Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The christening without much Christianity: Anglican church offers 'baptism lite' to attract non-worshippers
By Steve Doughty
Church of England baptism services may be re-written to remove some references to Christianity.
The plan for a new ‘baptism lite’ service designed to make christenings more interesting to non-churchgoers will be considered next month by the Church’s parliament, the General Synod.
Supporters say the baptism service should be ‘expressed in culturally appropriate and accessible language’ that is readily understood by ‘non-theologically versed Britons’.
But traditionalist clergy said the idea amounted to ‘dumbing down’.
The plan for a new 'baptism lite' service which uses 'accessible language' and makes christenings more interesting to non-churchgoers will be considered next month by the Church's parliament
The new service would be used at 150,000 christenings each year. If the plan is accepted, it will be the third full re-write of the baptism ceremony in around 30 years – the version in the Church’s Book of Common Prayer went virtually unaltered for more than 400 years until 1980.
Complaints centre on three sections of the baptism service from the Church’s latest prayer book, Common Worship, authorised for use in 1997.
In one, parents, godparents or an adult being baptised are asked to ‘reject the devil and all rebellion against God’ and to renounce ‘the deceit and corruption of evil’. They are asked to ‘submit to Christ as Lord’.
The Reverend Dr Tim Stratford, from Liverpool, who is putting the plans before the synod, said in a paper that ‘there remains some unhappiness about the language not being earthed enough’.
He added: ‘The concern is one of the language not making strong enough connections to life choices in such a way that it can be heard.’
Dr Stratford and his supporters have also called for a new version of prayers that refer to the symbolic role of water in baptism.
He said that among clergy from poor and inner city parishes ‘there was a strong plea for a shorter prayer in direct but poetic language that allows the Gospel to resonate better with people’s experience of life’.
He added: ‘This was not a plea for a prayer in Scouse, but for a prayer that the majority of non-theologically versed Britons would understand.’ A third part of the service was condemned as too long and not ‘direct’.
Stephen Parkinson, of the Anglo-Catholic Forward in Faith organisation, said there were problems with the 1997 service, but added: ‘Simply dumbing it down is not the answer.’
Bishops indicated yesterday that if the Synod accepts the argument a committee will be instructed to begin writing a new baptism service, but they warned that such re-writing would raise arguments over faith and doctrine.
William Fittall, secretary general of the synod, said that bishops are ‘clear that now is not the time to embark on the long and complex process involved in such a revision or replacement’.