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Getting the best out of CW Baptism
Mark Earey is Tutor in Liturgy and Worship at the Queen's Foundation, Birmingham 

In using any of the Common Worship services, the most important thing is to make sure you understand them fully before you use them.  That way you can (as much as possible) go “with the grain” rather than against it.

Take on board what the service is trying to do 

As with all Common Worship services, the place to start is not with the text itself, but:-

           first, with any explanatory material.  There is a significant commentary at the back of the Initiation Services volume (green paperback, first published in 1998) which explains what the Liturgical Commission and the GS Revision Committee thought they were doing, and gives advice about using the services.  See also p20 of this booklet.

           then, the structure page, which comes before the text.

           then the notes to the service (after the service in the CW standard edition, but before it in the initiation services volume).

           then read the service checking the rubrics and noting guidelines, permissions or restrictions.

           only after all this read the text of the service, noting points where familiar texts (such as from the ASB) have been altered.

           finally, have a good look through the supplementary texts in the appendices.

One of the things to note is the breadth of biblical models for baptism, and the whole process of becoming and growing as a Christian, which are given expression in the services.  This was a deliberate policy, intended to help congregations (and not just the candidates and/or their supporters) engage with the richness of the scriptural imagery. 

Be clear on your options 

All the CW services include a lot of flexibility and the opportunity for local decisions which affect the final shape and content of the service.  Baptism is no different, and some of the choices seem quite complicated at first.

Make sure you are working with the most up-to-date version of the material.  General Synod chose to make some slight changes to the rubrics and notes of the Initiations Services after they were published.  The effect of these is to make much more of the service optional and to provide an alternative form for the Decision.  Notes and rubrics in the CW “Standard Edition” show the final form, but only as it applies to a simple baptism service.  Recent editions of the green book include a

sticker which outlines the changes, and you can check the final form of all the Initiation Services on the web (at www.commonworship.com).

Key areas to consider are:

           the Introduction - can be omitted, shortened or replaced;

           the Decision - the six-fold version can be replaced by the ASB form (now printed in an appendix) if there are strong reasons to do so;

           the Prayer Over the Water - several seasonal and responsive forms can be used, any on any occasion;

           the Creed - can be used in a question and answer form, or (for strong reasons) an alternative profession of faith can replace it;

           the Commission - can be omitted (if the same sort of material is covered in the sermon) or paraphrased.  One option would be to shorten it but put some of the words into the mouths of the congregation;

           the Intercessions - can be very brief, or, if absolutely necessary, omitted.

            Especially remember that you don’t need a separate confession or creed in the service with which you are combining the baptism, as these are deemed to be covered by the baptism part of the service.

Think beyond the words. 

One of the early criticisms of the CW Initiation Services was that they seemed long and wordy.  You can address some of the problems of length by attention to the options outlined above, but the other important thing is to change how the service “feels” by thinking about movement, action, participation and symbol so that the service feels significant and speaks to people at a deeper level than words alone.

           How will you involve the congregation?  Could churchwardens, or those involved in baptism preparation share in some parts of the service, such as the Commission or signing with the cross, or giving the candle?

           Could you use a responsive form of the Prayer Over the Water and have the congregation sing the responses (or use part of a song to do so)?

           Have you thought about combining the singing of a hymn (or part of a hymn) with movement to and from the font?

           Have you considered the use of oil at the decision and after the baptism?

           How will events before and after the service (e.g. the music and coffee) contribute to making it feel like a welcome to the family?

The Praxis Web site is www.sarum.ac.uk/praxis/

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