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Making initation into the ‘in’ thing

by
10 June 2016

David Wilbourne finds this liturgical guidance meticulous but bold

 

Celebrating Christian Initiation: Baptism, confirmation and rites for the Christian journey
Simon Jones
SPCK £12.99
(978-0-281-07537-9)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70 

 

MY BAPTISMS and confirmations are all too often haunted by the ghost of rubrics rescinded decades back, or by reversions to the fierce practice of the last-diocesan-but-three. Rescue is at hand, because in Celebrating Christian Initiation Simon Jones brings us up to speed with current practice.

He confidently assesses the plethora of material in Common Worship and its Additional Texts, offering a readable, theologically resourced, rooted, pragmatic, and meticulous guide.

Meticulous includes: appropriate clerical garb; praying with palms downwards; not anointing at emergency baptisms (because oil burns the skin of premature babies); using rosemary sprigs to make sprinkling the faithful a little more fragrant; adding additional balsam to oil of chrism if you’ve been short-changed at the diocesan chrism eucharist; removing radio mics so that total immersion avoids total electrocution; and encouraging separate changing rooms for bishop and newly baptised after total immersions, to spare them gazing wide-eyed on each other’s nakedness.

Though realistic about his readers’ context, Jones urges an imaginative and succinct use of the given space, time, and congregation. Boldly desiring to present initiation and formation as a vivid drama, he repeatedly warns against disempowering the symbol by over-explanation beforehand.

His inspiring material is clearly based on hard-won pastoral and parochial experience. You don’t confuse dining and bathing areas domestically; so keep altar and font as distinct entities ecclesiastically. Water is the prime symbol of baptism; so use lots of it, and splash it around a bit. Use lots of oil, too, in a visible jug rather than a surreptitious stock.

When baptismands promise to turn to Christ, get them turning physically. Make good use of a statue of Virgin and Child and accompanying votive-candle stand at infant baptisms and thanksgivings for birth. When you have a stand-alone baptism, sensitively incorporate the altar and paschal candle. If you have a rowdy baptism party included in your main Sunday eucharist, don’t be afraid to give up on the extended periods of silence which may be your normal practice.

Considering the tomes of material and advice about how to conduct a eucharist (not to mention the fuss made about a priest’s first mass), Jones is concerned about the paucity of such material on the praxis of initiation. For him, initiation deserves the most serious preparation, because it is the sacrament of prevenient grace, significant in its own right, pointing Christians to their true identity, character, and calling.

Whether you are a BACSI (Baptism as the Complete Sacramental Initiation) or take the Mason-Dix line (confirmation as completing baptism), Jones’s book has something for you. Even encouraging mothers to dip their (clean) fingers into the chalice to give their newly baptised babes a lick — a case of mothers’ salvation rather than mothers’ ruin.

This book proves a must-have for every clerical bookshelf. Or, better still, use it to drive a 24-hour residential for your ministry team, to shape your parish’s initiation policy before the bishop next comes calling and reminds you that you come closer to God simply by getting wet.

 

The Rt Revd David Wilbourne is the Assistant Bishop of Llandaff.

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