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10 October 2014

by Sister Rosemary


THE Revd David Perry was kind enough recently (Letters, 8 August) to take notice of a question I posed in the course of the General Synod debate on the proposed additional texts for the Common Worship baptism service (General Synod, 18 July). Unfortunately, the question he so fully and helpfully answered was not the one I asked.

Referring to the section on the "Decision", I was in no doubt that, in an infant baptism, it is the baby who is being asked to respond. This is made perfectly clear in the rubric: "The minister addresses the candidate through the parents and godparents." My problem is that I do not understand what this means.

Am I asking the parents and godparents to interpret to the baby what I am saying? Or to interpret to me what the baby wants to answer? Or to offer me a guarantee that, in due time, the baby will believe and do these things?

The Book of Common Prayer makes it clear that this third possibility is what is envisaged. In the Catechism, the person preparing for confirmation is asked: "Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and do, as they [the godparents] have promised for thee?", and is required to reply, "Yes verily: and by God's help so I will."

The Commentary on the Common Worship baptism service (Initiation Services, page 200) explains "this real commitment to Christ made on behalf of the child in Baptism" as being related to "the ancient practice of proxy vows".

This practice may, indeed, be ancient and long-lasting, but it forms no part of our culture now. To make onerous commitments that are binding on a person too young to understand or give consent would these days be seen as child abuse - think of child marriages, once also seen as acceptable.

This is the problem I have. What do readers think?


I WAS with a group of pilgrims queuing at the airport to return from our visit to the Holy Land. Another such group was near us, and one of them asked me: "Where are you from?"

"From the diocese of Derby," I replied.

He looked puzzled. "I didn't know there was a diocese of Derby."

"Well, there is," I assured him, "and the Bishop of Derby and his wife are with us." His face froze. "Oh - the State Church." End of conversation.

I was reminded of this incident when I received a communication from the General Synod Support Officer. This informed members of the outline timetable for the troup of sessions in November; but it came with a warning: the meeting in November might not take place at all. We were waiting to see whether Parliament and the Queen would have given approval to the legislation for women in the episcopate in time for us to complete this business at the time we had planned.

This was a salutary reminder to us that we are, indeed, a State Church, and that our Supreme Governor and her Parliament have the ultimate legislative authority for it. This is not "the State interfering with the Church": it is the way an Established Church (or at least our Established Church) works. This is how we are the Church of England.

Some opponents of the ordination of women have complained vociferously about the threats in Parliament to overrule the defeat of the legislation for women bishops in November 2012. Some of these are the same people who gratefully acknowledge that it was Parliamentary pressure that ensured the enactment of the 1993 Act of Synod which made provision for extended episcopal oversight for them.


THERE is certainly a case for urging that our Church - any Church - should be free to order its own affairs, and not be subject to a secular authority that may have no interest or competence in religious matters.

But those who argue that we should be free from the shackles of establishment must ask themselves whether they would be willing to give up the privileges of establishment: bishops in the House of Lords; the unquestioned prominent place of the Church of England on great national occasions; the cultural recognition of this as a Christian country.

They should also reflect that members of other Churches and other faiths are glad that the position of the Church of England ensures that acknowledgement of God is not missing from the heart of our public life.

Some may feel that even this level of state control of the Church - much reduced from that known in earlier centuries - is theologically and spiritually intolerable. They are free to campaign for disestablishment, or to join any of the other Churches in England which are not established.

I suspect, however, that most Anglicans in this country, even if they are not entirely satisfied about the link with the state, will remain fairly settled in their antidisestablishmentarianism.

The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.

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