Promoting Thanksgiving (October 1988, in my curacy at Bexleyheath)
Six months ago I
approached my second curacy with some trepidation. The parish had operated a strict baptismal policy for many
years, and the PCC had recently resolved that “we encourage a thanksgiving
service for all children, and we encourage the biblical norm of believers’
baptism”. But how would it work
out when I had to explain to the enquirers what we proposed to offer them for
Now I’m much
happier. I don’t believe any
formula is magic, but I have seen God working through a sane approach passed on
to me by my vicar. Our main idea is
not to dwell on why they shouldn’t have a baptism, but instead to promote the
idea of a thanksgiving as positively as possible.
What do we do?
We don’t discuss the form of service at all in the “Office Hour” or
after churchservices or over the telephone.
Instead we arrange to visit parents by themselves in their own homes by
We take a lay person on the visit, with four jobs:
i. to be the
friendly human face of the church,
ii. to give a
testimony if asked,
iii. to call back later
to go through the service with them, and
iv. to read the bible
reading and lead prayers at the service.
(One day we’ll get the laity doing the visits themselves.)
We present thanksgivings as “what we do in our church” and for all.
We try to avoid any question of them thinking they can “qualify for
baptism by jumping through hoops”.
We try not to “compare and contrast” infant baptism and thanksgiving.
We do say that baptism is “unfriendly” in that it demands promises,
whereas the thanksgiving service only asks them to give thanks to God for their
baby and ask his blessing. We
explain there’s no water in thanksgiving.
Apart from that we try not to say too much about infant baptism.
We major on positive things about thanksgiving.
We offer a service with no hidden strings attached, privately at a time
to suit them (usually Sunday afternoons), held in a cosy chapel with a carpet,
no holds barred on cameras and videos, dressing the baby up is OK, as many or as
few sponsors as they want, etc. etc...
We talk very briefly about believers’ baptism, and say how meaningful
it is for those who weren’t pre-empted in infancy.
We ask if they have any history of church attendance or Christian
commitment, and use this as an opportunity for a testimony and an invitation to
church. If possible we try to
explain the gospel, and if they show interest or still want infant baptism we
ask them to come to a church service to weigh up what they will be undertaking,
and we offer them the possibility of joining an enquirers’ group.