FOR many people, "the devil has been turned into a cartoon-like
character of no particular malevolence," the Bishop of
Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, said as he
introduced the first consideration debate on the Additional Texts
for Holy Baptism.
The texts had been produced after a motion, originating in the
diocese of Liverpool, called for an "accessible" baptism liturgy;
and they were trialled before Easter.
"It will come as no surprise to learn that the texts of the
Decision proved most challenging to the drafting group," Bishop
Paterson said, as he admitted that early drafts had been commented
on by the House of Bishops.
"The absence of the devil from the text attracted particular
attention. . . 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
He said that the new Decision section of the liturgy "is now
introduced with words that encapsulate what we mean by a broken and
restored relationship with God, his searching love, and where this
fits with baptism in our journey of faith and discipleship."
The new wording was: "We all wander from God and lose our
Christ comes to find us and welcomes us home. In baptism we
respond to his call."
The texts would not replace the texts in Common
Worship, but would be alternatives available to churches that
wanted to use them. This was not "baptism lite".
The Revd Anne Hollinghurst (St Albans)
conducted 60 baptisms every year: the liturgy was in use about
three Sundays a month. In a typical afternoon service, there would
be more than 100 people in church, many unchurched. The new text
offered "more meaningful and effective resonances . . . echoes of
the scriptures, as well as resonating with the lived
The Revd John Cook (Oxford)
quoted David Beckham, who had said he wanted to have his son
Brooklyn christened but "I don't know into what religion yet." Mr
Cook suggested that the text would help to explain baptism to him,
but it required improvement.
He questioned whether "grace really shines out" of the draft
text. He suggested that the liturgy needed to use three metaphors:
that of death and resurrection, that of rebirth, and that of
washing. Finally, a better word than "blessing" was required for
the prayer over the water.
Canon Michael Parsons (Gloucester) had taken
part in the trial. He administered up to 40 baptisms a year. He
suggested that Common Worship and the Prayer Book were
"far too prescriptive", with "too heavy an expectation on the
understanding of families". These families "want to be known as
Christians. They 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. 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."
Alison Ruoff (London) said that news reports of
the devil's omission 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 Revd Jennifer Tomlinson (Chelmsford)
welcomed the new texts, but said that she would rather they
emphasised God's active role more strongly than just the
godparents' and parents' role."
The Revd Karen Hutchinson (Guildford) said that
her parish was one of those testing the trial texts earlier this
year, and that she was pleased the changes suggested had been
adopted. But she still questioned the phrase "Do you give your life
to him?" She said: "I tried it with some [unchurched] people, who
said it made them think of suicide bombers or child sacrifice."
The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner,
said that he wanted to use the moment to think critically about
liturgy and worship more generally. He argued that priests needed
to consider not just the text used, but also the environment of the
church and how people experienced the whole service. "Our worship
ought also to be in the category of primary evangelism,
particularly in these initiation rites. They are often moments when
we encounter people in church who might never have been there
A member of the drafting group, the Revd Philip
North (London), said that it was important for the Synod
to remember that "this is your idea and something that we have
undertaken with your instructions. . . Our problem during this
process is that nobody has been able to say what 'accessible
There was "a great deal more to worship than the accessibility
of the text", he said. "Equally, and perhaps of more importance, is
the warmth of the welcome, the style of the leadership, the use of
space and music, the use of visual symbols. . . You don't need to
understand every single word to be raised up by it into God's
Commenting on the "putting to one side the devil", he said:
"That image is so open to misunderstanding. That is not lessening
in any sense our belief in the power of evil, or changing the
teaching of the Church of England."
He said that he regretted the Bishops' decision to reject a
draft of the text in which the parents replied with a simple "I do"
to the questions. "I would like to hear what Synod thinks about
Canon Dagmar Winter (Newcastle) questioned the
theology of the text dealing with the presentation of the
candidates. "I wasn't quite sure to what extent we can say
theologically that we can help anyone to become part of God's
family," she said, "but we might like to help them to respond to
Christ's welcome or to Christ's call."
Penny Allen (Lichfield), an RE teacher for 25
years, said that during that time she had talked about the baptism
service with children in Years 5 and 6. "It took me an hour to
explain the liturgy of this service. . . because it was in complex
terms. There were words we had to look up in the dictionary. The
young people said, 'If it means that, why doesn't it say
Canon Tony Walker (Southwell & Nottingham)
had been in a parish that had trialled the texts. He commented on
The Commission, which says that "The minister will talk directly
and simply in his or her own words . . . covering the topics in the
"One of the things I did early on was to split the Commission
between myself and the churchwarden." It was important to include
Sister Rosemary Howarth CHN (Religious
Communities) welcomed the text, but was concerned about an
"emphasis on the performance of the parents being stressed more
than the grace of God. It is like it is something they have to
Sally Muggeridge (Canterbury) reminded the
Synod that her maiden speech in 2005 had been on the subject of
baptism. She said that some confusion about baptism was not
restricted to the text. When it was discussed in her congregation,
"not everybody was clear . . . that you could only be baptised
once." And she said that an older child being baptised "said that
he wished somebody had asked him if he actually wanted to be
Prudence Dailey (Oxford) argued that the claims
made in baptism were "radical and awe-inspiring, and not easy for
any of us to understand". Those who were not regular churchgoers,
"even more than the regular churchgoers, are in urgent need of
extensive catechesis, if they are bringing their children to
baptism". There was "no short cut" to understanding the claims of
baptism and theological concepts: "How those are explained to
people is what really matters."
The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian
Henderson, asked why one prayer over the water read "now send your
Spirit" and the other "now send your Spirit on this water".
The Revd Charles Read
(Norwich) found "lots of biblical allusion" in the text, which
"give us rich quarry for catechesis". But he suggested that this
raised "all sort of difficult questions".
The Archdeacon of the Isle of Man, the Ven.
Andrew Brown (Sodor & Man),suggested that, "if we are to
baptise infants, we do so on the basis of grace and grace alone,
and that means there should be no hoops to jump through by parents
He told parents that he would "fill in the gaps in the years to
come, when they bring children. . . and very often they give me the
opportunity". He said that he would "miss the devil", but he was
not "the young lass bringing her baby to the font in fear and
trembling". His own spiritual struggles assured hm of the enemy's
realty, but there remained enough reference in the text to the
presence of evil in the world.
The texts were referred for consideration by a revision