When I applied for the pastoral position at my current congregation, during one interview, I asked the Search Committee when they’d last celebrated a baptism. They thought for a moment. “Years,” they answered.
Many Anabaptist congregations are like my current one, celebrating baptisms only rarely. In five years of ministry, I’ve presided at about one baptism per year, which is more than some of my pastoral peers.
Anabaptist churches are defined by their relationship with baptism: a symbol of voluntary participation, where individuals request a ritual of commitment instead of having one thrust upon them at a mandatory age. Baptism must be a choice, and is only made once, for life. During the Radical Reformation that birthed Anabaptism, many believers made this choice, renouncing the priest’s baptism they’d received at birth and requesting, like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, to be baptized by another believer.
The declining popularity of baptism is linked to the word choice, an almost sacred word in secular Western culture. Everyone wants to choose, to decide, to have control over what and how they consume. Choice is one of the highest cultural values—evident in the many advertisements appealing to customizable products that give you what you want, when you want it.