"Churches across Liverpool diocese take baptism very seriously"

With new liturgy being piloted, following a motion from our diocese to General Synod, those attending heard talks from Liturgical Commission member Rev Dr Anders Bergquist and Dr Sandra Miller who is leading a national project on baptism.

Delegates also were given a digest from a survey into baptismal practice across our diocese.  Here we publish reflections from two members of the Liturgy and Worship forum who organised the conference.

First: Rev Jeremy Fagan:

From the survey conducted recently, churches across Liverpool diocese are taking baptism very seriously, and putting significant amounts of effort into engaging with families. In particular, they have thought about the best way to prepare them, how to welcome them into the church, in particular providing for visiting children in the process, and then how to keep in touch with them afterwards. This comment, however, reflected some of the frustration that many feel, and which Sandra Miller picked up in her thinking about the opportunities that baptism provides for the church:

"I think baptism is a missed opportunity for church. We normally have over 2000 people entering our church each year as part of family baptisms, and although not all live in the local community, we should look at ways of sending them away not only with memories of the baptism but perhaps some link/ communication about what we do each and every week, and try to take the opportunity to welcome them again into our church."

The themes from our survey were reflected in the national data that Sandra Miller reported on. There were some fascinating insights into the response of families who had a baptism in the past 4 years in the Church of England, and they were in general, positive about their experiences. They used the language of christening rather than baptism, and Sandra pointed out that this was an ancient use, seen in Tyndale's translation of the New Testament, which used 'christening', whereas the King James translators changed it to baptism. Some areas of thought for my own practice: parents asking for preparation for a start on the 'right path', rather than just preparation for the rite of baptism; the importance of good symbols and symbolic actions in the church; good quality baptism candles; a nice baptism display area, with symbols that spark discussion, at preparation sessions; perhaps only having one familiy at a time for baptism. Finally, the importance of welcoming and supporting godparents in this very significant role that they're taking on.

I, and many others at the conference, look forward eagerly to the final results of the church's national project - if what was presented last Saturday was a taster, there should be some good guidance in how to develop our practice."

Second: Father John Williams:-

"Following in the wake of last years successful conference on Fresh Expressions, this year’s on Baptism was equally enjoyable, informative and engaging.

Baptism is not an easy subject to talk to, and especially to a room full of priests, with their joys and frustrations from experience and often the gap between their theology and their practice. However, Anders Bergquist immediately jumped upon this reality and challenged some of our ‘problems’ from an anthropological view-point. Not least he challenged that oft heard criticism levelled at those coming for baptism- ‘its just for the party’ with the retort, of course we celebrate major life events with parties.

He equally got us to think about the notion of giving thanks. Parents bringing their children to baptism to give thanks naturally raises the question- thanks to whom. Of course it is to God. After this he went on to show how infant baptism itself developed in the church, from early references in Acts, to Augustine and finally inscriptions relating to death bed baptisms of children. Yet throughout this period all rites of baptism were uniform for adults and children. Indeed even in the Book of Common Prayer there is hardly any difference between adult and infant baptism. Ultimately he said the baptism of infants is a part of the Christian tradition but one which the church has rarely been liturgically well equipped to deal with. The new texts coming from the Liturgical Commission are an attempt to simplify and make appropriate the liturgy for children.

Anders gave an excellent presentation in which he covered a huge amount in just over half an hour. What was most interesting for me was the Liturgical Commission clearly isn’t simply trying to dumb down to speak to non-churched people, thereby losing weight of content, but rather creating an appropriate Christian liturgy for use with infants and their families at baptisms, which in turn will speak to a wider audience."