Peter Wenham raised a vital issue in his letter to the Church of
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.
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.
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.
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
put baptism into a private domain seriously undermines what we teach
about baptism as the joining of the
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
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.
Vice Chair - Baptismal Integrity
for another less serious reflection!