From the Revd Dr Rosalyn Murphy
Sir, - As a priest serving in an urban
priority area, I read with interest the letter on baptism in the
main Sunday service (17 August).
I wonder if the writer fully
understands the complex environment in which parish priests work
today - particularly when celebrating baptism for a family who have
never attended church and have little idea of what the Christian
faith entails. At times, this beautiful service of initiation into
the Christian faith is approached as parents might plan a birthday
I have found that most are not
interested in attending our baptism-preparation evening. Instead,
numerous excuses are provided: "I forgot the time." "I forgot the
day." "Do I really need to attend? It's the baby being
baptised." "We can't find a sitter." "That's the baby's feeding
time." And, of course my all-time personal favourite: "The weather
is simply 'too hot' for coming out."
We offer a wonderful baptism programme
at our church. It begins with a personal letter from me to the
family making the enquiry, and is followed by a home visit from our
baptism co-ordinator. Informational evenings on baptism preparation
are held every month, and our programme includes an invitation to
parents and their baby to visit our weekly "Mums and Tots" morning,
as well as our "Kidz Church" and "RockStars" after-school
We also encourage them to attend our
all-age family Sunday service, so that they can experience the
worship setting in which their child will be baptised, and, we
hope, share this with their guests who will attend the service on
We obtain a photo of the child being
baptised for a special order of service designed and published for
the service, and the child's photo appears on our visual sites in
the church throughout the service.
In planning the service, when parents
are asked to provide a scripture that they would enjoy having read,
their invariable shock is quite evident. Out of nearly 100
baptisms, only one couple has ever provided a special reading. The
reality is that many of the young people who request services of
baptism, naming, and thanksgiving simply do not attend church, and
appear to have no long-term plans to do so.
In many instances, this timeless
service offering initiation into the most practised religion in the
world is approached as an excuse to dress up and later attend a
party. Often, guests arrive intoxicated, use mobile phones
throughout, leave their seats to smoke outside the church entrance,
use profanity, and even engage in altercations afterwards on the
church grounds. And yet we continue to serve our parish.
Our research has shown that we manage
to lead one out of four families to Christ - but only among those
who attend every aspect of the programme. I sympathise and pray for
those clergy who simply do not have the resources (human and
financial) that would avail them to offer a similar programme. I
also wonder if this is the "norm", or does my parish represent the
The question that constantly prods my
thinking is: is it worth it? My response: unequivocally, YES.
St Thomas' Vicarage, Devonshire Road, Blackpool, Lancashire FY3
From the Diocesan Chancellor of
Sir, - Most incumbents now prefer to
include baptism in a public service so that the person baptised may
be welcomed into the church community. In my own church (St John's,
Tisbury), when the baptism is part of the weekly parish communion
(with organ and robed choir), a locally produced booklet is used,
setting out the entirety of the service, to make sure that
newcomers know precisely what is happening.
The baptism is central to the whole
service. In fact, baptisms often take place at the monthly informal
family service (not robed, with music from a 12-piece band). When
this happens, the entire service, including the talk, is structured
round the baptism. In neither case is there any sense of the
baptism's being tacked on to the end, and it never should be.
I am sorry that your correspondent (17
August) has had unfortunate experiences. When I have been to
baptisms at other churches, I have always found them to be an
integral part of the service, as is good practice. Perhaps training
is needed in some places.
c/o Church House, Crane Street, Salisbury SP1 2QB
From the Revd Andrea
Sir, - I read the letter regarding
baptism in the main service with a heavy heart. The service the
writer attended had obviously made a really negative impact on him
and his wife.
Baptisms are a wonderful opportunity
to welcome a baby, the parents, and indeed the whole family,
together with the godparents, into the fellowship of the church. I
imagine most priests would indeed adjust the set readings and the
sermon - although on Mothering Sunday I had no need to, as the
reading was about the finding of the baby Moses. What a gift!
My churchwardens also take an active
part, as the baby is baptised during the main service. They present
the baptismal candle and also a child's Bible, encouraging the
parents to put it into the bookcase with all the other books to be
read and to become dog-eared.
I do not tack a baptism on to the end
of the service unless the family have asked specifically. Sometimes
this does happen because some of the godparents and guests have a
long journey and cannot get to the main service in time.
Our baptism services are full of joy,
where not only the baby is the focus of attention, but Jesus
Christ, too, our Saviour who is the source of our joy.
(St Nicholas's, Rotherfield Greys)
203 Greys Road, Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 1SP
From the Revd Mark
Sir, - I was very saddened to read of
your correspondent's experience at a recent baptism in a main
Sunday service. It does not reflect my own experience; many clergy
work very hard to make baptism families feel included and valued in
our Sunday services.
I have always tried to place a baptism
or thanksgiving at the beginning of the service rather than at the
end, so that families don't have to wait too long, and their
children don't get too restless. Although we don't normally depart
from our sermon series, we try to preach in a way that is relevant
to visitors and that specifically mentions both the child being
baptised and his or her family.
Of course, this all comes in a context
where we have tried to get to know the family over time, with
visits and times in church. It is not rocket science to do this
well, and it makes the most of a very significant pastoral
Vicar of All Saints', Lightwater, 28 Broadway Road, Lightwater,
Surrey GU18 5SJ