Hanford is a little urban
village (pop. 3182) in Stoke-on-Trent, and before I went had an open baptism
policy which had conspicuously failed to recruit anyone to the church.
It had many other problems following 28 years of an unpopular
high-church vicar, and baptism reform was by no means the main need of the
In spite of a neighbouring vicar’s expectation (“Thanksgivings
sound super, John, but you’ll find they’ll never work in Stoke-on-Trent”),
I embarked on a strategy of visiting all enquirers, positively recommending
Thanksgivings, asking them to come once to church and then we’d book the
service, and inviting them to sustained attendance if they really wanted to
pursue baptism. (The policy was
described in Updates Nos 7 & 16 in 1988 & 1992.).
Of course one’s policy evolves over the years.
Initially I didn’t ask the PCC: I suspected they needed to see the
policy working before they would endorse it, so better not ask them too soon.
I think I was right - eventually they agreed it unanimously, but asked
me to change so that we would insist instead of just suggest that the parents
came to church at least once before booking.
In those 8 years there were no baptisms at all.
I don’t disbelieve in Infant Baptism, but we started with just two
young families, and we found that families who did start coming to church (not
many) decided that Thanksgivings expressed more closely what they wanted to
say to God.
In one way we succeeded. During
the 8 years we had 97 enquiries, which led to 81 services of Thanksgiving and
Blessing. (Judging by primary
school numbers, the birthrate was about 30 per year.)
The “success” ratio was higher in the early years when attendance
was not required - although about 3 of the enquirers expressed hurt and
rejection that we didn’t offer a baptism immediately, we lost most of the 16
simply because they never got around to coming.
I had my suspicions in 1993 that a neighbouring vicar was stealing my
Christenings - but he left to join Rome and numbers started to pick up again.
By the end of my time many people had seen the service, and enquirers
already knew and wanted what was on offer.
But in another way we didn’t do too well.
Although a few came more than once, we didn’t really get over the
hurdle of inviting people to sustained attendance at church. We ran “Saints Alive” and “Alpha”, and some came, and
we established and built up a core of Christians, almost all new, in the heart
of the church. But we never
managed to add large numbers of new families to them - Christening enquiries
were not a fertile ground for recruitment, despite the fact that our PCC
secretary came in through a Thanksgiving.
Professor Paul Bradshaw (in Update 37, p4) set the church the vision of
providing an experienced alternative to the present reign of exclusively
infant baptism. I think we did
this with the babies - Thanksgiving and Blessing came to be recognised and
acknowledged. But our new
Christians were all from the indiscriminately baptised majority in Hanford.
We heard some wonderful testimonies, but we didn’t manage the second
half of Paul’s challenge - the admission of new Christians to the fellowship
by adult baptism, denoting commitment