I am a loyal priest within the Church in Wales and have never refused baptism. I have done my best to prepare people well, and sometimes that preparation has gone well, and others it has been a real struggle. There is a real tension between what I think the Church believes about baptism and what those coming for baptism want.
That said, I enjoy baptisms. The picture is not of three I have baptised, but of three who have been to several of the baptisms I have conducted and who regularly help me conduct them: filling the font with water, anointing with oil (alongside me), giving the candle, and persuading people to put monies in the collection plate.
Periodically, I wonder whether we do the right thing by offering stand alone baptisms, and then then are put into the main act of worship which leads to a crescendo of complaints from those who regularly attend who sometimes cannot hear themselves think and misunderstanding from those who do not usually attend. The Church does not have a monopoly on long words, but it has more than its fair share of them, and most of them with quite complex meanings.
I recently asked some parents and godparents about the promises they were about to take and commitments they were about to affirm.
What does it mean to bring a child up to be part of the Christian faith? For none was it about being part of the church. This is a shock to those of us who want to make baptism the entry point to the life of the church community.
The question do you turn to Christ was a puzzle, but the one, ‘do you repent of your sin’ a mystery. What came back the question if you have never done anything wrong? This is simply illustrative of the gulf between Christian theology and what used to be popular Christian culture, which is now perhaps just culture. All of this made me ask why they wanted the babies baptised.
It is the right thing to do, said one, as others nodded. Every single parent and godparent knew someone who came to church, but none of them had invited that person to the baptism.
This particular baptism has happened. It was great. Lots of laughter with people leaving happy to have been in a sacred building. I was even offered a pint at the pub and have received a nice card with the question, ‘did you really mean it when you said you would pray for us?
Yes, I did. I do. I am just also praying I know if and when it might be appropriate to say, no, you might actually want something different to what I, as a priest, can offer.