Power to the People
Roger Godin is Vice-chair of Baptismal Integrity,
a Reader, and was a Member of General Synod for many years
|“Mary - why did we allow that man to tell lies up there in our church?”
When Ivy asked this question about the baby’s father, following a baptism at morning worship, it was only to “boldly say” what many lay folk have been saying for decades. The problem for lay people is that we often feel powerless to challenge the present system if we feel the clergy do not exercise sufficient discipline. Ivy knew the man, and even her charitable nature suggested that there was no way the father could honestly make those statements.
Baptismal Integrity is here to help you!
There are relatively few lay members of BI, and I suppose this is because the clergy take the flack in the event of a complaint, and it is they who most seek advice and support! It is also because there usually only needs to be one member per subscribing church - usually the vicar! But this does not mean laity are uninvolved in these issues. Where would the clergy be without the laity to be baptized?
Admittedly there are clergy who proactively seek to involve the laity. Some enlightened clergy delegate all baptismal preparation to laity; many others insist that at least laity should be involved.
One such policy, that of
St Andrew Crowborough, is set out in
"practice" on this website. Almost the first thing you see in their welcoming leaflet is: “In a few days time you will be telephoned by a couple who will arrange to visit you in your home”, and “A young couple from the church, with children of their own, hold three relaxed preparation evenings in their own home...”. Such an effective policy is not achieved without a lot of hard work. Does it not make sense for ordinary parents, rather than clergy to be at the vital initial interface - even if the clergy are parents themselves?
Sadly, this sort of thinking is rare - perhaps because lay resources are already overstretched, or the training time cannot be found - or delegation even resented.
Let me suggest a few ways in which lay folk can be proactive in seeking reform, rather than just being “involved”...
Speak up. Often the vicar would like to change the ethos, but needs to know that some folk are with him. Often the traditionalists need to know that not everyone in the church holds their views. A new voice, with good
humour, can achieve a lot.
PCC Review. Obviously it helps to be a PCC member yourself. But even if you aren’t you can ask for policy to be reviewed. The changes required by Common Worship are a good opportunity, since some PCC members may not be aware of the opportunities.
Raise at Deanery Level. This can be done either by passing a PCC resolution, or at the Deanery Synod itself. Remember that if a Deanery passes a resolution requiring the Diocese to consider a topic, it is generally mandatory to debate it there as well.
Correspond. Watch the local press, diocesan newsletters and the church press. Write yourself, or at least pass on the articles to someone else (e.g. Baptismal Integrity) who will write. People are eager to hear points of view.
Alternatives. If you seem to be getting nowhere on so-called “rigorism”, try working at least for encouraging the Thanksgiving service as the “service of first resort” for children of both Christian believers and apparent unbelievers. If this happens, it is vital that those who take the service (and these need not be clerics) give it a real sense of occasion. I have seen as many flat Thanksgivings as meaningless Baptisms!
Offer help. It may well be that your Minister has not even thought about utilising lay people as part of baptismal preparation or follow-up. Why not simply offer to go with him or her at baptismal visits? You could also offer to handle first anniversary celebrations.
Teach. I’m afraid I too often find that lay folk really don’t understand any theological basis for baptism except perhaps “Jesus said let the little children come to him” or “because it seems the right thing to do.” Covenant theology has often not been heard of! Maybe you could make this a subject in a Home Group or church Bible Study. Baptismal Integrity has good support material for you.
Preach. Those of us who have the privilege of lay preaching may get the occasional chance to offer balanced gentle teaching - the lectionary gives a number of opportunities to grasp, and people are interested in the topic.
Invite. Baptismal Integrity has a number of representatives who are very happy to come and speak at Chapters or Deaneries or other occasions - perhaps as part of a pro- and anti- discipline debate. And there is money to fund this.
Just a few thoughts. Achieving change is never easy, but we do no service to the Kingdom by avoiding this vital issue.
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