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Don't Baptise Baby Brooklyn!
Apart from being picked up by the CEN and a number of other local papers, Radio interviews were requested by BBC (The Jimmy Young Show) and Radio Leeds.

From Jimmy Young, Radio 2

2nd April 2002, at around 1.40pm

(Jimmy Young is in bold and John Hartley in light type.
We have edited out the "umms, ahhs, you know's, like I say's" etc.,
and made the article slightly more legible - but no words have been changed.)

The Rev'd John Hartley, he's vicar of St Luke's in Eccleshill, Bradford, has written to David and Victoria Beckham, and he's urged them not to have Brooklyn baptized, because, he said, they might not be able to keep the promises that they would have to make. The Rev'd Hartley is hopefully on the line to me now, from our Bradford studio. Good afternoon, John, if you're there.

Hello, Jimmy, yes, here I am.

Of course, David may have been misquoted for all we know, but nonetheless, do you think his remarks suggest that he might not be aware of the significance, and indeed the commitment, which go with the christening and baptism in the Christian church?

Well, like you say we don't know what he actually did say and the context he said it in, but I thought it was a good article really. I saw it in the newspaper a little while since and I thought: "That would make a good parish magazine article." When I wrote it it came out in the form of a letter, so I thought I'd better send it to David, hadn't I? - so that's what I did.

Have you heard back from him?

I'm afraid I haven't yet, but keep me posted - mind, I did promise him confidentiality if he wanted to write back confidentially.

Well now to what extent, on a broader platform, has Christening become something that parents, even those who are not very religious, think they ought to do, rather like couples who are not particularly religious think they ought to get married in church?

Well, I guess there is a point in that. What I said in the letter actually was that there are two sorts of christenings in the Church of England today. There's one which is called the service of Thanksgiving and Blessing, and that's actually what Jesus did with children - the bible says he took the children in his arms and he laid his hands on them and he blessed them, and the other one is the baptism, and that's the one which everybody has heard of, and that's the one which has got promises in it, and of course it's the promises which are the difficulty. What I suggested to David was - go for the Thanksgiving and Blessing, because it's a really nice service, it makes a good opportunity for having a celebration, for having a party, inviting lots of people to come and say thank you to God for a lovely child (because Brooklyn is lovely, isn't he?), and asking for God's help for him as he grows up, and that is really what the article was all about.

I must confess, John, I'd never heard of the Thanksgiving Service as such - not in this context. Is it a new thing?

It's not that new - in fact Thomas Cranmer had one in the Book of Common Prayer a long while ago. But it hasn't been very much majored on in the Church until recent years, and I suppose it's coming back a bit more, really, because we do find that lots of people do want to say a genuine thank-you and and they do want to ask God's help, but this business of tying yourself up to promise to bring a child to church week by week, making statements of your own faith and also making statements about what your child's faith is going to be in the future - a lot of people find that difficult, and that's why this service of Thanksgiving and Blessing has much more come into the fore.

It sounds as though it might be absolutely charming, but nonetheless it does sound like much less of a firm commitment than baptism. It only seems to say well thank you very much God for this child and we'll do the best we can, you know?

Well, I think the thing is, you see, we need to find a way of letting people say what they can say and not put them in the position of saying what they can't say. David's comment "I do want Brooklyn christened but I don't know into what religion" - well I pray David would come to the point where he does know what religion and that type of thing, but if he's not there yet, it's not right simply to say what you can't have, it's much better to say what you can have, and we invite you to come and find out more.

Going back to something I mentioned earlier on, many people seem to be using the church as a sort of milestone in their lives or their children's lives - get married, get baptized, get buried and so on but they never actually seem to set foot in the church very much apart from that. Do you resent that at all?

No I don't really. Actually there are more people set foot in the church than you might think, and the statistics say that more people go to church than go to football matches, although I don't think the footballers like to admit that very much. I've got no objection to people coming to church to say thank you to God for something wonderful - I think that's marvellous. What I do want to do is I want to make sure that afterwards they can look the vicar in the eye knowing they haven't promised something they can't deliver on, knowing instead that they've been there ... it's a mark of their integrity. In fact, I'm part of an organisation called Baptismal Integrity, and it's all about trying to make sure that people can say things that they mean in church services.

So as a parish priest you don't feel you're being used by people who don't take the trouble to come and see you every Sunday, but just use you when it suits them?

I think there's a lot of that goes on - I mean, Jimmy, don't you sometimes feel used by people who want to get on the radio? (No!!) There's an awful lot of that type of stuff, isn't there? No, I think it's fair enough, I think people have got a right to say "Thank you, God", and I think it's right that they should come to church to say that.

Well I think it sounds like an absolutely charming ceremony, and I hope that if someone up there is listening today then you'll hear from David and Victoria in very short order.

I hope so - you never can tell.

Good to talk to you today John ....

Telephone calls and emails which followed:

Steve Cobbet emailed us: "How dare that vicar presume that the Beckhams won't keep the vows that they make - why on earth shouldn't they keep each and every vow? What exactly is he implying, I'd like to know? And I think it's a scandalous assumption to make. And by his reckoning, it seems, no child ought to be baptized!"

Phil Hynes, website message board: "What's all this fuss about the Brooklyn christening. David is the epitome of a normal Christian peace-loving individual who is never more happy than when he is nestled in the cosy confines of his family."

Steve Price: "We're now, in case the priest hadn't noticed, in a multifaith society, and I'd have thought the fact that the Beckhams have decided to have Brooklyn christened at all ought to be enough for him, but it appears not so."

Rev'd Gwyn Owen, vicar of Stockwood in Bristol, emailed: "Brooklyn Beckham may gladly come to my church. However, his parents will have to bear in mind that baptism is a means of God's grace - it's not some sort of membership card, you know."

Peter Robertson: "I feel Brooklyn shouldn't be christened, not because of who he is or who his parents are, but because I don't agree with christening. The bible, the foundation of the Christian Faith, at no point makes a mention of infant baptism. What it actually makes clear is: baptism is for those people who have first believed. Baptism is therefore not a decision to be made by parents on behalf of their children."  

To see the original Parish Newsletter Article click here

To see transcript of Radio Leeds interview click here 

To view related subjects, click on the boxes below

Thanksgiving Christening Q & A Theology