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THE BAPTISM PROJECT
The Reverend John Dickens of St Mary's and I were recently among a group of clergy invited to a residential training event in Southend. The event was organised by the Archbishops' Council, and was presenting some new resources produced by the Church of England for baptism. We, along with St Mary's, will be piloting these resources and reporting back to the Archbishop's Council in a few months, on our experience. The Church of England has been investing a good deal of time and money into this project, because it recognises that baptism presents a huge mission opportunity. Despite the decline in religious belief, large numbers of people still turn to the Church to baptise their children. On average, in the Church of England, there are 2000 baptisms of babies and children each week. These are people who are taking the initiative in coming to us. The challenge of the baptism project is to turn these encounters into an opportunity for people to grow in faith and deepen their relationship with the Church.
Some clergy are cynical about the reasons people turn to the Church for baptism. Clearly there is a disparity between the numbers coming and those who remain part of the Church family. This causes difficulties for the consciences of many clergy because in the service, parents and godparents are asked to make promises that they will bring up the children in the Christian faith. Extensive research by the Archbishops' council has come up with some interesting statistics
1. 97% of parents requesting baptism are not regular churchgoers.
2. Nearly 90% of parents knew that the Church expected them to attend services after the Baptism
3. 75% of parents said they wanted to keep in touch with the church after the baptism; and 61% expected their church to keep in touch with them.
4. Following the baptism, 20% of families started to attend church at least once a month. This was more likely to happen where the parish ran a baptism preparation course and where members of the congregation were involved in getting to know the families, and not just the clergy.
5. 66% of parents requesting baptism had had experience of the Christian faith themselves as a child, either through Sunday school, church school or youth group.
6. 89% believed that in some way, having their children baptised gave them a good start in life.
WHAT CAN WE DO AT ALL SAINTS?
For some time now, a small team of baptism visitors has been involved in visiting families, and supporting them on the day of the baptism. For many years, Gwen Gaunt has sent a card on the annivesary of baptism. Where baptisms take place in a separate service we now invite the newly baptised to return to a family service, where they are welcomed, given their baptism candle, a Teddy Bear from the MU and cards from Sunshiners and Junior Church. I will be sharing with the PCC some of the other suggestions that are being made for keeping in touch with families, which does seem to be an essential element in building links for the future. In the meantime, all of us can play our part in welcoming those who come for baptism, especially to the welcome on the first Sunday when the congregation is present. We have now begun a baptism preparation evening which we are planning to hold monthly. We had the first evening in June, with three couples taking part. Two of our visitors assisted me and Jo, and another visitor provided a creche for those who had not been able to find baby sitters. The other thing you can all do is to pray for those being baptised and for their parents, that they may grow in faith.
I will give the last word to parents who had asked baptism for their children. These are comments that one parent made to the researchers
"We haven't really kept in touch with the church that christened our children, but its both our faults really. We always have good intentions of going to church, but somehow life just seems to take over sometimes, and we have very little time to visit the church, which is quite sad. I would like to find more time to visit the church with my children and partner, as I do feel its an important part of their lives. The church didn't do anything to keep in touch with us either, unfortunately."
It would be lovely to have some response to the editor to this article. What do YOU think about infant baptism in the church? Is there more we could do to build on our relationships with these families and help them grow in faith. Why do YOU think people still ask for baptism. How should we respond?
I'd love to know the views of you, the congregation!