Unitarian views on christening and baptism, 19th C.

As a follow up to this post, here are Unitarian documents from the nineteenth century describing naming ceremonies (baptism and christening).

1827: Description of Unitarian naming ceremonies
1844: Unitarian naming ceremony
1884: Unitarian naming ceremony
1891: Description of a Unitarian naming ceremony


1827: Description of Unitarian naming ceremonies

This description of Unitarian naming ceremonies comes from a tract published by the American Unitarian Association in 1827, just two years after the AUA was organized. (I have not been able to find out anything about Augustus P. Reccord, though I did uncover an Augustus Phineas Reccord who was a Unitarian minister born in 1870 and died in 1946; perhaps the writer of this tract was the grandfather of the later minister.)

Rev. Augustus P. Reccord, “Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and Interpreted and Observed by Unitarians,” Fourth Series of tracts (Boston: American Unitarian Association, n.d. [1827]), pp. 8 ff.

…The baptism of children, or “christening,” as it is so often called, has a double significance. First of all, it is a dedication of their little souls to God. Just as
Mary went up at the appointed time and presented the infant Jesus in the temple; just as, in later years, mothers brought their little ones to him that he might bless them; so today we bring our little ones into the temple of God and consecrate them to his service. As we pray for God’s holy spirit to descend upon them, even as it is said to have descended so many years ago, we venture the hope that this childlike purity, of which the water is but the emblem, may never be tarnished, and that the childlike unfolding may be symmetrical and complete.

“I think, when I read that sweet story of old,
When Jesus was here among men,
How he called little children as lambs to his fold,
I should like to have been with him then.
I wish that his hands had been placed on my head,
That his arms had been thrown around me,
And that I might have seen his kind look when he said,
‘Let the little ones come unto me.’ ”

But this is longing for the impossible. And yet, although the children may not feel his hand upon their brows, nor feel his arms around them, nor hear his voice, yet with our help they may be so reared that the Christ-spirit will dwell within them, that his voice will be heard whispering to them, and that together with him they will feel that they are ever supported and sustained by the Everlasting Arms.

This suggests the second significance. It is not only a dedication of these little ones, but of their parents and elders as well. As we feel how great is childhood’s innocence and purity, how perfect its love and trust, we may be pardoned if for the moment we are led to regard them as messengers of God sent forth to rebuke the world for its selfishness and hypocrisy, and to announce that the Kingdom of God cometh not with observation, neither can men take it by force, but it yields only to the simplicity and purity and faith of the little child. We appreciate at length those beautiful words of Faber:

“Thy home is with the humble, Lord!
The simplest are the best.
Thy lodging is in childlike hearts,
Thou makest there Thy rest.”

And so with this vision of childlike purity and holiness before our eyes, we dedicate ourselves to the bringing in of that Heavenly Kingdom which will be ushered in only as we too become as little children….

[Reccord concludes the tract by saying:]…Such are the “sacraments” [baptism and the Lord’s Supper] of the liberal faith. They are a part of our religious inheritance. They suggest the beginning and the end of that brief ministry which gave us a new civilization and a new era. Gratefully received, truthfully interpreted, and reverently administered, they will be to us what they have been to others, a source of spiritual power and inspiration.


1844: Unitarian naming ceremony

The following naming ceremony, used in the Church of the Disciples, Boston, was probably written by Rev. James Freeman Clarke.

Service Book: For the Use of the Church of The Disciples (Boston: Benjamin H. Greene, 1844). The principal author, though uncredited, was James Freeman Clarke.

The Baptism of Infants

And Jesus took a child, and set him in the midst; and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children, in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them; and his disciples rebuked those that brought them; but when Jesus saw it he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as a little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.

My friends:—

You have brought this child here to be baptized.

I ask, therefore,

Do you give this child to God, to Christ, and to the Church, that he may be God’s child forever; and by this baptismal water, the ancient symbol of purity, do you express your desire that he should grow up amid the purifying influences of the Gospel, and come to Jesus through the medium of all Christian institutions and influences?

Answer. We do.

Will you instruct him in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and exhort him to keep God’s holy will and commandments, and to walk in the same all the days of his life?

Answer. We will.

The child shall then be baptized, the Minister saying—

I baptize thee into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

A prayer and hymn may follow, or precede this service.


1884: Unitarian naming ceremony

The Western Unitarian Conference included Unitarian congregations in what we would not call the Midwest; the headquarters of the organization was in Chicago. The member congregations ranged theologically from fairly conservative Unitarian Christian, to very liberal Christian, to proto-humanist; the liberal elements tended to dominate the conference. Note that several suggestions for words for the actual naming are included at the end of the service, ranging from fairly liberal (God named as both Father and Mother), to fairly conservative (baptizing in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The hymn tunes provided are forgettable, so I haven’t included them; actually, the hymn texts are pretty forgettable, too; nevertheless, the inclusion of so much music is characteristic of this service book, an attempt to integrate the arts into worship.

Unity Festivals (Chicago: Western Unitarian Sunday School Society, 1884).

Christening Service

The children and parents being assembled before the pulpit, the Minister makes a brief address: after which—

The Minister. Do you bring your children hither in this spirit?

The Parents. We do.

The Minister. By what name shall this child be known on the earth?

(One or both of the parents repeat the name.)

The Christening by the Minister.

After the christening of each child, let the children of the Sunday school, or the choir, sing this


Glory be to the Father, who | is in | heaven.
The high and |holy | One;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and | ever shall be.
Worlds without | end, A- | men.

Or these words:

Bless the Lord, | O my | soul:
And all that is within me | bless his | holy name
Bless the Lord, | O my | soul:
And for- | get not | all his benefits!

After the children are christened, a short


While the little ones are being taken away, let the children of the Sunday School, or the choir, sing this


O beloved little children,
Blessing and light descend
On the dear love parental
Which hath offered you here.

Hallowed and consecrated
By holy song and prayer.
May love be filled with wisdom
To guide the feet of the child.

HYMN. If desired.

My child is lying on my knees;
The signs of heaven she reads;
My face is all the heaven she sees,
Is all the heaven she needs.

I mean her well so earnestly,
Unchanged in changing mood;
My life would go without a sigh
To bring her something good….

Lo! Lord, I sit in thy wide space,
My child upon my knee;
She looketh up unto my face,
And I look up to thee.

—G. Macdonald.
From Unity Hymns and Chorals.

The following forms for words for the Christening in actual use by different Ministers, are given as suggestions:

I christen you ……….. in the thought of God, our Father, from whose land you come; in witness of the joy, gratitude, and consecration of your parents; and in testimony of the love, care, and fellowship of this church.

Henceforth you shall be called ………… the name your mother [or father, or parents,] gives you now. May the name be very blessed to you and honored among men. And may God, our Father and our Mother, be dear to you ………… as you are dear to God.

Then in your behalf I publicly consecrate to virtue, to truth, to love, to duty, to the service of God and humanity, these your dear children [or this your dear child] ………… May their lives [or his or her life] be pure, noble, wholly consecrated to what is beautiful and good. May the love and the prayers of this assembly be for you and for them: and may the blessing of God, our Father, rest ever upon you! Amen.

In the Name that is above every name, the Name in which all the families of the earth are one, we receive these little ones in this place and give them names which henceforth they are to bear. I christen thee ………… in the name of God our heavenly Father, and into the fellowship, joy, and service of human life on earth. Amen.

I baptize you in the name of the Father whose child you are, and of Jesus who loved little children, and of the Holy Spirit which is within you.

I baptize thee into the love and service of God, into the Divine Fatherhood, into the divine Sonship, into the Holy Spirit and the life eternal.

………… We dedicate thee to God: to the keeping of his love, to the service of his righteousness and truth.
[Footnote] The minister who uses this form says: “I say ‘we’ instead of the more private ‘I’ because with the few preliminary remarks I make, I try to have all the church feel that they individually and unitedly enter into this act, its validity depending upon the sense of responsibility we all feel toward the young life we now receive among us, and consecrate.”


1891: Description of Unitarian naming ceremony

This description of a Unitarian christening service makes a distinction between a more liberal “dedication service” on the one hand, and an orthodox Christian baptism on the other hand. Reference is made to Rev. Minot Judson Savage, and his idea of using water and rosebuds as symbols during the ceremony.

The Unitarian: A Monthly Magazine of Liberal Christianity, July, 1891, p. 340:

Haverhill, Mass. — At the First Parish Unitarian Church, on Sunday, June 7, ten children were christened by the pastor. Rev. James E. Bagley, his own two little ones being among the number. What made the occasion a noteworthy one was that no christening had occurred in the church for the past twenty-five years. The service was a very impressive one, and it was much appreciated, partaking more of the nature of a dedication service than of a baptismal one, in the old orthodox sense, the pastor following in part Mr. Savage’s idea, and making use of water as the “emblem of purity,” and of a white rosebud as “the symbol of the unfolding of a beautiful life,” as be consecrated each child to “Our Heavenly Father and his service forever.” There was a large attendance, and the church was beautifully decorated with flowers.

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