New language for baptismal rites requested

Thinking Anglicans reports on the papers and resolutons to be presented at General Synod of the Church of England in February. One that is drawing attention is a report GS 1816A:

That this Synod request the House of Bishops to ask the Liturgical Commission to prepare material to supplement the Common Worship Baptism provision, comprising additional forms of the Decision, the Prayer over the Water and the Commission, expressed in culturally appropriate and accessible language.

A group of clergy from parishes characterized by high multiple deprivation across the Diocese of Liverpool meets regularly to support one another with the maze of funding, management and legal issues that surround the church-based project work they are engaged in. Two sessions in 2008 were given over to consideration of baptismal practice in the particular high IMD (Index of Multiple Deprivation) contexts represented, as a number of the clergy present argued that the Church of England provision and rules were problematic for them.

Our church has grappled before with the old chestnut of a tension between understandability and historic theological reference in our rites. This is as sharp as ever in Initiation rites involving large numbers of people, including key players like parents and godparents, who are unchurched. The pictures and metaphors of the service don’t resonate with their knowledge and experience; the metaphors from scripture and history are unfamiliar to most (e.g. “slavery in Egypt” or “brought to birth by water and the Spirit”). It was a common experience of clergy to feel they were losing touch with congregations at important moments in the service unnecessarily. The unease expressed is not about the number of words in the service, but that those words do not connect with too many people.

The group considered a variety of practices for handling baptism requests, baptism

preparation, and follow-up, but the nature and conduct of the baptism service was the

subject of the majority of contributions. There were a large number of complaints about the Common Worship baptismal provision raised in discussion. These fell into four broad categories:

1. general concern that a universal liturgical provision may not be most

appropriate for every particular context;

2. misunderstandings about those parts of the baptism provision that are mandatory, those that are normative and those that are completely dependent on the local context;

3. aspects of the service where imagination and shared creativity beyond the adherence to the bare rubrics is necessary;

4. parts of the provision that are too limited for many IMD contexts across our own diocese and where some additional provision is required.

Read it all HERE. (pdf)

Some reports from hysteria producing sources like the Daily Mail call the request “Baptism Lite” or “dumbing down” the liturgy. The reports act as though this is already being offered not a call for discussion of how to make the liturgy more meaningful without removing the essentials.

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 Liverpool Echo writes:

A plea for more easily understood language to help baffled non- churchgoers at baptismal services will be considered by the Church of England.

The Liverpool Diocese said additional texts should be prepared as alternatives for passages in the Common Worship baptismal services used at the overwhelming majority of the 139,000 CofE baptisms every year.

The Rev Dr Tim Stratford, from Kirkby, said a group of clergy from deprived parishes in the Liverpool Diocese had discussed their misgivings about some of the language in the baptismal service.

He said the tension between understandability and historic theological references was “as sharp as ever” in rites such as baptism involving large numbers of people including parents and godparents who are “unchurched”.

see definitions below:

High Multiple Deprivation

Indices of deprivation identify areas of multiple deprivation at the small area level.

Based on a methodology developed by the Social Disadvantage Research Centre at the University of Oxford, separate indices have been constructed for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Though not directly comparable, each index is based on the concept that distinct dimensions of deprivation such as income, employment, education and health can be identified and measured separately. These dimensions, sometimes referred to as ‘domains’ are then aggregated to provide an overall measure of multiple deprivation and each individual area is allocated a deprivation rank and score.

The indices are used to help target policies and funding, and reinforce a common goal to improve the quality of life in disadvantaged communities. However, the indices may not be used together to create a single UK index.

Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans writes, “The word multiple refers to the several categories of measurement: income deprivation, employment deprivation, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training deprivation, barriers to housing and services, living environment deprivation, and crime.”

“Earthed” British term for “grounded” – as in electrical lines.

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