In the Ev.-luth. Church of Hanover every year 22.000 children and 1.800 adults (above the age of 14) are baptized. Fora few years now, the average age of children, who are baptized, is rising. At the same time, the cases of numbers of adult baptisms are rising. Adult baptism mostly is preceded by intensive preparation.
Baptizing children is based on the belief that God’s grace precedes all human activity (Latin ‘gratia praeveniens’). God’s grace, given in advance, is regarded as a criterion stronger than any human criterion. To the little child, having no other gift than life itself, the pledge is given: ”Because of Christ you are a child loved by God. You shall belong to the worldwide community of believers.”
Baptism, understood in this way, first of all is a gift of God to man, which shall not be kept from anyone who asks for it. Only as a second thought baptism is consequential for a church’s organization. This has led to the understanding that only as an exception the church can refuse to baptize.
This change in the understanding of baptism is reflected by the Magdeburg Declaration from 2007. In it the 11 member churches of the Working Group of Christian Churches in Germany (ACK) have agreed on mutual recognition of baptism in all of the 11 member churches. The most important passage of the document says:
As a rule baptism takes place in a church. However, inspired by ˮThe Year of Baptism 2011” in our territorial church, large ”festivals of baptism” have been established. During these festivals persons of all ages are baptized, followed by a party for all attending. Often these festivals are open-air events on a river or on a lake.
Baptizing small children and caring about the theological meaning of baptism has consequences: it is followed by the responsibility of the congregation to stay in close touch with the family of the newly baptized child and to regularly offer services remembering baptism. Proper procedures for this are being developed.