I laid out the plan of the day here, and thankfully it pretty much went to plan.
From a practical view-point one of the big successes was the informal lunch with the chance to talk to people – something we can make better use of by using this time to share information about our services and activities for young families, so that can be immediately discussed informally, rather than be drawn into more ‘baptism’ related discussions.
Another good point (other than the popularity of the puppets) was having a couple talk about why they chose to have a Thanksgiving. None of the families actually took up the idea this time, but it was much better having the idea drawn into discussion through the story of real people.
There are various logistical tweeks we need to make, but one of the interesting things about people’s questions was that so many of them revolved around the minutiae of the service, like ‘how many Godparents can there be?’ Perhaps we need to cover more of this information in the preliminary leaflet the families receive when they have enquired and get an invitation to ‘Encounter’, but there is the equal danger that people don’t always read what they’re given anyway!
Encouraging for me though was the response of our (fairly new) vicar to questions about how Baptism (to some extent) and Thanksgiving services (to a greater extent) could be personalised to the ‘story’ of a particular family or birth, whilst still being part of morning worship of some sort. We already make use of songs that are familiar to families who have engaged with our Wayfinder groups and Messy Church, but he has felt able to pick up on a Pentecost healing that enabled one recent birth and later committed to having an infant baptism next Pentecost.
This is the sort of idea that I later found reflected in this excellent reflection on the SPCK blog (where the book that is recommended would be a suitable gift for parents attending ‘Encounter’ if we could afford it). I look forward to seeing how it can be made to work practically, or if this instance will prove something of a minority case. It all depends I suspect on how much people’s experiences of God’s activity in their lives, pre-date their wish to have a child baptised.
The problem I see is that the families that engaged with ‘Encounter’ last month, all had some connection with us as their local church (even if only at an ‘exploring’ stage), and therefore relating the service to their experiences of faith (so far) can be relevant to them. None of the families that had made enquiries about baptism, but weren’t already attending something around our fellowship, accepted our invitation to ‘Encounter’ this time.
Only time will tell whether this pattern is repeated. I hope it isn’t, because for me, encouraging this group of people to engage with the fellowship of the church, as a pre-cursor to engaging with the faith they want their child baptised into, has got to be the key aim of ‘Encounter’.