Choosing a baptism bible verse – a small change that’s made a big difference

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Back in 2015 I attended a conference in Durham Diocese to discuss baptism practices and theology with colleagues from the Lutheran Church in Northern Germany. An idea which I took from our German friends was to encourage parents and godparents to choose a bible verse for their child’s baptism. We completely overhauled the way we do our baptism preparation (which is a session we run at church and the parents and godparents attend together) and one part was to introduce choosing a verse which is then read out in the service.

We have a list of verses for them to choose from (although we would welcome someone asking for one not on the list):

  1. The Lord bless you and keep you – Numbers 6:24
  2. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. – Proverbs 3:5
  3. Jesus said ‘You are the light of the world’ – Matthew 5:14
  4. Jesus said ‘I am with you always’. – Matthew 28:20
  5. Be kind to one another – Ephesians 4:32
  6. Jesus said ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ – 1 John 3:23
  7. Jesus said ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’. – Luke 6:31
  8. I can make it through anything with Jesus – Philippians 4:13
  9. God says: ‘Do not be afraid for I am with you’. – Isaiah 43:5

When we introduced this to the baptism preparation session I was quite sceptical about it, thinking that the families would arbitrarily pick one and then we’d move on. On the contrary, the groups often spend some time debating which verse to choose for their child and regularly ask for a bible so that they can look it up. We now use the verse as the basis for the bible reading in the service and then preach about that – people are also more ready to listen when I say that the family have chosen this verse especially. We make our own baptism certificates and now the chosen verse is printed on there as a reminder to the family.

So this was a simple change we made that has made a big difference to our baptism ministry.

I’ve been reflecting on why this has been such a popular addition to our baptism sessions. I think it taps into the current zeitgeist. Photo-11-10-2017-15-51-38-1024x768It is very popular to have quotations on soft furnishings or on the wall of your home, as my friend Robb points out in an article commenting on these strange candle holders.

It is also very popular to have a tattoo of a quotation. So when I explain to the families that they have a chance to personalise the baptism service by choosing a special verse that will be like a life-motto for their child, they instantly understand what it’s about. It’s a surprisingly easy way to engage people in bible study. Why not give it a try?

This article is hilarious on this current trend for inspirational home furnishings (caution, this article is very cynical!): https://www.buzzfeed.com/joannaborns/inspirational-home-decor.

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Is baptism the new wedding? Responses to reports that by 2016 most children will be born outside of marriage

By National Library of Ireland on The Commons (Christening Day Uploaded by russavia) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons
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The BBC reported today that the majority of babies born in three years’ time will have parents who are not married. This is a trend I noticed two years ago when we ran our first Wedding Fayre at Pudsey Parish Church. Incidentally, this triggered an idea for the presentation I needed to give at my BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel) for selection for ordained ministry. I thought I would share my presentation here as it explores what this new trend might mean for the church – and especially the Church of England.

By National Library of Ireland on The Commons (Christening Day Uploaded by russavia) [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons

Is baptism the new wedding?

Last year (2011) at our church we ran a Wedding Fayre. The idea came from a member of the congregation who is a local florist and wanted to help us to find a way in which we could make better connections with the local community. It happened to be the 5th anniversary of the reordering of the church interior and seemed like a good way to celebrate that. So in running the Fayre we were both supporting local businesses who exhibited their services and promoting getting married in church. I was on the door welcoming people in. Something happened that surprised me but shouldn’t have. The vast majority of couples coming through the doors arrived with their children. As we were planning the event, I and I think the rest of the team, was imagining young couples in their twenties and thirties and we provided facilities for that demographic. We didn’t factor in children! We realised that when we run the Fayre again this year (2012) that we’ll need to provide a crèche and some other facilities for children.

What happened on that day is perhaps symptomatic of the church’s response to societal change. We can go about in our own church bubble completely unaware of the changes around us. As I said, I was surprised by the number of children coming in but I shouldn’t have been, really. Traditionally, couples who had decided to stay together first got married, then moved in together, then got a mortgage and only then had children. An awful lot of people are now reversing that model – without any controversy – couples move in together first, then perhaps get a mortgage, then have children and then get married – perhaps some years later.

There is a parallel trend in that baptism parties are becoming more and more elaborate – in some ways you might say that baptism is the new wedding. People are sealing their relationship by having children, rather than by getting married, and want to celebrate that. You can see it in a lot of the baptisms at our church – people are dressed as if they’re going to a wedding and you hear that the family has booked a function room for a big party.

If we approach this in a sensitive way, this cultural shift could be a real opportunity for the church and more importantly for the Kingdom of God. I had a conversation on Twitter with a priest friend of mine and he told me that recently he did a baptism with a surprise wedding in it, and a wedding with a surprise baptism! Two sacraments for the price of one! These were examples of people wanting to involve their children in some way with their wedding day and bring the whole family into Church together – perhaps we’ll see more of these kind of requests.

How should the church respond to this change in the way people are starting families?

  • One response or idea I had was that we offer marriage preparation classes for couples, should we offer family marriage preparation? Should we be talking to children of couples about what it means that their mum and dad are getting married?
  • The second thought, is should we be making a more deliberate connection for these families between marriage and baptism?