Home History of Hymns: "Come, Be Baptized"

History of Hymns: "Come, Be Baptized"

Gary Alan Smith

Gary Alan Smith

“Come, Be Baptized”
by Gary Alan Smith
The Faith We Sing No. 2252

Come, be baptized in the name of the Father.
Come, be baptized in the name of the Son.
Come, be baptized in the name of the Spirit.
Come, be baptized in love.*

*© 1982 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Gary Alan Smith (1947– ) has long been an inspiration for church musicians, particularly within The United Methodist Church. Having served many years as the Music Editor for The United Methodist Publishing House, he has created numerous resources for music and worship, and his theological expertise shines both in his texts, hymn tunes, and choral works. In the hymn, “Come, Be Baptized,” he frames the invitation and power of baptism in a way that is both singable and beautiful in its simplicity.

Gary Alan Smith has a lifelong connection with the Methodist and, later, United Methodist Church, having grown up in the church in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the age of 18, his first job was in the very church in which he was baptized, and he humorously notes, “The minister who baptized me was still at the church!” In 1972, his journey into music ministry began as he responded to a call to ministry and moved to Dallas to pursue a combined Master of Theology and Master of Sacred Music degree at the Perkins School of Theology of Southern Methodist University, studying with Dr. Carlton R. Young, the prominent editor of numerous Methodist hymnals and other collections. Dr. Young, who remains one of Smith’s closest friends and colleagues, later called him to full time work on The United Methodist Hymnal, which would be published in 1989.

“Come, Be Baptized” was written in 1981 to mark the occasion of the baptism of the first daughter of one of his best friends, Rev. Tim Abel, who is also a Master of Sacred Music graduate. Smith recalls: “I produced a homemade recording, singing the song and accompanying it myself on the guitar, and sent it to Tim.” He later sent that same recording to Hope Publishing Company, which then passed the work along to Jack Schrader to create a choral arrangement in 1982. Smith originally intended a folk quality, which ultimately was not the result of the choral arrangement, but he admits he has used both versions often throughout his ministry.

Smith’s Methodist background immediately becomes evident at the beginning of this hymn as it first opens with a call to “come as a child.” The practice of infant baptism is important in Methodism as a means of prevenient grace and a way to be incorporated “[in]to the family of God.” This call goes even deeper than the practice of infant baptism, however, as it calls all to come in the same way a child would, which is more difficult than many adults would admit. Jesus strongly emphasizes this point in all the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), when he instructs the disciples,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:3-5, NRSV)

In the second stanza, Smith also echoes the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well found in John 4:5-42, as Jesus says to the woman,

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (NRSV)

The waters found in this hymn are not simply the waters found in any river, pond, or pool—they are the waters that offer life. Smith capitalizes on the biblical allusion at this point to insert a text that is so important for those who participate in multi-sensory worship: the invitation is given to come, drink, and “feel how it pours out the life that is yours.” What a wonderful way to invite people to touch the water in the baptismal font! Singing these words while feeling the water becomes a way for people to remember that God has claimed them in the waters of baptism. The invitation, quite strong indeed, is presented so emphatically throughout the hymn that the word “come” is repeated 14 times! John Wesley would be proud to offer such passionate encouragement to those feeling drawn to the waters of baptism.

When singing this hymn from The Faith We Sing, it is important to note that only the refrain is contained in the book. Invite soloists to sing the stanzas, offering the invitation to come and be made new. The congregation can then respond by singing the refrain. It is repetitive enough as it moves through the persons of the Trinity that the gathered body should be able to sing it without the use of the book while coming to the water to either be baptized or reaffirm their faith by remembering their baptism.