I’m hoping that alongside sharing my faith and encouraging others to develop theirs, it will provide a chance to talk to young families in the community and tie my Mothers’ Union interests in with parish life. I’m also realising it’s the beginnings of grappling with the parochial responsibilities that many ministers, usually clergy, have to decide how they are going to handle.
Some of the issues surrounding infant baptism have been highlighted in the Church Times over the last couple of weeks. Revd Robert Reiss of Westminster Abbey (whilst commenting on the role of the Church of England as the established church being one of responsibility rather than privilege) stated (17 April) that
“the rights ordinary people have to their parish church… [include]… If parents want their child’s birth to be marked by baptism, then most clergy will readily do so, even though, wrongly, some may try to impose conditions, contrary to canon law.”
This week Ian Robins in a letter of response comments:
“How can it be wrong to respect the integrity of the participating adults who are being required to commit themselves to the Christian faith and to involvement in the Body of Christ?
To “turn to Christ” must mean something.”
Yesterday I shadowed our curate doing a second visit. We showed the CPAS DVD First Steps, discussed the wording of the baptism service, talked about various activities at church for young families and the choices to be made regarding Godparents. During this and in discussion afterwards several things became obvious
- as ministers we want to make the most of the opportunity to proclaim the Christian message, show our faith as being relevant and our community as being supportive and fun to be involved in
- parents (often dominantly the mother) aren’t often that worried about what they are saying, it’s more a case of ‘doing the right thing’ or an excuse for a party – perhaps that is a comment on how people generally have a poor regard for the integrity of what they are saying
- as ministers we want people to understand the seriousness of what they are doing and saying on behalf of their children – and to encourage them to turn to Christ seriously
- it’s almost more about reaching the adults involved than the children being baptised!
I will be a lay person, and a fellow Mum, making a visit between two visits by clergy. I may therefore have revealed to me more clearly people’s real reasons for bringing their children for baptism (they won’t be saying the ‘right thing’ for the vicar), and be viewed as more approachable with their real concerns… I wonder if this will prove true?
So as someone new to this role, how do I strike a balance that will overcome parents lack of engagement with what they will be saying during a baptism service, whilst not being so prescriptive as to put them off from taking a small step in what many would say was a belief in God?
I think the answer has something to do with God’s Grace – do I do my best to show them that God really loves them for this little step they are taking, and then leave it to him?
Update: (thought of this on the way to bed after posting last night)
The curate said to me afterwards that they prayed silently during the baptism visit. What would be the impact of closing the visit with a short verbal (in simple English) prayer for and with the family? Would it frighten them off, give them an example of what we think prayer is and how to do it, what?