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Rites of passage

We deal more than most with 'hatching, matching and dispatching' in the Church of England.

Many folk in our community look to the Church at birth, marriage and death. They do so particularly in a village where St Giles is the largest venue for people to gather in for such celebrations.

The Christian rites we offer are fairly inclusive in that, baptism apart, they shrink from over-examining faith. Marriage is about commitment to one another before God. Funerals commend people to God with the best assumption sometimes reducing to 'they believed in their own way'.

The baptism service is precious to an evangelising Church because it is the only service where the Church of England makes clear what a Christian is and what's expected of them. Consequently preparation of parents for this service requires a certain amount of diplomacy. The line we follow is to offer a blessing or dedication as an alternative where folk feel they can't sign up to the commitment of baptism.

Over the years my infant baptism policy has shrunk from the sort of demands expected by confirmation candidates i.e. mandatory attendance by families for several months before the ceremony and only for married couples. It's now 'we fix baptisms after Sunday Eucharist - see you there!'. Attendance can therefore be as little as once before the ceremony two months later. When couples aren't married it is a matter of mentioning in passing as a desirable back up for Christian formation of your children. In any case all who approach St Giles for infant baptism are visited a couple of times, once by myself and once by our lay coordinator.

In a small community pastoral hiccups get well publicised so we're a bit on our guard as we serve people's needs. When it comes to baptism most people recognise that if they themselves are incapable of professing the divinity of Christ it would be hypocritical to do so and unhelpful to their children to be committed to so believe. At the same time grandparents' expectations loom large!

In my experience getting my congregation to be proud of their Christian identity sealed in baptism is pivotal to evangelism and our infant baptism policy has to be true to this aim. There is a necessary cohesion of pastoral and evangelistic strategies and some gentle challenge of baptism families seems proper to this.
It's great to see occasions when the warmth of welcome we give to baptism families leads through this challenge to the acceptance of Christ's invitation and the transformation and empowerment of families only he can bring.

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