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In April 2010 The Church Times published the following article which appeared to demonstrate that Canon Law had been correctly used.  However dissenting correspondence arose! Names of the couple concerned and the original correspondent have been changed for confidentiality and avoiding embarrassment to him.
THE diocese of Blackburn rebuts an accusation that a lesbian couple suffered discrimination from the Revd Peter Nunn, Priest-in-Charge of The Risen Lord, over the baptism of their daughter, writes Ed Beavan 

The Lancashire Evening Post reported that Mary (Names changed - Ed)and her civil partner ,of  were “denied a private christening for their nine-month-old daughter at St Matthew's, in the parish, by Mr Nunn. They said that they were "disgusted" and "not welcome in the Church of England". He point blank said himself that doing this christening would depend on how the congregation would take to us, being parents in a same-sex relationship”  

A diocesan statement said that the Vicar had explained to them that their proposed baptism would be expected to conform to the normal practice of the C of E. "This would include the couple attending St Matthew’s regularly prior to the baptism, taking part in baptism preparation, and the baptism being conducted during a public Sunday-morning worship service."  

Mr Nunn told the Church Times that the couple had been offered a baptism in the main service, but would not comment further.

The following was published in the next issue

Sir, - The decision of the Revd Peter Nunn, Priest-in-Charge of the Church of the Risen Lord (or St Matthew's) in Preston, as affirmed by the diocese of Blackburn, not to baptise the daughter of a lesbian couple (News,9 April) is flawed.   

Canon B2l says that it is desirable that baptisms take place "on Sundays at public worship when the most number of people come together'.  It is not a requirement, and thus a request for a special service cannot be refused. In any case, no event in a church is "private", in the sense that anyone can attend: the Book of Common Prayer makes it clear that a "private baptism" is one that takes place "at home in their houses" and for which special reasons must be given.  

There is no canonical reason why  "the opinion of the congregation" must be sought. If that is not sought in the case of the children of heterosexual couples, then the Priest-in- Charge's decision was clearly discriminatory.  

Supposed "normal practice" is not a determinant. The only one of the three supposed norms put forward by the diocese which is legal is the need for "taking part in baptismal preparation" (Canon B22.3). Apart from this, "No minister shall refuse . . . or delay to baptise any infant" (Canon B22.4). Here "normal practice" was put forward as an obstacle to prevent a legitimate baptism.  

Above all, any supposed decision by "the diocese" is irrelevant. An appeal by the parents or guardians of a child against the decision of the minister must be decided by the bishop alone, who after consultation with the minister is to direct the minister. Any supposed decision by a diocesan official or committee has no meaning, as Canon B.22.2 gives such power to the bishop alone. His decision must surely accord with canon law, as any reference to his personal opinion outside the law would be discriminatory.  

It appears that the Priest-in-Charge has failed in his duty, and that the diocese has supported his failure. It is to be hoped that the lesbian couple are able to find a more welcoming and law-abiding priest down the road.

The Vicar (not a BI member) specifically asked us not to perpetuate the correspondence but another contributor did!

From Mr Michael Speight (Reader)

Sir, — I regret to say that I believe the reasoning (Letters, 16 April) is flawed, not least because he contradicts himself. I am unhappy that he appears to feel that something not required by Canon Law is therefore prohibited; and I am unhappy also that he ignores the rite of Holy Baptism's Pastoral Introduction (Common Worship, page 345), which states that "The wider community of the local church and friends welcome the new Christian, promising support and prayer for the future:'  

He expresses the hope that this family will "go down the road" to find a more welcoming and law-abiding minister. But that is precisely what the Revd Peter Nunn hoped they would do. Unless a family worships elsewhere, the parish church, I suggest, is the best place for children's baptism. It is where their friends will worship; where they will be instructed in the faith; and where they will have the opportunity to attend an excellent Christian school. The priest-in-­charge of the Parish of the Risen Lord had the child's best interests at heart.  

According to Google Maps, it is more than eight miles between the family home and the church the couple chose for their child's baptism. That is the flawed decision. There was not a breach of canon law.

Well said Michael!   We did however feel the original correspondent (and our readers) should be made aware of the facts and the law which were set out in the following private letter.

Dear ... 

As you can imagine, the “Lesbians” article in CT plus your letter thereon caused us in BI some concern!   We had rather hoped the issue would not be perpetuated in correspondence, but the letter in today’s CT shows that the issue is still alive.  

Since only a few can know the real facts of this “apparent breach” we took the trouble to learn more and I think you will agree it was wrong of you  to assume that the cleric “failed in his duty” and was not “law-abiding”.   What was not reported was that (a) the "couple" don't live in his parish anyway [requiring at the very least that permission be sought from the priest of their residential parish), and (b) the child in question is in local authority care, raising questions about whether they can request a baptism anyway.  

That apart, In one respect at least it is clear that Peter Nunn has been law abiding where many clerics fail viz the right to delay for “taking part in baptismal preparation”.  That Canon also requires that “the provisions relating to godparents…are observed”; we do not know whether three qualified (baptized and confirmed?) godparents were nominated do we?!  

I am sure anyone can ask for a special service – and not just for baptism - but surely the minister has a right to refuse for whatever reason (Canon B3 gives the minister the decision rights for Occasional Offices).    

You rightly quote Canon B21 as saying it is “desirable” that baptism shall normally be “administered at public worship when the most number of people come together” – but omit quoting the very clear reason - “that the congregation there present may witness the receiving of them that be newly baptized into Christ’s Church, and be put in remembrance of their own profession made to God at their baptism”.   How sad that once again there are many churches where even this provision is ignored often for allegedly pragmatic reasons.  The spirit of the law is more important than a tendentious legalistic interpretation.  

All else in your letter is based on supposition of facts quoted from a local newspaper, and I am surprised you should have accepted this at face value without any further investigation.  On the plain facts that there has been no baptism, Mr Nunn has been both law abiding and correct.  

I had intended to write as above to the Church Times, but the Vicar (not a BI member) prefers to “turn the other cheek” and wanted the issue to die.  

Yours sincerely

Roger Godin

Vice Chair -Baptismal Integrity


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