Hymns for Baptism Services
New Directions – July
2003 – carried an article on a not-very-often mentioned subject of
hymns for baptism. The
following is an edited version (reproduced with permission).
A Tale of two Baptisms.
Tony and Tina had no doubt that the vicar would christen their
long-awaited twin babies. The young parents had been married at the
church and taken a full part in its life. Not surprisingly, they were
consulted about the choice of hymns. `What would you like to sing?'
asked the friendly incumbent. `This is your day!'
Reverently, responsibly, and after serious thought, they came up with
their shortlist of fun favourites. The day dawned sunny and a wonderful
time was had by the extended family and other young mums and dads they
had got to know via the crèche and toddlers' group.
The middle-aged and elderly may have had mixed reactions, but after all
they had their way for most of the year. The few teenagers or older
singles may have felt like eavesdroppers on a private party, but the
worship group tried hard to be inclusive. Since this was mid August in a
popular country town, some of the jokes were lost on visitors like
Change the scene to autumn, and a different but similar part of the
country. Bob and Barbara were more cautious in making their plans; just
as commitzted as Tony and Tina, they had recently moved house and were just
settling in to their new home and church. But little Jack was growing
fast and it would be good to arrange the baptism before Christmas
No problem, the vicar had said. Hymns? You'd better ask the organist; he
uses his own system. Well, said that personage, we stick to the Royal
School of Church Music's list for the New Lectionary, but I suppose if
you have a favourite hymn we could try to slot it in somehow.
Ouch. Not quite the welcome they were expecting. A favourite hymn may
not be quite what a baptism requires. It was not as if the font was
awash with the newly initiated every Sunday; that can happen in big
parishes, and presents a different range of choices. That year, as it
happened, we had attended two other baptisms where the rest of the
service, and certainly the sermon, made no reference to either the
sacrament or the family.
As one who has shared in compiling lists of suggested hymns for the
church's year from a variety of books, I was dismayed at the use made of
the RSCM one. It may, for all I know, be nearly as good as Sing God's Glory (Canterbury
Press, 2002), but neither it nor any such selection is intended as a
rigid rule-book: `Thou shalt have none other hymns but these'.' They are
suggestions to help choosers to think. Special services may be enriched
with newer hymns, local hymns, favourite hymns, even a hymn specially
written for the occasion. What a gift that can be!
Even some texts from the esteemed Royal School arose from particular
occasions and were penned with particular churches in mind. If the
hierarchy had stuck rigidly to whatever then was the accepted list,
goodbye to some which by now are old favourites!
Somewhere between my two extremes,
each factual and only marginally in disguise, is a way forward for
Christian Baptism. Babies need not run the show, but lectionary lists
are good servants and bad masters.
Rev Christopher Idle