Baptism and Christenings
Whenever possible these ceremonies are held during a 10am Morning Service. This enables the wider church family to welcome the child.
If you are interested in having your child baptised please click the link here to give us the details and the Rector will be in touch to discuss the next steps. Thank you.
1. The different baptism services in the Church of England
In the Church of England there are two basic types of baptism service. There are baptism services that follow the orders of service in the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and there are those that follow the orders of service in Common Worship that were authorised for use from 1998. The orders of service for baptism in Common Worship use more contemporary language and are the ones that are most commonly used today.
The reason that there are a number of different orders of service in both the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship is that the form that the service will take will vary according to the context in which it is taking place. For example the form of the service will vary depending on whether adults or infants are being baptised, whether the service is taking place as part of a more informal family service or as part of the Eucharist, and whether baptism is going to be followed immediately by confirmation.
2. The content of the baptism services
In spite of the differences just mentioned there are a number of core elements that can be seen in the orders of service in both the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship, elements that are central to Christian baptism and that can be found in services of baptism from very early times.
These core elements are:
- An explanation of the meaning of baptism.
- The expression of a desire to be baptised, made either by the candidates or by the parents and/or Godparents on their behalf.
- The renunciation of the devil and all that is evil and a declaration of turning to Christ, made either by the candidates for baptism or, in the case of infants, by someone speaking on their behalf. In the Book of Common Prayer it is the Godparents who do this and in Common Worship it is the parents and Godparents
- The making of the sign of the cross on the candidates for baptism to signify that henceforth they belong to Christ and must be prepared to live as His followers.
- A prayer asking God to use the water of baptism to cleanse the candidates from sin and give them new life as part of His people.
- A declaration of Christian faith based on the ancient statement of Christian belief called the ‘Apostles’ Creed’, made either by the candidates or by the parents and/or Godparents.
- Baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- A prayer that those baptised may grow in holiness and may come eventually to share in the life of God’s eternal kingdom.
- A declaration of what it means to live as a baptised follower of Jesus Christ or, in the case of infants, a declaration of the responsibility of parents and Godparents to bring them up to follow Christ.
In the case of the Common Worship services there is the option for three additional elements, which are also practices that go back to the early days of the Church.
The first is the anointing with oil of those who are being baptised. As in the days of the early Church this represents the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The second is the clothing of those who have been baptised with a white robe. This symbolises the fact that through Christ they have been given a new nature and are now clean in God’s sight (Colossians 3:10 Revelation 7:9).
The third is the presentation of a lighted candle to those who have been baptised.
This symbolises the fact that Christ said that those who follow Him should glorify their heavenly Father by shining like lights amidst the darkness of the world (Matthew 5:14-16).
A further difference between Common Worship and the Book of Common Prayer is that when those who are older are baptised Common Worship makes provision for those who wish to do so to give their testimony, that is to say, an explanation of why they have decided to follow Christ and be baptised.
A final difference in the Common Worship service is greater congregational participation. In the Book of Common Prayer the congregation’s participation is limited to saying ‘Amen’ at the end of prayers. In Common Worship the congregation promises to uphold those who are being baptised in their new life in Christ, joins in the declaration of Christian faith, and welcomes those who have been baptised as new members of the Church.
3. Godparents and Sponsors
The role of Godparents is often confused with the legal role of guardians, but the two roles are entirely separate.
The role of Godparents is to speak on behalf of the infant being baptised during the baptism service itself and to support the parents in bringing the child up as a Christian within the family of the Church, so that that they will confess the faith for themselves and come in due time to confirmation.
In order that they can fulfil their role Godparents need be able to make the declarations and promises in the baptism services, which is why the Church of England requires all Godparents to be baptised themselves and normally to be confirmed as well. That is also why it is not possible for a member of another faith to be a Godparent.
Those who are baptised as infants normally have to have at least three Godparents. At least two of them have to be of the same sex as the infant and one has to be of the opposite sex. If it proves impossible for there to be three Godparents it is possible for a baptism to take place with one Godfather and one Godmother. Parents can be Godparents to their own children providing there is at least one other Godparent as well.
Those who are older when they are baptised have sponsors rather than Godparents. The role of the sponsor is not to speak for the person being baptised, but to formally present them for baptism and to help them in their growth as Christians after they have been baptised. There need to be at least two and preferably three sponsors and they are chosen by the candidates for baptism themselves. Like Godparents they need to be baptised and normally also confirmed.
4. When and where baptisms take place
In an emergency, such as when a new born infant is very seriously ill, it is possible for people to be baptised anywhere. However, baptisms usually take place in a parish church or a cathedral during the main Sunday service. The reason for this is because, as has already been said, baptism means becoming part of God’s family and so it is appropriate that it takes place when the other members of the family are gathered together for public worship both so that they can support those who are being baptised and also so that they can be reminded of the continuing significance of their own baptism.
People are normally baptised in their own parish church (or in a cathedral if they are part of the cathedral congregation). It is possible for people to be baptised in a church in another parish if there is a good reason for this, but this can only happen if the goodwill of their own parish priest has been sought. In this case the welcoming by the Church provided for in the Common Worship service may take place subsequently in their own parish church since this represents their local Christian family.
5. Preparation for baptism
Except in an emergency, at least a week’s notice has to be given before a baptism can take place. However, the minister conducting the baptism will almost certainly delay the baptism longer than this. This may partly be in order to fit the baptism into the wider pattern of services in the church or cathedral involved. More importantly, however such a delay will allow time for the minister to ensure that those being baptised, or their parents in the case of infants, receive adequate preparation.
The purpose of this preparation is to enable those involved to understand what baptism means and the solemn Christian commitment that it entails. The form that this preparation involves will vary depending on the practice of the church or cathedral concerned and the particular circumstances of those being baptised.
6. A service of thanksgiving
Many people seek baptism for their children because they want to give thanks to God for their child’s arrival into the world. From a Christian perspective, it is right that they should want to do this, but, as can be seen from what has been said about baptism above, this is not what the baptism service is for.
However, the Church of England provides a service of Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child. As its title indicates, this service is about giving thanks for the miracle of new life, and it is not an alternative to baptism since it is not part of the process of Christian initiation. If a service of thanksgiving is held, baptism may then follow at a later date.
As the notes accompanying the service in Common Worship explain, the service is designed to meet the needs of:
- parents who see this service as a preliminary to baptism;
- parents who do not wish their children to be baptised immediately;
- others, who do not ask for baptism, but who recognize that something has happened for which they want to give thanks to God.