The Liturgical ConferenceI have a new essay published in the current edition of Liturgy, the official journal of the Liturgical Conference. The bibliographic information is Andrew C. Thompson, “Baptism, Youth Ministry, and the Means of Grace,” Liturgy 29:1 (2014): 4-12. You can download the article for free at this link.

My article is part of a special issue on liturgy and adolescents, which was guest edited by Fred Edie of Duke Divinity School. My aim in writing it was to explore a connection between the sacrament of baptism and the Wesleyan understanding of the means of grace. Among his categories of the means of grace, John Wesley views the “instituted” means of grace as those sacramental practices that are given to us through the precept and example of Jesus Christ. While Wesley certainly sees baptism as a means of grace, he never includes it in any of his listings of those key instituted means of grace.

I always thought the absence of baptism from the instituted means of grace was a curious feature of Wesley, given the fact that baptism seems to qualify under the criteria he generally uses to identify that key category. It also troubled me somewhat, given that I think Methodists often tend to misunderstand and minimize baptism in their own congregations. (In other words, the absence of a focus on baptism in Wesley made me wonder whether Methodists have a deficient view of baptism built into their spiritual DNA.)

BaptismWhat I narrate in my essay is how I began to see that baptism might not only find a fuller place within the means of grace, but actually take center stage there. I came to this view through my work with the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation over the course of several years. The Duke Youth Academy (or DYA) is a summer program for high school youth at Duke Divinity School, where 16 and 17-year olds are immersed in a community of spiritual formation through the means of grace—and where the entire program is framed with an emphasis on baptism!

Working from my own experience as a ministry coordinator with DYA, the Liturgy essay attempts to suggest how the full range of the means of grace can find a home in a baptismal context of discipleship. As Fred Edie himself has always suggested, living the Christian life fully requires us to learn what it means to swim in our baptismal waters. It is a wonderful, sacramental image that I believe deserves a richer appreciation in our contemporary practice.