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"Initiation" debated at General Synod

During the debate on "Rites on the Way" at General Synod, there was a brief opportunity for BI to make an "appearance".  The document under debate was an extremely long and tortuous liturgy that most people felt would never be used liturgically.

Nevertheless there is a lot of resource material.

Chairman Roger Godin was able to give BI a bit of PR and (for what it's worth), the following is the prepared speech - which had to be abbreviated due to a 3 minute speech limit.

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.  

Secondly there 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 baptism seriously.  

Thirdly 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 excluding.   For 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

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