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In Update 61 we noted on misreporting about a vicar exercising integrity - a case which raised a number of other issues including residency, custody and same-sex relationships.

Vicar’s Baptismal Integrity (wrongly) challenged 

The Lancashire Evening Post reported that Mary (names changed - Ed) and her civil female partner were “denied a private christening for their nine-month-old daughter. They said that they were "disgusted" and "not welcome in the Church of England". The minister had 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."   

This led to a letter saying the decision was flawed since Canon B2l only says that it is desirable that baptisms take place "on thus a request for a special service cannot be refused. In any case, no event in a church is "private" and 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.  

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). 

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. 

One reply pointed out the above 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. 

A committee member living in the diocese took the trouble to find out THE FACTS and as the minister preferred to avoid perpetuating the issue we contented ourselves with a letter to the correspondent including the following:

“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.  

The minister concerned 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?!  

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.“   

Needless to say our irenic letter was rejected by the first correspondent!  It does however underline the point in our introduction to Update - people with strong views need to have these based on scripture and law and not just pragmatic views!   AND TO KNOW THE FACTS!



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