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Six churches — one baptism

03 October 2014

IT WAS appropriate that the service was held in the oldest Christian building in Switzerland, the church of Riva San Vitale, near Lugano. The leaders of six churches - Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, Swiss Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran, and Anglican (from the diocese in Europe) - joined in a service at which they signed a new agreement on the mutual recognition of baptism.

The service started in the fifth-century baptistery, where everyone had to squeeze around the massive font, more than two metres in diameter and carved from a single piece of rock.

The font is still used, but a smaller bowl is always placed inside it, and it was that bowl that the President of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches, Dr Gottfried Locher, ceremonially filled at the start of the service. Bishop Harald Rein, of the Old Catholic Church, dipped the paschal candle in it three times, and a Lutheran minister sprinkled the congregation with the water.

Prayers were said in four national languages, and the text of the San Vitali Declaration was read out and then signed. It affirmed the importance of baptism as an initiation into the Christian faith, and recognised that it could be validly administered in more than one way. It also confirmed that people do not need to be baptised again if they move from one Church to another. Representatives of the Orthodox and Baptist Churches, together with the Salvation Army, had taken part in discussion of the Declaration, and supported its principle.

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