Church of England hopes simpler baptism language will connect with unchurched

The Church’s Liturgical Commission has the task now of drawing up additional forms of baptism liturgy in “accessible” language after the motion was carried overwhelmingly by the Church’s parliamentary body today.

The motion was put forward by clergy in the Diocese of Liverpool who said they were “losing touch” with unchurched guests at important moments in the baptism service.

They said their concerns related not so much to the number of words in the service, as to their belief that the words “do not connect with too many people”.

The language of the Decision, in their view, was “not making strong enough connections to life choices”, while the Prayer over the Water included “problematic” sentences that may not resonate with unchurched guests, such as: “Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.”

Although the Church of England has produced a much shorter three question Decision as an alternative to the original six question Decision, the clergy expressed concern that the language of the shortened version – “I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, I renounce evil” – was “not earthed” and did not give enough expression to the love between people.

Presenting the motion to Synod, the Rev Tim Stratford, of the Diocese of Liverpool, asked for a Decision that friends and family could understand, and a Prayer over the Water that was “a prayer and not a theological treatise”.

“It sounds to many as if the church wants an entirely religious response – removed from our behaviour, actions and conversation,” he said.

“I do not make the case for an even shorter Decision than this but one that, for instance, roots turning to Christ in love of neighbour too. Not inquisitorial, but aspirational.”

He stressed that the clergy did not want to discard the authorised provisions of the Church but work “creatively” with them.

“This is not a request for Christenings without Christianity. Quite the opposite. It is about making our response to faith clear,” he said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gave his support, admitting that some baptisms could be a time of “eyes glazing over”.

The Rev Preb Patricia Hawkins, of Wolverhampton, also welcomed the motion.

“[My parishioners] have heard of Jordan but they don’t think it’s a river,” she quipped.

According to the latest figures, just over 138,000 adults, infants and babies were baptised in the Church of England in 2009.