Friday, September 24, 2004

By way of contrast....

Though we are far from overwhelmed with young families in our congregation, this is no reflection of the local area, which has more children out and about than anywhere I’ve ever been….Inevitably, the parents of some of them come to us requesting Baptism, and though both M and I agree on the need for an open policy, we nonetheless want to do all we can to help families realise the potential of this Sacrament to completely change everything…
I guess that, even before M arrived, ours has always been a pretty “co-operative” parish, and a few months ago I would have thought that was a Good Thing.
This, however, was before I attended a recent private Baptism. The odds were stacked against it before we started, as the parents, who had been married here, no longer lived in the parish at all, and the grandparents (who do) are not regular worshippers. Moreover, they had asked if the clerical friend who had married the couple (during our interregnum) could conduct the Baptism too. So, we have a family with no connection with our worshipping congregation, arriving from all points of the compass, to meet with a priest who is also unconnected with the local church…Between them, they have to claim the space and create a worshipful context from a standing start. The visiting priest is jovial, and succeeds in creating a party atmosphere…in which the promises seem oddly out of place. Godparents absently crunch on the carrot sticks they have brought to pacify their toddler…One or two guys wander outside for a fag,- clearly this church bit is hindering the family festivities more than they had imagined. The crunch comes for me when they reach the reading…a chapter from…wait for it “Alice in Wonderland”…
No Gospel. No suggestion that what is happening today actually MATTERS in any lasting way at all. Nothing.
The wrapt and reverent attention is reserved for the rite of photography which concludes the proceedings, then, without a backward glance they are gone, off to continue their party in more congenial surroundings.
I’m left apologising to God for what feels to me like an abuse of His hospitality….but perhaps I’m just being starchy or defensive?
Anyway, all this fuelled a growing sense that we ought to do SOMETHING to help parents engage meaningfully with the Sacrament….so I’ve been on the lookout for helpful resources, round which to build a social/discussion evening which we’re planning in October. There seems rather a dearth of helpful videos, but Tony responded to my plea for help with the following….

I've thought about your request, and guess I would say you need to start
with the question:
WHY do you want baptism preparation?
If there is time, and space on your examination paper, you may like to tackle
some of the subsidiaries:
What is the desired outcome?
If you were a parent wanting your child baptised what would you want from
preparation, and what would you feel about what was being offered or
required?
How would it make you think/feel about God and what God is towards us?
Who is baptism preparation FOR? (If the answer is, the conscience of the
clergy, does that affect our other answers?)

Assuming that I’ve answered question 1 (why I want some sort of Baptism preparation) I guess we need to move on to consider the whole thing from the parents’ viewpoint. Any thoughts, anyone?

I accept that the clerical conscience is a very real player in this one, but I would still defend the need to help Baptismal families to seriously engage with the promises they are making, and to facilitate, as far as we ever can, a real encounter with God through the Baptism of their child. It DOES matter, doesn’t it?

8 comments:

Caroline said...

I think it does matter, but however much I balk at the thought (in my perveption) of people 'using' churches for such rites of passage I'm a horribly liberal anglican in that I don't think it's our place (me, you, or any clergy, or any congregations) to judge intentions or outcomes. I struggle to believe that the event you describe hasn't planted any sort of seed, and so can't imagine that it is not in any sense an encounter with God. I like Tony's questions - they're fascinating to work through, but I'm left wondering why there's no question (tho admittedly academic in the true sense)about theology of baptism...
What IS your/ your vicar's/ your congregations/ the anglican church's theology of baptism? I'm darned if I know...

- hmmm, I think I need to say sorry or I/ you may not believe I just wrote that.

Rhys Morgan said...

It does matter but every family and their reasons for asking for baptism vary and are unique. I'm with Tony on this one.
Both my boys were baptised (before i was ordained) but we had no preperation. I hesitate before inflicting it on anyone else. Just ask them why?
Reading Tony's comments made me think -If you're going to prepare them beforehand fine but what about ongoing nurture. Prams and buggies services mother and toddler group etc - Maybe that's where we should be putting our energy into.

curatesdregs said...

Baptism, I'm afraid, is a serious business. Parents are making vows about the way they are going to live their lives and raise their children. If they want a naming day or a thanksgiving, by all means do one for them with churchy trappings, but we are abdicating our integrity if we allow people to make those vows without proper preparation, and, dare I say it, without some test of how serious they are.

For more information, you can read my open letter:
http://www.wibsite.com/wiblog/curatesdregs/read.php?5014

Kathryn said...

OK...Caroline...the Kathryn essay on theology of baptism will wing its way towards Bristol any day now,- or I might even blog it ;-) I totally take your point re judging motives, and cannot imagine ever refusing any Sacrament to those who sought it,- but I'm anxious to help make them meaningful, without putting up an assualt course in any way.

Speaking personally, no baptism preparation was offered for Lucinda, and we rather shocked the church by wanting input into the service (which was a Sunday pm, no other option being available); for Giles we did attend a series of (3?)discussion evenings, which were quite positive, though they were led by a different member of the clergy team each week (this was a large London RC parish) and the quality of input was hugely variable...Third time round, I was running the baptism prep myself (!) and there were no other candidates in the village that whole year, so again, not really an issue. I think I would always have welcomed the chance to discuss what we thought we were doing, even when, as with my first child, I was feeling pretty disengaged from the Church, and indeed from God. It used to come up as a topic at mum and baby coffee mornings from time to time...how do I get myself onto that circuit now, when another infant just to spearhead the baptism prep seems rather a drastic measure? :-)

Chris, it was your post and letter that started me on this route...it coincided beautifully with the Alice in Wonderland Baptism...and that same week I had very special encounter with a family wanting Thankgsiving service, which I blogged about at the time (http://goodinparts.blogspot.com/2004/08/so-easy-really.html.) Certainly we are actively promoting the Thanksgiving Service, and the family I mentioned are so enthusiastic about it that this may help,- but I suspect there will be a residual feeling that we are trying to fob people off with the second best option, which will take time to overcome.
We do have a prams and pushchairs group, so there is somewhere for people to move onto. Perhaps I have to take refuge in my belief that the Sacrament will make a difference regardless, but it does feel as if we might be missing a huge opportunity here...

Tony said...

Ouch! It's a terrible thing reading my comment quoted after the account of such a harrowing experience - I had no idea. (Think before you speak, Price!) What can you learn from this? Well, don't let clerical friends of the family minister, or if you have to, don't feel you must be present, or if that still isn't possible, well I think you have to be ready for anything.

I suppose I have become too complacent in a situation where I am in a bit more control. And in that situation, though I agree baptism really matters, what it matters for is to show that God really loves and cares for every single person, and everything depends more on that, than on our feeble, half-hearted and usually downright wrong response. So I welcome all comers, in order to try to model the unflinching hospitality of God.

I did actually nearly waver at the last one I took, where the nasty older sibling of the candidate blew out the baptism candle and proceeded to try and do it again after we had relit it. I was forced to resort to a showdown approach - and thankfully won - in which I told him to come and stand next to me and hold my hand during the prayers. I think he was so stunned to find an adult who was not charmed by his misbehaving, and insisted on obedience, that he did as he was told. But I seriously wondered if God had really got it right with this unconditional love thing, at that precise moment.

Humble Secretary said...

I think this is a really difficult one - and there are very much two sides to the coin. This is going to be a total secretarial ramble as that is the best I can do - but surely an Alice reading is being honest - no it is not spiritual but is that better than plucking a piece out of scripture because it looks meaningful?

At the same time I cringe at the number of christenings that I have been to that are of the "alice in wonderland" ilk. Equally the same can be said for many weddings and funerals.

However, I more than cringe when I hear of people who are refused to allow their child baptism because they aren't regularly attending church.

Sorry that isn't very inspired.

Humble Secretary said...

I think this is a really difficult one - and there are very much two sides to the coin. This is going to be a total secretarial ramble as that is the best I can do - but surely an Alice reading is being honest - no it is not spiritual but is that better than plucking a piece out of scripture because it looks meaningful?

At the same time I cringe at the number of christenings that I have been to that are of the "alice in wonderland" ilk. Equally the same can be said for many weddings and funerals.

However, I more than cringe when I hear of people who are refused to allow their child baptism because they aren't regularly attending church.

Sorry that isn't very inspired.

Humble Secretary said...

100 lines for me

I must not repeat myself
I must not repeat myself
I must not repeat myself