THE alternative baptism texts returned to the Synod for their
report and revision stage on Thursday afternoon.
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt
Revd Tim Thornton, introducing the debate, reminded members that
the texts had been drafted in response to concerns that the
Common Worship initiation texts "in their present form are
not accessible to those who are unused to attending church".
The new texts were a "practical and pastoral response for those
clergy who frequently conduct baptisms for unchurched families,
often at services separate from the main Sunday-morning act of
worship. In these circumstances, the existing provision can seem
complex and inaccessible," he said.
The texts had been "generally welcomed by the Synod", and many
members had "expressed a sense of relief that there was now
alternative provision which would allow candidates to express their
faith clearly and simply, and take forward the mission of the
The steering committee had been resistant to those who wanted
more complex language, "or to define the underlying theology along
One controversial aspect of the new texts has been the removal
of references to the devil. On this issue, the Bishop said that
"Those who work with young people have consistent advice that
references to the devil are likely to be misunderstood in today's
culture. A clear majority of the revision committee agreed that it
is unhelpful to refer to a personification of evil in the form of
He said that the alternative texts were "intended to refer to a
strong position of standing with Christ against the power of evil.
This is seen as a posture of confident resistance rather than an
aggressive act, and it deliberately stops short of using the word
Canon William Croft (Peterborough) questioned
one line in the first prayer over the water: "Who has rescued us
from the deep waters of death?'" He said that, rather than save us
from water, Christ had gone through the waters on our behalf. "It
rings a little oddly, as though water ought to be avoided," he
said. "This phrase should be looked at again."
The Revd Dr Joanna Spreadbury (St Albans) told
the story of a six-year-old in her parish who had decided that he
wanted to be baptised of his own accord and in his own words. She
said that she welcomed the alternative accessible texts, as many
people were drawn to baptism but could not theologically articulate
why. "The language is direct and yet deep, fresh, and yet has a
proper formality," she said.
Canon Chris Sugden (Oxford) recommended the
texts to the Synod, and said that they would not change any
doctrine in the Church of England.
The Revd Charlotte Gale (Coventry) admitted to
playing "fast and loose" with canon law and having introduced the
draft alternative texts last summer after the Synod sessions. She
said that they were largely excellent, although she questioned why
the congregation would be asked to support the candidate, given
that most of the new baptisms with alternative texts would take
place outside regular Sunday services, and with congregations that
had no familiarity with church.
The Synod took note of the revision committee's report.
The Revd Charles Read
(Norwich) argued that his recommittal motion for the revision of
the opening part of the presentation of the candidates (which
quotes Mark 10.14), and "for consideration to be given to providing
a choice as to the scriptural texts used", would create a "mission-
and discipleship-affirming liturgy", tying together liturgical
revision with evangelism and discipleship.
The Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd
Robert Paterson, opposed this motion and the use of an alternative
text that Mr Read had in view. The Great Commission was one of the
mandates for evangelism. "If used at this point in a service, which
is designed for those on the fringe or beyond the fringe, one is
using the text in a way in which it becomes semi-intelligible."
The text had previously been used as an apologia for infant
baptism, and it had been agreed over the past 50 years that it was
inappropriate. For those who rarely attended church, "the authority
of scripture is probably not one of their priorities."
The motion lapsed.
Another recommittal motion was from the Revd Jonathan
Frais (Chichester), who wanted the insertion of an
alternative Prayer over the Water referring to Noah and the
Bishop Paterson opposed the amendment. The classic 1662 prayer
referred to Noah, but the link with the story of salvation was very
little known, and understood hardly at all. The ark and rainbow are
associated with ecological issues today.
"This well-known image would now require more rather than less
exegesis, and this cannot be encapsulated in a concise and
The motion lapsed.