Sunday, 21 October 2018

The pros and cons of infant baptism

THE baptism of Prince George in October naturally hit the headlines and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who never

THE baptism of Prince George in October naturally hit the headlines and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who never misses a trick to say something, waxed eloquent on a video to encourage others to have their children baptised as a matter of right.

Baptism is not just a privilege for the royals but for everyone. It will be interesting to see if in the wake of George’s baptism, there is greater demand nationally for the sacrament.

Gone are the days, such as in 1965, when on one occasion I administered the sacrament to 19 children within a congregation of 200 people, relatives and friends.

I cannot remember what form of preparation the parents undertook except for filling in a baptism form at the parish office but sooner than later such mass baptisms were frowned upon by radical clergy and in their place rigorous “vetting procedures” were introduced in many parishes.

Parents were invited to attend preparation classes before any dates were agreed but even this new procedure ran into difficulties when parents declined to attend (especially fathers), citing that baptism was open to all who sought it. If the Bishop became involved he sided with the parents, thus causing some rancour between Bishop and clergy.

Again, as time passes, there seems to be fewer disputes between parents and clergy over baptism, probably because fewer parents bother to have children baptised at infancy or as a result of the decline in infant baptism, clergy are less rigorous when given an opportunity to celebrate a baptism.

There is a distinction between public and private baptisms. Believers are prepared to allow their offspring to be baptised in an act of public worship, whereas parents who are not regular worshippers tend to ask for private baptisms, which are still frowned on by many clergy.

It was not just the recent baptism of Prince George that focused media attention on the issue of baptism, but a request for a baptism from a lesbian couple, both partners insisting that each of them should be registered as “the father”.

The acting vicar of the parish was a man of my generation who refused not to baptise the infant but said it was not possible for both of the parents to be registered as the father. The couple objected to his decision and an archdeacon (much younger in age) overruled the older man in favour of the couple, so the baptism took place but by another priest.

Nothing was said in the press about the preparation of the lesbian couple for the baptism but what strikes me is the following. Baptism is something happening to the child, not an occasion to allow the parents to demand that the Church accepts their reasoning. Why did they not demand that they were technically the mothers of the child, which they are, rather than the father which they technically are not?

Someone recently said to me “we are off to another social baptism”. That made me think that whatever rules are in place, perhaps social baptisms can lead to a re-awakening of faith for the social guest at a service.

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