CLERGY who baptise the children of unchurched families expressed
support for alternative texts for baptism at General Synod on
Sunday. They said that the existing language was incomprehensible
to many people.
The additional texts were developed by the Liturgical Commission
after the Synod approved a motion from Liverpool diocese asking for
a text in "accessible language" (News, 11
The first draft published was the subject of complaints that it
represented a "dumbing down" (News, 10 January), and
it sparked debate about the removal of a specific reference to the
devil. In the draft put before the Synod on Sunday, the Decision
section asks "Do you turn away from sin?" and "Do you reject evil?"
The currentCommon Worshipservice asks "do you reject the devil and
all rebellion against God?"
Introducing the text, the Bishop of Sodor & Man, who chairs
the steering committee, said: "We all know that, for many people,
the devil has been turned into a cartoon-like character of no
particular malevolence. We have no quarrel with standing up to the
devil: the problem is helping people with little doctrinal
appreciation to understand what we mean by affirming that the devil
is a defeated power."
He argued that the new texts echoed descriptions of baptism in
the early centuries, which were "characterised by great simplicity,
clarity, and effective symbolic actions".
Several of the clergy spoke in support of the alternative
Canon Michael Parsons, priest-in-charge of St Oswald's, Coney
Hill, said that families who came to have their children baptised
"want to acknowledge that as humans and families they fail and do
not live up to their standards or God's, and want to acknowledge
they need help to bring their child up . . . They do understand
what evil is. Words like 'sin' and 'devil' do not help, as they
give the wrong context or wrong ideas, or they don't know quite
what it means."
The Revd Anne Hollinghurst, Vicar of St Peter's, St Albans,
argued that the language was "not dumbed-down language but language
that is rich". It sought to "communicate more clearly to a new
generation the age-long love of God".
Members of the Synod who expressed concern about the text
included Alison Ruoff, a member of the House of Laity in London,
said that news reports of the devil's omission from the text had
saddened her, and that people needed to know from what they were
being saved. "Don't patronise people: they are not stupid," she
said. "They see evil well and truly, and we have to tell them that
it emanates from the devil."
The alternative texts are not yet approved for use. The General
Synod voted that they be considered for revision in