Marriage with baptism.
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July 2009 saw the publication of the combined ser vice of marriage and baptism.   It was propounded mainly on the grounds that it was pastorally needed. 

Comment was surprisingly muted - even though as we see below it seems liturgical revision by the back door and was issued just after  a session of General Synod.  From the BI perspective it seemed to give license to baptism away from the main service as pointed out by Peter Wenham below.

The BI response was published in full 

Rev Peter Wenham raised a vital issue in his letter to the Church of England Newspaper

Confusing Baptism

Sir, Regarding the new church advice giving official support for private baptism: being welcoming to all is vital but that does not mean that we should be confusing to many.

The new liturgy for marriage and infant baptism seriously undermines the good practice of baptism taking place in the main service of Sunday worship as directed by Canon B21 and the Book of Common Prayer.

A church marriage is a covenant made between two individuals in the presence of God and witnessed by family and friends. It is, at its heart, a family occasion and is in effect a private ceremony.

Baptism is a covenant between the recip­ient (or parents on their behalf) and God in the presence of the worshipping community It is, at its heart, a church occasion and is properly a whole church ceremony.

To put baptism into a private domain seri­ously undermines what we teach about baptism as the joining of the pilgrim church.

It is going to be difficult to explain to par­ents why we do not perform private baptisms on a Saturday afternoon when the Church produces a two-in-one liturgy to enable us to do just that.

Peter Wenham


The BI Response was:


Peter Wenham makes a good point both from Canon Law and pastoral practice – that baptisms away from a main Sunday Service undermine the concept of a pilgrim church.


Firstly. Canon Law 

These new services allow “normalisation” of baptism outside the main Sunday Service contrary to Canon B21, and thus undermine the Canons by Liturgical “reform”. However rather than change the canons, we have effective legislation by the back door – should not General Synod have  been given an opportunity to discuss this?  The odd paragraphs of guidance raise points which are then ignored - for instance, they acknowledge the canonical expectation that baptism should normally be on Sundays, but give no weight to this in the face of "pastoral reasons". The guidance says the minister should "encourage" a "limited but substantial" presence of people from the Sunday congregation - don't "limited" and "substantial" contradict each other, and suppose the "encouragement" results in few coming?


Secondly Pastoral Practice.

Clearly we should welcome any who wish to move from “partnership” to marriage.  But to combine that (which may or may not represent a spiritual forward step) with baptism of infants or children, hopelessly confuses several issues.   Marriage is one thing: it's 'a gift of God in creation' and as such is something the church solemnises as part of celebrating Gods common grace. Baptism is a gift of God in the order of redemption. Unfortunately the CofE has inherited a situation it partly created, unwittingly, where baptism is used in popular culture as a creation-rite (ie to celebrate the birth of a child etc) on a par with marriage, in that sense. So the real rub is not the marriage but the confusion about baptism and that is only a problem in situations where both are contemplated together where the couple concerned are not really in a position psychologically or spiritually to attempt to make good on the very explicit promises required of them in the baptism service. It's a different matter if the couple concerned have come to a point where they are starting to respond actively to the gospel: in that case it is very appropriate for wedding and baptism to be held together. However, if that is not the situation it really would be better for churches to have a policy of using a very first rate non-baptismal 'christening' (a suitably well-done Thanksgiving is actually more appropriate to those needs)


On a minor point - these resources are really nothing more than an indication of how to create an extra-long service by including all the compulsory elements of each of them in the right order.  They say the marriage should come first unless the couple are unbaptized in which case the baptism should come first - but no reasoning is offered about why this should be.


Roger Godin

Vice Chair - Baptismal Integrity



Click here for another less serious reflection!


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