On the train home yesterday I had Elvis buzzing round my brain: “A little less conversation, a little more action.”
Where had I been? At a day on baptism run by Praxis.
It was very interesting and encouraging day. 5 points stand out to me in particular – but in no particular order:
- By and large baptism (only we need to remember to use the word ‘christening‘ more often) has a far more significant place in the lives of those attending that we might perceive from where we stand as ministers in the Church of England. It’s probably part of a rich tapestry of ‘occasional’ services attended by the family and friends of the child being baptised.
This means, that our ‘performance’ on this day is both less important and more important than we think. It’s more important that we don’t become a stumbling block, but it’s less important because it’s likely not the only encounter these people will have with the Church over the next year or so, even if the other encounters aren’t with the same church.
- The baptism families attending, the symbols – and the warmth of the welcome – are far more significant than the words we use. The words are important, but more for our sake, as ministers of the sacrament, and as maturing Christians, than for our visitors. (Hence, a little less conversation …)
So we need to make much of the symbols we use: beautiful candles, lavish anointing, visible water and, yes, let’s use funny little option in the baptism service where we can make a big deal about clothing the child in Christ. And we can involve the families in these symbols without much difficulty. Ask the godparents to sign the child in oil also; is there a sibling old enough to pour the water into the front? And I have found that if the giving of the candle is put in it recommended place at the end of the service, we can make more of it, lifting it high, and processing it out of the church with the vicar and the parents and godparents.
- Godparents are important. Sounds like an odd element to the list, but it was repeated often enough (possibly even seven times – see below) for me to repeat it here. In what feels like classic cart-before-horse parents often bring their child to baptism in order that they might have godparents.
The more we can include godparents in the preparation and in the service itself, the better we will have engaged the family.
- Families are surprised, often, by how little interest we seem to take in them. While shops and museums and cafes and Internet sites are keen to take email addresses and send newsletters and updates and invitations; we might coyly send a card on the first and perhaps second anniversary of the baptism and then quietly apologise for taking up their time and go home.
While somebody somewhere has decided you don’t receive a piece of information until you have received it seven times; we have decided that if the family doesn’t respond to the first invitation then they’re not interested.
- Similarly families – especially couples we have married – are surprised how little preparation they get. For wedding couples, the standard, these days, is a handful of interviews with the vicar, a rehearsal, and often a day with other wedding couples talking about, not only the wedding day, but marriage itself. Baptism preparation is often much more spartan.
We need to rethink our baptism preparation, in many cases, to take in the bigger picture, the wider reasons the family are bringing the child to baptism, and better to support the family encouraging the pilgrimage their child has begun.
- A Diocesan Day on Baptism – yet to be confirmed, but tentatively 2nd February 2016.
- I’ve already mentioned the new Church of England websites here, but they’re developing over time and worth revisiting. The articles and Q&A et cetera are expanding all the time.
- The new baptism texts can be found here. These are growing on me rapidly. When we remember that this isn’t our one shot to get the whole Gospel across to a family, but we’d like to leave more space the symbols and the welcome of the Church, these are a good addition to the Church of England’s liturgical library. They include a form of words for ‘godparents’ who don’t fulfil the criteria laid down in canon law, but whom the parents wish to include in the service.
Finally a short book list:
Of Water and the Spirit, Mission and the Baptismal Liturgy
by Phillip Tovey
Starting Rite, Spiritual nurture for babies and their parents
by Jenny Paddison
Your Baby’s Baptism in the Anglican Church, published by Kevin Mayhew