We so want to be welcoming to each and every person who comes through the church door. But do we sometimes fall a little short when it comes to baptisms, perhaps because we are easily discouraged if immediate results dont appear, and because we are a bit out of touch with the world?
The Baptism Matters day held by The Archbishops Council was full of challenge, but in a way that you could only support rather than become defensive about. The challenge to see baptism more from the point of view of families who approach the church, rather than only from our own point of view, was well supported by research, statistics and pilot studies.
No one actually pointed out that sometimes our attitudes (or at least our unintentional actions), can come across as misinformed, even unwelcoming and judgemental. But by the end of the day I felt it was a miracle that anyone not already embedded in the life of the church would ever seek a baptism for their child.
But they do, and they bring 200 00 guests with them per year across the national church. Whats more, research has shown that only 9% of those surveyed did not want the church to contact them afterwards. They positively expect it. Their research shows that many families wait until the child is old enough to go to school before they feel brave enough to think about church just at the time when we are probably striking them off our address list and giving up on them. Moreover, 20% of families nationally do start attending church regularly for the first time, following the baptism. The retail world would break out and party at such positive footfall and response figures. Do we?
During the course of the day, in a well presented and engaging series of presentations led by Sandra Millar, we heard what actual baptism families actually thought: about the liturgy, the welcome, the symbols and the meaning of baptism. We learnt about the language that families use, into which we can tap, not least because almost every family Googling what they want to know will start with the word Christening.
We learnt how small changes in our use of language can form a bridge between a familys understanding of Christian faith and baptism, and that of the Church. There were many other small adaptations we could make, including reconsidering our policy of holding most baptisms at a separate service where the family dont get to see the life and breadth of the church community.
Much more can be found at www.churchofenglandchristenings.org
The deliberate choice of the word christening in their publications signals a desire to remove unnecessary barriers while maintaining theological integrity.
The excellent resources created to support this project all feature muddy boots, symbolising that families and churches can unite effectively around the picture of a faith journey, one that churches and families can go on together.
This course was certainly a worthwhile step.