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
"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
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
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
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
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.