Posh and Becks are talking about it, pretty much everyone is talking
about it. Such has been the case with many issues during the development
of Britain's most high-profile celebrity relationship. Whether it's the
male sarong, the return of the Mohican haircut or wedding thrones,
somehow the whirlwind around the famous whisks us all up, whether
willingly or unwillingly, into its sphere.
Depending on how recent you want to get (David does
change his hair quite a lot, so there's always recent news), one issue
raised lately by the Beckhams, interestingly, is baptism. The Church
of England Newspaper's March 28 front page pictured David and his
son on the pitch with the headline "Vicar says 'Don't baptise
Brooklyn'," drawing attention to Bradford priest the Rev John
Hartley's letter urging Victoria and David not to baptise their son into
a faith that they are not sure about. The letter, distributed to his
parishioners, was in response to an interview with Beckham in The
Mirror where he is quoted as saying: "We definitely want
Brooklyn to be christened but I don't know into what religion yet."
Mr Hartley's gentle yet clear response to David helped
many of us to think through why we feel strongly about protecting the
sanctity of baptism. In a world where almost anything can be used as a
lifestyle accessory it is perhaps unsurprising that people outside of
the church many not realise that baptism must not be this. We must be
sure of how to help our unchurched friends see past what may seem simply
a nice ritual, and help them understand its earnest and true meaning
when the issue arises.
Moreover, inviting guests to attend baptism ceremonies
where we know the gospel will be explained can be an excellent way of
introducing them to the church. Although for many church may be 'out',
families are most definitely 'in' and people want to be seen supporting
them. In 1999 25 per cent of live births were still baptised in the
Church of England.
Although acknowledging that church may be unfamiliar
to guests, the Rev Jeremy Fletcher, Chaplain to the Bishop of Southwell,
is convinced that "people will still come". Believing that it
is important that churches consciously welcome guests and set them at
ease, Mr Fletcher lets the congregation know that there is no offering.
Using more familiar hymns and trying to involve as many lay people as
possible, both with preparation sessions and on the day, makes it much
more community focussed than centred purely on the vicar.
He would also inform the family that the baptism
certificate would be presented at the next family service, to encourage
some kind of continued contact. Mr Fletcher believes that: "If a
couple have come to you, as the church, you have to keep your part of
the contract". Some churches do this by arranging baptism reunions,
follow-up home visits, or sending cards to the child and, later on,
suggesting attendance at Sunday school.
While in the past it may have been expected for a
vicar to marry a couple and sometime later christen their baby, this
seems to be less frequently the case, with many people moving away after
marriage. Another factor is that the changes in society mean that people
sometimes ask for the baptism before the marriage. In these cases, Mr
Fletcher said he would "always reserve the right to ask 'Are you
going to get married soon?'." Often they then would.
Churches employ various means of preparing candidates
and their families for baptism. The Rev Patrick Coghlan, writing in The
Church of England Newspaper this April, recommended the Jesus
magazine, produced jointly by Deo Gloria Trust, Jesus Video Project,
CPAS, New Start and the Open Book as a popular way of introducing the
gospel in the lead-up to the ceremony.
Church House publishing can provide a Baptism leaflet
(available in a pack of 20 for £10) taking the reader through many
commonly asked questions. They also recommend Baptism Matters by
Nick and Hazel Whitehead, a 'complete guide to baptism' for £7.95, that
provides a framework for the church's approach to baptism.
If you'd like to find out more but are unable or
unlikely to read a whole book there are several websites devoted to the
specific issue of baptism. I looked at www.baptism.org which covers
general issues and matters of interest relating to baptism. For a
discussion of the many scriptural passages relating to baptism see
www.bebaptized.org. If you want to direct friends towards a more
objective, definition-giving website, try www.wcc-coe.org, the World
Council of Churches site.
Baptism Matters by Nick and Hazel Whitehead is
published by National Society / Church House, price £7.95, ISBN
The Baptism leaflet is also published by National
Society / Church House, price £10.00 for 20, ISBN: 0715148966.