On arriving home yesterday after an evening playing football, there was a phone message from someone on the estate who wanted to be contacted about a baptism. My wife took the message. This is now the second contact about baptism since a note went out in the local parish council newsletter saying that it was something I do!
Usually my policy has been to conduct baptisms within the context of a worshipping community – i.e. during a service. In my previous post, this wasn’t a problem as there were 4 services every Sunday to choose from. The hope was that they would want to be part of the community they had met on a Sunday. My preparation with the family would normally consist of a couple of meetings in their home, where we would discuss aspects of the service, and talk about the meaning of the promises they would be making. Usually, I tried to delay the action of putting a date in until the meaning of baptism and what it means to be a Christian had been well discussed. Sometimes I used a short video, such as one of the Christianity Explored courses as part of the meeting. If they were not already members of our church, I would encourage them to come along a few times before the baptism service.
Over my time in Plymouth, most non-church couples who came for baptism were not seen much in church after the baptism itself (although, undoubtedly, good relations had been built up). In one case, the family became regular members of the church and I ended up baptising the mum as well as the children, and both parents got confirmed too. They became full and active followers of Jesus! I get goose pimples even thinking about them! With one other family, the mum said she would come regularly when the baby was older, and, to my surprise, when the baby turned two, she started coming almost every week.
Here, however, we do not yet have a worshipping community in that sense. We are due to start monthly worship in our home from May. So if we are to be in keeping with my usual policy, the options for baptism are more limited. First, they could have the baptism in one of our services on a Sunday afternoon. The advantages to this are that is it cosy and welcoming, the disadvantage is that it might seem to them like they were intruding on our small and intimate service in our home. Also the number of guests would have to be limited, and, depending on the number of enquiries we get, we could end up doing a baptism every time we meet. The other option is to ask another local church whether I could borrow one of their services and do it there. Yes, it would be a worshipping community, but not our worshipping community. (And anyhow, the local Anglican churches tend to have baptisms outside of their regular services as often the numbers of guests would more than fill their churches.) Neither option is ideal.
Perhaps it is time to adjust that policy, given that we are only meeting once a month. But what do we change it to? In my role, I am not the vicar of a parish church with a building, but the community vicar of a new-build area as well as leader of a new church. Our values as a church are community and Jesus centred. Our aim is to be welcoming, hospitable, fun and relevant, a blessing to others as well as Jesus-centred.
What would a baptism service look like in this community with these values? In sticking to these values, perhaps at this stage the connection and welcome to the family is more important than having the ritual in a service of worship.
What do you think? How can we, as a church community, introduce the baptism family to our church? How can we prepare the families for the commitments they will be making as a community? Would this enact more of the values we are trying to show than my usual preparation methods?
I’d value your thoughts.