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In "Church Time "Comment" Rev John Wall reported an incident and warned about over zealousness.   His article is set out below with resulting correspondence.

ERE, yo

Baptismal dilemma

"'ERE, you a vicar?" demanded the tracksuited young woman with the pushchair. As I was on my way to the cathedral in collar, cassock, and cloak, other than pretending I was a (decidedly) novelty strippergram, I could only admit that I was. Rachel, our parish deacon, in jeans and with her clerical collar in her pocket, beamed beatifically and wandered on, leaving me to it.

The woman was not happy. Apparently, she had recently approached her church for a baptism, and, because she and her partner were neither married nor regular churchgoers, she had been refused.

I am sure the offending vicar and PCC had sat down together and worked out their baptism policy conscientiously, and with burning zeal for the furtherance of the Kingdom, but in this case it had left a family angry and resentful, feeling that the Church of England was judgemental, elitist, and definitely not for them. I did not tell her that if we were as rigorous in Moulsecoomb, baptisms would be few and far between.

I do worry about the (often completely unwitting) long-term effect we can have on people such as this young mum. Many times people parachute into our lives, perhaps in crisis mode, and then just as suddenly disappear, and we haven't a clue what happens to them, or what effect we have had — for good or ill.

Among responses was one from Rev John Hartley captioned "The parish priest who has baptised fewer than 23 infants in 23 years"

John Wall's "Baptismal Dilemma" requires a week's answer or none, but in my

23 years of ordained ministry in 4 parishes I've baptised fewer than 23 infants. Yet I've had almost no complaints ... I even generate "christening requests" from over the parish boundaries. How?

Simply by making positive use of the Thanksgiving Service. It's much friendlier, has a real feeling of welcome, can be offered without conditions, can be tailored to individuals, generates no feeling of being pushed to make promises ... and families appreciate it, which is why they and their friends come back and request more. So I've done hundreds of them.

The great secret of its success? Well, it's what Jesus did when they brought children to him! Isn't it?

Unfortunately the official BI response was not published, but for the record here it is (was!)

John Wall’s entertaining account of the “baptismal dilemma” sadly reflects the unhappy pastoral grief sometimes caused when clergy, with the best intentions (and entirely within canon law) seek to guide parents (and godparents incidentally!) towards thinking more clearly about the serious promises they are called to make in the baptism service.  Of course neither John nor myself know what happened in this particular case and very often it is emotional perception of rejection rather than real rejection that occurs.  

Within Baptismal Integrity (BI) we have built up a wealth of experience in how such difficult interviews can be handled, but would not suggest we have all the answers.    Available to all those who approach the church for a service for their child (whether committed Christians or “festival only” attendees, is what seems to be the “Church of England ’s best kept secret” – the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child.    Here there is the possibility for any  parent to give thanks for the birth in a service with a true sense of occasion.  Sadly very often such events are treated as “second class”.   We are not necessarily advocating the policy of some churches of “Thanksgiving before Baptism” (which does work sometimes) but we have designed a little booklet freely available from our website http://www.baptism.org.uk/introleaf.htm  which sets out the two alternatives.  It has been effective.   A report from a recent service had the parent saying    

 “I especially liked being able to tailor the service so that it would be suitable for my child.  It was a lovely mixture of the solemn promises, the right sort of hymns and a very relaxed atmosphere”  

There is no need for clergy seeking integrity in the taking of baptism vows to leave people feeling rejected – this service is a superb and first class alternative and increasingly Christian parents are using it so that their children may make their own decision later.  

PS An episcopal explanation of the legal position an be found at web page http://www.baptism.org.uk/law.htm

A response to John Wall's Article was published on 15th May as follows

Fall-out from rigorous-baptism neighbour

How right John Wall is when he speaks of the damage done by clergy who have a rigorous policy on baptism and who appear to be totally devoid of pastoral sensitivity.

Shortly after I had been instituted to a benefice, I was approached by a couple from a neighbouring parish whose reasons for wishing to have their child baptised in my church seemed to me to be very reasonable.

I said I would gladly do as they asked, but explained that it would be wrong for me to do so without first having obtained permission from the vicar of their parish. I therefore asked them to contact him, and ask him to write a brief note to me, stating that he had no objection.

They came back and told me that he said he had never seen them in his church, that they were not Chris­tians, and he did not understand why they wanted to bother with baptism. He was not prepared to write any notes, but that if the vicar Of — was prepared to baptise their child, he supposed it was up to him.

I could hardly believe my ears, but I had the evidence of two very hurt people before my eyes. Needless to say, I baptised their child.

Shortly afterwards, I was approached by another couple from the same parish, with the same request. I was still finding it difficult to believe that any priest could have said such a thing as I had been told, and decided to give him a second chance.

I sent them to see him, but they came back with an identically worded message. I am afraid I then said to myself. "It's clearly quite futile to try to establish courteous relations with this man. From now on, I shall do as seems right to me without seeking his permission, and, where appropriate, I shall go into his parish to see his parishioners without his permission."

During my time in that parish, I lost count of the number of pieces I had to pick which my neighbour had brutally strewn over the floor. I did not worry too much about them, however. What really concerned me was the people there must have been who did not come to see me, or any other priest, whose pieces must have remained strewn over the floor, and perhaps remain there to this day.

ANDREW WILLIAMS  

 

BI Response (Church Times 22 May 09)

The Revd Andrew Williams sadly echoes the Revd John Wall’s account of the unhappy pastoral grief sometimes caused when clergy, with the best intentions (and entirely within canon law) seek to guide parents (and godparents incidentally) towards thinking more clearly about the serious promises they are called to make in the baptism service.   

I would not, however, like Mr Williams’ harrowing account of the “pieces..brutally strewn over the floor” by inept pastoral practice to cause others to believe there is no alternative.  The Revd. Johns Hartley’s letter the previous week is just 90ne example of how so0-called “rigorism” can be turned to happier ends with family and clergy both content.

In Baptismal Integrity (BI) we have built up experience of how such difficult interviews can be handled, but would not suggest we have all the answers.    Nevertheless, in the Service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child any  parent can give thanks for the birth with a true sense of occasion.  Sadly often such events are treated as “second class”.    

We do not necessarily advocate some churches’ policy of “Thanksgiving before Baptism” (which does work sometimes) but we have designed a little booklet freely available from our website  which sets out the two alternatives.   

It has been effective.   In a report from a recent service the parent said   “I especially liked being able to tailor the service so that it would be suitable for my child.  It was a lovely mixture of the solemn promises, the right sort of hymns and a very relaxed atmosphere”

Clergy seeking integrity in the taking of baptism vows need not leave people feeling rejected.  This service is a first class alternative and increasingly Christian parents use it so that their children may make their own decision later.  

Roger Godin

Vice Chair, Baptismal Integrity

But in the same issue came another "anti" response from Revd Michael Champneys

Having been on the receiving end of similar treatment from the occasional rigorous-baptism neighbour, I sympathise with the Revd Andrew Williams. 

But we don't have to obtain permission. Section 5 of the carefully drafted Canon B22 states that a minister who intends to baptise any infant whose parents are neither resident in nor on the church electoral roll of his parish shall not proceed to the baptism without having sought the good will of the minister of the parish in which such parents reside.

We don't even need to obtain that good will: all we are required to do is to seek it. In this matter, not all who seek find; but that need not deter us. Those who fail to grasp an opportunity to be gracious should be the only losers.

 

Ed:  Spirit or letter of the Law????!

 

This correspondence reminds us of the testimony of a US Army Chaplain sent to us some time ago

 

It may be a bit long but here is my baptism story.   

My own baptism story is a mixture of positives and negatives.  While still in elementary school (About age 9 or 10 yoa) I was introduced to Christianity via the Baptist church.  Berea Baptist Church , a small Southern Baptist Convention church plant in the suburbs of Chicago is where I became a Christian.  In this very evangelistic church setting I heard a continuous stream of sermons stressing the necessity of an individual, personal profession of faith.  After a few months I was convinced and made my confession of faith.  Being in Baptist church this initiated the urgency to undergo believer’s baptism.  I was not baptized as an infant as my parents were not churchgoers until after my conversion.  My parents were concerned that this might just be a flight of fancy for me and as a result resisted my being baptized until for a few more months.  When I was baptized it was a nice ceremony and good celebration but that is where it ended.  The only instruction I had received concerning baptism was that it was important as a Christian to “submit” to believer’s baptism.  The symbolic elements of the event were not addressed nor any implications that it was a visible means of recognizing the invisible working of the Holy Spirit.  A month or more after the event I was handed a baptismal certificate (really just a 4x6 card) while walking down the hallway of the church.  Others placed no importance upon it so I thought it of no consequence and discarded it when I got home.  Ultimately it was the lack of discipleship and valuing of anything beyond the initial conversion that spurred me to look elsewhere within the spectrum of Christian denominations.  Ultimately God directed me to the Anglican Communion where I find myself at home with a John Stott, J I Packer, +Donald Coggan expression of the church.  Baptism is of course a major difference between the denomination from which I came and where I am now blessed to minister.  As a result of that and my own baptism experience your website was a great find.  From the materials I have had opportunity to read, I believe I am in agreement with the organization’s stand.  I have had to tell many people over the past few years just what the website says; If you are believers I can baptize your child if not…

My early mentor when rejecting a couple wishing to baptize their child, finally forcefully told them (after reading to them the order for baptism), “You may be willing to lie to God but I will have no part of it.”

 

To close, I now have a much greater appreciation for baptism than I ever did before (it does really bewilder me how in the “Baptist” church baptism is given so little thought other than to get it done) and our children’s baptismal certificates are highly prized, framed, and hung in the main living area of our home.

 

 

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