Sunday, 23 January 2011

Feckless liturgy

The form of the Baptism service which we use in this parish is the shortest and most simple which the Church of England allows. This is in part because (during a single five year term as a member of the General Synod) I had a hand in making some of the more simple variations possible in our Common Worship provision.

I fear (and I see that briefing papers for a debate in the Synod next week also express a fear) that there are many clergy who are using out of date early versions of the Common Worship service which do not include these simpler options or who have up to date books but have never really read the rubrics and notes in the service so are unaware of them.

We’ve gone further. We’ve carefully divided the service into four (each part with its own heading and picture) so that people can navigate through it easily at preparation sessions and on the day. We gather around the Bible. We turn to Christ. We Baptise. We are sent to live as Christians in the world. We could do even more with the four related symbols (book, cross, water and light) and related movement around the building, and sometimes do so.

I was told recently about a priest who had a ribbon for each godparent to represent a prayer, which were then tied together for the baby to have.

So, it seems to me that a simple service is in fact already possible, its presentation can be clear, and creative ideas can be incorporated into it.

The Synod debate is being initiated by some of those ministering in deprived areas of Liverpool who are aware of godparents who have not been to preparation sessions and don’t understand the questions they are asked in public, and are aware of unchurched attenders whose attention they see being lost during the extended metaphors of the longest prayers.

They ask for an alternative form of Decision which is less abstract and which confronts parents and godparents more directly with the life choices involved. They ask for a Prayer over the Water like the one already authorised for emergency Baptism. They ask for some texts for the Commission as good examples of the total freedom already allowed in the wording at this point in the service.

We will see if they get any of these things. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has reported all this under the misleading headline ‘The christening without much Christianity’, and comments there and elsewhere indicate this untruth is already being used as evidence against the Church of England’s faith and integrity.

As it happens I’m also facing a less important dilemma about the paper's choice of headings. The person developing a new website for the parish has e-mailed the Daily Mail and gained permission to reproduce a meditation on the role and example of Joseph (written by Ian Duncan Smith), but in the process had imported a heading attacking ‘feckless fathers’ which rather changes the tone and purpose of such a meditation.

The picture is of patterns on the wall at St Michael’s last week.

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