WEDDINGS can now be merged with baptisms in a single liturgy with the full blessing of the Church of England. The new service, “Marriage and Holy Baptism”, starts with the wedding vows, moves to the baptismal vows, and can end with holy communion.
Baptism is available to the couple, but also to any children they would like to be baptised.
The composition of the new service, together with another, “Marriage and Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child”, was launched on http://cofe.anglican.org.
The new liturgy came as a surprise to many bishops, who had not known about the launch beforehand; nor had the liturgy been discussed at the most recent House of Bishops meeting. One objection was that the liturgy appeared to run counter to the Church’s policy of encouraging baptisms to take place in the main Sunday service.
The move follows research by the Archbishops’ Council’s wedding project in Bradford and Buckinghamshire, which found that one in five couples who asked for a wedding in church already had children, either from the present relationship or a previous one. Clergy now find that they are discussing baptism and marriage at the same time.
The new liturgy was also in response to national statistics that showed that, for many couples, having children has become the first significant milestone of their adult life. Up until now, getting married had priority. More couples were now living together before their wedding day, a church statement said on Wednesday.
The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, who chairs the Liturgical Commission, said: “Patterns of relationship and marriage within society are presenting new opportunities for the Church.”
Early reactions have been mixed. The Daily Mail suggested that the move “overthrew 2000 years of history by giving its blessing to couples having children before they marry”. The Times made the story its front-page lead on Thursday, headed: “Church rewrites family values”. It had sought to make peace with families “living in sin” it said.
One bishop (unnamed) was quoted as calling the idea “nutty”. The Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd John Broadhurst, a traditionalist, called it “trendy”: “It reveals a complete lack of awareness of the reality of what goes on in parishes. I do not understand why they want to do it.”
The secretary of Forward in Faith, Stephen Parkinson, told The Times: “The proper place for baptism is not during a wedding but during the Sunday morning act of worship so the congregation can welcome a new Christian. It is a shame that what should be a bride’s day now stands to be hijacked by screaming kids” The paper also quoted the Revd David Phillips, general secretary of the Church Society: “The proper place for sex is within marriage.” The move could confuse people over the Church’s teaching, he said.