Taken from the Book of Alternative Services, pages 146-165
Baptism is the sign of new life in Christ. Baptism unites Christ with his people. That union is both individual and corporate. Christians are, it is true, baptized one by one, but to be a Christian is to be part of a new creation which rises from the dark waters of Christ’s death into the dawn of his risen life. Christians are not just baptized individuals; they are a new humanity.
Baptism is participation in Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 6.3–5; Colossians 2.12); a washing away of sin (1 Corinthians 6.11); a new birth (John 3.5); an enlightenment by Christ (Ephesians 5.14); a reclothing in Christ (Galatians 3.27); a renewal by the Spirit (Titus 3.5); the experience of salvation from the flood (1 Peter 3.20–21); an exodus from bondage (1 Corinthians 10.1–2) and a liberation into a new humanity in which barriers of division, whether of sex or race or social status, are transcended (Galatians 3.27–28; 1 Corinthians 12.13). The images are many but the reality is one.
Preparation for baptism was a responsibility shared among various members of the community, both ordained and lay. Becoming a Christian had as much to do with learning to live a new lifestyle within the Christian community as it did with specific beliefs. When the day of baptism finally arrived, the event took place within the context of the Sunday eucharist, when the whole community was gathered and where the newly baptized received communion for the first time.
The celebration of this rite of Holy Baptism requires careful preparation by both the community and the candidates. The service should take place when a congregation gathers for the principal Sunday eucharist, ideally on days that are particularly appropriate for baptism—Easter (especially at the Vigil), Pentecost, All Saints, the Baptism of the Lord—and with the bishop present.
In the celebration of baptism the symbolic aspects of water should be emphasized, not minimized. There should be water in quantity, enough for members of the congregation to see and hear when it is poured. An act of immersion would vividly express the Christian’s participation in baptism, in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
When the candidates have been baptized, the celebrant signs them with the sign of the cross. The optional use of chrism at this point restores one of the most ancient baptismal practices. Chrism evokes a rich variety of biblical images: the anointing of kings (1 Samuel 16.13), the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2.9), the eschatological seal of the saints (Revelation 7). Its traditional association with the Holy Spirit interprets baptism as the new birth by water and the Spirit (John 3.5). In a similar manner it interprets the name Christ, the anointed one, and relates the baptism of each Christian to the baptism of Christ.
After the signing the celebrant then prays that those who have been made new in baptism may display the gifts of the Spirit in their lives. The newly baptized persons may be presented with a lighted candle as a sign of their new life in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The congregation welcomes the new members of the community and urges them to confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood.