Baptism and Christening

Archbishop Justin Welby has spoken on You Tube about Prince George's Christening

Great video. Well done. And the usual rumblings on Twitter. The rumblings are for a reason however.

In theory the Church of England's theology of Baptism is straightforward. At Baptism a child or adult is born again into the family of God. If they are unable to make promises on their own behalf then promises are made on their behalf by parents and Godparents, which the child will affirmin later life. Those Godparents are ideally to be Confirmed members of the Church of England, although we are happy for Godparents to not be Confirmed if they are practising Christians of another denomination. Following the practice of the C1st church, where living running water is not available, water is poured over the candidate in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sorry Archbishop - no splashing here!

This understanding and the liturgy of the Church tends to assume that both parents and Godparents are practising Christians. The promises made at Baptism by Godparents are very serious - much like wedding vows.

Over the last few years however I have noticed a growing trend. With an increasing number of Anglicans having come from less Anglican backgrounds, some practising Christian parents are tending towards a different pattern. A service of Thanksgiving and Dedication for very young children, followed by Baptism a a few years later when the child can answer for themselves. Not an Adult Baptist tradition - I have baptised a number of Children who have expressed a heartfelt desire to follow Jesus at five or six. It's brilliant.

Unhelpfully the Anglican Thanksgiving and Dedication liturgy seems to assume that parents are not practising Christians in the same way that the Baptism service assumes that they are!

So what is the answer?

Some churches require you to have a child dedicated before they baptise the child, to come to church regularly, and have a number of sessions on Christian faith for parents and godparents. Other churches trust in the grace of God in the sacrament as a benefit to the child even if the parents and godparents are not fully engaged in the promises they are making.

Most of us are stuck in the middle.

At least we ought to offer the same preparation for Baptism as we do for Holy Matrimony. And Godparents need to be as much a part of that as parents. Unfortunately it is all rather confusing for parents who are not practising Christians - most churches offer some sort of Marriage preparation, either a day or a number of sessions with the minister, and most couples seem to expect it - whereas Baptism preparation is not so clearly expected at all.

For the church there is a fear that we will appear inhospitable, turn people away from faith rather than welcome them in. We also have an established duty to baptise those who are brought to us. Yet most clergy would ask very serious questions to a couple who came for marriage in Church who had no intention of living, sleeping or forming family together!

++Justin's video is certainly a step in the right direction, but I suspect we still have some way to go.

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