I’m afraid I’m
egotistical enough to think that some long standing members may recall
my initiation of one of the Christian Initiation debates in the 1980
Synods when I ended up somewhat disappointed.
But now, 20 years on, despite my frustrations then, I find
three really encouraging things in the document before us -
particularly as optional resource material.
The first is
that adult initiation and nurture (as opposed to assuming that baptism
is for babies) is being taken seriously.
It’s another sign of how mission and the expectation of adult
converts is now part of mainstream thinking.
is the connection with the pastoral context – for example the 'rite'
for the welcome of those bringing children for baptism.
This would tie in very well with a preparation practice of
encouraging parents seeking baptism for their children to come to
church first. Having something 'official' as it were (and
- not just vicar being awkward) makes it obvious that we take
flexibility is built in. It’s good to see that at almost every stage
the rubrics say 'using these or other similar/suitable words',
indicating that if the style is not your church's cup of tea, it can
be adapted to make it fit. In
this context I do feel the language used sometimes seems quite distant
from where a lot of churches or seekers will be and somewhat
example the prayer at the foot of page 27 – I paraphrase slightly -
“ I ”Let US (those who have arrived, presumably) pray that
THEY (in other words outsiders) may come fully to share what we
insiders have,,,”. Fine
as a private prayer, but as public liturgy id comes over a bit “them
and us” or patronising.
Inevitably I do
of course have some questions and disappointment.
The first is
that apart from two glancing references pp.19 & 20 there is
nothing written around the Thanksgiving Service for the Gift if a
Child. This does seem a
little short sighted. In
the official Church of England Statistics, Thanksgiving services are
the only services on the increase – not by much, 1 or 2% per
year, but in stark contrast to the dramatic decline in infant
baptisms. I believe in fact that far more would bring themselves and
their children into the church if the Thanksgiving Service were
treated with as much care as baptism and not as something second-class
which I fear it often is. If
there’s time it would be good if something else could be added to
integrate Thanksgiving services into this process.
The second is
that the FEEL of these rites may not sit easily with attempts to make
fringers or visitors feel welcomed and included –Those who are on
the edge, and tentatively enquiring, may be scared off by seeing other
'enquirers' having to stand up and make public statements at the front
of church. May find it hard enough AT the service![I would have
thought for most people the usual first step is quietly to start on an
enquirer’s course rather be forced to face the congregation].
But then again, it’s all optional and flexible.
As a resource
then, rather than a set liturgy, I want to welcome it.
I do so both personally and as Chair of Baptismal Integrity
(which is the new name for the somewhat unhappily named MORIB). I am
happy to say we are alive and well with Colin Buchanan remaining our
President even in his retirement. One of our objectives is to promote
within the Church of England legitimate debate and review of the
biblical, theological, pastoral and evangelistic aspects of Christian
initiation. We think GS1546 is a great contribution to that debate