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Professor Paul Bradshaw invited the committee to hold a meeting in Notre Dame University in London, and during the meeting he gave us his insights on liturgical progress in the parishes (soon before Common Worship was published)  Here we summarise what he said.

        In my opinion, the first of the new initiation services have not been received as enthusiastically as they might have been.  I personally think this is a great pity: it not only dampens expectations of what is to follow, but it also traps congregations in their past experiences rather than encouraging them to reflect and advance.

            A big part of the problem is that the new services have a new style, in at least three respects:

            1.            They’re not like the ASB services for which you basically “open the book and do it”.  Instead they provide a directory which needs thought before use.  The questions “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” need some answers which then show me which bits of the new package I need to use.  The new services don’t work on an “off the peg” basis, and parishes which have changed liturgy without asking

how this will affect their whole process for handling baptism requests have been disappointed.

            2.            They are meant to cater for a wide range of different situations. This means that many people think they are too wordy - a common complaint is that you now can’t get through a communion service with a baptism included in much under an hour and a half, whereas you used to be able to manage an hour and ten minutes.  There’s a bigger “expectation gap” than at an ASB service.  In fact I think there are virtues in this gap, because it forces congregations to face up to some of the basic questions which I mentioned above.

            3.           They don’t stand on their own, but together with the other material which sets the services in their context.  Unfortunately the services have come out on their own instead of with that material: this is because different parts of the liturgies are proceeding through the synodical process at different speeds.  The new liturgies only make sense in the context of the report “On The Way”, the idea of people’s journey of faith, the catechumenate, and the basics of preparation and follow-up, and of appropriate liturgical rites to mark stages on this journey, which will appear later.  Because the services have appeared on their own, people have judged them on their own.  I regret this.

  Roughly speaking, I see the following trends in the Church of England at present:

  1.        I don’t detect the C of E moving away from infant baptism.

  2.        I don’t detect as rapid a movement away from indiscriminate infant baptism as might have been expected, say from a 1970’s perspective.

  3.         I do detect a growing acceptance that believers’ baptism should be the norm in liturgical terms, and also a growth in adult baptism in practice.

            I think a task of BI for the next few years should be to support adult baptism, because when you get enough adult baptisms for many people to have experienced them, you put people in the position where they can start asking sensible questions about the role of baptism in someone’s journey of faith.  Before this can happen there has to be an experienced alternative to the present.

            There has been quite a lot of progress recently in research into early initiation practices, which helps in this quest.  Maxwell Johnson (a Lutheran in the United States) has written a new book on Christian Initiation, which has become the Alcuin Book of the Year.  He quotes the “RC Pentecostalist” Kilian McDonnell extensively in establishing the theses that the initiation rite for the first disciples was the fellowship meal with Jesus rather than the baptism rite, and it was only after this that the church decided to institute initiation rites.

            Originally there was not a single standard rite, but several:

           (a)      water bath

            (b)     anointing with oil (separate rites, later combined)

            (c)      having the feet washed (lying behind John 13),

and the East and West developed different emphases in the composite baptism service when it emerged.  In the West the credal questions were put to the candidate while standing in the water, emphasising the intimate link between faith and baptism; while in the East the two are more separated.  On the other hand, a great strength of the Eastern rite is that it focuses more on an act of adherence to Jesus and less on an affirmation of belief, thus making it less of a “head” exercise and more of a matter of a change of life brought about through faith.  In the early Church there was a progression from initial teaching about Christianity (mainly practical and ethical) to a confession of faith in Jesus, to admitting the believer to fellowship and teaching, and then to full membership with baptism.  The new rite separates the decision from the profession of faith partly in imitation of this.

            On the theology of infant baptism, the work of David Wright in Edinburgh is very important.  Recent research has shown that the movement to infant baptism was all about the baptising of those who were in danger of death.  The trend to infant baptism was not the same everywhere in the ancient world, and some places with high infant mortality rates moved more quickly towards infant baptism.  Moreover, there seems to be indications that some aspects of the rite derive from the context of the danger of death: for instance, the idea of proxies answering on the candidate’s behalf derives from the situation of an adult in the advanced stages of a terminal illness who might be no longer able to speak for himself, but whose faith could be vouched for by those who had known him when he was well (this in an age when baptism was often delayed until near death).  The proxy would be able to testify to what the candidate would say if capable - which is the theory behind the present-day statements of godparents on behalf of an infant.

            Finally, the catechumenate.  The formal catechumenate emerges most clearly in the fourth century, which is when Christianity had become established as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  We now suspect that it was a response to a system of Christian Initiation which was breaking down.  As it became fashionable to become a Christian, and advantageous to one’s career and professional development to do so, the church must have noticed a decline in the spiritual fervour of those professing to serve the Lord.  There seem to be indications that the establishing of a more formal catechumenate was an invention aimed at addressing this problem, rather than a long-standing institution in its own right.  Are our own experiments with the catechumenate a sign of modern desperation in an age with a similar problem

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