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Baptism by immersion stops at the Welsh border

28 August 2020

Alamy

CONFLICTING government guidance about baptisms in England and Wales has prompted the Church in Wales and the Church of England to pursue different policies.

Both Churches allow baptism by affusion, as in infant baptism. The new guidance relates to baptism by full immersion.

The Welsh Government has published guidelines on the use of water in services during the pandemic which suggest that only self-baptism is allowed: “If at all possible full immersion baptisms should be avoided. The use of a baptistery should follow the same guidance as swimming pools.”

It continues: “To comply with physical distancing guidance, baptisms should be by self-immersion (self-immersion means only the candidate should be in the baptistery or pool and not touched by anyone unless they are from the same household) and no one should be baptised by another person, with exception of a member of their own household.”

As a result, the Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, said on Thursday that the advice was too vague to apply to the Church in Wales.

A Church in Wales statement confirms this: “The guidelines produced by the Welsh Government have been written with all faiths in mind, and don’t explicitly address the Anglican context. As far as we are concerned, the Bench (of Bishops) would advise against any Baptism by total immersion in the current circumstances, and so the regulations as set out don’t apply.”

Bishop Cameron, who also holds the Faith, Order and Unity brief for the Bench of Bishops in the Church in Wales, said: “Our own guidance addresses the question of the administration of Baptism, in line with Welsh Government guidance, and we would advise all clergy to adhere to that.”

The guidance from the Church in Wales indicates the requirement for there to be a minister of baptism, and discourages full-immersion baptisms: “Only clergy and parents should be at the font while godparents should maintain physical distance. Unfortunately, baptisms by immersion cannot be safely conducted at present.”

The advice issued by the Government in Westminster is similar to the Welsh, with one notable difference: although the minister cannot join the baptism candidate in the water, they can touch the candidate’s head.

The Westminster guidance states: “Where full immersion in water is necessary as part of a ritual or ceremony, this should be very carefully planned following the rules below.

“Those being immersed should be at least 2 metres away from the congregation and officiants at all times, except while they are being immersed.

“Only one person should be immersed at any time and they should only be attended by a single officiant/clergy member.

“During the immersion, clergy/the officiant can place their hands on the head of the person being immersed, but they should not ‘cradle’ the person or touch them in any other way

“Clergy/the officiant should wash their hands after each person is immersed, or if this isn’t possible they should use hand sanitiser.”

A spokesman for the House of Bishops Recovery Group in the Church of England said on Thursday that its advice to clergy has been updated in the light of this new guidance, making clear that baptism by full immersion is now possible. “Although it sets out some adaptations to enable physical distancing, the advice makes clear that a minister would be present and can place their hands on the head of the person being baptised.”

On the C of E website, the question “Can we do full immersion baptisms?” is answered “Yes, providing as part of careful planning the following measures are taken:

“Those being immersed should be at least 2 metres away from the congregation and officiants at all times, except while they are being immersed.

“Only one person should be immersed at any time and they should only be attended by a single officiant/clergy member.

“During the immersion, physical contact should be avoided apart from clergy/the officiant placing their hands on the head of the person being immersed

“Clergy/the officiant should wash their hands after each person is immersed, or if this isn’t possible they should use hand sanitiser.”

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