Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Baptism Preparation: What to Do?

Baptism evening last night - we have one a month where we explain to families who are interested what baptism is about, how it works, and start sorting out dates with them. After 11 years I'm still tinkering with the formula. Here's what we currently do:

- if a family contacts the church, we encourage them to come on a Sunday morning to speak to one of the clergy. Families which want to bypass the church and just have the christening tend to get weeded out at this stage! However, with Sunday working, there are some parents who have to book time off work simply to come to church at all.

- after the Sunday morning meeting, we invite them to the baptism evening (see above). At present we use 'First Steps' from CPAS, a 10 minute vid/DVD which explains 'what baptism is really all about' (a phrase it uses about 10 times!!) It's ok, but as far as I can see it's the only video-based resource on the market. It's also rarely enough to get people talking and asking questions, so I've stared using The Christ We Share, a pack of pictures of Jesus from different cultures, and asking folk to pick the picture of Jesus they relate to most and talk about it. We also use the CofE glossy leaflets on baptism and godparents.

- follow up visit at home to talk through the baptism service, explain a bit more of the Christian faith, and explore where the parents are coming from.

- baptism itself (normally separate from our main service. Partly logistics - we can't get more than 90 into our church and it's full most weeks. Partly practical - with 40+ baptisms a year it's hard to give the church proper teaching and worship if you're constantly thinking about a big group of guests who don't really want to sit through most of what's happening!)

- welcome into the church family, at a main Sunday service following the baptism, including giving godparents cards, and a carved cross made by someone in the church.

- all this against a backdrop of a couple of midweek groups for parents and children, and a creche facility at each Sunday service.

1. Even within Anglicanism, there's a wide spectrum of views about baptism. Some churches won't do it unless they see real Christian commitment on the part of the parents. There are a whole cluster of theological and mission issues clustered here which I can't even begin to unpack in anything short of a book (or maybe I just don't want to).

2. How to engage with people. I'm frustrated at the lack of media resources available, and it's hard to steer a course between cramming people with theology and trying to connect with their own sense of God and where they are in terms of faith.

3. How to help people make progress - we regularly offer Alpha, and have just started using Emmaus for our confirmation course, which has picked up 2 parents who came into the church through baptism. A large number of others come monthly to our cafe service, but don't get much further into the pool than that.

I'd love to know what other people do, what works, what you struggle with, and any good resources that you've found.......

update: when it comes to the baptism itself, this is surely the best way. Ht 2churchmice


  1. We don't get a lot of requests for baptism (the absolute joy of not being an established church!), but we still get some 'Christendom requests'.

    We run a four week Christian Basics course twice a year and we require all our baptismal parents to attend (along with others who are attending for other reasons). If their schedules make it impossible then I meet with them privately and go through the material.

    Having said that, Christian Basics has the most impact on those who have already started to attend church and are basically already interested. It has not been effective with unchurched people who are determined to remain that way.

    I have therefore decided that as of this Fall I will not proceed with the baptism of children of families who are not prepared to become worshipping members of our congregation. I think this is the only sort of infant baptism that is theologically defensible anyway, and if it's not theologically defensible, I'm not sure why I ought to be doing it.

  2. David, I share your anguish on this one. I do about 30-40 baptisms a year, mostly people who are determined to have only a passing relationship with the church.
    The blessing of being the established church is that you get the opportunities provided by occasional offices; the curse is that you can't legally refuse baptism to someone who lives in the parish. And thereby lies the dilemma - for me anyway.
    I was brought up in the baptist church - it's a long story why I became Anglican! It took me a long time to get my head round infant baptism anyway, but now that I have it's a real heartache for me when people are obviously telling me what I want to hear so that I'll say yes to the baptism.
    My biggest issue is with people who ring up and say, 'can I book the church for a christening on this date please'! I just want to say, 'No, you can't' but I usually end up being much more polite and inviting them to come to a Sunday service and talk about it with them.
    What you're doing for preparation sounds good. I like the idea of using 'The Christ we Share' pictures. I've used them to great effect with nurture courses before.
    I've been using the Godly Play baptism story with mixed groups of adults and children for a few years now. It's a deeply symbolic and beautiful way of opening up the mystery of baptism - sort of like a parable - but I'm not sure it's working with totally unchurched people. Sometimes I wonder if they just leave the prep session confirmed in their opinion that the church is deeply wierd!
    So, like you, I keep tinkering with what I'm doing and wrestling with my conscience on this one. The lack of adequate resources for preparation suggests to me that there are lots of others who struggle with this too.
    One of these days I'll find enough time and energy to think it all through properly and write my own prep course - one day ...