Baby Blessings: at Home or at Church?

By: J. Stapley - June 28, 2005

One of the many ordinances performed in the Church is the blessing of babies. Like many of our practices, this has evolved throughout Church history. Early records indicate that there has been debate over blessing babies in the home. Moreover, there was a long tradition for babies to be blessed, in the home, eight days after birth that no longer seems part of our praxis. The following is the relevant council on the topic.

In 1878, John Taylor, in behalf of the Council of the Apostles, issued a message that was carried in the Deseret News and the Millennial Star that insisted that members have their babies blessed at church by the Elders:

It has been intimated to us that some of the Elders have been teaching ideas concerning the blessing of children that we deem to be incorrect. If we are not misinformed it has been taught that there was no need of parents bringing their infants before the Church to be blessed by the Elders, but it were better for the father to attend to this rite at home, for if he did not he lost a very great privilege as well as a right to, and power over his children that he might otherwise retain. This is not so. We have nothing to say against a father blessing his children…Nor do we object to the father taking his babe on the eighth day and giving it a father’s blessing. But we do not think that this privilege whether exercised or unimproved, should interfere with our obedience to that law of the Lord wherein it is stated (New Edition Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 20, verse 70, page 117) “Every member of the Church of Christ having children, is to bring them unto the Elders before the Church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ and bless them in his name.” (Millennial Star, April 1878, No. 15, p. 235)

25 years later, Joseph F. Smith, encouraged fathers to magnify their callings by blessing their children in their homes and not at church:

In accordance with the rule of the Church, children born to members of the Church are taken to the monthly fast meetings in the several wards, and are there blessed and named by or under the direction of the bishopric.

…However, a father holding the higher Priesthood, may desire to bless and name his child at home, perhaps at an earlier date than would be convenient or possible for mother and babe to attend a fast meeting in the ward. Many elders desire to perform this ordinance within the circle of their own families on or about the eighth day of the child’s life. This also is proper… It would be better if every elder who is a father rose to the dignity of his position, and officiated in his holy office within his family organization…The question arises, and has recently been presented in specific form, if an elder performs the ordinances of naming and blessing his own child at home, is it necessary that the ordinance be repeated in the ward meeting? We answer, No. The father’s blessing is authoritative, proper, and sufficient;

…The repetition of the ordinance of naming and blessing children tends to diminish our regard for the authority and sanctity attending the father’s blessing within the household. (Juvenile Instructor Vol. 38, January, 1903)

By 1917, the official council was a return to the two blessing system. Sadly I haven’t found the author of the following editorial:

This question comes to the Era:

“If a baby is blessed by its father at home, when it is eight days old, should it afterwards be taken to Fast meeting on Fast day and blessed there? If so, of which blessing should the official record be made by the ward clerk?”

If a baby is blessed by its father at home, a note should be made of the blessing in the family record; but to comply with the requirements of the revelation in regard to the blessing of children, found in section 20, paragraph 70, Doctrine and Covenants, it will also be necessary to take the child “unto the elders before the Church” which is generally done in fast meeting. It is evidently intended that the record to be made in the ward shall be of the public blessing. The paragraph reads:

“Every member of the Church of Christ having children, is to bring them unto the elders before the Church, who are to lay their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and bless them in his name.”

This example of public blessing was set by the Lord Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, and also in the Book of Mormon, III Nephi 17:11-13, 23, 24. In these examples the blessing was done publicly, and that is the method that should be pursued by the parents who have children among the Latter-day Saints. This does not imply that a father should not bless his child when eight days of age, neither does it imply that a record should not be made of such blessing, for we believe that it is not only the privilege but the duty of the father to so bless his child, also to record the blessing in his family record.

This was also the last reference to the eight day blessing that I found. Buy the 40’s there are only non-instructional references to Fathers blessing their babies at church.

23 Comments

  1. When we had our first, in the shadow of the everlasting hills, we blessed her at my aunt’s house with family and close friends in attendance (as well as a member of the bishopric to keep things official). We didn’t feel particularly part of our ward at the time (as much if not more our fault as anyone else’s), so it seemed right to do it at home when all the family we had nearby could be there conveniently.

    Now that we live far from family and in a ward we have come to feel part of, I think we’ll probably choose to bless our next at church.

    For whatever reason, the blessing of a baby strikes me as a very communal sort of event, and I guess I would want the blessing performed (ecclesiasts approving) whereever I felt the greatest sense of community.

    Comment by TMI guy — 6/28/2005 @ 5:25 pm

  2. I will bless the baby, with those family members who are present when the baby is born, at the hospital, shortly after its birth. I see no reason to wait for any 8th day or the next fast sunday; although I will also bring the baby before the church for a _very short_ name prayer/blessing.

    Comment by lyle — 6/28/2005 @ 10:28 pm

  3. We blessed mine at our home. A few people didn’t like that. But I liked it much better. First off it is easier to get everyone to. (People have church callings and often there are *many* blessings people want to attend) Secondly church seems to formal and a bit cold, unless you’ve lived in your ward a long time. (I’d been there only a year) I think though it was announced in church and we obviously had to get permission (and paperwork) from the Bishop.

    Comment by Clark Goble — 6/28/2005 @ 11:58 pm

  4. As I read the 1903 statement from Joseph F. Smith, the president of the Church felt that the rule of the Church was in this case a less than optimal way of doing things that should be improved upon by those up to the task. Interesting instruction.

    Comment by John Mansfield — 6/29/2005 @ 6:39 am

  5. Isn’t the home felt to be the next sacred space on earth to the temple? And moreso than the church building? I’ll see if I can find a Faust quote I know of on this. But I like the communal feel of the ward baby blessing as well, and we did so with both our children (in the ward). A time for the father to have a stake in the birth and presentation of his child, not being able to gestate and birth that child.

    I do know that many women want their babies blessed at home so they can hold them when they are blessed whereas this is no longer allowed in church.

    Comment by Lisa B. — 6/29/2005 @ 11:15 am

  6. The handbook says that we should “normally” bless in sacrament meeting in the ward we attend. It also says that a member can bless a terminally ill child at home or the hospital without prior approval from a bishop. It seems like this would leave room for home blessings with a bishop’s approval. I realize this only indicates current practice.
    Ideally, I guess, we would all feel close enough to those in our wards that it would seem like the natural place to do this. I’m not sure exactly where I would feel comfortable with it, though I need to figure it out soon. My family is scattered, as are my friends, and while my wife’s family is all in Utah, I would feel strange with only members of her family in the circle.

    Comment by S. Hancock — 6/29/2005 @ 5:03 pm

  7. I wonder if anyone is doing two blessings nowadays, one at home and one at church. It seems like I only hear about opting for one or the other, but I have no personal experience and also very little observation of what others do.

    This is interesting stuff you’ve dug up, J.

    Comment by Heather P. — 6/29/2005 @ 9:51 pm

  8. John Mansfield, after thinking about this a little more, maybe Joseph F. Smith was focusing on the Father doing it instead of the “Elders”. Now that Fathers do the blessing in Sacremement meetings, he would have a different oppinion. Just a speculation.

    I’m still fascinated by this eighth day blessing. Still trying to dig up more info…

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/30/2005 @ 10:44 am

  9. J,
    Hate to bring this up on your post, but the eighth day blessing is probably another circumcision holdover, given that at least in bible times–I don’t know what happens now–Jewish children were circumcised on the eighth day, ala Jesus in Luke.

    Comment by S. Hancock — 6/30/2005 @ 11:51 am

  10. Yeah, it seems the natural impetus. Maybe this goes back to how the 19th century saints called themsevle isreal and everybody else gentiles.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 6/30/2005 @ 11:57 am

  11. Just a quick call out to Justin’s insightfull comment that may relate to this discussion.

    Comment by Jonathan — 6/30/2005 @ 3:50 pm

  12. It seems like the father blessing the child is just a way of trying to make the man feel “important” becuase it is the woman who gave the child life. It seems we have to give a man some “special” role because otherwise he would feel inferior. The reality is that women give birth, and therefore roles are constructed to make men feel “worthy” instead of realizing that this is an instance where they just have to take a back seat and play a supportive role. Why do men sometimes have such a hard time playing a supporitive role? Men who have a hard time just honoring their wife and not creating a special role for themselves don’t feel inferior to women. Women spend their whole lives supporting men, and then when it is women’s time to shine and celebrate the fact that we as women do something pure, unique, and so honorable and men feel threatened and try to “take over.” The blessing should come from an outsider, and should involve honoring the mother who brought the child into the world. Our lives as women should not revolve around building men’s egos. Sometimes, men have to learn to take a back seat and that everything is not about them.

    Comment by Catherine — 8/24/2006 @ 9:11 am

  13. Cathrine, I am sorry, but I don’t follow your analysis. There were a lot of things that changed at the turn of the century, including the expansion of the Elders Quorums; but, you’ll need some evidence to back up your assertions, both historically and theologically.

    Comment by J. Stapley — 8/24/2006 @ 9:57 am

  14. The question of having the blessing at home or in the church. It is not about feeling close to the members of your ward – It is a sacred blessing given to your baby. With the members of the bishopbric and those whom are worthy. Where better to do it then in the house of the Lord on the day of the fast… Think about the Ordinance that is being performed.
    Sorry Catherine, but there is this really neat thing called the Priesthood. The blessing is to honor the child and to bless the child throughout its life. It is not about the Father or the Mother. I would just hope whoever is performing the blessing is truly worthy.

    Really come on ‘ego’.
    kbm

    Comment by kbm — 8/24/2006 @ 11:27 am

  15. Catherine,
    I blessed my child because it was my duty to do so. I could no more refuse to do that duty than I could refuse to pass the sacrament or give a healing blessing to my wife when she asks. I don’t know why I have been asked to do these things as a priesthood holder, but I have, and I do them. I love doing them because they bless the lives of others. I don’t see that as egotistical.

    Comment by Steve H — 8/25/2006 @ 2:58 am

  16. Catherne,
    My wife and I both played important roles in bringing our children into this world. One no more important than the other. Giving the blessing is just one of my responsibilties, and what our heavenly father has comanded. my ego was not boosted by this blessing, However, My wife and I felt proud of our new baby girl and enjoyed that special day with her.

    Comment by Bret L — 9/1/2007 @ 11:59 pm

  17. I agree with Catherine. Obviously both men and women conceive the child, but the woman plays the greater role. This is why there is discrimination against women. Women do something profound and spiritual and important that men cannot achieve. We can do without alot of things, but not birth. All generations are here because women had the strength to bring them here. Women deserve the honor, but most men cannot handle simply honoring their wives for this amazing acheivement, becuase it makes them feel “less than.” So yes I agree we always have to conjure up special roles for men to make them feel worthy. It varies from religion to religion and culture to culture, but there are always special roles made up for men to compensate.Very few men will admit it, and smart women know this to be the truth.

    Comment by Bella — 11/6/2007 @ 12:57 pm

  18. Comments on Bella and Catherine’s comments…

    I don’t understand why you are responding to a humble man with concerns about his duty to bless his child with comments insinuating male domination at play. This isn’t about motherhood or fatherhood. This practice is an event for a child to be blessed as directed by the spirit. It is a comandment from God.

    I love my wife and my daughters. I honour my wife for the incredilbe strength, wisdom, love, devotion, beauty, humility and sacfirice she has showed through having children. It is up us as fathers to outwardly show the mothers of our children how much we honour them (this is also a commandment).

    There is no discrimination against women here! Who would disagree that the woman plays a greater role in the pregnancy and child birth?

    It sounds like you have not had enough compliments, respoect or love shown you for your roles in birthing children.

    From all of us I say, we love and honour you.

    Comment by Tim B — 8/14/2008 @ 6:15 pm

  19. I agree with Catherine. Obviously both men and women conceive the child, but the woman plays the greater role. This is why there is discrimination against women. Women do something profound and spiritual and important that men cannot achieve. We can do without alot of things, but not birth. All generations are here because women had the strength to bring them here. Women deserve the honor, but most men cannot handle simply honoring their wives for this amazing acheivement, becuase it makes them feel

    Comment by Skyler Neil — 10/12/2008 @ 1:36 am

  20. I’m a bishop and this topic is a tough one for me. I’ve decided to not allow baby blessings at home. For one I believe the scripture is pretty specific in this case about where and by whom it should be done, and the second is that I’ve seen people make a baby blessing about everything other than blessing the baby. It becomes a reason to not offend non-believing family members. It becomes a reason to skip church. It becomes a reason to have a party. The blessing soon becomes an afterthought to the days events almost like temple sealings have become an item to check off leading up to the reception and party.

    The only exception I have is if there are health reasons for not bringing the child to church. It’s made some parents not happy with me, but having been to many blessings of both types I know there is a difference and a reason the Lord told us to do it in church.

    All spelling and gramatical mistakes are my iPhones.

    Comment by D — 12/28/2008 @ 1:03 am

  21. Can a Bishop make that call? It seems like it’s a personal decision for the family to make given the history of the church. I’m not sure a Bishop has the authority to discern for a righteous family. I know plenty of folks who have blessed their infant/toddler at home. It would not seem that just because a bishop has a “personal” feeling about it- that he would then give revelation for something the prophet has not even made definitive.

    Comment by chiasmus — 11/8/2009 @ 10:37 pm

  22. I see the naming and blessing of a newborn child as an intensely family affair. I think it’s primary purpose is to build into the strength of the family, and as such should be done with the focus on the structure that keeps families together. I refer of course to teamwork, honor, commitment and above all, love. It is an opportunity to pull together for the good of the child being welcomed into the family. The d&c does have the requirement to bring the child before the elders, however, most families I know have at least one elder in them, am I way off in left field here in thinking that if an elder magnifies his calling, he is within his rights to represent “the elders” in matters regarding his own family?

    Comment by Lester — 7/28/2010 @ 8:33 am

  23. Interesting comments on the eight day subject. I might have done a home blessing then had I recalled it. However, I’m still doing it at church this upcoming Sunday, with all the priesthood holders who are related to me and bishop and stake president, and maybe the bishop’s counselor, who was my wife’s doctor. It seems like an unskippable event, and the recording idea is great! Also, I’m sure all the women in my family understand the importance of a priesthood blessing.

    Comment by Vitor — 9/8/2010 @ 10:28 pm

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