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Simpler christenings agreed

17 July 2015


Sam Atkins

Amendments: the Bishop of  Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson

Amendments: the Bishop of  Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson

FINAL APPROVAL was given on Sunday afternoon to the Additional Texts for Holy Baptism in Accessible Language.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson, told the Synod that two minor amendments had been made to the texts that had been considered by the Synod in February.

The changes had been made by the House of Bishops during their consideration under Article 7 of the Synod’s constitution.

The Bishop said that one line in the liturgy — "God knows him by name and he is his" — would have "confused everybody". He said: "A simple reversal of the statements and casting the first line in the plural form solved the problem neatly."

The second amendment followed a concern raised in the debate in February about the prayer over the water. The new prayer reads: "We thank you for your Son Jesus, who has passed through the deep waters of death and opened for all the way of salvation."

No other changes had been made by the House of Bishops to these texts, "for which Synod gave over­whelming support in February".

Sally Muggeridge (Canterbury) said that she was aghast when she first joined the Synod in 2010 at how the Church of England’s web­site described baptism. She said that there were many younger parents who were unclear about what baptism was and what it was for. Now, they could see that Christian initiation was a "welcoming and loving thing with no unusual words, and the devil excluded".

Jane Bisson (Winchester, Chan­nel Islands) said that she was worried that even the new accessible texts still contained theological ideas that people would find hard to understand. "This will mean ex­haustive pre-baptism training before the actual service."

The Archdeacon of Leicester, the Ven. Dr Tim Stratford (Lei­cester), said that there remained questions to grapple with, about whether religious terms had any meaning in modern Britain, but said that the new baptism rite would stimulate further debate.

The Revd Paul Hutchinson (York) said that he had been longing for this revised baptism text. "These are not just texts for [deprived urban parishes]. In market towns, rural parishes, these texts are a gift."

The Revd Jonathan Frais (Chichester) said that the new texts did allow space to teach about salvation by Christ, the cross, obedience, and sin, and he commended them to the Synod.

Canon Simon Butler (South­wark) said that he would be "with­holding his support" for approval. "Not because they don’t do what Synod has asked, but because there are other issues around baptism that need to be addressed before such texts can be admitted."

He was concerned about the quality and consistency of baptism policy and preparation around the country.

He was worried that the new texts would become "the text of least resistance" rather than be used when accessible language was needed.

The Revd Charles Read (Nor­wich) said that liturgy was more than texts. The words in the Common Worship order for the eucharist could be read aloud in ten minutes, but services took much longer. While the new texts were "good at what they do, they are not a magic bullet which will solve all our baptismal issues".

The Ven. Christine Hardman (Southwark), Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury, spoke about the time she baptised her youngest grandson, who was aged two at the time. She said that during the prayer over the water her grandson gave her a "long baleful stare": it was very long, she said, because the prayer was very long.

The Revd Ruth Walker (Cov­entry) said that her parish and diocese had taken part in the pilot project on christenings, and she encouraged other parishes to take part when the project was officially launched in October: "There is a lot of material [in the project] that addresses the issues that some had raised in the debate."

Canon Mike Parsons (Glouces­ter) said that the first time he had become a godfather, the service had been attended by the parents, grandparents, godparents, and one or two other members of the family. "Bit by bit, the numbers attending baptism services have grown and grown." His church would not hold three baptisms on the same day, because "it becomes an exercise in crowd control."

The motion required a two-thirds majority in each House of the Synod, which it gained easily: Bishops 23-1 with 1 recorded abstention; Clergy 114-6 with 5 recorded abstentions; and Laity 126-10 with 6 recorded abstentions.

It read: 


That the liturgical business entitled "Christian Initiation: Additional Texts for Holy Baptism in Accessible Language" be finally approved for a period from 1 September 2015 until further Resolution of the Synod.

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