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‘Devil’ in baptism service debated

by
14 July 2014

by Madeleine Davies and Tim Wyatt

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 February 2011).

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 texts.

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 committee.

 

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