Don’t do it, say reformers, in Archers debate about Grace

10 December 2008

by Pat Ashworth

FANS of the long-running BBC Radio 4 serial The Archers have been engaging in a heated argument on the programme’s internet mes­sage board about the proposed infant baptism of Abbie, daughter of Roy and Hayley Tucker.

The baby, conceived through IVF, arrived very prematurely, but is now thriving and is soon to be baptised by Alan, the Vicar of Ambridge, the village where the serial is set.

Clergy, churchgoers, atheists, and lapsed Christians have all contributed to the debate, says the Revd David Perry, Vicar of Skirlaugh with Long Riston, Rise and Swine, in Yorkshire. He is chairman of Baptismal Integrity, which seeks to “bring to an end the indiscriminate administration of infant baptism”.

The debate was sparked by a question from the group’s vice-chairman, Roger Godin, a former General Synod member for Southwark diocese, who asked: “Since neither Roy nor Hayley seem to be churchy in any way, why is Abbie going to be baptised?”

The 400 responses raised such questions as whether infant baptism was merely a conventional aspect of British life; whether it was for the benefit of the parents or the child; and whether a service of thanksgiving for the gift of a child would be more appropriate for the Tuckers, or whether that was “second-class baptism”.

Responses included: “It’s the done thing, innit. Especially in country villages, it’s tra­dition. So is a church wedding. It’s to do with the cake, the frock, the family get-together.”

A clergy contributor wrote: “Sadly there is a sort of folklore about it. It’s a spiritual MMR jab, and no child is safe without it. . . I’m just off to baptise three babies, all of non-churchgoers — a fairly normal Sunday. But I believe in grace and would never deny baptism to anyone asking for it. . . It’s for the child, not the parents/godparents.”

Another cleric wrote: “Ooh, don’t get me started on this one — we are required by Canon Law to baptise the child of more or less anyone living in our parish. I always visit the family at home, prior to the service, and ask why they have chosen to have their child baptised (when they do not attend church). Their answers, in order of frequency, are: ‘I dunno really’; ‘it’s the right thing to do’; ‘we want to have the baby done’; ‘it’s our church’; ‘I used to go to Sunday school’. Is it any wonder the Vicar of Ambridge is half round the bend?”

To this, another contributor responded: “Interesting. I wish I’d known that when the local Rev refused to baptise my eldest unless and until we’d attended Sunday services for a minimum of 12 weeks.”

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