led the singing. The new member and pastor waded into the lake and the baptism was done by immersion. As the new member emerged from the water, the congregation welcomed him by singing “Amazing Grace.” Immediately following, we celebrated communion together, standing in one big circle. The new member, still dripping, was the first to receive the bread and wine.

Afterward, the communion table—a folding table—was converted to a fellowship table with coffee urns and a plate of cookies. People brought out picnic lunches and Frisbees and lingered over lunch. As we reluctantly made our way home, we all had a golden glow—and not just from the sun.

Note: Several parts of the service can be found in The Worship Sourcebook. For your convenience, the numbers next to these elements indicate where to download that text from the CD that accompanies the Sourcebook.

We Celebrate Holy Baptism and Holy Communion

God Calls Us to Worship: Psalm 136:1-4, 26

Hymn: “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” PsH 249, PH 138, RL 611, TH 100, TWC 2

God Greets Us: Psalm 124:8

[We receive God’s greeting and greet one another.]

We Offer Our Prayers

Hymn: “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” PsH 625, SFL 54, TWC 629 (sing twice)

Prayer of Joys and Concerns (A Bidding Prayer)

Hymn: “Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying” (sing twice)

We Listen to God’s Word

Old Testament Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-13

New Testament Reading: John 8:28-32

Sermon: “The Truth Will Set You Free”

We Respond in Thanksgiving

Offertory Prayer


Hymn: “To God Be the Glory” PsH 632, TWC 46

Service of Holy Baptism

Words of Institution

Hear the words of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

God’s Covenant Promises [TWS]

In the sacrament of baptism God gives us a new identity
as his people.
In a world that has turned away from its Creator,
where anonymity and rootlessness threaten our exis-
God calls a people into covenant embrace.
God called Abraham and Sarah, gave them new names,
and promised to make of them a new nation
through which he would bless all the families of the
God cut a covenant into Israel’s flesh, carving out a peo-
ple for himself.
They would light the path home for all humanity.
In the fullness of time, God sent his only Son, Jesus,
to be our Savior.

In his death on the cross our old self is dead and
in his resurrection we rise to a new life and look for-
ward to a new creation.
When we are baptized in the name of the Father and the
Son and the Holy Spirit,
the triune God seals our adoption as his children
and writes his name invisibly on our foreheads.
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy
nation, a people belonging to God. . . .
Once you were not a people, but now you are the
people of God.” (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
By baptism we have a new identity in Jesus Christ.

Song: “Sing! A New Creation” SNC 241

The Prayer of Thanksgiving [TWS 6.3.3]

Let us now remember our baptism
and give thanks to God
as we celebrate this sacrament of grace today.

We thank you, O God,
for our baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection.
In the beginning your Spirit moved over the waters,
and you created everything that is, seen and unseen.
In the time of Noah,
you destroyed evil in the water of the flood;
and by your saving ark, you gave a new beginning.
In the night of trouble
you led Israel through the sea,
out of slavery into the freedom of the promised land.
In the water of the Jordan,
our Lord was baptized by John and anointed by
your Spirit.
In the baptism of Christ’s death and resurrection,
you have set us free from sin and death
and opened up the way to eternal life.
May Christ, who sank deep into death
and was raised Lord of life,
keep us in the grip of his hand.
May your Spirit separate us from sin
and mark us with a faith
that can stand the light of day and endure the dark
of night.
To you be all honor and glory, dominion and power,
now and forever,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Our Covenant Promises [TWS]

Since you have responded by God’s grace
to the call of the gospel to believe and be baptized,
we ask you, before God and his people,
to reject sin and to profess your faith in Jesus Christ.
Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of
that rebel against God?
I renounce them!

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from
the love of God?
I renounce them!

Do you turn to Jesus Christ?
Yes. I trust him as my Lord and Savior.

Do you intend to be Christ’s faithful disciple,
trusting his promises, obeying his word,
honoring his church, and showing his love,
as long as you live?
Yes, God helping me.

The Baptism
[Name], child of the covenant,
I baptize you in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In baptism you are sealed with the Holy Spirit
and marked as Christ’s own. Amen.

Hymn: “Amazing Grace” PsH 462, PH 280, RL 456, SFL 209, TH 460, TWC 502

The Blessing
Gracious God and heavenly Father,
we thank you that you make us new persons in Jesus
through grace alone.
We pray for [name].
Bless and strengthen him daily
with the gift of your Holy Spirit.
Unfold to him the riches of your love.
Deepen his faith.
Keep him from the power of evil.
Enable him to live a holy and blameless life
until your kingdom comes.

The Welcome [TWS]
Brothers and sisters,
we now receive [name] into Christ’s church.
Do you welcome him in love,
and do you promise to pray for, encourage,
and help nurture him in the faith?
We do, God helping us.

Christ Gathers His Family Around the Table

The Creed

Beloved in Christ, we are called to love one another, to worship him, and to serve each other. As we prepare to celebrate this sacrament of reconciliation and fellowship, let us confess the faith of Christ’s people at all times and in all places.

I believe in God, the Father almighty . . .

The Thanksgiving
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right for us to give thanks. It is our joy and our peace, at all times and in all places, to give thanks to you, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God, through Christ our Lord.

The Institution [TWS]

We give thanks to God the Father that our Savior, Jesus Christ, before he suffered, gave us this memorial of his sacrifice, until he comes again. “The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup, after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

The Memorial

We will do as our Lord commands, we proclaim in this celebration and in our lives the wonder of God’s salvation: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

The Consecration [TWS]

Heavenly Father, show forth among us the presence of your life-giving Word and Holy Spirit, to sanctify us and your whole church through this sacrament. Grant that all who share the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ may be one in him and may remain faithful in love and hope. And as this grain has been gathered in from many fields into one loaf and these grapes from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that your whole church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth into your kingdom.

The Presentation [TWS 8.3.1]

The bread that we break is a sharing in the body of
We, who are many, are one body, for we all share
the same loaf.
The cup for which we give thanks is a sharing in the
blood of Christ.
The cup that we drink is our participation in the
blood of Christ.

The Invitation [TWS]

Congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord has prepared his table for all who love him and trust in him alone for their salvation. All who are truly sorry for their sins, who sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, and who desire to live in obedience to him, are now invited to come with gladness to the table of the Lord. Our Lord has said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Come then, for all is ready, Christ the lamb of God was slain for us.

Therefore let us keep the feast.

The Communion

Song: “Gift of Finest Wheat” PsH 300, PH 521

God Sends Us Out into the World

Hymn: “Lift Up Your Hearts unto the Lord”

(st. 1-2) PsH 309, SFL 63, TWC 771

[The passing of the peace occurs during the singing of the hymn.]

The Benediction

Hymn: “Lift Up Your Hearts unto the Lord” (st. 3-5)


A baptism can be made particularly memorable by holding the service outside. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Baptism is a congregational event, not just a ceremony for family and friends. Be sure to encourage the entire congregation to attend your outdoor service.
  • Choose a location that’s easily accessible with plenty of parking. Specify a prominent marker that people can easily find rather than just the name of a beach or park.
  • Using bulletins, even in an informal outdoor setting, allows worshipers to follow the words and music. It is also a hospitable gesture that allows visitors who may not be familiar with the service format to participate.
  • Select music with familiar melodies. Print out the words in the bulletin, so that worshipers, especially newcomers, will be able to sing. Consider asking a musician with an easily portable instrument, such as a guitar, to accompany the singing.
  • Use a cantor. A cantor’s strong voice and confident leadership will help worshipers feel more comfortable singing in the open air. In addition, the cantor could sing a solo at a key point during the service.
  • Have a backup plan. Weather and other people can wreak havoc on a carefully planned service.
  • For an adult baptism, include communion in the service. The newly baptized person will then be able to partake of the communion elements right away, making membership in Christ’s body that much more immediate and real. A card table can easily serve as a simple communion table.
  • Encourage community. After the service, the card table can be converted into a coffee-hour table. Invite worshipers in advance to bring along a picnic lunch and stay for fellowship and fun after the service.
  • Remember to bring your sunscreen.

Lisa Stracks (lad66@yahoo.com) helps plan and lead worship at Campus Chapel in Ann Arbor, MI. She is also a member of the Reformed Worship editorial council.


Reformed Worship 74 © December 2004, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.